Sexual minority individuals often subscribe to one of many different sexual identities. They may call themselves lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer (LGBTQ). Or, they may choose to use other phrases and words to describe their varying sexual orientations, such as gender-loving or gay-curious. Tools used to measure the sexual identity of young adults are usually very constrictive in their choices, only allowing individuals to choose sexual orientations that are the most common. Because many young adults don’t subscribe to a particular identity but choose to experiment with many different orientations, gauging the number of actual sexual minority individuals is difficult at best. This makes measuring the social, physical, and emotional effects of being part of the sexual minority community challenging for researchers.
Analyzing the three specific aspects of sexual orientation—attraction, behavior, and identity—could help researchers better identify health outcomes in this segment of the population. Lisa L. Lindley of the Department of Global and Community Health at George Mason University in Virginia did just that in a recent study. Rather than restrict her participants’ responses to predetermined categories of orientation, Lindley measured the sexual orientation of 14,412 participants based on who they were most attracted to and their history of sexual partners. She used this information to determine how these patterns affected levels of depression, smoking, stress, victimization, and binge drinking.
Lindley found that the individuals who identified with one particular category of orientation and reported only having same sex partners or bisexual attraction had better levels of all five measures. Men whose sexual history included both heterosexual and homosexual encounters had the lowest risk for binge drinking, while mostly straight men had increased risk for some of the factors examined. However, women who reported being bisexual or straight, with a history of mostly heterosexual encounters, measured the highest on all five factors. Lindley believes that the women who are ambiguous about their sexual identities may not receive the same psychosocial benefits that members of a traditional sexual minority group do, such as protection from stigma and discrimination. The results of this study demonstrate the importance of exploring every nuance of sexual identity when working with clients of various sexual orientations. Lindley said, “Such information is vital for health professionals to develop appropriate prevention and intervention strategies targeting the most vulnerable populations.”
Lindley, L. L., Walsemann, K. M., Carter, Jr., J. W. (2012). The association of sexual orientation measures with young adults’ health-related outcomes. American Journal of Public Health, 102.6, 1177-1185.
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