Stability and change in self-reported sexual orientation identity in young people: application of mobility metrics

Arch Sex Behav. 2011 Jun;40(3):519-32. doi: 10.1007/s10508-010-9691-3. Epub 2010 Dec 2.


This study investigated stability and change in self-reported sexual orientation identity over time in youth. We describe gender- and age-related changes in sexual orientation identity from early adolescence through emerging adulthood in 13,840 youth ages 12-25 employing mobility measure M, a measure we modified from its original application for econometrics. Using prospective data from a large, ongoing cohort of U.S. adolescents, we examined mobility in sexual orientation identity in youth with up to four waves of data. Ten percent of males and 20% of females at some point described themselves as a sexual minority, while 2% of both males and females reported ever being "unsure" of their orientation. Two novel findings emerged regarding gender and mobility: (1) Although mobility scores were quite low for the full cohort, females reported significantly higher mobility than did males. (2) As expected, for sexual minorities, mobility scores were appreciably higher than for the full cohort; however, the gender difference appeared to be eliminated, indicating that changing reported sexual orientation identity throughout adolescence occurred at a similar rate in female and male sexual minorities. In addition, we found that, of those who described themselves as "unsure" of their orientation identity at any point, 66% identified as completely heterosexual at other reports and never went on to describe themselves as a sexual minority. Age was positively associated with endorsing a sexual-minority orientation identity. We discuss substantive and methodological implications of our findings for understanding development of sexual orientation identity in young people.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior / psychology*
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Child
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Minority Groups / psychology*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Self Report
  • Sexuality / psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires