Adolescent Family Structure, Family Stability and Young Adult Sexual Orientation

Sarah Lessem, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Research finds that adolescence family structure is correlated with adolescent sexual debut and risky sexual behavior (Davis & Friel, 2001; Moore, 2001; Newcomer & Udry, 1987; Pearson et al., 2006). However, to my knowledge, no studies have examined how adolescence family structure relates to later sexual orientation. In this study, I measure family structure in adolescence and reported sexual attractions and behaviors 14 years later. After accounting for common control variables, the only significant relationships were more bisexual behaviors among women from highly unstable families and those who lived with single mothers during adolescence. It may be that family structure leads to adolescent bisexual behavior or adolescent bisexual behavior changes family structure. However, that bisexual behaviors are correlated with family structure and stability, but bisexual attractions are not may indicate early same-sex behavior among women is a form of sexual experimentation, rather than indication that certain families “make someone gay.”

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Presented in Session 85: Sexual Identity: Formation