A new study has found evidence to suggest at least one in five teenagers will experience changes in their sexual orientation while navigating adolescence.
A combined team of researchers from North Carolina State University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Pittsburgh found many teens will experience ‘fluidity’ when it comes to their sexual orientation, highlighting how ‘nuanced’ this personal identity can be.
Tracking the experiences of 744 US students over a three year period, researchers found 19% reported at least one change within their sexual identity. As an example, some who identified as heterosexual in the first year of the study reported themselves to be bisexual in the second.
The data was collected between the years 2014 and 2016, with the teens in question comprised of 54% girls and 46% boys, all of whom were growing up in the rural South of the US.
According to the study, published in the Journal of Adolescence, some teens even reported more than one marked change in their sexual orientation.
For example, some were found to shift from heterosexual to bisexual between the first and second years of the study, before identifying once again as heterosexual in the third year.
PhD. candidate at North Carolina State J. Stewart – who was the lead author of the paper – said:
This work highlights the fluidity that many adolescents experience in terms of how they label their sexuality and who they feel sexually attracted to.
[…] Some adolescents shifted between sexual minority identities and/or attractions – gay or lesbian, bisexual, etc. as well as varying degrees of same-sex attractions – across all three years.
Others fluctuated between heterosexual and sexual minority groups. And when we looked at the extent to which sexual identity, attraction and sexual behavior aligned, we saw some interesting trends.
Interestingly, distinct differences were noted between male and female students, with 31% of girls reporting changes compared with 10% of boys.
The results for boys mirrored those for girls, albeit to a lesser degree. Adolescence is a time of identity exploration, and sexual orientation is one aspect of that. One takeaway here is that the process of sexual identity development is quite nuanced for a lot of teens.
And based on research with young adults, we expect these patterns will continue for many people into their late 20s and even beyond.
To be clear, we’re talking about internally driven changes in sexual orientation. This research does not suggest these changes can be imposed on an individual and does not support the idea of conversion therapy.
There’s ample evidence that conversion therapy is harmful and does not influence anyone’s sexual orientation.
Going forward, Stewart has expressed interest in researching this topic further by looking at a wider variety of sociopolitical environments.
If you’ve been affected by any of these issues, and want to speak to someone in confidence contact the LGBT Foundation on 0345 3 30 30 30, 9am until 9pm Monday to Friday, and 10am until 6pm Saturday, Or email [email protected]
Jules studied English Literature with Creative Writing at Lancaster University before earning her masters in International Relations at Leiden University in The Netherlands (Hoi!). She then trained as a journalist through News Associates in Manchester. Jules has previously worked as a mental health blogger, copywriter and freelancer for various publications.