Young women's psychological distress increases when they change their identity away from the heterosexual norm

Young women’s psychological distress increases when they change their identity away from the heterosexual norm

New research provides evidence that sexual identity changes tend to be associated with greater psychological distress among young women. But the findings, published in the Journal of Health and Social Behaviorindicate that this association primarily impacts women who move toward more homosexual orientations.

“There is a perception in our society that a person’s sexual orientation and therefore sexual identity (for example, bisexual, lesbian, heterosexual) is within them from the day they were born and does not change over time. throughout his life,” said study author Alice. Campbell, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Queensland and the author of the forthcoming book “Sexual fluidity between millennial women: journeys through a shifting sexual landscape.”

“This is true for many people, and we know that attempts to force people to change their sexual orientations are extremely harmful and don’t work. However, there is a proportion of women who experience changes in their sexual attractions and sexual identities throughout their lives. The sexualities of today’s young women in particular are less binary and more fluid than ever.”

“I was interested in understanding this sexual fluidity: how many women change their sexual identity? Campbell told PsyPost. “How are these changes? What aspects of a woman’s social environment make it more or less likely that she will change her identity? And what happens when women’s identities change? This document grew out of my doctoral thesis, which set out to answer these questions.”

To investigate whether changes in sexual identity were related to changes in psychological distress in young women, the researchers analyzed data from the Australian Longitudinal Study of Women’s Health, a longitudinal study of more than 57,000 women in four age cohorts. for more than 20 years. The study focused on four waves of data from 11,527 women who were born between 1989 and 1995.

Participants reported their sexual identity in 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2017. They also completed assessments of general psychological distress and indicated how stressed they had felt over the past 12 months about their relationships with family members, romantic partners, and friends.

Campbell and her colleagues found that changes in sexual orientation were quite common. But most changes were small in magnitude, and changes in a more same-sex direction tended to be somewhat more common. (For example, a woman who changes from identifying as “exclusively straight” to identifying as “mainly straight.”)

Women whose sexual identity changed in a more same-sex oriented management tended to report greater than psychological distress compared to women whose sexual identity remained stable. In contrast, women whose sexual identity changed in a less same-sex oriented management tended to report less psychological distress compared to women whose sexual identity remained stable.

“In this study, I found that young women’s levels of psychological distress increased when they changed their identity and moved away from the heterosexual norm, especially when they switched to a bisexual identity,” Campbell told PsyPost.

The researchers also found that feeling stressed about personal relationships mediated the association between sexual identity changes and psychological distress. In other words, the “increased distress was attributed in part to increased stressors in the women’s immediate social environments (ie, stress in their relationships with parents, family, and friends),” she explained. Campbell.

“A significant (and growing) minority of young women exhibit sexual fluidity and switch between heterosexual identities, mostly straight, bisexual, and others. Most likely, this is because society is becoming more accepting of same-sex sexuality, especially among women. However, my findings reinforce that we remain a heteronormative society in which heterosexuality is the default norm and same-sex sexuality is stigmatized.”

The greatest increase in psychological distress was seen among women whose initial identity was exclusively heterosexual but who later changed to bisexual or primarily homosexual.

“Bisexual women continue to be sexually objectified and negatively stereotyped,” Campbell said. “My findings suggest that more support should be offered to young women who question their sexual identity or develop a minority identity. Additionally, we must continue to challenge homophobia and protect against discrimination based on sexual orientation if we are to protect the mental health of young women.”

The researchers controlled for a number of variables, including age, marital status, parental status, geographic region, early sexual debut, drug use, and childhood experiences of physical, psychological, or sexual abuse. But as with any study, the new research includes some limitations.

“The survey data we analyzed did not include measures of discrimination and internalized homophobia,” Campbell said. “These may be important in explaining associations between changes in sexual identity and psychological distress. Additionally, we need to talk to young women to better understand their lived experiences of sexual fluidity.”

The study, “Sexual Fluidity and Psychological Distress: What Happens When Young Women’s Sexual Identities Change?” was authored by Alice Campbell, Francisco Perales, Tonda L. Hughes, Bethany G. Everett, and Janeen Baxter.

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