The psychological distress of young women increases when they change their identity away from the heterosexual norm

The psychological distress of young women increases when they change their identity away from the heterosexual norm

New research provides evidence that changes in sexual identity tend to be associated with an increase in psychological distress among young women. But the conclusions, published in Journal of Health and Social Behaviorindicate that this association mainly affects women moving towards more homosexual orientations.

“There is a perception in our society that a person’s sexual orientation and therefore sexual identity (e.g., bisexual, lesbian, heterosexual) is within them from the day they were born and not it changes throughout their lives, “said study author Alice. Campbell, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Queensland and author of the forthcoming book “Sexual Fluency Among Millennial Women: Journeys through a Changing Sexual Landscape.”

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

“I’m 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 her more or less likely to change her gender? “Identity? And what happens when women’s identities change? This article comes from my doctoral dissertation, which was intended 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 on Women’s Health, a longitudinal study of more than 57,000 women in young women. four cohorts older than 20 years. The study focused on four data waves of 11,527 women 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 they had felt stressed over the past 12 months about their relationships with relatives, romantic partners. and friends.

Campbell and his colleagues found that changes in sexual orientation were quite common. But most of the changes were small in magnitude, and changes in a more same-sex direction tended to be a little more common. (For example, a woman who goes from identifying herself as “exclusively heterosexual” to identifying herself as “primarily heterosexual”).

Women whose sexual identity changed in a more gender-oriented direction tends to inform bigger psychological distress compared to women whose sexual identity remained stable. In contrast, women whose sexual identity changed in a less same-sex oriented direction tends to inform less psychological distress compared to women whose sexual identity remained stable.

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

Researchers also found that feeling stressed about personal relationships mediated the association between sexual identity changes and psychological distress. In other words, “the increase in anxiety was attributed in part to the increase in stressors in women’s immediate social settings (i.e., stress in their relationships with parents, family and friends), “Campbell explained.

“A significant (and growing) minority of young women show sexual fluency and switch between heterosexual, mostly heterosexual, bisexual, and other identities. This is most likely because society is 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 observed among women whose reference identity was exclusively heterosexual but who later changed to bisexual or mostly homosexual.

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

The researchers monitored a number of variables, such as age, marital status, parental status, geographic region, early sexual onset, drug use, and children’s experiences of physical, psychological, or sexual abuse. . But as with any study, the new research includes some limitations.

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

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

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