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

New research provides evidence that gender identity changes tend to be associated with increased psychological distress in young women. But the findings, published in the Journal of Health and Social Behaviorindicate that this association mainly affects women who are more oriented towards homosexual orientations.

“There is a perception in our society that a person’s sexual orientation, and therefore a person’s sexual identity (e.g., bisexual, lesbian, straight), is in them from the day they are born and does not change. during his lifetime,” said study author Alice. Campbell, postdoctoral researcher at the University of Queensland and author of the forthcoming book “Sexual fluidity among millennial women: journeys across a shifting sexual landscape”.

“This is true for many people, and we know that efforts to try to force people to change their sexual orientation are extremely harmful and do not work. However, there is a proportion of women who experience changes in their sexual attractions and sexual identities over their lifetime 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. “What do these changes look like? 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 article comes from my doctoral thesis, which aimed to answer these questions.

To determine whether changes in gender identity were related to changes in psychological distress in young women, 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 over 20 years. The study focused on four waves of data from 11,527 women born between 1989 and 1995.

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

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

Women whose gender identity has changed in a more same-sex oriented management tended to point out bigger psychological distress compared to women whose sexual identity has remained stable. In contrast, women whose gender identity changed during a less same-sex oriented management tended to point out less psychological distress compared to women whose sexual identity has remained stable.

“In this study, I found that young women’s levels of psychological distress increased as they moved away from the heterosexual norm, particularly as they transitioned into a bisexual identity,” Campbell told PsyPost.

The researchers also found that feeling stressed about personal relationships influenced the association between gender identity changes and psychological distress. In other words, “the increased distress was partly attributable to increased stressors in the women’s immediate social environments (i.e., stress in their relationships with parents, family, and friends),” Campbell explained.

“A significant (and growing) minority of young women exhibit sexual fluidity and shift between heterosexual identities, primarily heterosexual, bisexual and others. This is likely due to society’s growing acceptance of same-sex sexuality, especially among women. Yet 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 in women whose baseline identity was exclusively heterosexual but who later became bisexual or predominantly 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 are questioning their sexual identity or who are developing a minority identity. Additionally, we must continue to fight 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, first sexual encounters, drug use, and experiences of physical, psychological, or sexual abuse in the home. ‘childhood. But as with any study, the new research has 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 gender identity changes 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 written by Alice Campbell, Francisco Perales, Tonda L. Hughes, Bethany G. Everett and Janeen Baxter.

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