By Kiley Crossland – world.wng.org – November 8, 2019
Nearly 1 in 5 low-income teens in rural America reported a change in their sexual orientation during high school, according to a study released this week. The research raises questions about the permanence of sexual orientation and the ongoing battle to ban therapy for those who want to change.
The report, published in the Journal of Adolescence, used surveys from 744 high school students in the southeastern United States conducted from 2014 to 2016. Researchers from three universities asked each student about their sexual identity (whether they identify as heterosexual, gay, lesbian, or bisexual), their romantic attractions, and their sexual behavior for three years in a row.
Of those surveyed, 19 percent reported at least one change in their self-labeled sexual identity over three years, and 21 percent reported at least one change in who they were attracted to. For many, their identity, attraction, and behavior were inconsistent. Nearly 10 percent of female students said they were heterosexual and had at least some attraction to girls. Of the female students who said they were heterosexual and not attracted to girls, 12 percent reported engaging in same-sex sexual behavior.
Female students were more than twice as likely to report a change in sexual identity (26 percent compared to 11 percent of boys) and more than three times as likely to report a change in who they are attracted to (31 percent to 10 percent).
The study’s authors explain the changes as “identity exploration,” concluding that “many adolescents are nuanced and dynamic in how they identify and experience their developing sexualities.”
But the study leaves out an important nuance, said Michelle Cretella, executive director of the American College of Pediatricians. Namely that homosexual feelings are a lot more fluid than heterosexual ones.
She said other research has shown young adolescents who experience solely opposite-sex attraction will likely always feel and identify as heterosexual, while homosexual attractions in teens are more fluid than fixed. Cretella pointed to a 2007 study on sexual identity fluidity in teens that found 98 percent of adolescents experiencing heterosexual attractions retained those into adulthood. In contrast, she noted that the researchers found such significant changes in attraction among adolescents identifying as homosexual that “they questioned whether the concept of sexual orientation had any meaning for adolescents with homosexual attractions.”
Interestingly, the recent study showed that 75 percent of adolescents with homosexual attractions changed to experience heterosexual attraction only. That jives with a 2011 study of more than 13,000 teens that found 66 percent of teens initially unsure of their sexual orientation became exclusively heterosexual.
The study’s authors refused to show any support for therapy to help someone with unwanted same-sex attraction or gender identity confusion, saying the changes they documented were “internally driven,” not “changes imposed on an individual.”
But Cretella makes the jump they tried to avoid: “It follows logically that if such high rates of change in homosexual attraction occur spontaneously among youth, then many adolescents who desire and receive therapeutic assistance should succeed.”
The results of the study point to sexual confusion, not a natural experience of sexual identity fluidity, said Adam Donyes, the founder and president of Link Year, a one-year Christian program for post–high school teens. He pointed to the fact that students today are primarily self-educated about sex and sexuality and believe they can determine for themselves what is right or wrong: “Everything that is educating them and informing them is on their phones. … No longer are Mom and Dad, or teachers at school, the primary educators.” Everywhere they turn they see sexual identity fluidity, said Donyes, and so they begin to believe it’s the “new normal.”
He pointed to insecurity, a desire for attention, and early exposure to pornography as explanations. But Donyes also noted that teens today are looking in all the wrong places to fulfill a God-given need for relationships.
“Every teenager wants to be loved and wants to be needed,” he said, but many teens today “just don’t know what healthy relationships look like.”
A report released Tuesday confirms underage vaping is still on the rise despite efforts this year to crack down on the epidemic. A government study published in the journal JAMA found an estimated 28 percent of high schoolers and 11 percent of middle schoolers said they had used e-cigarettes within the past month, totaling about 5.3 million underage users compared to just 3.6 million last year. The data was based on a national survey of 20,000 young people conducted earlier this year. About 60 percent of high schoolers said Juul is their preferred brand.
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