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Study explores multiple aspects of sexual orientation

Clocktower from the Leith

Thursday 22 July 2010 9:24am

Homosexuals, bisexuals and those who identify as heterosexual but who have had same-sex encounters are more likely to have experienced negative events in childhood, a new University of Otago, Christchurch, study shows.

Almost 13,000 people aged 16 plus were interviewed face-to-face for the study, as part of the New Zealand Mental Health Survey.

Researchers asked participants about their sexual identification, that is whether they thought of themselves as bisexual, heterosexual or homosexual, but also asked if they had ever had same-sex sexual experiences or relationships.

This was the first time data on both sexual identity and same-sex experiences have been collected in New Zealand in a national sample.

Researcher Associate Professor Elisabeth Wells said the more adverse events experienced in childhood, the more likely someone was to belong to one of the non-exclusively heterosexual groups. Associations between adverse events and sexuality group were found for sexual assault, rape, violence to the child, and for witnessing violence in the home. Other adverse events, such as sudden death of a loved one, serious childhood illness, or accident, were only slightly associated with non-heterosexual identity or behaviour.

“People who either identify themselves as homosexual or bisexual, or have had a same-sex encounter or relationship, tend to come from more disturbed backgrounds. Even so, the majority of people from disturbed backgrounds are heterosexual in behaviour and identity.

Ninety eight per cent of participants identified themselves as heterosexual. Of participants, 0.8% identified as homosexual, 0.6% as bisexual and 0.3% labelled their sexual orientation as ‘something else’. More than 80% of those who identified as bisexual were women.

Experiencing a same-sex encounter was more common than identifying as either homosexual or bisexual. Nearly 2% reported that they had been in a same-sex relationship while another 3% reported having experienced a same-sex encounter.

Wells said the study also looked at demographic factors such as a person’s living situation, whether they were married and whether they had children.

Of the females who identified as homosexual, more than 40% had been married and had children, she said, whereas this was much less common for male homosexuals (13%).

Only 10% of exclusively heterosexual people lived alone, compared to almost 17% of bisexuals and 19% of homosexuals. There were no clear-cut differences between the groups in education or income.

Wells said the study provides information for policymakers on the prevalence of homosexual and bisexual identity. Researchers will in future use the information to better understand the relative risks of suicide and mental disorder amongst people from different sexual orientations.

The paper was recently published in the international journal, Archives of Sexual Behaviour.

The New Zealand Mental Health Survey was funded by the Ministry of Health, the Health Research Council and the Alcohol Advisory Council. This paper was funded by a grant from Lotteries Health.

For more information or to arrange an interview contact

Dr Elisabeth Wells
University of Otago, Christchurch
Tel +64 3 364 3616

Or Kim Thomas
Senior Communications Advisor,
University of Otago, Christchurch
Mob +64 27 222 6016

Web University of Otago, Christchurch

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