Childhood Gender-Typed Behavior and Adolescent Sexual Orientation: A Longitudinal Population-Based Study

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Abstract

Lesbian and gay individuals have been reported to show more interest in other-sex, and/or less interest in same-sex, toys, playmates, and activities in childhood than heterosexual counterparts. Yet, most of the relevant evidence comes from retrospective studies or from prospective studies of clinically referred, extremely gender nonconforming children. In addition, findings are mixed regarding the relation between childhood gender-typed behavior and the later sexual orientation spectrum from exclusively heterosexual to exclusively lesbian/gay. The current study drew a sample (2,428 girls and 2,169 boys) from a population-based longitudinal study, and found that the levels of gender-typed behavior at ages 3.5 and 4.75 years, although less so at age 2.5 years, significantly and consistently predicted adolescents’ sexual orientation at age 15 years, both when sexual orientation was conceptualized as 2 groups or as a spectrum. In addition, within-individual change in gender-typed behavior during the preschool years significantly related to adolescent sexual orientation, especially in boys. These results suggest that the factors contributing to the link between childhood gender-typed behavior and sexual orientation emerge during early development. Some of those factors are likely to be nonsocial, because nonheterosexual individuals appear to diverge from gender norms regardless of social encouragement to conform to gender roles.

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