Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Categorization of Sexual Identity

Thompson and Morgan (2008) sought to encourage the inclusion of a new subtype of sexual identity - mostly straight - into the established categorization of women's sexual identity that has traditionally included straight, lesbian, and bisexual women. These authors believed that women's sexuality could be described in gradients, rather than by the three distinct established categorizations. Such categorization fails to recognize the complex nature and ongoing process of women's sexuality. Additionally, this categorization fails to acknowledge the diffuse nature of women's sexuality, that it does not always fit conveniently into narrow sexual identities, and that, in some cases, evolves over time and experience (Thompson & Morgan, 2008).

Importance of Accurate Identification

Specifically addressed was the sexual orientation and the sexual identity of mostly straight women as it compared and differed from the established categories (Thompson & Morgan, 2008). Accurately identifying this new identity may be important as the younger generations seem to have blurred the historically definitive boundaries of gender (Thompson & Morgan, 2008). Accepting this new category into the classification of sexual identities enables women who identify with its characteristics to accept a sexual identity that more accurately represents their experiences in regard to their sexual preferences (Thompson & Morgan, 2008). Because understanding and accepting one's sexuality is an integral part of overall identity development, this seems important. I would venture to say that perceiving one's sexual identity as odd, abnormal, or non-conforming could lead to self-pathologizing or identity confusion.

Specific Characteristics of Mostly Straight Women

With regard to the identity development of mostly straight women, more than half (58%) of the women had explored relationships through their attraction to, desire of, and sexual behaviors with other women. Less than half (42%), however had ambiguous feelings about their developing sexual identity because their experiences did not fit into the established sexual identity categorizations. Their inability to meaningfully define their sexual identity provoked a sense of uncertainty (Thompson & Morgan, 2008). More than half (58%) of the mostly straight women were comfortably committed to a mostly straight identity and related to that designation or a self-designed category. Others found meaning in identifying where they did not fit. In other words, they determined what they were by knowing what they were not (Thompson & Morgan, 2008).

In Thompson and Morgan's (2008) final discussion, they found distinct differences between the four sexual identity categories and that mostly straight women did not fit into the three traditional sexual identities. Although similarities existed between each of the category groups, the mostly straight women did not fit exactly into any of the other three (Thompson & Morgan, 2008). The women who perceived themselves as mostly straight were more inclined to explore same sex relationships than straight women, but felt considerable uncertainty because they did not fit into either the straight, lesbian, or bisexual category.

Limitations of Study
I believe it is important to note the study's limitations as described by Thompson and Morgan (2008). This study's sample was White college-educated women, and without the inclusion of women from minority populations, it is impossible to determine whether these effects would hold true for a more diverse group of women. Typically identity development is different and more complex for members of minority populations living within a majority culture (Crocetti, Rubini, Luyckx, & Meeus, 2008) and adding to the equation a distinct alternative (and perhaps, unidentifiable) sexuality, may compound the challenges inherent in finding oneself inclined toward an alternative sexual identity.

Sexual Identity as an Integral Part of Self-Identity
Sexual identity is intricately intertwined with self-identity (Santrock, 2009), and the expectations and acceptance of one's sexuality play an important role in individual development (McCabe, Tanner, & Heiman, 2010). As individuals explore and develop sexual identity, or as it evolves over time, experiences of sexual uncertainty and insecurity could have far-reaching implications for overall identity development (Santrock, 2009). Although sexuality is less constrained than it once was, individuals who comply with sexual norms have an easier time fitting in (Jackson & Scott, 2010). Because humans tend to define sexuality in linear categories, it seems prudent to include the distinct category of mostly straight women. Thompson and Morgan (2008) mentioned that some women with alternative sexual lifestyles expressed the idea that developing criteria for inclusion into these categories might one day be based on something other than gender. This is, however, a discussion that may prove confusing for even the most thoughtful of scholars. Regardless, this study may be a first step in the inclusion of gradient categories, or, at least softening the inclusion characteristics of established categories.


Crocetti, E., Rubini, M., Luyckx, K., & Meeus, W. (2008). Identity formation in early and middle adolescents from various ethnic groups: From three dimensions to five statuses. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 37, 983–996. doi: 10.1007/s10964-007-9222-2

Jackson, S., & Scott, S. (2010). Chapter 8, Concluding thoughts on ordinary sexuality. In Theorizing Sexuality (pp. 161-166). Maidenhead, Berkshire, England: McGraw-Hill/Open University Press.

McCabe, J., Tanner, A., & Heiman, J. (2010). The impact of gender expectations on meanings of sex and sexuality: Results from a cognitive interview study. Sex Roles, 62(3/4), 252–263.

Santrock, J. W. (2009). A topical approach to life-span development (3rd ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Thompson, E., & Morgan, E. M. (2008). 'Mostly straight' young women: Variations in sexual behavior and identity development. Developmental Psychology, 44(1), 15-21. doi:10.1037/0012-1649.44.1.15

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