Applied Psychology OPUS

Sexual Minority Identity Development, Onset of Same-Sex Sexual Behavior, and HIV Risk Outcomes

by Elizabeth Glaeser

For young men who have sex with men (“YMSM”) same-sex sexual behavior often precedes sexual minority self-identification. The period prior to self-identification is a vulnerable time to high risktaking behaviors such as substance abuse and sexual risk-taking associated with HIV infection, as evidenced by the fact that YMSM are the population at highest risk for HIV infection. Previous research has focused on either sex behavior or sexual identity in understanding the experiences and risks of these young men. The present study sought to examine how first same-sex sexual behaviors are related to identity trajectories and how these two variables might influence risktaking behaviors among YMSM. Participants were 598 men who completed baseline assessments pertaining to first same-sex sexual experiences, Gay/Bisexual/Transgender identity development, sex behavior, and drug use at age 18-19 (part of a longitudinal NIMH-funded study called P-18, PI: Halkitis). Results indicated that lower age of first same-sex behavior and non-identification as gay were related to high levels of drug use. For gay-identifying youth, same-sex sexual behavior prior to self-identification was related to higher risk-taking behaviors, suggesting that there is a distinct relation between behavior and identity to risk outcomes possibly leading to HIV infection for this population. Identifying as gay does seem to serve as a protective factor against risk outcomes leading to HIV infection, yet it is the timing of the identity achievement that might hold the protective value, not identification itself.