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8 June 2012
Fluidity of sexual orientation correlates with alcohol misuse
by George Atkinson

According to new findings from the University of Missouri, young men whose sexual self-definition didn't fall into exclusively heterosexual or homosexual categories tended to misuse alcohol more. Researcher Amelia Talley believes her findings, published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, could be used to improve support programs for sexual minorities.

"Bisexuals and students whose sexual orientation was in flux reported the heaviest drinking and most negative consequences from alcohol use, such as uncontrolled drinking and withdrawal symptoms," said Talley. "Those groups reported drinking to relieve anxiety and depression at higher rates than strictly heterosexual or homosexual individuals. One possible explanation is that people who aren't either completely heterosexual or homosexual may feel stigmatized by both groups."

The study followed several different sexual orientation groups: exclusively heterosexual, exclusively homosexual, mostly homosexual, bisexual and mostly heterosexual. The survey also asked about frequency of alcohol use, reasons for drinking, and negative consequences experienced as a result of alcohol use.

"Exclusively homosexual and heterosexual persons drank at roughly the same rate and reported drinking to enhance enjoyment of social situations," Talley said. "The other sexual minority groups tended to report more alcohol misuse. This suggests that it may be the stressful process of developing one's sexual identity that contributes to problematic drinking, just as people in any difficult situation in life may turn to alcohol to alleviate stress."

Interestingly, the study also found gender differences in sexual behaviors and self-definition of sexual identity. "Females showed the greatest degree of sexual orientation fluidity," Talley said. "They were able to admit a certain degree of attraction to the same gender without defining themselves as completely homosexual."

Talley suggested that women may be more open to admitting to same-sex attractions because women are more likely to be objectified as sexual objects in our culture; hence, women are accustomed to assessing the attractiveness of other women in comparison to themselves.

Conversely, males tended to define themselves rigidly as either heterosexual or homosexual. Talley speculated that this may be because many males aren't aware that being "mostly straight" is a feasible alternative. Even a small degree of sexual attraction to other males may cause a young man to feel anxiety about his sexual identity due to strict masculine gender norms.

Related:
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Negative feelings about sexuality indicate poor sexual health

Source: University of Missouri




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