Published: September 1, 2020

Campbell, A., Perales, F., & Baxter, J. (2020). Changes in Sexual Identity Labels in a Contemporary Cohort of Emerging Adult Women: Patterns, Prevalence and a Typology. The Journal of Sex Research, 1-13.


Alice Campbell, Francisco Perales, and Janeen Baxter


Sexual attraction, behavior and identity are subject to change across the life course for some individuals, and certain developmental periods such as emerging adulthood appear particularly conducive to this. However, the evidence documenting these phenomena comes overwhelmingly from data collected 10–20 years ago. In the brief interlude since, the socio-political context has changed markedly and increasing numbers of women are reporting non-heterosexuality. Drawing on contemporary data from the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health (n = 16,870), we provide up to date evidence on changes in sexual identity labels among emerging adult women. We found that 19% of women changed their sexual identity label from one survey wave to the next, and 30.6% changed their identity label at least once across the four waves. Mostly heterosexual and bisexual labels were both more common and more stable in our sample than in previous studies. We propose a new typology of sexual identity sequences and fit this to our data, providing a blueprint for researchers looking to define sexual minority status longitudinally. Findings suggest that the ways women perceive and label their sexual orientation should be treated as dynamic phenomena situated within the nested temporalities of biographical and historical time.