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Tony Silva received funding from the Sexualities Project at Northwestern SPAN in the form of a postdoctoral fellowship that allowed him to turn this project into a book. Fewer people know that some men and women have same-sex encountersyet nonetheless perceive themselves as exclusively straight.


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Most of the men identified as straight because they felt that this identity best reflected their romantic relationships with women, their integration in communities composed mostly of straight people, or the way they understood their masculinity.

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After controlling for attractions and sexual practices, homophobia predicted straight identification in all groups. Among both groups of women, one femininity attitude and motherhood also predicted straight identification. This paper also uses two waves of Add Health, a representative survey of young adults, to examine change to sexual identity over six years. show that among individuals who changed sexual identities between waves, heightened religiosity and political conservatism across waves were associated with increased odds of changing to a straight identity for women, but not for men.

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This suggests but does not prove a directional association between attitudes and identification for some individuals. This suggests that straight identification is due partly to embeddedness in straight culture and enjoyment of straight privilege, not simply homophobia. While impossible to determine causality, the show that straight identification is strongly related to non-sexual social factors, including religiosity and attitudes about sexuality and gender, in addition to attractions and sexual practices.

The also suggest that homophobia is related to identity formation for women, as well as men, but that there is substantial within-group variation. First, sexual orientation and sexual identity differ. Sexual orientation includes emotional attractions and sexual attractions, practices, desires, and fantasies Savin-Williams Each element is related but distinct Priebe and Svedin Aspects of orientation do not always cluster in ways suggested by common sexual identities. For instance, 3.

The social construction of sexual identity

Sexual identities, on the other hand, refer to how individuals understand their sexuality and their relation to social groups e. They usually cannot capture the complex ways in which individuals experience their sexual orientation. Sexual behavior, attraction, and identity are distinct. Many women who have sex with women identify as straight, since they view their status as mothers or partners to men as precluding LGBQ identification Budnick ; Walker Interviews with straight-identified men who have sex with men MSM show that many bolster their straight identities by framing sex with men as emotionless and by emphasizing exclusive or primary attractions to women Carrillo and Hoffman Many also do so by prioritizing partnerships with women and by interpreting sex with men in ways that do not threaten their marriages, straightness, or masculinity Silva a Content analyses of Craigslist personal suggest similar themes Reynolds ; Robinson and Vidal-Ortizand reinforce that many straight-identified men who hook up with other men enjoy straight privilege and culture, including heteronormativity Ward Individuals who identify as straight also have considerable social advantages relative to LGBQ-identified individuals, such as protection from sexuality-based discrimination and prejudice.

Structural heteronormativity encourages all people to identify as straight. Qualitative research, overall, shows that there are many factors other than attractions and sexual practices that influence straight sexual identification. Two fairly separate literatures explore gendered differences in 1 sexual behavior and identification and 2 homophobia. A higher proportion of women report same-sex behavior than men, as well as non-heterosexual identities England, Mishel, and Caudillo ; Silva b.

Additionally, among men and women with same-sex sexuality, a higher proportion of men identify as exclusively straight than women Silva b. The proportion of same-sex sexual behavior and identification as bisexual is increasing over time, but only for women England, Mishel, and Caudillo This reflects in part how women are socially devalued relative to men, so they have somewhat more social flexibility to explore same-sex eroticism England A separate literature shows that homophobia and normative masculinity are strongly related.

Additionally, homophobia is ificantly associated with straight identification among men with same-sex sexuality Silva and Whaley Little research has merged these two literatures to examine how homophobia and attitudes reflecting gender normativity are related to straight identification for women. Building on these studies, this paper quantitatively explores the relationship between attitudes about sexuality and gender, religiosity, and conservatism, on one hand, and straight identification, on the other. Much of the research exploring straight identification has used non-generalizable samples, necessitating empirically generalizable data to further examine these relationships.

This paper uses two datasets and two distinct analytical approaches to examine these topics.

This paper pays particular attention to the relationship between straight identification and homophobia among women, given that little research has done so. Analyses with Add Health examine how changes to certain social factors are ificantly related to changing to a straight identity in wave IV from a non-heterosexual identity in wave III.

Variable-centered approaches such as these identify what social factors are ificantly associated with straight identification and changing to a straight identity. Finally, this paper uses latent class analysis LCA to identify subgroupings among straight-identified women and men with same-sex sexuality. LCA is a person-centered form of analysis that identifies unmeasured groups in a population Grzanka Few other studies have explored subgroupings of straight-identified women and men with same-sex sexuality.

This paper shows that there are distinct groups that cluster by social attitudes and parenthood status. While homophobia as a variable is ificantly related to straight identification, there are subgroups of straight-identified men and women with same-sex sexuality that are not overtly homophobic.

Straight identification among individuals with same-sex sexuality is not entirely reducible to overt homophobia. Building on similar qualitative work, I argue that these suggest that straight identification reflects, in part, alignment with straight culture, constraints associated with parenthood, and enjoyment of social advantages related to straight identification. This paper does not make claims about the origins of sexual attractions or behaviorbut rather explores Sexy and mostly straight identity. Regardless of the causal mechanisms behind attitude-identity associations, this paper adds to the literature in four main ways.

First, this is the first nationally representative research project to demonstrate that for both men and women some attitudes and non-sexual factors are associated with increased odds of heterosexual identification, even after controlling for personal sexual characteristics. Second, it considers this relationship among women, the experiences of whom have been Sexy and mostly straight on this topic—especially regarding homophobia. Fourth, it utilizes LCA to identify distinct subgroups of straight-identified men and women, which has never before been done with nationally representative data.

Doing so highlights that both variable- and person-centered approaches are important for understanding this population. This paper focuses on straight identification because little research has examined it, and builds on the few other quantitative projects to examine straight identification. It examines both men and women, broadening the scope of Silva and Whaley It also uses the most recent data available, providing updated findings to Silva and Whaley and Silva b. Kuperberg and Walker use LCA to examine straight-identified college students whose last hookup partner was the same sex.

Their analysis is the first to use LCA for straight-identified individuals with same-sex sexuality, and suggests that there are distinct subtypes characterized by differences in religiosity, homophobia, and circumstances of the hookup.

Why straight men have sex with men is a mystery for many of us, but not to them.

The data they use are not representative, however, and come only from young college students, and only among those whose last hookup partner was of the same sex and that hookup did not necessarily involve sex. I build on their important work by utilizing a sample representative of adults 15—44 in the United States.

Four key themes emerged about the relationship between straight identification and social factors. This reinforces the need for researchers to study homophobia among women. Regardless of the direction or nature of causality, the suggest that heterosexual identification is strongly related to attractions, behaviors, and attitudes.

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Third, among women who changed sexual identities, increased religiosity and political conservatism were associated with heightened odds of changing to a straight identity. This was not the case for men, for whom only changes to attractions predicted changing to a straight identity.

These analyses suggest that heightened religiosity and political conservatism may influence women to change to a straight sexual identity. That fewer variables were ificant for men may reflect small sample sizes or fewer differences between men of different sexual identities, but more research is needed. Fourth, when utilizing variables that were ificant in regression models, there were distinct clusters of straight-identified men and women with same-sex sexuality.

Classes comprising about 46 percent of women and 56 percent of men were characterized by low homophobia and low alignment with conservative gender attitudes.

This section overviews the social construction of sexual identitywhich is not to be confused with sexual orientation as described in the introduction. Its purpose is to underscore that sexual identities are socially constructed, subject to change over time, and influenced by social context.

Individuals engaged in same-sex sexual practices prior to this point, but these acts were not usually associated with a sexual identity.

Subcultures of MSM in urban areas first began emerging in the eighteenth century e. Later, around the middle of the nineteenth century, medical scientists created newframing what many people had understood as acts that anyone could engage in as characteristics of particular types of people Foucault This helped legitimate new middle-class sexual practices that emphasized other-sex marital pleasure outside of reproduction Katz New heterosexual identities also aled that men and women had purportedly normal masculinity and femininity, respectively, after historical changes in gender practices as women increasingly entered the formal paid workforce and men began engaging in intellectual and interpersonal labor more than physical Chauncey The combination of all these factors was especially important for women, who ly had far fewer opportunities to be economically self-sufficient and thus form a collective sense of sexual difference Faderman Bureaucratic practices in US immigration, welfare, and military institutions in the twentieth century also helped transform disparate sexual and relational practices, gender expressions, and physical embodiments into a single homosexual status or identity Canaday From the mid- to late nineteenth century to the middle of the twentieth, sexual identities slowly disseminated across the West.

Identities reflect sexual, nonsexual aspects of life

Understandings of sexuality differ between time periods and cultures, as well as within cultures. In the early nineteenth century, for instance, Victorians considered sexual passion and love to be mostly unrelated, facilitating socially validated romantic friendships between women Faderman ; Smith-Rosenberg and men Katz ; Rotundo that contained various types and degrees of physical contact e.

Sexual identification can also differ within countries, depending on the weight individuals give to sexual attractions versus current sexual partnering practices Rust ; the presence or lack thereof of emotional attractions Adam ; stereotypes about LGBQ identity labels e. It may also differ based on whether the government under which an individual lives legally recognizes same-sex couples Charlton et al.

There was no social validation of sexual pleasure within this system. Heterosexuality is an institution that creates and reinforces inequalities between men and women Jackson ; Rich []and an identity and a set of social and sexual practices and experiences Jackson Straight identification grants individuals power and privilege relative to LGBQ-identified individuals Messner Heteronormativity is part of the fabric of US society, evident in how parents raise their children Martin ; Solebello and Elliott ; gendered sexual socialization in preschools Gansen ; peer interactions in elementary school Myers and Raymond through high school Pascoe ; formal and informal curricula in educational institutions Pascoe and Silva forthcoming ; and how most institutions operate Hearn and Parkin ; Hearn et al.

State intervention also encourages alignment with heterosexuality, such as through current marriage promotion campaigns Heath All of this combined encourages identification as straight.

Nonetheless, many currently straight-identified men and women considered alternative identities in their past before ultimately adopting an exclusively straight identity Morganreinforcing both the social construction of heterosexual identification and the power of compulsory heterosexuality.

There are two main takeaways from this body of research. While there may be biological influences on sexual attractions and practices, sexual identification—how individuals and groups understand and label sexuality—is socially constructed and differs by culture and time period. As social or historical context changes, how individuals understand and identify their sexuality can also change. Research suggests that for many men homophobia, normative gender practices, and heterosexual identification are tightly connected.