Young women are much more likely than older women to acknowledge that they're lesbian or bisexual, a time trend not seen among men, according to an Australian study. The findings are similar to those from studies in the United States and Great Britain, suggesting that at least in certain countries, social changes are influencing women's reports of sexual orientation. The new study found that among more than 7,400 adults in one Australian city, women in their 20s were far more likely to say they were lesbian or bisexual than those 20 to 40 years older. Among women age 20 to 24, researchers found that 4.5% reported a same-sex orientation, compared with 2.7% of those age 40 to 44 and fewer than 1% of women in their early 60s. Older men were also less likely than younger ones to say they were gay or bisexual, but statistically the difference was not strong, the authors report in the November-December issue of the journal Gerontology.
Exactly why more women are reporting same-sex orientation is "a matter for speculation," Anthony F. Jorm, the study's lead author, told Reuters. According to Jorm, who directs the Center for Mental Health Research at Australian National University in Canberra, some researchers have proposed that women are more "fluid" in their sexual orientation than men. This means they may be less locked into their preference for one gender. If this is the case, Jorm explained, women may have been more influenced by social changes in recent decades, including growing tolerance of same-sex relationships.
Jorm noted that he and his colleagues did not set out to study how reports of sexual orientation have changed over time. The current report grew out of a study of anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts among gay, lesbian, and bisexual adults. During this study the researchers noticed age-group differences in sexual orientation. Recent U.S. and U.K. surveys have also found such a trend among women. "There is enough evidence now," Jorm said, "that we have to consider that there really has been a change, at least in developed English-speaking countries."