SOPHIE, JOAN; PHD

                         NEW YORK UNIVERSITY, 1985
                         PSYCHOLOGY, GENERAL (0621)

                         Flexibility and change in sexual orientation have been observed repeatedly in recent literature, despite
                         prevailing beliefs to the contrary. This study examined the process of change in sexual orientation and
                         the adoption of identity labels among women who were experiencing these changes. One major theme
                         which emerged from this research was the importance of the cultural/historical context in providing
                         alternatives of behavior and identity. Although 21 women were interviewed, only 14 were experiencing
                         changes related to sexual orientation. These women were asked to participate in further interviews, and
                         all but one agreed. Based on time available during one academic year (1981-1982), they were
                         interviewed two or three times at intervals of at least three months. Three major research questions were
                         posed in this study. (1) How adequate are the theories of lesbian and/or homosexual identity
                         development to describe the process of sexual orientation identity development in women? (2) What is
                         the relationship between social network and sexual orientation identity change, and how does social
                         network affect the individual's psychological well-being during this change process? and (3) Can a stress
                         and coping approach be fruitfully applied to the process of sexual orientation identity change, and if so,
                         how? The major results were: (1) Stage theories of lesbian or gay identity development had some utility,
                         especially in describing behavior at the earlier stages mentioned, but were not applicable to all women.
                         Further, identity could change after lesbian or gay identity had been adopted, and after the early stages
                         of development, a wide range of choices exist for further development. (2) Social network was found to
                         play an important and complex role in the process of sexual orientation identity change. It served as a
                         source of stress as well as of support, and was subject to change in conjunction with identity change. (3)
                         A stress and coping approach was developed which incorporated the flexibility of identity observed
                         among the women illustrated how the variety of choices made by participants could occur.


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