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Significant Number of Teenagers Unsure Of Sexual Orientation, New Study Finds

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A significant minority of adolescents spend their teenage years unsure of their sexual orientation, a new study asserts.

The study, called the most comprehensive evaluation of adolescents' sexual orientation to date, found that teenagers' views about their sexuality evolve as they age.

The report, published in the April issue of Pediatrics, was based on a survey of nearly 35,000 junior- and senior-high-school students in Minnesota. The students answered questions on a variety of health and psychological issues, including several on sexuality.

The study, which was conducted by researchers from the University of Minnesota, found that 88 percent identified themselves as predominantly heterosexual, 1.1 percent said they were bisexual or predominantly homosexual, and nearly 11 percent said they were unsure about their sexual orientation.

Previous studies by the noted sex researcher Alfred Kinsey estimated that 4 percent of men are exclusively homosexual throughout their lives and 10 percent are almost exclusively homosexual for at least three years. Kinsey estimated the rate of female homosexuality was 50 percent lower.

Although only 0.4 percent of the students in this new study identified themselves as exclusively homosexual, 4.5 percent of the students said they had been attracted to members of their own sex, 2.6 percent said they had had same-sex fantasies, and 1 percent said they had engaged in same-sex activity.

The percentage of students who were unsure about their orientation declined with age, from about 26 percent of the 12-year-olds to 5 percent of the 18-year-olds. As they got older, students were also more likely to identify themselves as heterosexual, and less likely to identify themselves as bisexual, the study found.

Older adolescents, and particularly boys, were also more likely to identify themselves as homosexual, and report same-sex attractions and behaviors than were younger students. By age 18, 2.8 percent of the boys said they were homosexual and 6.4 percent said they were attracted to members of their own sex. Yet only 27 percent of students with homosexual experiences described themselves as homosexual, the study found.

Although fewer than 1 percent of the girls described themselves as homosexual, females were more likely to report same-sex attractions than were boys, the survey found.

"Ultimately, the findings illustrate the complexities and difficulties in assigning sexual-orientation labels to adolescents,'' the report concluded. "Adolescents' own perceptions of their sexuality may not conform to adult standards.''

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