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A new report reveals a landmark study into human sexuality from two decades ago likely had wildly inflated figures largely due to young people thinking it funny to identify themselves as something other than heterosexual.
Some claimed to be gay or bisexual on the broad health study known as Add Health, which began in 1994. Other findings, such as how many young people had artificial limbs, were also drawn into question.
Years later, as researchers continued to follow up with participants, a number of those who had identified themselves as gay or bisexual had mysteriously “gone straight.”
The initial findings on sexuality had stunned researchers at the time but were not suspected of being largely unreliable.
Prior to the study, many experts estimated about 1 percent of young people were bisexual or homosexual. In the study, 5 to 7 percent were identified as such.
As many as 70 percent of the purported “nonheterosexuals” were found to no longer be identifying as such.
“We should have known something was amiss,” said Ritch Savin-Williams, of Cornell University.
Along with Kara Joyner, of Bowling Green State University, Savin-Williams was invited to author an essay for the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior to address the legacy of the study.
“Seventy percent of the purported
‘nonheterosexuals’ are no longer identifying as such.”
“We offer this essay, with data, to forestall such wrongheaded scholarly work in the future,” they jointly wrote.
Between 1994 and 2008, more than 14,000 young people participated in Add Health to asses the contextual variables involved with various social or familial settings.
The suspected motivations behind the false responses include a misunderstanding of the questions or an attempt to be funny in most cases.
“I can take a joke as well as the next academic,” Savin-Williams said. “We need to be careful when we do our research that our sexual-minority participants are representative of the gay youth population so that we can accurately and adequately represent their lives.”