Sexual Initiation Patterns of U.S. Sexual Minority Youth: A Latent Class Analysis

Shoshana K. Goldberg, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Carolyn T. Halpern, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Carolina Population Center

First published online:

| DOI: https://doi.org/10.1363/psrh.12020
Abstract / Summary

The typical understanding of sexual debut as first vaginal intercourse is often irrelevant to sexual minority youth. Better understanding of sexual initiation patterns among these youth is necessary to inform efforts to safeguard their sexual and reproductive health.


Early sexual experiences were examined among 1,628 female and 526 male sexual minority participants in Waves 1 (1994–1995) and 4 (2008) of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health. Latent class analyses identified initiation patterns distinguished by the timing, sequence and spacing of first experiences of sexual behaviors. Multinomial logistic regression analyses assessed correlates of various patterns.


Initiation classes for females were categorized as typical debut (representing 41% of the sample, characterized by vaginal intercourse and short spacing between first two behaviors); dual behavior debut (35%, characterized by vaginal and oral sex in the same year); early sexual debut (17%, characterized by average debut at 13, vaginal intercourse, and anal sex before 18); and delayed debut with oral sex (6%). Male classes were single behavior (50%, characterized by oral sex and longer spacing); multiple behavior (32%, characterized by vaginal and oral sex); early anal sex (11%, characterized by anal intercourse before 18); and very early debut (6%, characterized by oral sex and average debut at 10). Class membership was associated with socioeconomic status for females; age and sexual victimization for males; and race, ethnicity and religiosity for both.


Initiation patterns of sexual minority youth differ between genders and involve noncoital behaviors and characteristics beyond timing.

Author's Affiliations

Shoshana K. Goldberg is a postdoctoral scholar at the Carolina Population Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Carolyn T. Halpern is professor and chair, Department of Maternal and Child Health, Gillings School of Global Public Health, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and faculty fellow at the Carolina Population Center.


The views expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect those of the Guttmacher Institute.