Children of Lesbian Parents are More Likely to Identify as Gay or Bisexual

April 1, 2019 by Justin Lehmiller


The idea that gay parents are more likely to have gay children has long been thought to be a myth among sexual orientation researchers. For example, a review of the literature published in 1999 emphatically stated that “the incidence of homosexuality is no higher if one is raised by a gay or lesbian parent, than if one is raised by a heterosexual parent” [1]. However, recent research challenges this conclusion.

In 1986, the National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study began in the United States. Children of lesbian parents were followed longitudinally to assess their psychological well-being; however, researchers also started collecting data on the sexual identity, attractions, and behaviors of these individuals as they reached adulthood.

In a new paper published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, researchers examined the sexuality of the 25-year-old offspring from this study. There were 76 participants in total (37 female, 39 male), who were predominately White and all of whom were college educated. These participants were compared to a matched sample of adults from a general population survey (the National Survey of Family Growth).

In each sample, most participants identified as heterosexual/straight; however, participants from the Lesbian Family Study were significantly more likely to report sexual minority identities, same-sex attractions, and same-sex experiences:

· Among those who were raised by lesbian parents, 30% of women and 10% of men reported a gay, lesbian, or bisexual identity. By contrast, 12% of women and 2% of men from the general population survey identified as such.

· Among those who were raised by lesbian parents, 69% of women and 27% of men reported attraction to more than one sex. By contrast, 46% of women and 9% of men from the general population survey said the same.

· Among those who were raised by lesbian parents, 54% of women and 33% of men reported at least one same-sex sexual experience. By contrast, 38% of women and 9% of men from the general population survey said the same.

So what does all of this mean? Let me start by saying that it should not be taken to mean that sexual orientation is socially transmitted or learned because that’s not how it develops. Research doesn’t support this idea.

That said, there is growing evidence that sexuality is linked to genes, so one possibility is that what we’re seeing here is simply a product of that—if sexual orientation is at least partially genetically determined, then sexual minority parents who have their own biological children would be passing those genes along, thus increasing the likelihood of having gay or bisexual children.

However, another potential explanation for these findings is that children of sexual minority parents have “more expansive perspectives on gender and sexuality because they were raised by parents who are nonjudgmental about their exploration of non-heterosexual relationships,” as the study authors suggest. That openness may make them more willing to acknowledge and/or explore same-sex attractions.

Of course, it’s possible that both of these explanations are correct; either way, however, they tell us that the previous conclusion about the sexuality of children raised by gay parents does not seem to be true.

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[1] Fitzgerald, B. (1999). Children of lesbian and gay parents: A review of the literature. Marriage & Family Review, 29(1), 57-75.

[2] Gartrell, N., Bos, H., & Koh, A. (2019). Sexual Attraction, Sexual Identity, and Same-Sex Sexual Experiences of Adult Offspring in the US National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study. Archives of Sexual Behavior.

Image Source: 123RF/Fabio Formaggio

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Written by
Dr. Justin Lehmiller
Founder & Owner of Sex and Psychology

Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He runs the Sex and Psychology blog and podcast and is author of the popular book Tell Me What You Want. Dr. Lehmiller is an award-winning educator, and a prolific researcher who has published more than 50 academic works.

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