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Because very little is known about heterosexual identity development, this study assesses and describes sexual orientation questioning processes of heterosexual-identified women, and offers a comparison of these processes with those employed by their sexual-minority counterparts. Participants included 333 female college students (ages 18-23; M = 19.2). Two-hundred and twenty-eight participants primarily identified as “exclusively straight/heterosexual”; 105 participants indicated a sexual-minority identity. Sixty-seven percent of exclusively heterosexual respondents (n = 154) indicated having thought about and/or questioned their sexual orientation. The processes by which heterosexual participants described questioning their sexual orientation were coded for the presence of five emergent categories using an inductive thematic coding methodology. These five categories included: unelaborated questioning (19%), other-sex experiences (16%), exposure to sexual minorities (26%), assessment of same-sex attraction (48%), and evaluations of same-sex behavior (26%). Several unifying and differentiating themes emerged between sexual orientation groups. Results from this study suggest that contemporary young women’s heterosexuality is not necessarily an unexamined identity; indeed, the large majority of young women in this sample were deliberately identifying as heterosexual after contemplating alternative possibilities.

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This is an electronic version of an article published in Journal of Sex Research, 48(1), 16-28. Journal of Sex Research is available online at: DOI: 10.1080/00224490903370594