Apr 20th, 1:00 PM - 4:00 PM


Sexual Identity Exploration and Commitment in Heterosexual Young Adults

Faculty Mentor

Dr. Elizabeth Morgan


Following research on general identity development that places individuals into one of four categories based on levels of exploration and commitment (Marcia, 1986), the purpose of this study was to examine reported exploration and commitment in heterosexual young adults’ narrative descriptions of how their sexual identity formed. Participants included 447 undergraduate college students (286 women, 161 men) with an average age of 19.7. Participants provided written responses regarding the formation of their sexual identity; responses were coded for levels of commitment (high and low), sexual exploration with other-sex partners (high and low), and sexual exploration with same-sex partners. Results indicated that 25 participants reported low commitment and low exploration, 173 participants reported high commitment and low exploration, 39 participants described low commitment and high exploration, and 210 participants reported high commitment and high exploration. Of those in the last category, 177 described only other-sex exploration, 17 described same-sex only exploration, and 17 described both other-sex and same-sex exploration. Groups did not differ by gender, age, or religiosity. When compared to quantitative measures of sexual identity exploration and commitment, similar patterns prevailed. The implications of these results suggest that heterosexual young adults do purposefully engage in sexual exploration, contrary to past findings. Additionally, young adults remain likely to indicate low levels of commitment to their sexual identities or sexual orientations, suggesting that sexual identity development continues during this developmental period.