ITHACA, NY, January 9, 2014 ( – Questions are being raised about the validity of research on teenagers with same-sex attractions after a Cornell University professor found that more than 70 percent of teens who said they had ever had a same-sex “romantic attraction” later told researchers that they were unreservedly heterosexual.

The study, published last month in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, analyzed data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, also known as Add Health, which conducted four waves of surveys on teens as they matured into adulthood from 1994 to 2008.

Study author Ritch Savin-Williams, director of Cornell's Sex and Gender Lab, said that some of the “inconsistent” data may have been caused by confusion over the questions in Add Health, which could have led some teens to incorrectly say they were homosexuals. But Savin-Williams highlighted “the existence of mischievous adolescents who played a ‘jokester’ role”


“In this essay, we argue that researchers who base their investigations of non-heterosexuality derived from reports of romantic attractions of adolescent participants from Wave 1 of Add Health must account for their disappearance in future waves of data collection,” Savin-Williams wrote in the introduction to his study.

He said that survey questions about “romantic attraction” might have confused the teens, especially since the Add Health survey did not define what the term meant.

He also noted the role of “jokester” replies, citing hundreds of survey responses from teens who said they had an artificial arm, hand, leg, or foot, which subsequently proved to be false when the teens were interviewed at home.

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The researcher pointed out that the existence of “inconsistent” teens is not new to social science studies, but inconsistencies in the Add Health data may have been ignored by analysts and may have led to misleading conclusions. “It’s not that we saw something that no one else had seen,” Savin-Williams said. “But they kept using the data…People should have said, ‘Hold on here. Who are these kids?’”

He noted that many previous Add Health data analyses have shown suspiciously high numbers of same-sex attracted teens, but argues that confused teens and false answers may have distorted those results, making the studies on sexual minority teens inaccurate.

“The high prevalence of Wave 1 youth with either both-sex or same-sex romantic attractions was initially striking and unexpected,” Savin-Williams wrote. “Subsequent data from Add Health indicated that this prevalence sharply declined over time such that over 70% of these Wave 1 adolescents identified as exclusively heterosexual as Wave 4 young adults.”

“Importantly, these ‘dubious’ gay, lesbian, and bisexual adolescents may have led researchers to erroneously conclude from the data that sexual-minority youth are more problematic than heterosexual youth in terms of physical, mental, and social health,” Savin-Williams concluded.

An abstract with a link to obtain the full report is available here.