Precarious Sexuality and Categorization of Sexual Orientation

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Principal investigator:

Trenton Mize

Indiana University



Sample size: 2035

Field period: 05/05/2015-07/13/2015


Are men and women categorized differently for similar sexual behavior? If so, what are the social consequences of this categorization? Building on theories of gender and sexuality, we propose the concept of precarious sexuality to suggest that men’s—but not women’s—heterosexuality is an especially privileged identity that must constantly be protected. In a vignette experiment we test for differences in evaluations of a person's sexual orientation based on their sexual history and recent sexual behavior


Men's heterosexuality is more easily questioned after a single same-sex experience than is women's heterosexuality.

Experimental Manipulations

2: Sexual History (Heterosexual or Gay/Lesbian) X 2: Gender of Vignette Character (Man or Woman)


Assessments of the vignette character's sexual orientation

Summary of Results

Our hypotheses are supported, with men's heterosexuality being more easily questioned than a women's heterosexuality. Lesbian women are also more quickly relabeled as something other than lesbian, compared to gay men. Social location also influences responses, with age and religiosity having the strongest influences.


Trenton D. Mize and Bianca Manago. 2015. “Precarious Sexuality: How Men and Women Are Differentially Categorized and Evaluated for Similar Sexual Behavior” American Sociological Association annual meeting in Chicago, IL.