Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award

January 2018

Degree Type


Degree Name




First Advisor

Valerie Simon


Research on sexual orientation development points to individual differences in developmental milestones (i.e., realization, identification, disclosure to friend, disclosure to parent, same-sex sexual behavior) that could be differentially related to adjustment. Additionally, differences in perceptions of acceptance from the self and important others, such as parents and friends, during adolescence and early adulthood may be related to both sexual orientation development and health risk behaviors (i.e., substance use, sexual risk). The goal of the current study was to advance our understanding of developmental processes among gay men by examining perceived acceptance of sexual orientation and its associations with individual differences in sexual orientation development, substance use, and sexual behavior. I proposed that perceptions of acceptance from parents, friends, and the self would be associated with patterns of sexual orientation development as well as decreased sexual risk and substance use. Findings highlight variations in the timing and sequencing of sexual orientation developmental milestone. About half of youth had completed all developmental milestones, while about half had not. The majority of youth endorsed an identity-centered pattern of development. Youth who completed all milestones were able to be classified into early, middle, and late developmental trajectories, but these trajectories showed little association with perceived acceptance. Acceptance from the self, parents, and friends were each associated with completing all milestones. Additionally, perceived acceptance at the self-identification milestone, disclosure to friend milestone, and same-sex sexual experience milestone were related to milestone completion. Identity-centered development was related to increased acceptance at the same-sex sexual behavior milestone. Contrary to hypotheses, there was evidence of a relationship between friend acceptance and increased substance use, with substance use mediating the relationship between friend acceptance and sexual risk. This study contributes to the extant literature by providing further evidence of the variation in sexual orientation development, as well as showcasing the importance of acceptance to milestone completion.