Basic Descriptive Information, Pt.1:
Religiosity, Sexuality, and Suicide Ideation
As we are using a non-probability sample, it is important to understand
the basic characteristics of the sample to understand what type of individuals
we are making generalizations about. This report is the first part of a basic
description of the participants in our study sample. Here we will look at
the key variables relating to LDS religious background, sexuality, and
suicide ideation. The next report will look at more general variables such
as gender, education, income, marital status, and geography distribution.
Highly Religious Mormons
A number of questions were asked to ascertain how committed the
participants had been within Mormonism. As this was a study of current or
former "highly religious Mormons," we expected to see high percentages on
these questions which can be seen in Figure 2. Out of 183 participants,
all but one participant marked that they had attended church meetings
regularly and all but four listed that they had paid a full tithing.
Eighty percent of the participants had served missions and fifty percent
had been married (heterosexually) in the Mormon temple. Of those who were
heterosexually married, just over a third of them (35.4%) were still in
their heterosexual marriage at the time of the survey.
Although there was a broad range of ages represented in our sample,
participants actively attended church meetings on average for 30 years,
paid tithing on average for 25 years, and attended the temple on average
for 14 years. These numbers show the high level of commitment of
participants in our study to Mormon beliefs and practices.
A question on the survey asked participants to list "Important callings in
the church (such as relief society officer, bishop, elder's presidency, etc.)".
As the Mormon Church does not have a paid clergy, most members perform
service assignments or callings which may take considerable time and
energy. Within the church every calling is considered important, however
not everyone is equally capable of the responsibility of leading a
congregation (e.g. bishop or stake president), whereas almost any member
could hand out programs at the beginning of services. To make sense of the
variety of responses that resulted from this question, a measure was
created ranging from 0-4, where the highest levels of responsibility and
authority were given a higher number.
We will come back to this measure to see if this measure differs
relative to subsequent religiosity but for now we consider only descriptive
information. The most common highest calling was those who had been Elder's
Quorum presidencies, scoutmasters, clerk/secretaries, young women/young men
leaders which accounted for 38% (N=69) of the participants. Twenty-three
percent (N=42) had served in bishoprics, as high counselors, or in relief
society presidencies. Only 8 individuals were listed in the highest category
(stake presidents, mission presidents, sealers, or special authorities).
Another observation about church callings is that there seemed to be an
over-concentration of certain callings, fitting a gay stereotype. In
particular, it seemed there were more than an average number of male
participants involved in music related callings - particularly organ/piano
players. Also there seemed to be a higher than expected number who served
as clerks or secretaries, scout leaders, genealogy (family history)
consultant, and temple workers, sealers, or translators. Of the women in
the survey, we see some callings that might be stereotypical for lesbians
such as girl's camp director, coach-athlete, and activities committee.
Although it is beyond our ability to test whether these callings are
higher than average within Mormon congregations, we did tally up those who
listed a music related calling, most of whom were organists and pianists
and it came to 20 percent of those who responded to this question (27 out
of 134). Limiting this to just the men in the sample, we see that 19% of
the men had musical callings (24 out of 119). As men playing the organ and
piano is fairly rare within Mormonism, this may suggests that men with
these callings have a higher than average probability of being inchoate or
Finally, we asked participants to indicate their current religious
affiliation. Figure 3 shows the percentages in each of five categories.
Two-third of the participants considered themselves as LDS or inactive LDS.
Only 16 percent no longer defined their religious views in relationship to
the LDS church.
Sexual Orientation Identity
Participants were asked to choose their sexual orientation from a choice
between heterosexual, bisexual, and homosexual. Several participants
protested this question for different reasons. Some wanted a more nuanced
item like the Kinsey Scale while others resist defining themselves as
homosexuals as they do not accept that as an acceptable category as they
struggle to develop themselves as heterosexuals in spite of homosexual
attractions. Some were living heterosexual lives in spite of homosexual
attractions and they often identified themselves as bisexual. One
participant (#23) crossed out bisexual and wrote in:
I do not
know how to answer this question. I am not acting on homosexual feelings
but I feel them strongly. I want to feel and be heterosexual and I am
(heterosexually) married - trying to become close to my spouse but we have
not been really sexual together for a very long time. I am trying to feel
heterosexual and I am feeling some small success. I wish I could answer
this just one way or another but I can't yet.
Among the first time participants filling out the survey, 83.1 % (N=152)
reported themselves as homosexual, 13.7 % reported themselves as bisexuals
(N=25), and 3.3 % (N=6) participants reported themselves as heterosexual.
Perhaps more interesting are the ten percent who were not consistent in
reporting their sexual orientation between 2003 and 2007. Four participants
who had listed themselves bi-sexual in 2003 listed themselves as homosexual
in 2007 and one participant (#13) who had listed himself as heterosexual in
2003 now identified as homosexual in 2007. There were also three participants
who had listed themselves as homosexual in 2003 who now identified as
bisexual. Although most researchers agree that sexual orientation is
particularly resilient to change across the life-course, how one identifies
one's sexual orientation can change at different points of time.
Another item on the survey identified how open a person is about their
sexual orientation with the following categories: not sure this is me, have
accepted it about myself but haven't told anyone else, have accepted it and
told a few close friends or family members, have accepted it and told most
of the people I know, and have accepted it and am open about it. In our
sample, this item seems to be bi-modal with the majority listing either
being out to themselves and a few others (45%) or being completely open
about it (32%). Only 10% listed themselves as not sure it was them or
being only out to themselves.
Age of Onset and Acceptance of Same Sex Attractions
On the first survey (2003), open-ended questions (Q#8) asked participants:
What is the
earliest attraction you can remember to the same sex? What key events led
to accepting your orientation? How much do you accept your attractions?
When did this acceptance occur?
Thirty percent (N=40) of those who answered this question in 2003 stated
that their earliest perceived attraction towards the same-sex was under 5
years old or that they had always felt same-sex attractions. Another 33%
listed their earliest age as 6-10 years old and 22% listing their earliest
age as 11-12. This indicates that 85 percent identified their first
attractions to the same-sex as occurring in years prior to their teen years.
All but one of the remaining participants listed it as occurring during
their teen years (13-19) and the other person listed the age as 20. No
one in our sample listed an age older than 20 for first occurrence of same
The answer to the question as to when acceptance of a same-sex
orientation occurred was on average at 36 years (SD=11, Range 15-73).
Breaking these down into age groups we see that 8% accepted their
orientation between 15-19, 13% accepted it during their early to mid-20s
(20-28), 35% accepted it during their late 20s and early to mid 30s
(29-36), 21% in their late 30s and early 40s, and most of the remaining
22% in the years 45-56 (exceptions: #91 was 68 years old and #160 was 73
This is an important finding because researchers of the coming-out
process generally focus on teenagers and young adults, not middle age
men/women as is a more typical age for those within highly committed
religious communities that proscribe homosexuality. For our sample, which
is probably fairly typical of communities where homosexuality is forbidden,
it appears that the teen-coming out process in 2003 only involves about 13%
of those in the population, and the greatest number of those dealing with
the coming-out process were in the 29-36 year range.
To get better quantitative data, three questions were added to the 2007
survey to ask specifically age of first attraction, age at first awareness
of attraction, and age of fully accepting attractions. The average age of
first attraction was 9 years old with a range from 1-20 years old (SD=4.0,
N=88) and the most frequent ages between ages 6-10 (43%, N=38). The
average age of first awareness of same-sex attractions was 13 years old
with a range of 1-50 (SD=4.2, N=89) with the most concentrated ages being
between 11-12 years old (30%, N=27). The average age of first acceptance
was 30 years old, with a range of 11-71 (SD=10.1, N=85) and the majority in
the ages 20-28 (35%, 30 out of 85) and 29-36 (32%, N=27).
It may be noteworthy that the average age of acceptance drops from 36 to
30 between 2003 and 2007. This may reflect a small difference in the
composition of the continuing sample or that there is a trend to lower
coming-out ages due to greater acceptance and understanding in the culture
Sexual desire frequency
The original survey did not include any questions about the level of
sexual desire. This was due to two things. First, it was suspected that
BYU human subjects committee might be less likely to approve the study if
it had such intimate questions. Second, my own sex-negative upbringing
made me reticent to ask such questions. In theorizing about coping
dynamics it seemed possible that sex drive might be a factor related to
how early one comes out and to what degree one eventually is likely to
leave Mormonism, so I decided to include a question measuring sexual
desire frequency on the follow-up survey.
The following question asked people to rate, "How often do you desire
to express your sexuality?" and included seven categories (never, less
than once a month, 1-3 times a month, about once a week, 2-4 times a
week, 5-7 times a week, and more than once a day). As the differences
between the first three categories did not seem to make much difference,
they were combined into a "rarely" category. This left five categories
with the following percentages (total N=90) in each in the 2007 survey:
rarely (few times a month or less) 18.9%, about once a week 11.1%, 2-4
times a week 41.1%, 5-7 times a week 20.0%, and more than once a day 8.9%.
The most common sex drive (41%) for this sample was 2-4 times a week with
almost 30 percent less often and 30 percent more often than this.
Unfortunately, we hear all too often stories of individuals who have
take their lives, as in the story of Stuart Matis who killed himself on the
steps of a Mormon Church. For each such story, how many others have taken
their lives that we don't hear about? How many have attempted suicide or
spent time contemplating and planning suicides that may have been averted?
This may be the first time it is possible to provide an answer to the
question of how common suicide ideation is within a sample such as this.
It was not known in advance what to expect.
The 2003 survey included the following open-ended questions (#7)
related to this:
points in my life was I most depressed? How serious was the depression?
How often do I get depressed now in comparison? Was the depression based
more on no hope for the future, low self-worth, or other things?
Of those who responded to this question, 36% indicated they had
considered or attempted suicide. To get better quantitative data, two
quantitative questions specifically related to suicide were added to the
survey in 2007. In answer to the question of how often they, "considered
suicide when struggling against my sexual attractions," 41% of participants
answered sometimes, often, or very often. In answer to the question, "I
attempted suicide while struggling against my sexual attractions," 17
percent (15 out of 87 who answered this question) indicated that they had
ever attempted suicide.
Although these numbers show that not everyone dealing with this issue
considers or attempts suicide, it does show the importance of interventions
to help those who do go that far. We will consider other variables
measuring depression, anxiety, etc., in later reports.
If no callings were listed, the participant was
given a zero; if home teacher, Aaronic priesthood, music, missions, or cub
master were the highest callings listed they were assigned a 1; if they
were in elder's quorum presidency, scoutmaster, gospel doctrine teacher,
Young women's or young men's leaders they were assigned a 2; if they were
in bishoprics, relief society presidencies, or high council members, they
were assigned a 3; and if they were stake presidents, mission presidents,
temple sealers, or special (e.g. general) authorities for the church, they
were assigned a 4.
N is an abbreviation used in reporting statistics to
stand for the number of participants. For example 38% of participants
out of a total of 183 total participants was 69 (N=69).
A website kept by Affirmation (
www.affirmation.org/suicides) at presents lists biographies of 34
gay-Mormons who have committed suicide.