Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


College of Education and Human Services


Counseling and Educational Leadership

Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

Dana Heller Levitt

Committee Member

Kathryn Herr

Committee Member

Leslie Kooyman

Committee Member

W. Matthew Shurts


The concept of sexual identity has been evolving for decades. While there has been research and theory on the development of sexual identity, researchers have paid little attention to what, specifically, influences individuals to adopt one label for their sexual identity over another. This study employed qualitative methods of research, based in portraiture, to gather and analyze data on three non-heterosexual, self-identified women in early adulthood, from a metropolitan area in the northeastern United States. Each participant’s experience, as it relates to the labeling process for their sexual identity, is presented in its own portrait, and subsequently analyzed to highlight collective themes as they relate to the self-labeling process. The findings suggest that an individual may select the label for their sexual identity based on the nature and salience of their identities, as well as their knowledge of labeling options, the audience receiving the label, and any internalized stigma or bias. The insight into how an individual selects a label, provided by this study, implies that an individual’s label carries meaning along a variety of dimensions, and offers direction for practice, advocacy, and future research.

Included in

Counseling Commons