Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Steven Tuber

Committee Members

Diana Puñales

Benjamin Harris

Lissa Weinstein

Paul Wachtel

Subject Categories

Clinical Psychology | Psychology


sexual minority women in the United States, quantitative research, mediation effects of internalized heterosexism, internet research


Research has indicated that LGB (lesbian, gay, bisexual) individuals are at elevated risk for psychopathology when compared with their heterosexual peers, a finding that was highlighted in the Institute of Medicine’s report on The Health of LGBT People (Cochran & Mays, 2000; Cochran et al., 2003; IOM, 2011; King et al., 2008). Sexual minorities and sexual minority couples also have been found to have greater romantic relationship difficulties than heterosexual peers (Balsam & Szymanski, 2005; Frost & Meyer, 2009; Mays, Cochran, & Roeder, 2003; Meyer & Dean, 1998; Otis et al., 2006; Spencer & Brown, 2007). Therefore, this study targeted sexual minorities exclusively and separately from their heterosexual peers to elucidate the patterns of vulnerabilities that underlie poor outcomes and to better account for resilience and positive outcomes when observed. This study premised that individuals in society are often exposed to homophobic beliefs. For LBG persons, this exposure occurs at an early age and throughout the lifespan. These beliefs are subsequently internalized and can lead to negative feelings about oneself as a sexual being with same sex attractions. This last process is termed "internalized homophobia" or "internalized heterosexism" abbreviated as (IH). However, many sexual minorities are able to counter, manage, and even learn to accept that they have internalized certain heterosexist assumptions from the larger society, even as they love, form healthy romantic relationships, work, and lead fulfilling adult lives --- in a word, these individuals tend to have a lesser degree of internalized heterosexism and suffer less from negative psychological and social outcomes, even in the face of heterosexist attitudes held by society, and often held by those whom they value most. This study found that negative psychological and social outcomes, including psychological distress, low self-esteem, poor romantic relationship quality, and poor social supports, related to negative early relational experiences and negative evaluations of the self as a sexual being. Specifically, negative outcomes were moderately, but significantly, predicted by negative early relational experiences, a factor comprised of the following three variables: insecure attachment to the primary caregiver/s, early relational trauma, and negative parental attitudes toward homosexuality. In addition, one-third of the relationship found between early relational difficulties, and later negative outcomes, was explainable by the presence of a high degree of internalized heterosexism within the sexual minority women in this sample. Overall, this study has provided empirical support for the mediating role of internalized heterosexism in the lives of sexual minority women who have had early traumatic, rejecting, and abusive experiences, and now suffer from negative psychological and social outcomes. Therefore, this study supports the need for the creation of better social and clinical interventions aimed at understanding and ameliorating internalized heterosexism to reduce risk and foster adaptation in this marginalized group with relational difficulties and psychological distress. Keywords: sexual minority, LGB, internalized heterosexism, internalized homophobia, psychological distress, early trauma, relational problems, same sex couples, insecure attachment