women, lesbians face developmental challenges as they grow from childhood through adolescence to adulthood and old age. In addition, lesbians may encounter special challenges associated with their sexual orientation, such as adverse societal attitudes, family rejection, and internalized homophobia. These special challenges can exist over the life span and depend to a considerable extent on how individual lesbians react to and manage their difference. Addressed separately is the issue of coming out, a critical stage in lesbian development that can occur during adolescence or at any time during adulthood.

Coming Out

Acknowledging a lesbian sexual orientation (i.e., coming out) has both internal and external dimensions that lesbians do not negotiate in a consistent manner. There are several descriptive models of the stages many lesbians go through during the coming-out process. One such model, proposed by Troiden, describes coming out as entailing four dimensions (Perrin, 1996; Ryan and Futterman, 1997; Sullivan, 1994; Troiden, 1988, 1989):

  • 1.  

    Sensitization—feel different from same-sex peers, typically before puberty;

  • 2.  

    Identity confusion—begin to personalize homosexuality, experience same-sex arousal and/or sexual activity, and feel inner turmoil and confusion in confronting the implications of having a homosexual identity;

  • 3.  

    Identity assumption—recognize homosexual identity, accept one's involvement in same-sex contacts and activities, and explore homosexual subculture; and

  • 4.  

    Commitment—accept homosexual identity and disclose it to others, experience same-sex intimacy, and are involved in the homosexual community.

  • It has been suggested that the age at which individuals come out to themselves and to others is falling (Savin-Williams and Rodriguez, 1993). Greater visibility and acceptance of homosexuality in our society may

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