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A study linking childhood abuse and attraction to the same sex does not mean homosexuals are "made rather than born", a gay rights group says.

The New Zealand Mental Health Survey by the University of Otago in Christchurch has found that people identifying themselves as gay, lesbian, bisexual or having had same-sex encounters are more likely to have experienced events such as sexual assault and violence in the home as children.

But national advocacy group Rainbow Wellington says it should not be assumed that people become attracted to the same sex as a result of those traumatic childhood events.

"Although I have no doubt that the religious right will leap to the conclusion that this goes to show conclusively that homosexuals are made rather than born, I don't think that's the conclusion you could draw," said chairman Tony Simpson.

"Most of the research I have seen suggests that you are, in fact, born into a particular orientation."

Study researcher, Associate Professor Elisabeth Wells, said the more adverse events experienced in childhood, the more likely someone was to belong to one of the groups other than heterosexual.

Associations between those groups and adverse events were found for sexual assault, rape, violence to the child, and for witnessing violence in the home. Other adverse events, such as sudden death of a loved one, serious childhood illness or accident, were only slightly associated with non-heterosexual identity or behaviour.

"People who either identify themselves as homosexual or bisexual, or have had a same-sex encounter or relationship, tend to come from more disturbed backgrounds," Associate Professor Wells said.

The study questioned 13,000 people aged 16 and over on mental health issues. Ninety-eight per cent of the respondents identified themselves as heterosexual, compared to 0.8 per cent identifying themselves as homosexual, 0.6 per cent as bisexual and 0.3 per cent as "something else".

Experiencing a same-sex encounter was more common than identifying as either homosexual or bisexual. Nearly 2 per cent reported they had been in a same-sex relationship, while another 3 per cent reported having experienced a same-sex encounter.

Family First spokesman Bob McCoskrie said there should always be concerns around the possible outcomes of childhood abuse.