Gay, straight, bisexual: how much does sexual orientation matter to a teenager’s mental health or sense of identity? In this down-to-earth book, filled with the voices of young people speaking for themselves, Ritch Savin-Williams argues that the standard image of gay youth presented by mental health researchers—as depressed, isolated, drug-dependent, even suicidal—may have been exaggerated even twenty years ago, and is far from accurate today.
The New Gay Teenager gives us a refreshing and frequently controversial introduction to confident, competent, upbeat teenagers with same-sex desires, who worry more about the chemistry test or their curfew than they do about their sexuality. What does “gay” mean, when some adolescents who have had sexual encounters with those of their own sex don’t consider themselves gay, when some who consider themselves gay have had sex with the opposite sex, and when many have never had sex at all? What counts as “having sex,” anyway? Teenagers (unlike social science researchers) are not especially interested in neatly categorizing their sexual orientation.
In fact, Savin-Williams learns, teenagers may think a lot about sex, but they don’t think that sexuality is the most important thing about them. And adults, he advises, shouldn’t think so either.
That there has been a sea change in attitudes about sexual minorities in the past few generations is not news. What is remarkable, however, is the growing nonchalance of contemporary adolescents about their own sexuality. Savin-Williams, a pioneer in the study of sexual minority youth and the author of several groundbreaking books, admits that ‘gay’ may be a misnomer for the teens he interviewed. Many reject labels altogether and prefer to see themselves as free agents. Savin-Williams, likewise, rejects the developmental-stage ideas of sexual identity that have dominated psychological theory for over 30 years. Most important, by carefully listening to the experiences of the teenagers, he confirms what many other observers have noted: the generation coming of age now has increasingly open ideas about sexuality that will likely create huge cultural shifts in the coming decades.
In this lively and broadly researched book, Cornell University psychologist Savin-Williams reveals that the words gay teenagers use to describe their sexual preferences have changed radically over the past 30 years, and so have their attitudes towards same-sex relationships. In fact, many of them are reluctant to define their sexuality at all… Much of the volume is devoted to Savin-Williams’s detailed critique of the psychological models currently used to study gay adolescence, which were developed in the 1970s and have barely changed since. These old models, Savin-Williams argues, don’t reflect the diversity of the current gay adolescent experience… His book is an excellent resource for professional psychologists with gay patients, but it also contains enough invigorating, real-world case studies to interest general readers.
Adolescence is no picnic—but is it especially hard for gay teens? Ritch Savin-Williams’s ground-breaking book reveals that being young and homosexual is not the identity crisis we might expect. Today’s teenagers are more at ease with homosexuality—and with a more flexible and shifting view of human sexuality in general—than their parents’ and grandparents’ generation. With a conversational style, personal history, and intimate interviews with teens, Savin-Williams transforms research into a great read. At a time when adults argue passionately over who has the right to do what with whom, kids must be laughing behind their backs.
- 288 pages
- 0-3/4 x 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
From this author
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