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 Among teens, who's gay is less clear than in past

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PostSubject: Among teens, who's gay is less clear than in past   Wed Aug 12, 2009 11:08 pm

By Sharon Jayson, USA TODAY

TORONTO — Who's gay and who's not is less clear than it used to be among today's young people — and that's complicating how researchers conduct studies on the sexual behavior of teens and young adults, a developmental psychologist who studies gays, lesbians, and bisexuals told a session today at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association here.

"Who's gay? This is not an easy question," says Ritch Savin-Williams of Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. "There are many different ways of defining sexuality."

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Savin-Williams, a clinical psychologist who is also in private practice, says such definitions affect researchers' ability to choose appropriate study participants and also affect estimates of the percentage of gays in the population.

For example, estimates could range from as few as 1% of the population to as many as 21%, because many young people do not actually say they're gay, even though they talk about sexual encounters with same-sex partners or same-sex romantic attraction.
FIND MORE STORIES IN: Cornell University | American Psychological Association | Ritch Savin-Williams

In his presentation, Savin-Williams cited several studies on the way teens categorize their sexual preferences and behavior, to illustrate the difficulties researchers have in studying adolescent sexuality. Some describe themselves as "mostly heterosexual."

He also explained that new research isn't finding some of the differences that have in the past suggested gay youth are more at risk for mental health problems than other teens.

He cited one recent study, for example, that found no greater delinquency or risk for substance abuse among gay youth, despite reports about greater risk in earlier research.

"Not all gay youth are less healthy than heterosexuals, but there is a sub-population of same-sex oriented individuals who are accounting for nearly all the mental health differences between gays and straights," he says.

And he says new research on women is finding that "lesbians actually look better on most dimensions of mental health," suggesting that lesbians have better mental health than bisexual women and appear to have few mental health differences with heterosexual women. Savin-Williams does say "bisexual women don't look good."

"I do believe it's not because of their bisexuality," he says.

"I think it's a sub-population of women," who he says may be among those he refers to as a "vulnerable 15%" of gay youth who are at risk for mental health problems.

Savin-Williams, who has written several books on adolescent development, including the 2005 book, The New Gay Teenager, says he's in the midst of work to find out more about those who are particularly vulnerable.


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