"The new gay teenager is in many respects the non-gay teenager," says Ritch Savin-Williams, professor and chair of human development in Cornell's College of Human Ecology in his new book, The New Gay Teenager (Harvard University Press, 2005). Savin-Williams is an expert on issues concerning gay, lesbian and bisexual youths and is a licensed clinical psychologist who works with gay youths and their families.
Savin-Williams argues that the majority of young people who engage in gay sex consider themselves heterosexual and that the majority of youths with same-sex attractions do not call themselves gay.
Such labels as "gay" no longer work when describing young people's sexuality, he says, because some teens have same-sex crushes but don't act on them or call them "gay love affairs." Some believe they are gay for a while and then not gay for a while. Still others might consider themselves gay only in certain situations.
"Most same-sex-attracted young people engage in sexual activities with both sexes. Some are homoerotic in some sexual domains and not in others. Similarly, one can be little or greatly same-sex attracted, in varying degrees and in varying ways," says Savin-Williams. In fact, he says, between 15 and 20 percent of adolescents have some degree of same-sex orientation, yet only 3 to 4 percent embrace a gay or bisexual identity or report same-sex activities. Most young people don't link their sexuality to their identity.