Researcher: 1 to 21 Percent of Teens May Claim to be Gay

USA Today reports on a speech to the American Psychological Association by Cornell University's Ritch Savin-Williams, who says it's much harder to determine "who's gay" in culling study participants for psychology research on sexuality because teens classify themselves in much broader ways today:

Gayteens "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. 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."

Savin-Williams is the author of The New Gay Teenager.


  1. Strepsi says

    RE: “there is a sub-population of same-sex oriented individuals who are accounting for nearly all the mental health differences between gays and straights”

    I bet you any money that sub-set has religious parents. Nothing can make a child hate himself like a powerful religious upbringing.

  2. Mark C. says

    People should understand when reading anything from Ritch Savin-Williams that he is a Christian and his book was intended to lessen the outrage about gay teen suicide – by NOT EVEN MENTIONING IT.

    He is trying to create “cover” for Christian nut cases by lying and minimizing the problem. Various studies suggest that 1,200-1,500 teens kill themselves each year because they believe they are “wrong and defective.” They get those beliefs from Religion. This ass-hole is part of RELIGION and conveniently his book NEVER MENTIONS IT.

  3. Travis says

    I’ve tried to read his book, New Gay Teenager, but couldn’t get through it. Savin-Williams has no credibility. Anything he says is tainted by his religious beliefs. He has a masters degree in theology, which could be incredibly helpful for a researcher studying the coming out experience of today’s youth. And yet he hardly mentions religion at all, and tries to undercut its powerfully harmful effects on gay teens. He wonders why gay kids wouldn’t tell a researcher that they’re gay, but doesn’t address religious stigma? Either he’s not very smart, or he’s protecting faith. It’s one thing to say there’s a full Kinsey (and others) type spectrum of sexuality that’s become more apparent as cultural climates have changed. But to say that suicide and depression in gay teens are not a serious problem, or are only found in subsets or extreme cases… It’s irresponsible and worse.

  4. says

    “Males do not represent two discrete populations, heterosexual and homosexual. The world is not to be divided into sheeps and goats. Not all things are black nor all things white.” – “Sexual Behavior in the Human Male,” Alfred C. Kinsey, et al., 1948.

    “1-21%”? Well, thanks for narrowing that down for us, Doc. But, therein, lies the rub. Six decades after Kinsey first turned a smugly ignorant and oppressive world upside down, smugly intelligent and oppressive pin-eggheads like the diminutive Williams…apparently “gay”-identified himself…are still suffering from “Kinsey envy” [which, based on stories of his endowment, is more than just a play on words].

    In wanting to become the household name that he became, at least in ivy-covered houses, they are still trying to sort everyone into sheep or goats.

    To be fair, perhaps he does not WANT to be “oppressive,” perhaps he’s merely naive, as most academics are, about the uses and abuses of their research beyond their hermetically sealed labs. Class, can you say “Hiroshima”?

    But there are those who think he’s smug, challenging him for what they see as unscientific extrapolation to gay youth of all ages generally from his narrow study of privileged, Ivy League college-aged gays even as he accuses them of unscientifically extrapolating from “hustlers.”

    In any case, Williams is still a sheepherder, even if some are herded into “not sheep,” and much of his presence in the popular press smells less sacrosanct than sanctimonious.

    It’s hard to determine whether one is fish or fowl when your CV lists both extensive “scientific” writing AND being an advisor to those bastians of intellectual profundity, “MTV, ’20/20′, and Oprah.”

    To be fair, maybe the problem—as it so often is with mass media—selectively perceived reductions of “science.” Perhaps Williams is merely misquoted or out of context. For while that same CV includes numerous accolades for being an expert witness in disputes over extension of gay legal rights, THE Right quotes him, too, e.g., “sexuality develops gradually over the course of childhood.” From that, they assert that, “Aha! We can interrupt the process and cure them.”

    And they’ve used his claims that, today, gay kids don’t have it so bad to challenge the need for non-harassment policies in public schools.

    But for his more general thesis, one wants to ask, “What’s your point?” The popular misconception persists that the seven-point Kinsey scale was a measure of “sexual orientation identity” …”sheep” or “goats”….when it was only a sorting of sexual BEHAVIORS…and many “kids” today seem to simply being doing the same thing he did sixty years ago: resist labeling.

    That is, or should be, a part of the luxury of being young: the ability to play with firetrucks without “being” a fireman, and to play tomorrow with something else. Adolescence, particularly, is nothing if it is not flux.

    But wisdom much older than Kinsey’s still applies to adults: there comes a time when one must put away childish things…including a resistance to labels…whatever that label is.

  5. Dback says

    Just FYI: That pic was part of a TIME magazine cover story from about 3-4 years back, which I used as a resource for my Masters’ degree (did a major project on SMY and their needs in school). I know a lot of younger folks (say, under 40) don’t read magazines anymore and only get stuff from the web, but that article had some sensational pics accompanying it. I say whenever possible, if you see something gay-friendly or gay-positive like that, it’s worth spending $4 to pick it up. (That also helps the publisher know what stories are selling.)

  6. says

    @ DBACK

    Perfect example of selective perception. You found the “Time” article “gay-friendly/gay-positive,” while the Antigay Industry found it TOO gay-positive, and I found it insufferably arrogant and damaging in its general thesis, almost entirely based upon Williams skewed “research,” that, hey, gay kids don’t have it so bad.

    QUOTE: “Children who become aware of their homosexual attractions no longer need endure the baleful combination of loneliness and longing that characterized the childhoods of so many gay adults.” Sorry, Charlie, er John Cloud, the pompous pansy author of the article…too many still do…though “endure” is a poor word choice in any case. “Suffer” is more accurate, and even one kid killing him or herself because they are terrorized by others who think him/her gay is one too many…and it is, in fact, more.

    An example of Cloud’s “proof”: “1 in 10″ schools now have gay-straight alliances. WOW!…until one stops to realize that that means NINETY-PERCENT still don’t.

    Further, while careful to puerilely show off his esoteric vocabulary [“crepitating,” “exiguous”], Cloud carelessly refers to “exgay” and “change” without the quotation marks appropriate to reinforce that such concepts are discredited by the majority of psychiatric professionals.

    And statements like Cloud’s, “Nonetheless, gay kids trying to change can find unprecedented resources,” are “criminal” in their sloppiness. Deconstruct the sentence and it [unintentionally, we hope] means that there ARE resources with which one CAN “change”—a message that no responsible writer, gay or nongay, would wish to send.

  7. K says

    The way I’ve read this post, your title doesn’t match. “1 percent of the population to as many as 21% of the population, 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 (emphasis mine).” Right? They claim *not* to be gay, yet most researchers would still give them that label. Isn’t that different?

  8. mikeyj says

    Savin-Williams is also a creationist. He does a disservice to young gays and lesbians by insinuating that “hey, these days it’s not so bad to come out as an openly gay teen”. Which is utter nonsense!! Gay and lesbian teens face the greatest ostracizing from their own families followed by their peers, regardless of what bogus “research” Savin-Williams has done. He’s also part of that right-wing revisionist cabal that has spent the last 30 years trying to debunk Kinsey’s research which concluded that 10% of the U.S. male population has had homosexual experiences or has had homosexual tendencies enough to experiment sexually with another man at least once. The revisionists have been decrying Kinsey’s research as flawed (it wasn’t) and that the actual “homosexual” population is only about 3%. Therefore, “homosexual” influence in public policy (aka as equal rights) is far greater than their (our) actual numbers. Which is nonsense. Kinsey was right. Savin-Williams is a dangerous man. Like the creationists, he disguises his “academic research” in psuedo-scientific mumbo-jumbo which in the end has less content than hot air.

  9. Daniel says

    @Dback the name of said TIME article being WHAT? please? If your were trying to give credit where credit is due, I think you would have to mention THAT. Thanks. I really would like to know, not just messing with you for the fun of it.

  10. says

    WTF: YouTube is covered with stories of teens having serious problems with parents and peers about coming out. Just check out the “coming out” stories !to suggest that teens have an easy time coming out is outrageous crap.
    @ mikeyj, above, I agree with you.