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social sciences

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In terms of siblings, recent research suggests that the combination of more older brothers and a lower birth order is positively correlated with the likelihood that a young man will be sexually attracted toward, and have sex with, other men. This effect is greater in terms of sexual behavior compared to attraction, and is not affected by younger male siblings, or older or younger female siblings. Lesbians were not affected by either younger or older siblings of any combination or by birth order.

School and Society

Most homosexual adolescents are not fully open about their sexual orientation in high school, if only because they realize the danger openness can bring. At school, an "out" homosexual youth is often limited in his or her selection of friends, and is frequently harassed by heterosexual peers who cannot easily fathom an open acknowledgment of attraction to a member of the same sex.

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"Fag" is one of the most common insults among high school students, and even the word "gay" is often used as self-evidently derogatory, as in "That's so gay."

A study by Blake and others reported that homosexual youth were more than four times as likely as heterosexual youth to have missed school because of an unsafe environment; more than three times as likely to have been threatened or injured; and almost twice as likely to have had their property damaged or stolen.

Gay and lesbian adolescents who are not out are generally spared most of the harassment experienced by out adolescents, but they also pay a price, often in terms of feeling inauthentic or living a lie.

Romantic Relationships

Romantic relationships and sexual experimentation are characteristic of adolescence. Homosexual youth, however, tend to have much higher rates of high-risk sexual experimentation compared to their heterosexual peers (that is, the number of partners, overall percentage, and age of first intercourse). They also tend to have higher levels of drug and alcohol-induced sex, perhaps because of the prevalence of substance abuse within the gay and lesbian adolescent community.

At the same time, however, many homosexual youth refrain from sexual experimentation because of anxiety over heterosexual expectations and homophobia. Often social interactions with both opposite- and same-sex classmates are fraught with tension and anxiety. In response, many glbtq adolescents attempt to find a sense of community with other sexual minority adolescents, but others feel isolated and lonely during these years.


Several studies have reported that lesbian and gay youth are at increased risk for suicide. The most commonly cited studies have found that a homosexual youth's suicide risk is more than twice that of a heterosexual peer.

Researchers have recently discovered that merely identifying as a homosexual, or being attracted to members of the same sex, does not increase the likelihood of suicide attempt. Rather, the increased risk may be the result of the victimization that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth frequently face because of their sexual minority status or alternate gender expression.


The study of glbtq adolescents is only beginning. Research is impeded by ethical considerations, such as the need for informed consent, and by hostility toward research on sexuality. Researchers often find it difficult to obtain permission from parents or guardians. Thus, most data regarding glbtq adolescents has been gained through large-scale surveys administered at liberal universities, or through groups and organizations that service glbtq clientele; and often the data is "retrospective," based on adults' recollections of their feelings and experiences as adolescents.

What is clear is that glbtq adolescents badly need support from family members, peers, and the larger society. Gay and lesbian adults who might serve as effective role models for glbtq youth are often reluctant to become involved with adolescents because of the accusations of "recruitment" frequently leveled at homosexuals by political and religious conservatives. Gay and lesbian adults may experience significant backlash at work, home, and in the community if their intentions are misconstrued.

Despite all this, various successful youth initiatives from the gay and lesbian community have been made, such as those by New York City's Martin-Hetrick Institute and Los Angeles's Unified School District's Project 10, which provide glbtq-sensitive education to teachers and administrators.

These efforts are complemented by the nationwide campaign to increase awareness about HIV and sexually transmitted diseases among sexual minority youth, as well as the recent movement spearheaded by the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network to establish Gay-Straight Alliances in high schools across the country and to pressure school boards to adopt and enforce anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies. The latter enterprise has been given impetus by several recent lawsuits that have held school administrators responsible for failing to protect students from harassment on the basis of sexual orientation.

These and other initiatives may prove significant in easing the transition of glbtq adolescents into adulthood.

Dustin Tamashiro

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literature >> Overview:  Coming Out Stories

The coming out experience is so important to gay men and lesbians that it is a primary focus of much of their literature.

social sciences >> Overview:  Coming Out

"Coming out" is the revelation or acknowledgment that one is a member of a sexual minority, a process that is at once personal and social and often political.

social sciences >> Overview:  Compulsory Heterosexuality

Compulsory heterosexuality is the assumption that women and men are innately attracted to each other emotionally and sexually and that heterosexuality is universal, a view that leads to an institutional inequality of power that privileges heterosexual males and denigrates women, especially lesbians.

social sciences >> Overview:  Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN)

The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) is a national organization in the United States dedicated to creating safe school environments for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students.

social sciences >> Overview:  Gay-Straight Alliances

Gay-straight alliances are youth-led, school- or community-based groups designed to assist glbtq students, children from glbtq families, and heterosexual students who want to be allies of their glbtq peers.

social sciences >> Overview:  Homophobia

Homophobia was originally defined as a "dread of being in close quarters with homosexuals," but it is now sometimes used to describe any form of anti-gay bias.

social sciences >> Overview:  Sex Education

Sex education programs are vulnerable to the attempts of religious radicals to hijack the sex education movement as a means of disseminating their own repressive blend of intolerance and fear.

social sciences >> Overview:  Stereotypes

Stereotypes usually include inaccurate and negative assumptions about groups, thus contributing to racism, classism, sexism, and homophobia.

social sciences >> Overview:  Stigma

Stigmas--physical or personal attributes and behaviors that discredit the individuals and groups who possess them--affect all glbtq people.

social sciences >> Suicide

In addition to the general risk factors for suicide, such as depression and substance abuse, glbtq people also face stressors such as discrimination and harassment, which put them at an increased risk for suicidal behavior.

social sciences >> The Trevor Project

The Trevor Project, a Los Angeles-based educational organization, operates the only national 24-hour, toll-free suicide prevention hot line in the U.S. aimed at glbtq youth.


Aronson, Elliot D., Tim Wilson, and Robin M. Akert. Social Psychology, Media and Research Update. 4th ed. Upper-Saddle River, N. J.: Prentice-Hall, 2003.

Blake, Susan M., Rebecca Ledsky, Thomas Lehman, Carol Goodenow, Richard Sawyer, and Tim Hack. "Preventing Sexual Risk Behaviors among Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Adolescents: The Benefits of Gay-Sensitive HIV Instruction in Schools." American Journal of Public Health 91 (2001): 940-46.

Bogaert, Anthony F. "Number of Older Brothers and Sexual Orientation: New Tests and the Attraction/Behavior Distinction in Two National Probability Samples." Journal of Personality & Social Psychology 84 (2003): 644-52.

Carver, Priscilla R., Susan K. Egan, and David Perry. "Children Who Question Their Heterosexuality." Developmental Psychology 40 (2004): 43-53.

del Castillo, Fulgencio III. "How Homophobia Hurts Children: Nurturing Diversity at Home, at School and in the Community." Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics 24 (2003): 381.

Cochran, S. D. "Emerging Issues in Research on Lesbians' and Gay Men's Mental Health: Does Sexual Orientation Really Matter?" American Psychologist 56 (2001): 929-47.

Garnets, Linda D., and Douglas C. Kimmel. "Lesbian and Gay Male Dimensions in the Psychological Study of Human Diversity." Psychological Perspectives on Lesbian and Gay Male Experiences. Linda D. Garnets and Douglas C. Kimmel, eds. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993. 1-51.

Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network.

Horvath, Michael, and Ann Marie Ryan. "Antecedents and Potential Moderators of the Relationship between Attitudes and Hiring Discrimination on the Basis of Sexual Orientation." Sex Roles 48 (2003): 115-30.

LeVay, Simon. Queer Science: The Use and Abuse of Research into Homosexuality. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1997.

Levitt, Heidi M., Elisabeth A. Gerrish, and Katherine R. Hiestand. "The Misunderstood Gender: A Model of Modern Femme Identity." Sex Roles 48 (2003): 99-113.

Lips, Hilary M. A New Psychology of Women: Gender, Culture, and Ethnicity. 2nd ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2002.

Mahalik, James R., Glenn E. Good, and Matt Englar-Carlson. "Masculinity Scripts, Presenting Concerns, and Help Seeking: Implications for Practice and Training." Professional Psychology--Research & Practice 34 (2003): 123-31.

Meyer, Ilan H. "Prejudice, Social Stress, and Mental Health in Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Populations: Conceptual Issues and Research Evidence." Psychological Bulletin 129 (2003): 674-97.

Mohr, Jonathan J., and Ruth E. Fassinger. "Self-Acceptance and Self-Disclosure of Sexual Orientation in Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Adults: An Attachment Perspective." Journal of Counseling Psychology 50 (2003): 482-95.

Nichols, Jack. The Gay Agenda: Talking Back to the Fundamentalists. Amherst, N. Y.: Prometheus Books, 1996.

Russell, Stephen T., and Kara Joyner. "Adolescent Sexual Orientation and Suicide Risk: Evidence from a National Study." American Journal of Public Health 91 (2001): 1276-81.

Rust, Paula C. "Managing Multiple Identities: Diversity Among Bisexual Women and Men." Bisexuality: The Psychology and Politics of an Invisible Minority. Beth A. Firestien, ed. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications. 1996. 53-83.

Santrock, John W. Adolescence. 9th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2002.

Savin-Williams, Ritch C., and Geoffrey L. Ream. "Sex Variations in the Disclosure to Parents of Same-Sex Attractions." Journal of Family Psychology 17 (2003): 429-38.

Weiner, Kayla M. "Patriarchy, Privilege, and Power Still Reign." Psychology of Women Quarterly 27 (2003): 355-56.

Wichstrom, L., and K. Hegna. "Sexual Orientation and Suicide Attempt: A Longitudinal Study of the General Norwegian Adolescent Population." Journal of Abnormal Psychology 112 (2003): 144-51.


    Citation Information
    Author: Tamashiro, Dustin  
    Entry Title: Adolescence  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2004  
    Date Last Updated June 8, 2005  
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    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
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    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
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