David L. Riegel

Categorizing “Gay Teens”: A Disservice to Boys?

Reproduced here by permission of the author.

The “Gay Teen” identity has recently been much in evidence in academic and public discussions, and has a significant presence on the Internet as well as in the media and in such entities as “support groups” in secondary schools. This paper examines the sexual explorations involving other males that are common during boyhood, and then considers the degree and manner in which a boy’s psychosexual development may be negatively affected by the influence of this “Gay Teen” categorization. The nature of adult male homosexuality is explored, and this is compared and contrasted with boyhood sexual explorations, which, it is asserted, are in no way a reliable indicator of incipient homosexuality. It is argued that it is undesirable and potentially quite harmful for a boy to be labeled – or to label himself – a “Gay Teen” as the result of simply engaging in Temporary Experimental Exploratory Need (TEEN) sexually expressed relationships with other males.

It is generally agreed that boyhood psychosexual developmental tendencies and eventual adult sexual orientation are influenced by both genetic and environmental factors. Obviously next to nothing can be done about the genetic component, but it seems that much could be done to improve the social environment to which boys are subjected as their sexuality begins to develop at birth and continues unabated through childhood, adolescence, and even into adulthood.

Freud asserted that children are “polymorphously perverse,” but it would seem that “pansexual” better characterizes male prepubertal and adolescent sexual proclivities than “perverse;” the latter having the connotation of being unnatural, abnormal, or even “evil.” Boys’ innate sexuality is undoubtedly both natural and normal, most certainly not evil, and deserves not to be ignored or pathologized as Johnson (1988) proposes, but to be recognized as valid and vital. Calderone (1979) notes:

Imagine, if you can, something you experience often and intensely as real and present being accorded no recognition of its existence whatsoever by the world around you. Or imagine this real and intense experiencing of yourself being subjected over and over to severe, totally bewildering disapproval and punishment. What kind of silently tormenting existential hell is this to which we consign our children from their earliest memories? Do any ever manage to live through it with their ... sexuality undistorted? (p. 6, italics in the original)

Society, despite paying lip service to sex education, covertly prefers that boys be ignorant of the sensory sexual enjoyment that is their birthright. However, regardless of the preferences of their elders, young males have a common, bordering on universal, predilection to experiment with every conceivable form of potential sexual pleasure, and a significant percentage go through a stage where they want to engage to some degree in sexual explorations with other males, observations which most candid adult males would confirm from their own boyhood. But despite TEEN sexual activities too diverse to attempt to catalog, the vast majority of these experimenters, perhaps 90% or more, eventually grow up to be primarily attracted to females.

We social scientists seem to be obsessive about categorizing people and behaviors, and compulsive about creating labels. Thus the “category/label” of “Gay Teen/Gay Youth” – and even “Gay Boy,” which presumably includes the pre-teen – has come into vogue. When invented and arbitrary “buzzwords” such as these are institutionalized and proclaimed on the Internet and other media as if they were scientifically supported truths, a boy who is simply going through a stage of TEEN sex play with other males may be unduly influenced to jump to the hasty and ill-considered conclusion that he is unalterably and permanently gay. Alternately, this Gay Teen label may be imposed by others on a boy who is discovered to have willingly participated in such TEEN activities. Such categorization is unfortunate, and makes it much more difficult for a boy to be able to choose to explore other aspects of his pansexuality.

Additionally, the readily available identity of “Gay Teen,” whether adopted or assigned, has a certain amount of allure to the typically nonconformist adolescent in that he can figuratively thumb his nose at the societal norms of adults and even peers in his life, while at the same time finding support with groups that have been created to cater to his “category.” But if this thrusts him into a life style that is only situationally opportunistic, and which he might not have embraced apart from these extraneous influences, the end result can be bewildering internal conflicts that may later manifest themselves in serious psychopathologies.

None of these observations are intended to imply that older homosexuals cannot look back into their childhood or adolescence and say they knew then that they were gay. It is only to say that no young person, for any reason, should be stamped with a particular orientation label until he has a reasonably complete understanding of what that orientation comprises, and has had ample opportunity to explore and consider all the available alternatives, a process that can continue well into adulthood. For that matter, it is questionable if sexual orientation labels are really appropriate or desirable even for adults, since people can and do change the ways in which they choose to express their sexuality from time to time.

Since this discussion takes the position that boyhood sexual activities with other males are not cospecific with adult male homosexuality, and that the former only occasionally is followed by the latter, it seems reasonable to compare and contrast these two paradigms.

We have already discussed the extensiveness of boyhood sexual explorations with peer males. But an evolutionary case also can be made that the tendency for boys to be sexually attracted to older males is adaptive (Feierman, 1990). In prehistoric times it is likely that many children found themselves, due to violence and disease, without adequately functioning parents or guardians. A boy in this situation who was bright, attractive, and sexually androphilic (Vanggaard, 1969) would have a higher probability of connecting with an older male whose sexuality included a pedosexual component, and who would protect, provide for, and teach the boy the skills necessary for survival. Studies have identified such secondary boy-attracted pedosexual tendencies in 20 to 30% of self-identified heterosexual adult males (Freund, 1970; also cf. Briere & Runtz, 1989, CAPM, 1980 , Quinsey, 1984, West, 1980, etc.). These percentages were probably similar in prehistoric times, and in the absence of our modern day taboos, such beneficial boy/older male relationships could develop unimpeded. This boy’s androphilia would typically be supplanted by heterosexuality as he matured, he would then pass on his genes, and these traits would thus be maintained in the gene pool.

From a historical point of view, sexually expressed relationships between adolescent and younger boys with older males abound, from classical Greece (Percy, 1996) through Wilfred Owen (Hibberd, 1986), and right up to the present (Davidson, 1988). But the historical record has relatively little to say on the subject of adult male homosexuality; the majority of proposed examples turn out to be pederasty. For example, Cowan (1996) lists Alexander, Plato, Da Vinci, Bacon, Lord Byron, Lawrence, and several others as “Gay Men ... who Enriched the World,” but history describes the relationships these men had as being not with other adults, but with male adolescents or prepubescents. Adult male homosexuality then, while most certainly being a legitimate orientation which provides emotional and sensory benefits, would largely seem to be “without pride of ancestry or hope of posterity” in both a historical as well as an evolutionary sense.

Since adult male homosexuality has little extended past history and does not seem to address a generalized social need or purpose, one is prompted to inquire into the explosion of gay visibility in the last half century, which in turn seems to have provided the basis and venue for the “Gay Teens” phenomenon. One hypothesis is that much of supposedly egalitarian adult male homosexuality is in reality sublimated and longitudinally displaced “boylove,” wherein one party assumes the role of “loved boy” and the other that of “mentor/lover.” Such vicarious – one wag has called it “fossilized” – boylove would provide each of the parties with a proxy for the bonding type of relationship they either wanted in their boyhood and failed to realize, or would like to have in the present but are denied by current legal restrictions. These hidden motivations might not even be recognized, and/or might be denied or repressed. In this light, is it possible that some significant portion of adult male homosexuality is only Plato’s shadow, and sexually expressed boy/older male love is the true substance behind that shadow?

Most sexually expressed relationships by nature are not egalitarian, they are complementary. Each partner has a distinct function, a particular part to play, and these complement one another, as is exemplified in heterosexuality. Boy/older male relationships, in which the older is the benefactor and mentor and the younger is the beneficiary and learner, are likewise complementary, although TEEN relationships involving peer males are the egalitarian exception, their purpose being primarily mutual sexual learning and self-understanding. Adult male homosexuality, to the extent that it is egalitarian rather than complementary, has neither a mentoring nor a learning function, but one wonders how many of these relationships are of the nature described in the preceding paragraph, and do in fact have a complementary nature.

 As boys grow from infancy through childhood and into adolescence, they are systematically denied the information they need to explore rationally and to understand their developing sexuality. A strangely inconsistent society, while publicly proclaiming “family values,” has privately accepted de facto sexual freedom for some of its citizens, but officially has only one answer for the young of either gender, i.e., ignorance based abstinence. To make matters worse, a premature and most likely inappropriate “gay” label now may be slapped on boys who courageously choose to exercise their inborn right to self-exploration (Tindall, 1978). This forced ignorance, sexual repression, and potentially damaging labeling, coupled with the hormone driven nonconformity normally found in boys, can do nothing but exacerbate the level of discontent and friction with what boys see as an unreasonable, if not tyrannical, social order, a situation which well may contribute to the observed higher levels of violence among young males (Prescott, 1975).

The time has come for Western civilization to take a long, hard look at the social and religious myths which for so long have been foisted off on us as truths and facts by special interest groups. From the dawn of recorded history, boys have willingly engaged in sexual TEEN play with both peers and older males, and such activities have not been shown empirically to be harmful or to have significant effects on adult sexual orientation (Wilson, 1981). In some times and places these activities have been, and still are, looked upon with tolerance and even favor (Adam, 1985, Ford and Beach, 1951, Percy, 1996), whereas our society has stigmatized, pathologized, criminalized, and even demonized these same practices. There is no reason to believe that the frequency of these activities is thus significantly diminished; efforts to suppress these normal male proclivities accomplish little but to drive them underground (Johnson, 1977, Tindall, 1978) and to saddle the participants with completely unwarranted anxiety, guilt, and sometimes Draconian punishments.

The completely erroneous perceptions and inappropriate reactions of society regarding sexual TEEN experiences between boys and other males have been shown to be not only hurtful to boys, but even traumatic, whereas there is extensive documentation indicating that these experiences are rarely, if ever, intrinsically harmful in and of themselves, so long as they are consensual (e.g., Constantine, 1981, Schultz, 1980, Wilson, 1981, etc.). Boys are not sexually “perverse,” but are extensively pansexual; they always have been, and always will be. Therefore, what justification does society have to totally abrogate their right to explore freely and to learn to understand the various aspects of  their own inborn sexuality, assuming they cause no empirically demonstrable harm to themselves or others? Would it not be better to cease persecuting what boys are going to do anyway in spite of artificial social rules, and thus release them from the “silently tormenting existential hell” about which Calderone (1979) so eloquently wrote? And would it not be better if boys did not have to contend with the academic, professional, and societal pressures to be prematurely labeled – or to label themselves – as homosexual or anything else?




Adam, B. (1985). Age, Structure, and Sexuality. In Anthropology and Homosexual Behavior, Blackwood, E., (Ed.). New York: Haworth.

Briere, J. & Runtz, M. (1989). University Males’ Sexual Interest in Children. Child Abuse & Neglect 13.

Calderone, M. (1979). Parents and the Sexuality of their Children. SIECUS Report VIII (2).

CAPM (1980). Paedophilia and Public Morals. London: CAPM. Quoted in Brongersma, E. (1986) Loving Boys, p. 56. Elmhurst NY: Global Academic Publishers.

Constantine, L. (1981). The Effects of Early Sexual Experiences. In Children and Sex, Constantine, L. and Martinson, F. (Eds.). Boston: Little, Brown, and Company.

Cowan, T. (1996). Gay Men and Women who Enriched the World. Los Angeles: Alyson.

Davidson, M. (1988). Some Boys. Chicago: InBook/LPC Group.

Feierman, J. (1990). Pedophilia: Bio-social Dimensions. New York: Springer-Verlag.

Ford, C. & Beach, F. (1951). Patterns of Sexual Behavior. New York: Harper & Brothers.

Freund, K. (1970). The Structure of Erotic Preferences in the Nondeviant Male. Behavior Research and Therapy 8.

Hibberd, D. (1986). Owen the Poet. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press.

Johnson, T. (1988). Child Perpetrators – children who molest other children. Child Abuse and Neglect 12.

Johnson, W. (1977). Childhood Sexuality: The Last of the Great Taboos? SIECUS Report V (4).

Percy, W. (1996). Pederasty and Pedagogy in Archaic Greece. Chicago: University of Illinois Press.

Prescott, J. (1975). Body Pleasure and the Origin of Violence. The Futurist, IX (2)

Quinsey, V. (1984). Men Who Have Sex with Children. In Weisstub, D. (Ed.) Law and Mental Health (Volume 2).  New York: Pergamon.

Schultz, L.(1980). Diagnosis and Treatment: Introduction. In L. Schultz (Ed.) The Sexual Victimology of Youth,. Springfield IL: Charles C. Thomas.

Tindall, R. (1978). The Male Adolescent Involved with a Pederast becomes an Adult. Journal of Homosexuality 3 (4).

Vanggaard, T. (1969). Phallos. New York: International Universities Press.

West, D. (1980). Treatment in Theory and Practice. In West, D. (Ed.) Sex Offenders in the Criminal Justice System. Cambridge: Institute of Criminology. Quoted in Brongersma, E. (1986) Loving Boys, p. 56. Elmhurst NY: Global Academic Publishers.

Wilson, P. (1981). The Man they Called a Monster. North Melbourne, Australia: Cassell.