Adolescent Romantic Relations and Sexual Behavior: Theory, Research, and Practical Implications

By Paul Florsheim | Go to book overview

4
Love Matters: Romantic Relationships
Among Sexual-Minority Adolescents
Lisa M. Diamond
University of Utah

Research on sexual-minority (i.e., nonheterosexual) youths has exploded in the past 10 years, but this research has been fairly lopsided in its emphasis. Disproportionate attention has been paid to these youths' suicidality, verbal and physical victimization, and risk behaviors (particularly unsafe sex and substance use), whereas more normative features of their development have received little attention. Reflecting this fact, there has been scant research on the quality and developmental significance of sexual-minority youths' romantic experiences. Although the unique dynamics of lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults' romantic relationships have been extensively studied (Gray & Isensee, 1996; James &Murphy, 1998; Kurdek, 1994, 1998; Peplau, Cochran, &Mays, 1997; Peplau, Veniegas, & Campbell, 1996), this has not been true for sexualminority youths (for exceptions see Diamond, Savin-Williams, & Dubé, 1999; Savin-Williams, 1996a, 1998).

This hampers the efforts of clinicians, educators, and policy makers to promote the well-being of sexual-minority youths. As this and other recent volumes have demonstrated (Furman, Brown, & Feiring, 1999), romantic relationships are key sites for numerous developmental transitions that take place during the adolescent years. Healthy, developmentally appropriate relationships not only provide adolescents with social support and companionship, but allow them to establish core social competencies that will help them sustain nurturing, intimate ties over the life span. Considering the extra challenges faced by sexual-minority youths—stigma, discrimination, victimization, potential familial rejection—the successful maintenance of such ties may be particularly important for their mental health.

Yet advocates for sexual-minority youth have been strangely silent on the topic of same-sex adolescent romance. This collective silence reflects widespread disagreement over how best to handle issues of adolescent sexual

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