Youth Online: Non-heterosexual Young People’s Use of the Internet to Negotiate their Identities, Support Networks and Sociosexual Relations

Authored by: Gary Downing

The Routledge Research Companion to Geographies of Sex and Sexualities

Print publication date:  May  2016
Online publication date:  May  2016

Print ISBN: 9781472455482
eBook ISBN: 9781315613000
Adobe ISBN: 9781317043331


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This chapter investigates how non-heterosexual 1 1

I employ the term ‘non-heterosexual’ to encompass the variety of ways in which the participants defined their sexual identities. This was not limited to LGBT, but also included queer, asexual and some who felt uncomfortable identifying with any one label due to the fluidity of their sexuality. Moreover, for many young people, discourses of heterosexuality were critical in the performance of their identities – being ‘not’ heterosexual. Although I acknowledge that this could be seen as a negative term, by highlighting the ongoing significance of heterosexuality I hope to continue to problematize this as a presumed ‘norm’ in society.

youth are using the internet to construct and maintain their identities, support networks and sociosexual relations in the UK. In particular, this research explores the role of social networking websites that have been designed for non-heterosexual users, and examines young people’s negotiation of these to supplement their virtual and material sociosexual relations. This responds to Vanderbeck’s (2008) call for discussion of young people’s access to particular kinds of media and contributes to the growing body of literature which understands online and offline realities as interconnected in young people’s everyday lives (Holloway and Valentine, 2003). This chapter focuses on non-heterosexual youth, who negotiate an increasingly individualized range of sociosexual trajectories (Valentine et al., 2003; Beck and Beck-Gernsheim, 2002). Non-heterosexual young people’s identities have been traditionally bound by essentialist identity categories (for example, gay, lesbian) (Wysocki, 1998), and also constrained by the dominance of heterosexual discourses in spaces such as schools and homes (Holloway et al., 2000). Moreover, in contrast to those who made their transition to a non-heterosexual identity in previous decades, young people in the UK are making their transition to a non-heterosexual identity in a society that recognizes same-sex relationships and has a greater visible presence of homosexuality in the media. Therefore, following a brief overview of previous research in this area and related methodology, this chapter will explore how non-heterosexual young people negotiate their identities, support networks and sociosexual relations online, and will analyse the connections between virtual and material realities.

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