I bought a fake ID and hit the gay clubs. Out on the scene I had thrilling and, now looking back, precarious hook ups with guys, going far but never all the way. Still, as I grew into my late-teens, venues started to crack down harder on underage drinking, and it soon became increasingly difficult to go and hook up with guys much older than myself.
I felt, in my increasingly anxious and deflated state, that I was being left behind.
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My first year at college, apart from being grueling mentally, was hardly a sexual smorgasbord of one-night-stands and hook-ups. Instead, I reverted to my teenage years, pining after straight boys who I knew I had no chance in hell with The boy told his then-girlfriend who I knew about , saying I had come on to him but that nothing had really happened. Although one thing I can vividly remember was that it was quite literally the other way around, the visceral shock of being somewhat shoved back in the closet and denied the celebratory expungement of my virginity was palpable.
And while at the beginning I felt like I had the upper hand in the situation—I was the one who was out and comfortable in my sexuality, right? I never learned whether the boy I lost my virginity to was struggling with his sexuality.
I realize I fell into that old gay adage of placing my feelings on a person who, for whatever reason, was never going to invest them back in me. But it could certainly do more to try to verify ages.
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Some gambling sites, for instance, make users upload a credit card or ID to prove their age. Grindr could also use algorithms to detect conversations between minors and adults. Age verification through social media is hardly foolproof, since minors can lie about their age on Facebook, too.
In , a man who had been arrested for having sex with a year-old boy sued Grindr , claiming that its weak enforcement of age restrictions was to blame for the sexual encounter. And Grindr is hardly the only problem — there are many similar venues.
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Two minutes after I opened a gay chat room, a user wrote: In the end, it is largely up to parents to protect their children. Parents can block apps like Grindr. Englander tells parents not to try to be experts on the technology.
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Children need to hear that naked photos and videos are permanent even when sent on Snapchat. They should know that sex between a minor and an adult is illegal.
They need to know the risk of infections from unprotected sex. As a society, we have failed to create enough spaces for gay youth to thrive, pushing them online and underground. While we try to find ways to hold digital sites accountable, we need to talk to our kids about how to be safe online. A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A27 of the New York edition with the headline: Young, Gay and Vulnerable Online.