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So Are Gay Men More Promiscuous?

Posted on Tuesday, October 19, 2010 in Community

Patrick Strudwick has presented figures from a survey which on first glance take apart the conventional wisdom that gay men are inherently more promiscuous than their straight counterparts:

Last week one of the world’s largest dating websites, OkCupid, collated and published the results of their user “match” questions, which are designed to find out as much as they can about their 4 million members in order to help them find dates. The statistics are startling.

There is only a one percentage point difference between heterosexuals and homosexuals in their promiscuity: 98% of gay people have had 20 or fewer sexual partners; 99% of straight people have had the same number. Tellingly, OkCupid found that it is just 2% of gay people that are having 23% of the total reported gay sex.

Of course, as with all statistics, there are flaws. This sample is largely North Americans who use the internet to find dates. How, therefore, can it be representative of the general population? But are those people – gay or straight – who go online looking for love and sex really going to be less promiscuous than those that don’t? I doubt it.

For the first time we have a statistical glimpse into an unreported truth: that your average gay person’s sex life is every bit as dreary and unremarkable as a heterosexual’s. But that a tiny proportion of them are freakishly promiscuous. Sex, it would seem, is distributed as unevenly as money.

The only gay lives many people know are the loud, visible ones on the gay ‘scene’ or on Gay Pride marches, and the conventional wisdom that gay men are more promiscuous than straight men is regularly accepted, by gay and straight alike. I’ve never conflated the gay scene with the experience of gay people in the wider community though, and this survey (despite its flaws) appears to confirm that these 2% really are having that 23% of the total reported gay sex. Or does it? Commentator DazedNConfused suggests:

It doesn’t suprise me that 98% of gay men who use OKcupid have had less than 20 sexual partners.

Try conducting the same survey with Gaydar, Manhunt or Grindr users for a much more realistic figure.

(for the record I’m a very promiscuous gay man)

It’s an excellent point and addresses the larger issue under the banner of gay promiscuity: if it’s conducted safely and respectfully, what is the problem with it? Even if gay men were inherently more promiscuous than straight men, there are very sound reasons why that should legitimately be the case (absence of marriage, lower prevalence of religion, more advanced partnership agreements than in the straight world). As DazedNConfused rightly points out – the survey Strudwick uses is fundamentally flawed when it comes to online behaviour, and the results of a similar survey conducted across straight and gay dating (and sex) websites may indeed deliver a completely different result. Strudwick has a bias against promiscuous sexual behaviour, which he’s entitled to, but it’s not one we all share.

So maybe he’s wrong and that’s a good thing, or maybe he’s right. Unless you actually dig into the realities of who in the wider gay community is shagging whom, you just can’t be sure. And whatever the truth, we should be challenging what all of us (straight and gay) should be looking for in our relationships.

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