NSSHB on gay percentages

Timothy Kincaid

October 5th, 2010

Indiana University’s Center for Sexual Health Promotion has released its National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior, what is dubbed “the largest, most comprehensive national survey of Americans’ sexual behavior since 1994.” As part of its extensive review of American sex practices, the NSSHB also provides information on the prevalence of gay people in the population.

Determining the size of the LGBT community is difficult. Even defining it can be a challenge.

I define a homosexual as someone who exclusively or predominantly experiences romantic and/or sexual attraction towards persons of the same sex. A bisexual experiences significant romantic and/or sexual attraction towards person of both sexes.

But measuring such characteristics can be problematic. Because same-sex attraction occurs in small percentages of the population and because there are few ways of measuring attraction that can be applied across a large study sample, calculation of the size of the gay and bisexual subpopulation relies on self-reporting, a notoriously flawed method. Self-reporting is only as accurate as the participants’ honesty with themselves and with the survey and requires that there be some agreed upon definitions.

Further, sexuality can be complex. I once had a conversation about sexual definitions with someone who was dating a MTF transgender friend of mine. While he was attracted to her femininity and appearance (she’s a beautiful woman), there was also the fact that she still had a penis.

Most good studies try and observe both sexual identity and sexual behavior. Neither of these exactly line up with sexual attraction, (there are some who experience predominantly same-sex attractions but who neither identify as gay or engage in same-sex behavior, as well as some who fit in one category but not the other). However, when taken in conjunction, they can provide information as to homosexual or bisexual orientation. The NSSHB presents both.

Before we discuss the results, let’s look at the validity of the survey and the appropriateness of relying on its findings. The NSSHB is not intended to be a measurement of same-sex sexuality, but rather a measure of human sexuality in Americans at a particular moment. However, if it is of sufficient size and quality, it can be of use.

Sampling Method

The study used probability sampling to survey 2,936 men and 2,929 women age 14 to 94. They randomly selected addresses from a pool of about 98% of the population. They adjusted for demographic distribution and invited those selected to participate. About 64% responded, of which 82% agreed to participate. The questions were answered at the participant’s convenience over the internet.

This sampling method is fairly good for the purpose of identifying participants. However, it is skewed towards those who wish to participate in sex surveys, a consideration that could either over- or under-represent gay people. The sample results were verified against separately collected data on sexual orientation.

All in all, this is a credible survey of a fairly representative sample of significant size and should be given weight and consideration when discussing the extent of homosexual and bisexual orientation.

Sexual Identity

In general, sexual identity measures best add to the understanding of those who are “in the gay community.” It includes those who think of themself as being gay, but would not include those who are closeted, ex-gay, religiously opposed to self-inclusion in the community, or even some who happily live in a same-sex relationship but who see their lives as outside of the community.

Additionally, for purposes of self-reporting, it is well known and understood that gay is under-reported and bisexual is over-reported within the community (we all know someone whose “bisexuality” consists of one drunken opposite-sex hook-up in college). So it is probably reasonable to assume that surveys share this bias as well

As time goes on, identity will more closely parallel attraction, but for as long as there are anti-gay activists and social pressures which disadvantage those who are openly gay, this measure will not fully align with sexual orientation as experienced.

The NSSHB study revealed sexual identity as follows:

Male Adult:

92.2% – Heterosexual
4.2% – Gay
2.6% – Bisexual
1.0% – Other

Female Adult:

93.1% – Heterosexual
0.9% – Lesbian
3.6% – Bisexual
2.3% – Other

Unfortunately, with “other” registering so high, it is difficult to give any sense of certainty as to what this means. Certainly asexual or “not really sure” can be included, but there may be other cultural factors at play which shift definition from “gay” to “other”.

But we can say that this study reveals that about 7% of men and about 4.5% of women identify as gay or bisexual. This result is significantly higher – for men – than the result of the CDC’s 2005 report which found gay/bi men to be 2.3/1.8% and gay/bi women to be 1.3/2.8%.

Based on the two reports, and due to the small percentages and the margins of error, “4-7% of men and about 4% of women” may be the best quantification we can use for gay/bi identification.

Another interesting observation can be made from the identity results. Adolescents boys (14 to 17) report 1.8% gay and 1.5% bisexual while adolescent girls report 0.2% lesbian and 8.4% bisexual. These identities probably reflect social pressures to a great extent and may tell us about sharp differences between teenage acceptance of male homosexuality and female homosexuality, and especially the chic status that bisexuality may have among teen girls.

Sexual Behavior

In current American society, sexual behavior can be hard to translate into orientation.

Many people whose sexual orientation is virtually entirely heterosexual may have experimented with same-sex behavior at some point in their life and such responses may not well correlate with homosexuality. But there are those who may also be fully homosexual in orientation and identity who are currently partnerless or who choose not to engage in same-sex behavior. So it would be foolish to equate single sexual experiences with homosexuality or bisexuality or even same-sex attraction.

Some indicators, however may be better than others. For example, it might be reasonable to assume that men who perform oral sex on another man are more likely to be same-sex attracted than a man who lays back, closes his eyes, and says, “hey, a blowj*b is a blowj*b.” And there is probably not a significant percentage of the population who regularly are anal sex recipients yet who lack any same-sex attraction.

Figures at both ends of the age scale were lower than average (due to obvious reasons), but looking at those men between the ages of 20 and 60 who “gave oral to male” we find

4.4% – during the past month
6.3% – during the past year
10.3% – during lifetime

Men between the ages of 20 and 60 who “received penis in anus” were

1.9% – during the past month
4.2% – during the past year
7.9% – during lifetime

These calculations are composite from individual age groups (for example, 10.8% of 20-24 year olds have been anally receptive) and do not take into consideration the probability range. However, they do confirm that the 7% of men who identify as gay or bisexual is a minimum number.

Women between the ages of 20 and 60 who “gave oral to female” were

0.9% – during the past month
3.1% – during the past year
11.0% – during lifetime

These numbers correlate interestingly with the lesbian/bisexual identities as reported above, and confirm that the 4.5% of women who identify as gay or bisexual is likely a minimum number.

Heterosexual Behavior

In addition to providing information about the prevalence of homosexuality in society, this study blows the myth off the assumptions about “what gay sex is.” About 40% of heterosexuals (age 20 to 60) have engaged in anal sex, and about 15% have in the last year.

Oral sex is even more predominant. For example, of men aged 30 to 39, 49.4% received oral sex from a woman in the past month, and 38.1% reciprocated. Lifetime percentages of adults ranges averaged in the high 80s for both.

When anti-gay activists rant about the “dirty and diseased” aspect of gay sexuality, they are deceiving both themselves and their readers. Both anal sex and oral sex occurs far more frequently between heterosexuals than between gay or bisexual people.

Regan DuCasse

October 5th, 2010

The stigmatization of contraception/non procreative sex is prevalent in the anti gay equality argument.

Whether the partners are op sex or same sex, the veil of privacy is allowed to come down between op sex partners. It doesn’t seem that those determined to discriminate against gay couples and unmarried couples, let their imaginations invade op sex bedrooms. Nor civil laws. In more fundamentally religious communities, the proscriptions for sex are ASSUMED to adhered to, as well as narrowly defined.
But only policing and enforcement is in the interests of the same, against gay couples.

The prejudice against contraception, or non procreative couples…or especially against women, annoys the hell out of me.

You’d think that it’s a mandate to make babies for…who exactly?
You’d think that thousands of children hadn’t been abandoned by the very parents so deified by the religious right in this political discussion.

You’d think we had a severely underpopulated planet, and that their concern is the proliferation of humanity, when in reality, it’s ALWAYS been about increasing one’s OWN tribe and family.
Because killing anyone who WASN’T in the tribe or family, is a tradition too.

And you’d think, that given the reality of an overcrowded, polluted planet, those who don’t contribute to that, or the masses of children living in poverty, would be given far more respect for that.

Yes, this whole issue has been a bitch to discuss rationally with our opposition.
All they’ve demonstrated is that while they live and share this little planet, they don’t want to. Although they are physically here, their minds left the planet a long time ago.

Regan DuCasse

October 5th, 2010

I remember one of my clever friends asking me about attraction to someone transgendered.
I’m in that category of thoroughly heterosexual, with no ss attraction or experience.
But I told my friend, in all honesty, the person would have to have completed transition.

However, I think all of us are conditioned to rely too much on superficial aspects of attraction. What we SEE at first is one thing, but being more attracted to, and falling in love with more of the whole person, past appearance is so very important.

So a pre op transwoman, could well be VERY attractive to a man that doesn’t identify as gay. They love who they are with, just as a unique person. And would utilize more flexibility in themselves if they took their relationship to such a physically intimate level.
Which is up to THEM, and nobody else.

But there are people who fetish just about anything. But that would still be on a level of less depth.

What is truly important here, and something I firmly believe in: is to let individuals be adults and find their own levels regarding gender and orientation.

We also know of asexual people. That aren’t attracted SEX, or are no longer interested, but still want to have companionship and a significant other to be with for all the reasons those marriage vows are so wonderful.
Sometimes with their SS. This is apparently true also that there is SS attraction among the asexual.

That road to love ain’t smooth in the best of times. It’s exceptionally cruel to deliberately throw rocks on that path to trip on, based on such narrow definitions about which adults should be attracted to other adults.


October 5th, 2010

I’m an older gay man and I regularly have sex with seven other older men, all but one of whom are married and all of whom consider themselves straight, not bisexual. Yet I see some of them on a weekly basis. More than half of them have said they have more sex with me than with their wives. In some of the cases, it’s one way service, of course, but in others, it’s reciprocal. Yet if you counted the eight of us, only one (me) would identify as gay. They aren’t attracted to me, of course, they’re attracted by sex. Well, life’s full of compromise, isn’t it?

Priya Lynn

October 5th, 2010

Regan said “You’d think that it’s a mandate to make babies for…who exactly?”.

I was surprised by this pervasive attitude as well. When I was with my wife prior to transition a constant question was “When are you going to have children?”. When we responded “We’re not going to have children.” most people acted angry and/or offended. I asked one of my sisters, who was one of these people, “What difference does it make to you?”, she responded that she felt our choice was in essence criticizing her choice to have children. I can see now that most people want other couples to have children to validate their own choices and feel threatened when other couples choose to be childless because that forces them to consider that having children might not automatically be the most fullfilling choice.


October 5th, 2010

In several cultures around the world, some men have sex with other men (the latter usually assuming “female” roles), yet neither identify as homosexual or Bisexual.


October 5th, 2010

In case you had any doubts, the chief cause of AIDS in the U.S. is men having sex with men. The Centers for Disease Control has released tragic new statistics: “Gay and bisexual men … men who have sex with men [or MSM] of all races continue to be the risk group most severely affected by HIV,” the report states. “Additionally, this is the only risk group in the U.S. in which the annual number of new HIV infections is increasing.”

The statistics revealed the following:

* MSM account for nearly half of the more than one million people living with HIV in the US (48 percent, or an estimated 532,000 total persons);

* MSM account for more than half of all new HIV infections in the U.S. each year (53 percent, or an estimated 28,700 infections);

* While the CDC estimates that MSM account for just 4 percent of the U.S. male population aged 13 and older, the rate of new HIV diagnoses among MSM in the U.S. is more than 44 times that of other men;

* MSM are the only risk group in the U.S. in which new HIV infections are increasing. While new infections have declined among both heterosexuals and injection drug users, the annual number of new HIV infections among MSM has been steadily increasing since the early 1990s.

The fact is, men having sex with men is bad for their health. The prevalence of AIDS is just one indicator. You gotta wonder why TEC bishops are blind, deaf and dumb and that the “gospel” of inclusion can be a death sentence for men having sex with men. Same–sex commitment is largely a myth.


October 5th, 2010

From this article: …”a man who lays back, closes his eyes, and says, ‘hey, a blowj*b is a blowj*b.'”

What percentage of males in the study fall into this specific category? That is, how many men would identify as “straight,” yet engage in that one-way service (as abel notes above)? Is this addressed in the study? If not, it certainly needs to be.

Regan DuCasse

October 5th, 2010

You’re not helping and you’re WAY off. The chief CAUSE of AIDS, is not men having sex with men.
The chief cause of the spread of AIDS, is unprotected sex, and promiscuity.
The higher risk groups are msm, but also black hetero WOMEN are a similar demographic as gay men.

And it’s no coincidence they are a higher risk group from other factors. Marginalized minorities aren’t as likely to have access to education and medical insurance or care. And, with good reason, haven’t built trust with the medical establishment as other groups have.
Another rising at risk group since the late 90’s has been the elderly.

This demographic, like gay men, don’t have the spectre of pregnancy to restrict their activity or number of partners.
The sort of sexual freedom at the advent of contraception like birth control pills, created another set of risks of disease.

So MSM are NOT the ONLY risk group in which infection is rising.
Although heterosexuals are a decreasing risk group, BLACK heterosexuals are not.

What do you know, another devalued minority besides gay people having similar health issues for similar reasons.
If you’re going to say something, say it right, or don’t bother.
Misinformation and stigma is why AIDS became the horrendous pandemic it did to begin with.

Other Fred in the UK

October 5th, 2010

@ krakatoa,

Same–sex commitment is largely a myth.

Since, in your post, you appear keen on evidence, do you have evidence for this.

Priya Lynn

October 6th, 2010

Krakatoa said “The fact is, men having sex with men is bad for their health.”.

That’s a lie. Two men in a monogamous relationship has no more health risks then a man and a woman in a monogamous relationship. Men having sex with multiple partners is what is bad for health.

Priya Lynn

October 6th, 2010

I should rephrase that last sentence. People having sex with multiple partners is what is bad for health, not men alone.


October 6th, 2010

Wow, I’ve always wanted to be mythic–thanks, Krakatoa! My partner-now-LEGAL-husband and I have been in a monogamous relationship for 28 years. In fact, our personal circle of gay friends are mostly long-term relationships that have well outlasted the statistical norm for straight couples.

Saying things or even typing them into the ether don’t make them fact on either end of this silly argument. This is why studies like this one help clarify things.

Krakatoa, have you ever talked to actual gay people? You’d be surprised how many of us are long-term committed.

And… I assume you are as repulsed by straight divorce? Are you actively fighting to make divorce illegal?

Timothy Kincaid

October 6th, 2010

Krakatoa also posts here using the name Box Frog and Dan Farrell

Priya Lynn

October 6th, 2010

Brian, Krakatoa/Box Frog/Dan Farrell doesn’t know anything about gay people, he just makes up lies to suit his hate campaign.


October 6th, 2010

Abel, am I correct in assuming that the wives of these men you are having sex with are not happily consenting to what’s going on? And you talk about this casually in the framework of an academic discussion on ss identification as if there’s nothing to it?

Jason D

October 6th, 2010

I too am surprised to find out that I’m a myth. Here I thought the last 4.5 years of living, loving, laughing with my partner were part of reality. I wonder, since we don’t exist, if we still have to pay our taxes and rent?

The Engineer

October 7th, 2010

“And there is probably not a significant percentage of the population who regularly are anal sex recipients yet who lack any same-sex attraction.”

That was a pretty big statement, are you faimiliar with the concept of ‘pegging’? Having your wife penetrate you does not correllate with feeling same-sex attraction.

Priya Lynn

October 7th, 2010

Engineer said “Having your wife penetrate you does not correllate with feeling same-sex attraction.”.

I think it does.

Emily K

October 7th, 2010

Engineer said “Having your wife penetrate you does not correllate with feeling same-sex attraction.”.

I think it does.

No, it doesn’t. As long as it’s a woman performing a sex act, and that is the gender the man finds attractive, it’s not a marker for same-sex attraction. Just like if a prisoner lies back and thinks of a girl when another man services him, the type of sex act does not equate with sexual orientation. This is as ridiculous as saying a lesbian who enjoys strap-ons or dildos is secretly straight or bisexual. Or a straight woman who enjoys digital sex performed by a man is secretly attracted to other women.

Or is everyone here settling for the stereotype that buttsecks = gayness?

Emily K

October 7th, 2010

krakatoa/box frog/dan farrell,

tell me how lesbians are breeding grounds for disease, death, and promiscuity. Otherwise, you are saying in omission that you find gay men icky but no problem with lesbians. (and probably get turned on by them, if you’re not gay yourself.)

Hm? One statistic, please?

Priya Lynn

October 7th, 2010

Emily, I am attracted to women but when I was married to a woman I had her penetrate me and it was because I was desiring men at the time. Just as a prisoner may lie back and think of a girl when another man services him a husband may think of a man while his wife penetrates him. Anyone who enjoys being penetrated by a penis analogue can also be turned on by being penetrated by a penis. Its possible that a heterosexual man may receive fellatio from another man while thinking of a woman but that’s because the act is the same whether its a woman or not. When a man is penetrated by a woman or a lesbian by a dildo, that’s similating penetration by a penis, something a woman isn’t naturally equipped to do. When one is enjoying an act that is representative of men its a pretty tough argument to say they aren’t sexually aroused by men or at least one aspect of men.

Emily K

October 7th, 2010

Well gee, Priya, I guess your single personal experience is enough to judge the sexualities of everybody else in the world.

And here I thought people engaged in sexual acts that stimulated certain erogenous zones with their partners because they enjoyed the physical sensations, not because they thought their partners were “lacking” in some sense.

And since when does genitalia alone determine sexual orientation? After all, your most important sexual organ is the one between your ears. There’s a difference between becoming aroused by a sexual act or situation and embodying a type of sexual orientation.

Richard Rush

October 7th, 2010

Hey, krakatoa, my partner and I have been happily and healthfully promoting the myth of same-sex commitment for 29 years.

And, by-the-way, krakatoa is an appropriate name-choice. You really are similar to a volcano, which is similar to a giant pimple that sometimes pops and oozes pus.

Timothy Kincaid

October 7th, 2010


“And there is probably not a significant percentage of the population who regularly are anal sex recipients yet who lack any same-sex attraction.”

That was a pretty big statement, are you faimiliar with the concept of ‘pegging’? Having your wife penetrate you does not correllate with feeling same-sex attraction.

The study was of “received penis in anus.” Unless their wives had grown penises, I don’t think they were measuring pegging.

Emily K

October 7th, 2010

If the study is about “received penis in anus,” and that specific act ONLY, then I’d say it might correlate. I’ll take Timothy’s noted example a bit further – What does it say about a man who is only sexually attracted to MTF transgender persons who look female but are still male in their genitalia? Are these people gay? bisexual? Closeted?? In denial??? Maybe they’re just human.


October 7th, 2010

The morality of extra-martial sex aside… The number of married men who regularly enjoy sex with another man, and don’t identify as “LGBT” is an indicator of how these studies can be skewed to the “straight” side of the statistics. As Tim mentioned in the article, it is difficult to measure who is LGBT because of the individualistic definition / nature of sexual orientation. The only sure measure is what sex the men are having (as in repeatedly not the once at age 13). There was a study in 2006 that showed nearly 10% of straight identified men ONLY have sex with men and 70% of “straight” identified men having sex with men are married. Article cite below….


Nearly 10% of Self-Proclaimed ‘Straight’ Men Only Have Sex With Men
By Daniel J. DeNoon
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Sept. 18, 2006 —

Nearly one in 10 men who say they’re straight have sex only with other men, a New York City survey finds.

And 70% of those straight-identified men having sex with men are married……



October 8th, 2010

Another intersting thing in the man-on-man sex acts performed in the last year (gave oral, received oral, inserted penis in anus, received penis in anus). They all initially peak in the early 20’s, and then generally decline through the 30’s. That is what you would expect from gay men as they settle down and their sex drives slow. But then in the 40’s and 50’s thosee numbers start to rise again and reach very high numbers again in the 50’s. I speculate that this is the result of nominally hetero men who begin to experiment with man-on-man sex in early middle age. It certainly matches my straight male friends in those age groups. I’m surprised this trend hasn’t received more comment.


January 25th, 2011

These studies are so inconclusive in my opinion. Any gay guy can tell you they have had a decent amount of sexual contact with men who would never consider themselves “gay”.

Most people just aren’t about advertising this sort of information in a public sphere that so clearly demonizes gays.

And at the end of the day, a mouth is a mouth….who cares? Look at prison….with no other option those guys sure seem fine screwing other guys, and a lot of them definitely don’t consider themselves gay.

Also, a lot of cultures don’t consider themselves gay if they are the top (or the penetrator) … figure that out…. it’s completely irrational but that’s the thought process.

Most people try it once no matter what they say, and the truth is…. there is obviously a LOT MORE homosexual sex happening than anyone wants to claim.

Either way, whether there is a larger number or smaller number, it is still pathetic how badly our country treats gays. End of story.

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