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Straight From The Source:

What the “Dutch Study” Really Says About Gay Couples

Jim Burroway

January 9, 2006. revised September 30, 2008. List of misuse examples updated July 18, 2008.

One Sunday evening, I finally got around to reading that day’s newspaper when I saw a letter to the editor from Glen Lavy, Senior Vice President of the conservative Alliance Defense Fund’s Marriage Litigation Center. He objected to an editorial that suggested that same-sex marriage may help to provide stability in the lives of gay men and women. Lavy’s letter read in part:

According to a Dutch study, same-sex “partnerships” for young men are temporal at best, and men in “steady partnerships” have an average of eight partners per year aside from their “main” partner...1

We‘ve seen that claim before. Whenever discussions about gay marriage come up, these statistics are tossed around with startling consistency:

What does a homosexual marriage look like? Well, the longest term that we have available to look at is in the Netherlands. Researchers found that the average “marriage” between two men lasts one and a half years. Furthermore, during that time, men have eight other partners per year. — Dr. James Kennedy2

A recent study from the Netherlands, where gay marriage is legal, …found that even among stable homosexual partnerships, men have an average of eight partners per year outside their “monogamous” relationship. — Christianity Today3

A recent study on homosexual relationships finds they last 1-½ years on average — even as homosexual groups are pushing nationwide to legalize same-sex ‘marriages.’ The study of young Dutch homosexual men by Dr. Maria Xiridou of the Amsterdam Municipal Health Service, published in May in the journal AIDS…found that men in homosexual relationships on average have eight partners a year outside those relationships. — Washington Times4

Now that you’ve read these claims, what can you assume? Like most people, you’re likely to guess that these statistics can from a broad-based general population survey in the Netherlands studying homosexual behavior and gay relationships. Unfortunately, you’d be wrong. It turns out this “Dutch Study” was performed by a team of researchers led by Dr. Maria Xiradou that appeared in the May 2, 2003 issue of the journal AIDS. And what is the title of that study? “The contribution of steady and casual partnerships in the incidence of HIV infection among homosexual men in Amsterdam.”5

Dr. Xiridou and her colleagues based their research article on the Amsterdam Cohort Studies of HIV infection and AIDS among homosexually active men.6 These studies began in 1984, and had several different protocols in their lifetime:

  • Oct 1984-1985: Gay men aged 18-65 with at least two sexual partners in the previous six months. In other words, monogamous partners were explicitly excluded.
  • April 1985-Feb 1988: Study enrollment was continued, except HIV-negative men were now excluded. Only HIV-positive men were added.
  • Feb 1988 – Dec 1988: The study was re-opened to HIV-negative men.
  • Various additional enrollments continued from through 1998. Especially notable was a special recruitment campaign for men under the age of thirty beginning in 1995. After 1996, all HIV-negative men above the age of thirty were dropped from the study. Their data was excluded from subsequent analyses.
  • Nobody outside of Amsterdam was accepted into the study except for AIDS patients who attended clinics in Amsterdam for treatment. This makes the study almost exclusively an urban one.

Dr. Xiridou and colleagues used a smaller subset of this population by further excluding everyone under the age of thirty.

So, what do we have? We have a study population that was heavily weighted with HIV/AIDS patients, excluded monogamous participants, was predominantly urban, and consisted only of those under the age of thirty. While this population was good for the purposes of the study, it was in no way representative of Amsterdam’s gay men, let alone gay men anywhere else.

This turns out to be a very common tactic among anti-gay extremists. Because they’re eager to portray their positions as being backed by scientific research, they often turn to medical studies to support their arguments. And they are especially fond of studies of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases (STD’s), which they can count on to provide especially juicy statistics to describe “what homosexuals do”. But of course, all you really learn from these studies is what some homosexuals do — the ones who go to STD clinics because they’ve picked up a disease. By turning to Dr. Xiridou’s study, these activists are following a well-worn path.

And of course, to spotlight the anti-gay lobby's most glaring logical fallacy, I would like to point out that these “statistics” have nothing to do with lesbians at all.

So let’s review the claims against what the study actually says.

Claim #1: The study was of homosexual relationships between married homosexual men.

This study was not about homosexual relationships. The authors are mostly doctors and epidemiologists – they study how diseases are passed along from one person to the next. Their research article presented a mathematical model that was intended to predict how HIV and AIDS would spread among gay men. If a couple is monogamous, then by definition they would not be contributing to the spread of HIV and AIDS. Monogamous couples were simply irrelevant to the study, which is why they were explicitly excluded.

Claim #2: Homosexual relationships last for an average of only one and a half years, making same-sex marriages short-lived.

The first problem we have here is that everyone over the age of thirty was excluded from the study. By keeping the age of the sample population artificially low, this artificially limits the length of time any of them could have been in a “steady relationship”. You’re certainly not going to find any twenty-nine-year-olds in thirty-year relationships — or even fifteen-year ones.

But that’s not the only problem. The study didn’t ask if any of the participants were married because they couldn’t marry. Marriage equality didn’t arrive in the Netherlands until April 2001, two years after the study ended. Instead the participants were simply asked if they had a “steady relationship” with no further guidance on what that means. People dating for a few weeks could consider themselves in a “steady relationship” – which would be a far cry from full-fledged marriage.

This is an important pont. If legally recognized marriage had been an option for these couples (and if the researchers had been interested in studying only married gay men), they would have had a consistent standard for excluding those couples who were merely dating, or even those who were living together but who didn’t want to get married. That would have been the only valid way to compared married gay couples to married straight ones. You would have weeded out those who don’t want to marry, or who weren’t at that stage in their relationships where they felt ready to be married. After all, not all straight couples in “serous relationships” are married. By including couples in short-term relationships as well as those who don’t want to be married, the average length of relationships is significantly lowered.

And of course, monogamous couples were excluded from the study altogether. I don’t think it is too much of a stretch to assume that non-monogamous relationships are less likely to be as stable as monogamous ones. By excluding monogamous couples, the average is likely reduced even more.

To make a valid comparison to straight couples, we would need to compare this group of gay men to married and unmarried urban straight couples – all under thirty and all non-monogamous. This didn’t happen.

Claim #3: Men in homosexual relationships on average have eight partners a year outside those relationships.

The authors quoted that average in their study, but they never tried to claim that it was true for gay men as a whole. Because the study excluded monogamous couples, the stated average would naturally be excessively high. What’s more, we don’t know how much this average was skewed because we don’t know how many monogamous couples were excluded.

The only thing we can conclude from this study is that when people decide to be non-monogamous, they decide to be really non-monogamous.

As we have seen, the “Dutch study” claims made by anti-gay activists are seriously distorted. Like most of their claims about gay men’s sexual behavior, anti-gay activists rely on studies that are not representative of the general population. What’s worse, they especially rely on studies culled from STD clinics for most of their claims. And by not telling you the nature of these studies or their participants, they are engaging in a deliberately deceptive practice. And they get by with it because they assume you won’t read these studies yourself, which is a safe assumption for most readers. After all, who has the time to go to a medical library to look up these studies in arcane professional journals?

These activists know that STD studies are a reliable source of statistics describing the behavior of irresponsible gay men and women. But these studies are far from representative of the gay population as a whole. If you don’t believe that, then perhaps you should check out what straight STD patients are doing.

Examples of misuse of the Xiridou, et al. study:


1. Lavy, Glen. Letter to the editor. “Dangerous Stand, Skewed Facts” Arizona Daily Star (July 31, 2005): H3. Available online at [BACK]

2. Kennedy, D. James; Newcombe, Jerry. What’s Wrong with Same Sex Marriage? (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2004): 22. [BACK]

3. Benne, Robert & McDermott, Gerald. “Speaking Out: Why Gay Marriage Would Be Harmful.” Christianity Today (Feb 16, 2004). Available online at [BACK]

4. Fagan Amy. “Study finds gay unions brief. Washington Times (July 11, 2003). Available online at [BACK]

5. Xiridou, Maria; Geskus, Ronald; de Wit, John; Coutinho, Roel; Kretzschmar, Mirjam. “The contribution of steady and casual partnerships in the incidence of HIV infection among homosexual men in Amsterdam.” AIDS 17, no. 7 (May 2, 2003): 1029-1038. Available online at [BACK]

6. For a more detailed description of the Amsterdam Cohort Studies’ participants, see Dukers, Nicole H.T.M.; Goudsmit, Jaap; de Wit, John B.F.; Prins, Maria; Weverling, Gerrit-Jan; Coutinho, Roel A. “Sexual risk behaviour relates to the virological and immunological improvements during highly active antiretroviral therapy in HIV-1 infection.” AIDS 15, no. 3 (Feb 16, 2001): 369-378. Available online at

Additional information can be found at the Amsterdam Cohort Studies’ web site at [BACK]