Saturday, May 02, 2009

Mean lifetime sexual partners for gay men: Over at Secular Right, Soul Searcher made this comment:

Notice that the prolific Jason Malloy of GNXP has already made clear to Ron Gunhame of the Inductivist blog some of the heartening empirical statistics on gay promiscuity and its relation to gay marriage, to which he has not yet responded.

In particular, Jason finds in his analysis of the GSS data:“I have no idea if there is a faulty assumption somewhere in here, but at face value, this data shows the sexual behavior of homosexual males is actually nearly identical to straight white male sexual behavior. Most shockingly: gay males are just as likely to have one lifetime sexual partner as straight males!

Soul Searcher was refering to a post showing that homosexuals are less likely to think that marital infidelity is wrong. I never did replicate Jason Malloy's analysis, but let's do it now. I'm not sure if I'm doing it precisely the same way he did, but let me lay out the details.

I limited the analysis to men ages 45 and over since the number of different sexual partners has slowed down by that age. Homosexuals are defined as those only having exclusively male partners in the past year (SEXSEX). Unfortunately, we don't have a better measure available.

For straight men, it's only having female partners over the same period. I looked at how many male partners gay men reported having since age 18 (NUMMEN) and how many female partners straight men have had since age 18 (NUMWOMEN). By the way, these questions were asked 12 different years (1989, 1990, 1991, 1993, 1994, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008).

Heterosexual men (N = 2,993)
Mean lifetime partners 17.71
Percent with only one lifetime partner 20.2

Gay men (N = 80)
Mean lifetime partners 46.05
Percent with only one lifetime partner 15.0

I don't know why Jason Malloy's numbers are different from mine. He wouldn't have had 2008 data, but that should make little difference.

According to my analysis, the gay lifetime mean is 2.6 times higher than the straight mean. Both means are inflated by a few men who have hundreds of partners. I don't see where I can get a median calculated.

By contrast, you can see that the percent having only one lifetime partner is not unusual for either group, but it is a little higher for heterosexuals.

Keep in mind that the questions were asked of men from 45 to those into their nineties, so some were young men in the 1920s. I wouldn't expect gay men to have been as promiscuous then as they are now.


  1. StatsGuy10:22 AM


    Getting reamed in the ass by around 45 guys over one's lifetime?

    That's gotta smart.

  2. Anonymous4:45 PM

    There is a great irony in all things involving gay issues these days:

    The inevitable movement, however gradual, toward either civil unions or gay marriages over the next few-10 years will, I predict, coincide with the inevitable discovery of the biological cause of exclusive homosexuality.

    Hormones in the womb, epigenetics, pathogen contracted in early childhood... it doesn't matter...with science doing what it is, the biological cause will soon be identified within a generation, and once a cause is determined, it's only a short time after that it will, for obvious reasons, disappear.

  3. You should cross tabulate with age, and see if there are any trends toward increasing or decreasing promiscuity among younger cohorts.

    Also, keep in mind a lot of promiscuous gay guys tend to die young.

  4. Mark: Good point. I'll do it, but one problem is that we're talking about an N of 80.

  5. Yes, this is different than my previous method to get around the lack of sexual identity question, and I endorse it. I found the following earlier this year, and was planning on revisiting this soon:

    Straight men:NUMWOMEN(0-989) is the Dependent variable
    SEX in the Row.
    Selection Filters are AGE(45-*) and SEXSEX5(3).

    We get a higher sample size for both gays and straights if we use SEXSEX5 (Sex of partners in the last 5 years), so I use that. The mean number for straight males is 17.4 (N= 3,015).

    Gay men:NUMMEN(0-989) is the Dependent variable
    SEX in the Row.
    Selection Filters are AGE(45-*) and SEXSEX5(1).

    The average number of partners for gay males is 41.9 (N=101).

    Same method for frequencies:

    Straight men//Gay men0: 0.5%//6.8%
    1: 21.0%//17.2%
    2-5: 29.9%//21.9%
    6-10: 17.5%//10.8%
    11-15: 6.0%//1.8%
    16-20: 6.5%//9.4%
    21-30: 5.0%//6.8%
    31-50: 4.7%//7.1%
    51-100: 4.0%//8.3%
    100+: 2.0%//6.1%

    Mean: 17.4//41.9 (241%)
    Median: 5//10 (200%)
    Mode: 1//1

    (Opposite sex partners add .2 to the straight mean and 1.7 to the gay mean, but do not affect the median or mode.)

    So gay males do indeed have more sex partners in the GSS sample. Twice the average. They are twice as likely to have 51-100 partners and are 3 times as likely to have over 100 partners.

    They are 14x as likely to be life-long celibates. This number may actually be higher. It would be interesting to figure out what those smaller numbers mean. Most straight men with one lifetime partner have normal routine sex lives with their wives over their lifetime. Presumably a smaller number are semi-virginal males who were sexually abused, or once visited a prostitute, or had a one night stand, or a fleeting relationship.

    It seems likely that this is what the smaller numbers may represent for a significantly higher fraction of gay males. Are many more straight men with 2-5 partners just serial monogamists with normal sex lives, while more gay men with 2-5 partners are quasi-celibate for various reasons? Or perhaps many were straight most of their adult lives. Helpful future data/analysis would also look at and clarify the context of sexual relationships: how many romantic or cohabitional relationships do gay and straight men have and how long do these relationships last. Gay men, for instance, have more concurrent partnerships.

    Some earlier reference works, such as Masters and Johnson, reported the median number of homosexual partners as 250, based on convenience samples is urban areas. The first ever representative population surveys of sexual behavior that started coming out in Europe and North America in the early 1990s pained a very different picture. The first representative American study, The National Health and Social Life Survey—published in 1994-- found that the mean number of lifetime sexual partners was 16.9 for heterosexuals and 26.6 for homosexuals.

    Similar studies across Europe found smaller differences as well, with heterosexuals actually having higher median numbers of partners. Table 5.3 in the book Sexual behaviour and HIV/AIDS in Europe, reports heterosexual partner numbers found across Europe. Table 5.5 reports the homosexual numbers:

    Heterosexual males//Homosexual malesUK:
    N: 6409//241
    Median: 5//2 [straights more partners]
    Mean: 12//35*
    SD: 107//322

    *Mean influenced (approximately doubled) by a few individuals with many partners.

    N: 6495//199
    Median: 5//3 [straights more partners]
    Mean: 12//17
    SD: 32//64

    N: 1684//71
    Median: 5//2 [straights more partners]
    Mean: 12//5
    SD: 87//12

  6. By the way, your Secular Right link is broken.

    Earlier on Peter Frost's blog I posted that the proportion of men engaging in homosexual behavior increased for those born between 1920 and 1950.

    There seems to be a similar mid-century rise and fall for homosexual promiscuity.

    Lifetime Partners
    Straight men//Gay men (Difference)

    1940-1949: 19.3//33.0 (171%)
    1950-1959: 16.7//54.3 (325%)
    1960-1979: 14.1//22.3 (158%)

    Gay promiscuity seems to have peaked for those who were at their prime in the 1970s, and dipped lowest for those at their prime in the early-mid 1980s and beyond.

    AIDS obviously has a large role in this, and probably the survey numbers in the early 90s surveys as well (since many of the highly promiscuous would have been culled at that point).

  7. Keep in mind that the questions were asked of men from 45 to those into their nineties, so some were young men in the 1920sThe first gay man in the GSS was born in 1918. And only 4 were born in the 20s. Here are the sample numbers by birth cohort:

    1900-1919: 1
    1920-1939: 22
    1940-1949: 37
    1950-1959: 66
    1960-1979: 94
    1980-1990: 6
    Total: 226

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