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Americans Are Having More Gay Sex Than Ever Before

According to a San Diego State University study, we're more likely than ever to report having had same-sex experiences—and being OK with it.

by Sirin Kale
Jun 2 2016, 12:55pm

Photo by Joselito Briones via Stocksy

New research shows that American adults are queerer than ever before—and society is pretty chill about it. But if figures are anything to go by, we're still a long way from living in a sexual utopia.

A research team led by San Diego State University, with input from Florida Atlantic University and Widener University, analyzed data from the General Social Survey, which collects annual information from 30,000 adults about their sexual behaviors and attitudes. It found that the percentage of people who reported having gay or lesbian sex doubled in the period between 1990 and 2014.

The percentage of men who reported having had sex with men rose from 4.5 percent to 8.2 percent in this period, while the number of women who'd had lesbian sex increased from 3.6 percent to 8.7 percent (the greatest overall increase). More people than ever before also reported having sexual encounters with both genders, up from 3.1 percent in 1990 to 7.7 percent in 2014.

The findings, published in the Archive of Sexual Behaviour, also showed that people are generally more accepting of same-sex relationships. In 1990, only 13 percent of Americans surveyed thought that same-sex relationships were "not wrong at all," but that figure now stands at 49 percent of all adults and 63 percent of so-called 'millennials' in 2014.

Before we get all triumphalist about how society is more open-minded, it's worth pointing out that 51 percent of Americans still think there's something a little "wrong" with gay or lesbian sex. An improvement, certainly, but hardly a huge leap forward in terms of social progress. In her comments on these findings, report author Professor Jean Twenge described "large shifts in both attitudes and behavior... suggesting rapid cultural change." This, she went on, is "evidence that American culture has become more individualistic and more focused on the self and on equality. Without the strict social rules common in the past, Americans now feel more free to have sexual experiences they desire."

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Researchers also found that women were more likely to have sexual encounters with other women where they were younger, whereas age had little impact on a man's propensity to have gay sex. This reinforces what sexuality researchers have been telling us for some time, which is that women are more likely to explore their sexual identities when they're younger—particularly between the ages of 22 and 28.

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There's been no shortage of research in recent years exploding the heteronormative myth of sexual relations. In Britain, a survey found that 50 percent of young people wouldn't define themselves as fully heterosexual. A 2013 study in leading medical journal The Lancet found significant increases in the amount of women reporting same-sex encounters (up from 4 percent to 16 percent in the period 1990 to 2012).

Given that stigma around homosexuality still persists across the world, it's likely that people aren't actually more gay than ever before, but are simply being more open about their sexual preferences. Kim Sanders, a spokesperson for LGBT charity Stonewall, told Broadly she felt the study supported this conclusion.

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"What this study appears to indicate is that people are increasingly feeling more able to be open about their sexual orientation. Historically lesbian, gay, and bi people have been a hidden population because people were extremely reluctant to speak openly about their sexual orientation for fear of discrimination, violence or ridicule. This study seems to show that attitudes are changing and people are beginning to feel free to be themselves, which is very positive news."

Given how many Americans still feel there's something wrong with gay sex, these results come with a caveat. "These figures," Sanders says, "show just how much work there is to do before we can say everyone is accepted without exception."

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