Sunday, March 13, 2011

Update: How Many Americans Are Gay?

Every few years the National Center for Health Statistics surveys the American public about its sexual behavior and orientation. The latest survey results are out, and they are a lot less interesting than you might expect--mostly because little has changed.   

Asking the kinds of questions that would make your mother blush, the National Survey of Family Growth examines family development from first sexual encounter to ongoing sexual behavior, sexual orientation, sex practices, contraceptive use, fertility, infertility, pregnancy, marriage, and divorce. By focusing on people aged 15 to 44, it captures current trends. The survey was once limited to women, but expanded to include men in 2002. The latest data, from the 2006-08 cycle of interviews, confirms many of the findings from the 2002 survey. 

According to the latest report, Sexual Behavior, Sexual Attraction, and Sexual Identity in the United States: Data from the 2006-2008 National Survey of Family Growth, 4.6 percent of women aged 18 to 44 identify themselves as lesbian or bisexual. This is up from 4.1 percent in 2002. Among men in the age group, 2.8 percent identify themselves as gay or bisexual, down from 4.1 percent in 2002. While the numbers have changed, the changes are minor.    

In another take on the issue of sexual orientation, the survey asks whether people are attracted to the opposite sex or the same sex. Among women aged 18 to 44, 83.3 percent say they are sexually attracted only to men. Among men in the age group, 93.5 percent say they are sexually attracted only to women. These figures are also similar to 2002 results (85.7 percent of women and 92.2 percent of men). 

When asked whether they had ever had any same-sex contact, 12.5 percent of women and 5.2 percent of men aged 15 to 44 answered yes (in 2002, the figures were 11.2 and 6.0 percent, respectively). Among men, same-sex contact was specifically defined as oral or anal sex. Among women, the questions were about oral sex and a broader "sexual experience of any kind." The broader question posed to women may account for the much larger percentage of women who have had same-sex contact.

You may scoff at the notion that respondents will answer questions about sexual behavior and orientation honestly. It is no doubt true that many are lying. But they are lying consistently over the years. Consistency makes this survey a valuable addition to our knowledge about sexual behavior and orientation in the United States. 

No comments: