Human sexuality scientists say seemingly controversial things.
For example, one of the things they say is “about a quarter of US men have sexual experiences with another man at least once during their lifetimes.” Human sexuality scientists say this even though only about 8% of US men report having sex with another man and only about 5% of US men identify as being gay.
So, what gives with these percentages being different from one another? They should be equal. Or should they?
The percentage of men identifying as being gay widely varies from one culture to the next with culture defined by family, religion, race, ethnicity, age, geography, and economics. “Identifying as being gay” and “actually being gay” are two different entities. Acceptance makes these entities different. Without cultural acceptance within family, religion, etc., the percentage of men “identifying as gay” will always be lower than the percentage of men who are “actually gay.”
The percentage of men having sex with another man depends on the definition of “sex.” Does sex include mutual masturbation, and oral and anal sex? If it only includes anal sex — does anal sex include analingus as part of its definition? And is giving and receiving penile-anal intercourse included in its definition? With idiosyncratic definitions of sex, the percentage of men “reporting having sex with another man” will always be lower than the percentage of men who are “actually having sex with another man.”
This brings us to the seemingly controversial statement, “about a quarter of US men have sexual experiences with another man at least once during their lifetimes.” This statement begs the question, what is a “sexual experience?” The answer is, sexual experiences include what has already been discussed: cognitions like “identifying as being gay” and behaviors like “masturbation, and oral and anal sex;” and they also include flirting, feelings, fantasies, dreams, and poetry.
When sexual experiences are thought about in this way, the statement about the percentage of men’s sexual experiences with other men becomes a lot less (or not at all) controversial.
But if you are still not believing sexual experiences go beyond a person’s sexual identity; and beyond their behaviors associated with masturbation, and sexual intercourse, I end this paper with a story and a question made exclusively for you.
You discover your spouse is writing “romantic” poems to someone other than you. Your spouse is having fantasies about this person. And your spouse is saying they love this person. But you also know, your spouse identifies the relationship they have with this person as completely Platonic. And you know your spouse has never had any type of sexual intercourse with this person. In fact, your spouse has never even physically met this person.
If you believe sexual experiences do not go beyond sexual identity; and behaviors associated with masturbation, and sexual intercourse, does this then mean your spouse is not having sexual experiences with this person?
Dahlgreen, W., & Shakespeare, A. E. (2015). 1 in 2 young people say they are not 100% heterosexual. YouGov: London, United Kingdom. https://yougov.co.uk/topics/lifestyle/articles-reports/2015/08/16/half-young-not-heterosexual
Gates, G. J. (2011). How many people are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender? The Williams Institute: Los Angeles, California. https://www.schoolnewsnetwork.org/attachments/Gates-How-Many-People-LGBT-Apr-2011.pdf
Mosher, C. A., Copen, C., & Sionean, C. (2011). Sexual behavior, sexual attraction, and sexual identity in the United States: Data from the 2006–2008 National Survey of Family Growth. National Health Statistics Report, 3, 1–36.
Statistica (2021). Share of Americans who identify as LGBT from 2012 to 2020, by gender. Statistica Inc: New York, New York. https://www.statista.com/statistics/719697/american-adults-who-identify-as-homosexual-bisexual-or-transgender-by-gender/
Twenge, J. M., Sherman, R. A., & Wells, B. E. (2016). Changes in American adults’ reported same-sex sexual experiences and attitudes, 1973–2014. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 45, 1713–1730.
Dr. Don Lucas, Ph.D. is a Professor of Psychology and head of the Psychology Department at Northwest Vista College in San Antonio Texas. He loves psychology, teaching, and research.
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Sexuality LGBTQI homosexual gay psychology