Friday, November 03, 2017

Median number of adult sexual partners by sexual orientation

The following table shows the median number of sexual partners in adulthood respondents report having had, by sexual orientation and by the sex of those partners:

The stereotypes for gays and straights hold. Sperm is cheap, and gay men put a lot of it into a lot of orifices. Reliably male orifices. 

A figure 'only' twice that of straight men may seem low. It may in fact be low, as self-reported responses about sexual behaviors are not the most reliable data in the world--that heterosexual male means and medians are consistently higher than heterosexual female means and medians indicates as much, since this is not mathematically possible (assuming a 50/50 gender distribution). It's not clear, though, why gay men would low-ball (heh) the estimates more than other men would. 

While there is a will, there is not always a way. Smearing a queer once he's been located isn't always the hard part--finding him in the first place can be the bigger challenge. There are of course gay bars and the notorious bathhouses, bathroom stalls, etc, and now apps like Grindr, but at 1%-2% of the total population, for a gay man to casually run into another one in the course of daily life isn't a common occurrence. 

For bisexuals, the attempt at empirically validating the stereotype is only partially successful. Point in favor--bisexual women are generally promiscuous, with more total partners than both normal women and rugmunchers. That every person is a potential bed mate isn't explanation enough--bisexual men trail gay men despite a broader range of people to choose from.

Point against (at least against my preconceived notion)--bisexuals tend towards more partners of the opposite sex than of the same sex. I'm especially surprised to see this among bisexual men, who I generally assumed to be gay men who didn't want to come all the way out of the closet. Instead, their numbers resemble that of heterosexual men--both have the same median number of lifetime female partners--with a couple fag flings thrown in on account of a hole being a hole.

Parenthetically, this week's episode of the Z-Blog Power Hour is what got me thinking about the material. Z-Man was reviewing some post-modern lunacy that passes for science in the academia these days about how the terms heterosexual, bisexual, and homosexual were masculine constructions in service of the patriarchy or some such nonsense, which brought me back to a question I visit frequently in my head--how long will it be before the SJWs come after the GSS? The survey uses those toxically masculine descriptions, after all, and that's hardly the most Narrative-destroying thing it inquires about.

I tend to keep this question in my head most of the time. Here's urging you to do the same. The survey is a gift that keeps giving. 

GSS variables used: SEXORNT, NUMMEN, NUMWOMEN, SEX, AGE(30-89)


JayMan said...

See also:

Female Same-Sex Attraction Revisited

Random Dude on the Internet said...

I'm surprised that it's only 11 partners for gay men.

sammybaugh said...

If the male median partner number is 2x the female, that would suggest a handful of women are having sex with a lot of men? But isn't the whole theory of alpha males that in fact it's the reverse - a handful of males are having sex with lots of women? Or maybe the median male is just lying.

sammybaugh said...

Random dude - it's 11 partners on one Caribbean cruise.

Audacious Epigone said...


Yes, great post. Thanks for prodding a revisit of it.

Random Dude,

The mean is quite a bit higher. There are a lot of queers who live what we see in gay pride parades, but they don't all live like that.


It's an artifact of some combination of men overstating and women understating the number of opposite-sex partners they've had. The female mean and medians are actually closer than the male mean and medians are, which suggests that to the extent that the responses are getting at the truth, the alpha with lots of tale and the omegas without any is descriptive.

Feryl said...

The pinched mortality of gay males suggests that either a lot of these gay men are lying, or most of the depraved ones are just not taking this kind of survey. Also, the usual concerns about sample size are noted.

Also, this would be a good time to dig up an article I read, from the late 80's or 90's, written by an anti-gay culture warrior, which talks about how a psychiatrist concluded that many of his gay patients were psychopathic in terms of their glibness and defensiveness.

Lately we've talked about people lying about their sexual preference on the GSS; I'm a bit skeptical of that but more skeptical of people honestly reporting the extent of their activity, which after all is about as personal as you can get. And whereas straight men are embarrassed to say that they only did less than 5 women, I'm sure plenty of gay dudes are reluctant to admit that several times in their life they've had encounters with 2 or more men in the space of a week.

Also a good time to point out that most gay relationships do not even come with the expectation of monogamy, let alone the demand of such. Women are necessary to moderate sexuality, no matter the fact they can resort to great emotional/interpersonal manipulation to get off, they still aren't very open to having as much as sex as possible, unlike guys.

Feryl said...

There are a lot of queers who live what we see in gay pride parades, but they don't all live like that.

Women and gay men can get sex immediately (if they're younger and not disabled). Which makes the differences in partners revealing; a minority of women slut it up, and that generally ends in their later 20's with a very small minority of women still living like that past 30.

Gay dudes, on the other hand, have like a huge contingent of oversexed pervs. We're probably talking about at least 1/3 of post-1970 gay dudes being as libertine as possible. Moreover, for the gays who live more conservatively there are troubling risks posed by intimacy with many of their fellow gays. The decadence of so many gays really must cause a lot of heartache to the gay men who want health and peace of mind.

Audacious Epigone said...

The decadence of so many gays really must cause a lot of heartache to the gay men who want health and peace of mind

Indeed. I know a gay man who is like this--he's become a real life real talk friend. He doesn't ping the gaydar hard, though I wasn't shocked when I found out he was gay. He's pretty introverted, thoughtful, and sensitive. His romantic life is nonexistent and not on account of what he wants--it's that the number of gay men who want a stable, devoted relationship is vanishingly small. Add to that the fact that he's pretty shy and not naturally outgoing, and his odds are terrible.

Sgt. Joe Friday said...

3 partners is the median for heterosexual women? That's it? I'd say multiply that number by at least 3, then you're somewhere in the ballpark.

There is still such a thing as "damaged goods," and women know it (so does everyone else BTW), hence the economizing with the truth.

Audacious Epigone said...

Sgt. Joe Friday,

Could be, though it's pretty well established that millennials and especially Gen Z are *less* sexually active than Xers and boomers were. Images of sex are ubiquitous. Actual sex, not so much.

Feryl said...

Fashion is extremely slutty these days, but overall the culture is much more chaste these days. Movies seldom have nudity compared to the 80's, guys don't hang pin-ups of girls on their walls anymore, album covers and movie posters feature less revealing images of artists/actors/models than they used to. At a Salvation Army a few years ago, I saw a fairly MOR early 80's pop LP with the woman artist/model wearing basically a see-thru damp top; The Knack's first album from 1979 also had a similar model. Genesis and Rush in the 70's often had naked guys on their album covers.

Young Boomers and X-ers were constantly being hit by arousing images that were out in the open and not treated as taboo or "secret", and it wasn't until the early 90's that the full backlash towards over-sexualized culture took place (censorship of media was encouraged, women stopped wearing as much make-up, hysteria over AIDS, etc.). This somewhat affected most X-ers (how are you supposed to get laid when girls are being told that all men are predators?)eventually, but it's really been impactful to post-X-ers who find sex to be intimidating and weird. Boomers were too old to be affected by the 1990's (and subsequent decades), and consequently they still are relatively uninhibited and have way fewer hang ups about sex than younger generations. The overall rather tentative approach to life that first appeared in the late 80's, then gained dominance by 2000, has had good and bad effects. The good news is that people born in the 70's and especially 80's/90's aren't assuming the same kinds of risks that people born in the 40's-60's took for granted. The bad news is that Boomers and early X-ers are more confident and less indecisive than the generations who were encouraged to take caution.

As for AE's point about sex "being everywhere", well, in terms of images I wouldn't agree. But I would agree that a kind of ham-fisted/faux-shocking/sensationalistic approach to sex in pop culture did become more common in the 90's and never really went away. I'm reminded of how in the late 90's/2000's, the "dogging" meme (public sex) was spread by the UK media, even though actual public sex was far more common in the 70's and 80's. Basically, went the culture was more genuinely sexual in the 70's and 80's, people had more of a blasé attitude. As soon as behavior quieted down in the 90's, breathless reports of wild behavior started happening. Granted, in the 90's there was still enough going on to fuel concern, but in the 2000's and 2010's, few people are wild enough anymore to warrant much attention.

Audacious Epigone said...


I should've stated it better.

What I was getting at is that the ability to get instant access to people having sex is ubiquitous, obviously unparalleled to any other time in human history. People are carrying around, in their pockets, access to view every kind of sexual act imaginable. That's not translating into people actually engaging in every kind of sexual act imaginable, though--far from it.

It's as much a substitute as it is a complement, though it may not be optimal to think of it in exactly those terms, but instead as a symptom of something more systematic about the wider culture. Like so much in our bonobo masturbation society, sex is something to be viewed rather than participated in (there's even masturbation within masturbation with things like Twitch, where people watch other people play video games!).

Duke Norfolk said...

This is clearly one of those situations where the mean and the median diverge quite a bit. We forget about the distinction sometimes, as so many categories see them very close together.

dc.sunsets said...

Feryl, you wrote: "Fashion is extremely slutty these days, but overall the culture is much more chaste these days.."

Yoga pants. The outline of almost-nude, with the coverage (by fabric) of a floor-length dress.

This is what a socionomist would call a perfect example of a style popular during a period of transition, exhibiting the nearly-nude style of a maniacally high social mood and the dour, often black or gray color of full coverage (found at social mood lows.) It's playing havoc with the "hemline indicator."

We live in a time of extreme paradox; everywhere I look I see women wearing black yoga pants in public, and the major stock averages rocket ever-higher, seemingly as escape velocity.

[For the record, I believe this is all a function of a "social mood mania" built entirely on the illusion of "have your cake and eat it too" debt issuance, yielding a nominal moon-shot in mood that disguises a (properly-adjusted-for-debt/inflation) society that is nowhere near an all time high and exhibits the "health" of a swimmer, treading in deep water, who nears complete and total exhaustion.]