There are many stereotypes concerning the sex lives of gay men, but just how accurate are they? One of the most prevalent stereotypes is that anal sex is the primary (if not only) sexual activity that gay men practice. Do the terms top, bottom and versatile –as ubiquitous as they are in gay culture – accurately portray the sexual preferences of all gay men? And with the advent of apps like Grindr, Jack’d, Scruff and Manhunt in recent years, the amount of anonymous bareback sex must be at an all-time high, right?
According to the most recent research, the answer is a resounding No.
A 2011 study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine reported on the sexual behaviors of a national U.S. sample of 24,787 gay and bisexual men recruited online. In the survey, participants were asked to describe the details of their most recent sexual event with a male partner.
Here are the results:
The single most commonly reported behavior was kissing on the mouth (74.5%), followed closely by oral sex (72.7%) and mutual masturbation (68.4%). Contrary to popular belief, only about one-third of men in the sample reported engaging in anal sex (37.2%). Of those individuals who engaged in anal sex, about half reported that they used a condom.
And while we’re on the subject of anal sex, what percentage of straight men do you think have engaged in anal sex at least once? 5 percent? 10 percent? 25 percent? According to the CDC’s (U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention) National Health Statistic Report, 44 percent of straight men and 36 percent of straight women have engaged in anal sex at least once in their lifetime. I never knew anal sex was so common among the straight crowd. Is this the new fad for birth control or something?
In terms of where the sexual behavior occurs, only a very small minority of participants reported that their sexual activity took place in what would be considered a public setting (3.1%) and the vast majority had sex in their own home or in their partner’s home (77.7%). In addition, 37% reported that sex occurred with a boyfriend or dating partner, and 17% indicated a friend. Thus, for most of the men in this study, their most recent partner was well known to them and was not anonymous. But if you look at it another way, that also means 46% (close to half of all men in the study) engaged in sexual activity with someone they didn’t know personally in their last sexual encounter. That seems like a lot, but it would be interesting to see how this compares to their heterosexual counterpart. (Although I haven’t found any studies, I’m sure hook-ups occur quite frequently between straight people too).
The results of this research counteract many of the common stereotypes about the sex lives of gay men. While it is certainly true that some gay men have anonymous anal sex in public places without a condom, this is certainly not what all or even most gay men do. Gay sex does not always equate with anal sex, and only 37 percent of respondents reported having participated in anal sex during their last encounter.
Finally, one caveat in this study, I should mention, is that the survey was conducted by Indiana University with the collaboration of Manhunt Cares, the research arm of the social networking site Manhunt (which caters to men seeking other men, most often for sex). Most, if not all of the participants in the study were recruited through users of Manhunt so they not a representative sample of the larger gay and bisexual population.
Rosenberger, J. G., et. al. Sexual behaviors and situational characteristics of most recent male-partnered sexual event among gay and bisexually identified men in the United States. Journal of Sexual Medicine. (2011)