Why are gay men so promiscuous? Because we are Men.
Yeah, that’s kind of it. Gay dudes are attracted to other dudes, and since most dudes like sex, making a connection can be pretty easy. Evolutionary theory says that men are wired to sow their seeds as widely as possible, so being male means being wired for promiscuity, something true for all men, straight and gay. So two men together can be all gas pedal and no brake.
Women, on the other hand, may love sex just as much as men, but are more likely to take other factors into consideration. Before the invention of birth control in a pill, for example, women could be left pregnant and caring for a child. So traditionally, women suffered more dramatically from poor sexual choices than men. In male-female relations, then, it is often men who are pushing on the gas pedal, and women in charge of the brakes.
Of course sexual ethics still apply to men, whether we are with a woman or another man. While sexual orientation is not a choice, gay people still choose when to have sex and with whom… and a surprising number choose not to have sex at all. A recent study found that over two million gay American men had not had any sex in the last five years.
Still, it remains true that some gay men are profoundly promiscuous, but the numbers are smaller than some people think. America’s largest online dating site, OkCupid, observed their customer’s online behavior and found that gay people had almost exactly the same number of sexual partners as straight people. According to OkCupid’s data, 45% of gay people and 44% of straight people had five or fewer sexual partners, while 98% of gay people and 99% of straight people have had twenty or less. So according to OKCupid’s data, the promiscuous 2% minority of the gay members had 23% of the gay sex, which sounds about right to me. A small percentage of people, gay and straight, male and female, are particularly promiscuous, but that is not the majority.
To add an even more intriguing note – as gay marriage spreads, promiscuity seems to be dropping. According to a ten year study by the US National Surveys of Family Growth, gay male promiscuity dropped significantly during the first decade gay marriage was an option.
So to review:
Why are gay men so promiscuous? Because we are men.
And are all gay men that promiscuous? Of course not.
And do changes in tolerance and acceptance affect gay men’s promiscuity? Yes.
From Annie Proulx’s short story Brokeback Mountain:
What Jack remembered and craved
in a way he could neither help nor understand
was the time that distant summer on Brokeback
when Ennis had come up behind him and pulled him close,
the silent embrace satisfying
some shared and sexless hunger.
We do not choose who we are attracted to. As every woman drawn to the wrong kind of man knows, attraction is a mysterious force.
Anti-gay moralists label sexual attraction a choice, which is weird. It like they’ve never truly considered their own attractions, or they do not know what authentic passions feel like, because otherwise that formulation makes no sense.
We don’t get to choose what we like. The color blue. Asparagus. Country music. Getting up early. Angry people. Beaches. Horror movies. Our mothers. Oak trees. Los Angeles. Spicy food. All of these things are liked or disliked by people, and none of those likes or dislikes were chosen. I’ve even met people who don’t like chocolate, which is a preference that makes no sense to me at all.
Physical attraction to other people is the same. I don’t get to choose. There are many men and women I find visually attractive, of every type, but only once in a long while I meet a man who sets every cell of my body abuzz. I don’t fully understand this how this effect works, or want to go into the neurobiology here, but I know it when I feel it. When I meet one of these magical beings, rare as unicorns, who can set my body ablaze, I find myself in a world my rational mind does not understand. It is the world of poetry and the world of heart, but it what it is not is a choice.
What a profound tragedy that some people do not know this experience well enough to speak to it with clarity, or recognize it in others.
Some moralists like to condemn other people’s actions, and there they are on firmer ground. As a responsible adult I do get to choose my actions. I do get to choose who I spend time with, who I befriend, who I kiss, who I have sex with, and who I marry. Those are all on me, those actions are my personal responsibility. But I cannot choose who I am attracted to. I cannot choose the fundamental parts of the drive that guides those decisions.
My sexual orientation, then, is a force far beyond my conscious will, which puts in somewhere outside of myself and moves it into the realm of the sacred, and the sublime, which makes it tender territory for those who make such thoughtless pronouncements.
And those who were seen dancing
were thought to be insane
by those who could not hear the music.
» Friedrich Nietzsche
I did not choose to be gay. In my experience, it felt like homosexuality chose me.
It found me on the playground of Rosslyn Heights Elementary School during afternoon recess on a spring afternoon. I was in 5th grade, and during a game during recess a 6th grader took his shirt off. With an odd awareness I found myself staring at his athletic torso and—woosh—something happened inside me. With unnerving clarity I realized I was attracted to this kid, and more specifically, to his body. This must be the same disruptive moment straight boys feel when a woman’s breasts shift from the warmly maternal to the unnervingly erotic. Puberty’s first thunderings arrived as attraction to a boy I don’t even remember, outside of that one searing image.
I always knew I was different. I felt out of synch with the other kids, and by the third grade they were mirroring my differentness by calling me a “fem” and mocking how I talked, sat, and walked. I knew I found men to be “the other” in a way I never experienced women, but it wasn’t until that moment on the playground that I began to realize why. From that day, I began to look at men differently. I started to scrutinize them for the interest I had in their bodies, and tried to sort out these new feelings that kept shifting as adolescence progressed.
I did not choose to be gay. I was not giving in to an indulgent experience of decadent pleasure, as religious conservatives would have it. I was only 11. I did not understand the concept of sexuality for anyone, especially myself. I was the oldest of five, so I had no older siblings to learn from. I was so ignorant that a mean girl in class that same year teased me for not knowing what “gay” meant. I was sure it meant happy, which confirmed her low opinion of me. (Her other word was “whore,” which I asserted was like a scary movie, to more snearing.) I was still a bit mystified how the sex act worked a year later when we saw the highly abstracted diagrams in the filmstrips of parent-child sex education night. For me, at least, the concept of “attraction,” as a full-bodied emotional reaction to a particular gender, arrived well before my conceptualization of “sex.”
Although the details vary widely, most gay men have a similar story. We have a sense that we are different from a young age, crystallizing somewhere around the age of eight. Some of us know that our difference centers around our attraction to men, while others are drawn to the feminine and the world of women. Women often have the same kind of clarity about their sexual attraction, or may experience a fluidity over time, and they face the same kind of questions of how closely they identify with their masculinity.
Clarity around sexual stuff does not fully arrive for most of us, straight or gay, until after adolescence and we grow into adults. For me, the arrival of sexual attraction was like “Aha, that explains a lot of things,” along with a sinking sense that the surety of my childhood view of a simple world was slipping away. My culture offered no support, no role models, and no positive messages about being gay. It took another decade for me to figure out how to live my life as me, rather than as the person society said I should be.
On my way to 50 I have made ten thousand choices of how to live my life, but I never got to choose who I was attracted to. How some of us came to believe homosexuality is a choice remains a mystery to me.