There are several common stereotypes about the sex lives of gay men. One of the most prevalent is that anal sex is the primary (if not only) sexual activity that gay men practice. Another is that sex in public places (e.g., in parks a la singer George Michael) is a common occurrence. And yet one more is that gay men mostly have anonymous sex. Is there any truth to these widespread stereotypes? According to 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 nearly 25,000 gay and bisexual men recruited online.1 Participants were asked to describe the details of their most recent sexual event with a male partner. Results indicated that gay men have an incredibly diverse sexual repertoire, with over 1,300 unique combinations of sexual behavior reported. Most participants (63.2%) reported engaging in somewhere between five and nine different sexual activities during their most recent sexual encounter.
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%). This tells us that the common assumption that “gay sex” is necessarily anal sex is inaccurate.
In terms of the context of sexual behavior, only a very small minority of participants reported that their sexual activity took place in what would be considered a public setting (3.1%)—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.
While it is certainly true that some gay men have anonymous anal sex in public places, this is not necessarily what all or even most gay men do. The results of this research thus seem to counteract many common stereotypes about the sex lives of gay men. In addition, these findings suggest that doctors and public health professionals should not make too many assumptions about the sexual behaviors of men who have sex with men; rather, we need to be taking into account the wide individual variability that exists.
1Rosenberger, J. G., Reece, M., Schick, V., Herbenick, D., Novak, D. S. Van Der Pol, B., & Fortenberry, J. D. (2011). 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, 8, 3040–3050. doi: 10.1111/j.1743-6109.2011.02438.x
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