How Many Straight People Are Having “Gay Sex?”

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It is a widely held belief that anal sex is “gay sex.” In other words, people tend to assume that anal sex is an activity practiced almost exclusively by gay men. However, this is not an accurate reflection of reality. In fact, research suggests that not only has anal sex become increasingly common among heterosexual men and women, but the vast majority of people who practice it are not gay.

For instance, according to the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior (NSSHB), a nationally representative U.S. sex survey published in 2010, as many as 27% of guys aged 25-49 reported having practiced insertive anal intercourse in the past year (i.e., they inserted their penis into someone else’s anus) [1]. When you consider that only 4.2% of men in that sample identified as gay and 92.2% identified as straight, it tells us that the prevalence of anal sex cannot be explained by a preponderance of gay men in that study. It is also worth noting that among women in the same age group, as many as 22% reported anal sex in the last year.

When you look at lifetime prevalence rates for anal sex (i.e., not just whether people have done it recently), the numbers are even higher. For example, recent results released by the Centers for Disease Control found that 44% of men and 36% of women reported having tried anal sex at least once in their lives [2].  Again, with a sample that was 94% heterosexual, this tells us that anal sex is by no means an activity confined to gay men.

And not only are people practicing anal sex widely, but they seem to be enjoying it too. The NSSHB found that among men who performed insertive anal intercourse during their most recent sexual event, 89.4% reported reaching orgasm [3]. Among women who received anal sex at their most recent event, 93.5% reported reaching orgasm! Of course, we don't know if it's the anal sex that caused the high orgasm rate because the people who reported anal sex in this study also reported engaging in several other sexual activities during that same event. Thus, it could be that people just find engaging in multiple sexual activities or having a varied sex life to be more arousing and pleasurable.

Any way you look at it, the notion that anal sex is somehow “gay sex” is a myth and it is time to stop pretending otherwise. Instead, we should be acknowledging that there is great diversity in sexual practices among people of all sexual orientations. Without recognizing this, we cannot hope to provide meaningful sex education and promote safer sex for everyone.

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[1] Herbenick, D., Reece, M., Schick, V., Sanders, S.A., Dodge, B., & Fortenberry, J.D. (2010). Sexual behavior in the United States: Results from a national probability sample of men and women ages 14-94. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 7(Suppl. 5), 255-265.

[2] Chandra, A., Mosher, W.D., & Copen, 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 Reports, 36, 1-36.

[3] Herbenick, D., Reece, M., Schick, V., Sanders, S. A., Dodge, B., & Fortenberry, J. D. (2010). An event‐level analysis of the sexual characteristics and composition among adults ages 18 to 59: Results from a national probability sample in the United States. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 7, 346-361.

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