by Christian Rudder, OK Cupid
Gay issues have been in the news a lot lately, from the debate over same-sex marriage in Congress to a sickening rash of gay-bashing here in New York City. We see a lot of emotion out there, instead of information, and we wanted to provide some data-based context on sexuality so that people might make better choices about what they say, think, and do.
We run a massive dating site (OK Cupid) and therefore have unparalleled insight into sex and relationships. Here’s what we’ve found, in numbers and charts.
First of all, gay sexuality is not a threat
Gay people are not sexually interested in straights.
The subtext to a lot of homophobic thinking is the idea that gays will try to get straight people into bed at the first opportunity, or that gays are looking to “convert” straights. Freud called this concept schwanzangst; the U.S. Army calls it Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.
We combed through over 4 million match searches, and found virtually no evidence of it:
Match Search Returns
Only 0.6% of gay men have ever searched for straight matches.
In our dataset, there was not a single gay user, male or female, who primarily searched for straight people.
Gay people aren’t promiscuous
Another common myth about gay people is that they sleep around, but the statistical reality is that gay people as a group aren’t any more slutty than straights.
Median reported sex partners
straight men: 6
gay men: 6
straight women: 6
gay women: 6
Here’s how the distribution curves compare:
98% of gay people have had 20 or fewer partners (vs. 99% for straights)
It turns out that a tiny fraction of gays have single-handedly two-handedly created the public image of gay sexual recklessness—in fact we found that just 2% of gay people have had 23% of the total reported gay sex, which is pretty crazy.
Straight people have gay sex, too
Another inquiry that had unexpected results: we asked 252,900 straight people have you ever had a sexual encounter with someone of the same sex?
Almost a quarter answered ‘yes’.
Not unexpectedly, more women than men have had same-sex desires:
straight women’s same-sex desires:1 in 3 straight women has hooked up with another woman.
and of those who haven’t, over 1 in 4 would like to.
As for straight men, a surprisingly high 13% have had a same-sex experience, and another 5% haven’t yet but would like to.
Using the incredible power of computers, we were able to break down this question geographically. Here are straight people who either have had or would like to have a same-sex experience in the continental U.S. and lower Canada.
You can see some sharp geographic divides.
Awesomely, the mountain West lives up to its Brokeback reputation, and Canada is orange nearly coast-to-coast. Even in the yellow and blue areas, you can see pockets of gay curiosity in interesting places: Austin, Madison, Asheville. Anywhere soy milk is served, basically.
Doing the research for this post, I came across many awful things our elected officials have said about gay people; here’s a relatively calm example:
For starters, I found that a fun game to play with stuff like this is to replace the words “homosexual” and “gay” with “politician”—then you have something that’s actually true.
I also spent a lot of time looking up match questions to debunk this particular claim. Down in the database I discovered one question with a surprising disparity, not between orientations, but between genders. Like Frodo to the Balrog, I wished I’d never unearthed it.
Come on, people. #facepalm.
Beyond sex: gay & straight personalities
More than just asking about specific desires and behaviors, our match questions are designed to tease out our users’ underlying personalities. We’ve collected over 669 million answers from users so far. Below is a straight/gay comparison on 23 personality categories.
The idea of the typical straight man as a kind bullying jock seems to be broadly true, though there is also a strong dork streak there, as well.
Looking closely at the chart for females, we can improve upon Marx’s famous dictum.
Religion is the opiate of the masses, so long as the masses are straight. However, amass a bunch of lesbians and you’re going to need actual drugs.In any event, a lot of these measured traits are reflected by the users’ own words. Like we did before with race, we looked at the interests and tastes statistically unique to the different orientations, according to their personal profiles. We crunched millions of words of essay text and found the phrases most correlated to a particular sexual preference; again, these are the users’ own words.
The stuff gay people like
the devil wears prada britney spears mean girls kelly clarkson the color purple project runway drop dead gorgeous running with scissors m.i.a. imogen heap a boyfriend lily allen lady gaga the theater katy perry buffy the vampire slayer tori amos joni mitchell owl city the right guy david sedaris american idol harry potter angels in america modern family the perks of being a wallflower came out maroon 5 mr. right gossip girl moulin rouge x men six feet under the theatre justin timberlake nina simone black eyed peas michael buble ella fitzgerald sufjan stevensall american rejects the xx final fantasy the club rocky horror picture showcuddlingpanic at the discojason mraz fiona apple kill bill
For both sexes, a lot of this stuff is way stereotypical. The size of the phrases indicate their relative popularity to the norm, and I actually had to shrink “The L Word” down to fit in our template. Meanwhile gay men’s interests speak for themselves, evidently with an exaggerated lisp.
Compare those lists to their equally typical straight counterparts, below. It’s like two zen koans, one by Meg Ryan, one by a viking:
The stuff straight people like
band of brothers poker cars my boat saving private ryan hunting fishing my buddies golf sports the right woman ping pong a few beers engineering rock working out playing pool burn notice a country boy law enforcement can fix anything breaking bad tom clancy computers building things tall dark and handsome apocalypse now coen brothers queens of the stone age full metal jacket guitarvan halen my band taxi driver ufc
As you can see, sexual orientation makes a huge difference in the words you choose to describe yourself. The small but enormous difference between lesbians’ a girlfriend and straight women’s my girlfriends says it all.
We extended this gay vs. straight analysis and for each orientation measured the frequencies of all one-, two-, and three-word phrases against the site-wide rates. Here’s the breakdown:
There’s no question that according to this analysis gay people are “different;” as you can see, gay interests and self-descriptions have little to do with the mainstream’s. In fact what these numbers are saying is that the average gay person has only about 30% in common with the average American. But, ironically enough, when it comes to identity, it’s hardly rare to be an outlier here. Adding an ethnic group to the plot helps put it in perspective:
Of course, as far as I know, no one’s saying that Indians shouldn’t get married or shouldn’t be allowed to adopt children. The people of Louisiana even elected Bobby Jindal, an openly Indian man, as their governor!
We hope gay people can expect the same treatment very soon.