Gay Sex vs. Straight Sex

October 12th, 2010 by Christian Rudder

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 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.
  • only 0.1% of lesbians have ever searched for straight matches.
  • only 0.13% of straight people's profile visitors are gay.
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:

  • 45% of gay people have had 5 or fewer partners (vs. 44% for straights)
  • 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'.

Click the airport-bathroom style icons to toggle the sex(es) displayed. 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. You can mouse-over the ?s for each category to pop-up some examples of the many questions that affect it.

Two things: (1) 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.

(2) 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

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

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.


Would you consider trying food without being told what it is?

Would you consider permanently living in another country?

Would you ever get on a motorcycle?


Do you like to argue?

Have you ever yelled at the TV?

Do you go to great lengths to avoid conflict?


Would you be happy raising the kids while your spouse worked?

Which comes first for you, work or friends?

Do you want to be famous?


Are you an aspiring actor/artist/writer or other creative type?

Do you like going to museums?

Do movies with subtitles bother you?


Is it your responsibility to help your fellow human beings?

Are you the type of person to tell a homeless person to get a job?

Do overweight people annoy you?


Is it important to you to have the last word in an argument?

Do you like board games?

If someone wrongs you eventually exact revenge?


Would you say you're smarter than average?

Are you okay with trying things that you're bad at?

Are you intimidated by a partner who is more sexually experienced than you?


Do you think the International Space Station would be a cool place to get married?

Do you know what 'http' stands for?

Do you own any dice with more than six sides?


Do you give your best friend a birthday gift?

How much do you give each year to charity?

When you loan something small to a friend, do you really care if it gets returned?


How often do you think about sex?

How often do you masturbate?

Ideally, how many dates would you go on with someone before you have sex?

Into Drugs

What's your relationship to marijuana?

Do you think drug use with your partner can be a romantic activity?

Have you tried hard drugs, like, anything you need to 'cook'?

Into Sports

Do you play actual sports?

Do you enjoy exercise?

Do you have a favorite sports team, that you really like to follow?


Does the idea of staying in and reading a book on a Friday night appeal to you?

Do you need "alone time" to re-charge after social situations?

At parties, do you go up and talk to people?


Does group sex sound like a great idea?

Do you like sex toys?

Have you ever used nipple clamps?


Can you name an author from each continent (besides Antarctica)?

In high school, did you read books that weren't assigned in class?

Do spelling mistakes annoy you?


Do things generally turn out for the best?

Can just one person significantly change the world?

Do you think happiness is possible for all people?


Do you say something like 'bless you' when a stranger sneezes?

Do you hold the door for people?

Are you frequently under-dressed for special occasions?


Have you ever marched in a protest?

Is it a person's civic duty to vote?

Do you know who your state's Senators are?


Have you been around candlelight recently?

Do you like costume dramas?

Do you like to say 'I love you'?


Do you believe in the power of prayer?

Is there a God?

Do you believe in miracles? You sexy thing?


Do you bring an umbrella if it looks like rain?

Do you often find yourself bored in relationships after a few months?

Have you ever had a one-night stand?


Do you think most people give to charity?

Do you ever leave your drink unattended at a bar?

Do you think a straight man and a straight woman can truly just be friends?


Would you find it easier to kill for your beliefs or to die for them?

Have you ever thrown an object in anger during an argument?

Do you own a gun?