Only 1% or 2% of U.S. men are homosexual, new study contends

April 15, 1993|By Felicity Barringer | Felicity Barringer,New York Times News Service

A new national study on male sexual behavior, the most thorough examination of American men's sexual practices published since the Kinsey report more than four decades ago, shows that about 2 percent of the men surveyed had engaged in homosexual sex and 1 percent considered themselves exclusively homosexual.

The figures on homosexuality in the study released yesterday by the Alan Guttmacher Institute are significantly lower than the 10 percent figure that has been part of the country's conventional ,, wisdom since it was published in the Kinsey report.

But the new findings are in line with a series of surveys done in each of the last four years by researchers at the University of Chicago, and with recently published reports from Britain, France and Denmark, said Tom W. Smith, who directs the General Social Survey at the University of Chicago.

In addition to the findings on homosexuality, the new survey reported that about 23 percent of the 3,321 men surveyed, all between the ages of 20 and 39, said they had had intercourse with 20 or more partners in their lifetimes, with 35 percent of black men reporting that many partners and 22 percent of white men.

The average number of sexual partners was 7.3 -- 6.6 for white men, 10.2 for black men. On average, black men became sexually active at the age of 15, white men at the age of 17.

The study also found that three-quarters of the men surveyed had engaged in oral sex and 20 percent had engaged in anal sex.

The study, financed by a $1.8 million grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, was based on face-to-face interviews, and the subjects were guaranteed anonymity. It was designed to provide information on which segments of the population might be at increased risk of contracting AIDS or receiving or transmitting the human immunodeficiency virus. It was conducted by researchers at the Battelle Human Affairs Research Center in Seattle.

But this study, like the work at the University of Chicago, is also presenting the country with new data about an area of human activity usually shrouded in silence. Sexual behavior has been one of the least-researched areas of human activity; four years ago, under attack from conservatives in Congress, the Bush administration canceled plans for a comprehensive survey.

Researchers in the area concede that it is difficult to judge precisely how reliable the data are.

"The big question mark over every survey like this is: Are people telling the truth?" said Jacqueline Darroch Forrest, director of research for the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization focusing on sexual behavior and contraception. The institute published the survey in the most recent issue of its journal, Family Planning Perspectives.

But more and more surveys, both in the United States and abroad, have had similar results, she said.

In a government-supported survey of 20,055 people aged 18 to 69 in France in 1991 and 1992, Frenchmen reported an average of 11 sexual partners; French women reported an average of 3, the Guttmacher Institute said. About 4 percent of French men said they had engaged in homosexual intercourse at least once in their lifetimes, and 1.4 percent said they had had homosexual intercourse in the previous four years.

David Eng, a spokesman for the New-York based Gay Men's Health Crisis, said he could not comment on the accuracy of the new figures without seeing the report, but he did say: "Sexuality is much, much more than just sexual behavior.

"That's part of the problem in the current controversies, like the issue of gays in the military. Everything is defined by people's sexual behavior. That's not the only thing we need to look at."

Ms. Forrest of the Guttmacher Institute agreed, saying: "We definitely should look at sexuality as something more than what we do in bed."

The relatively low rate of male homosexual activity found by the survey, she said, "is a surprise, but it is in line with what we're seeing" in other surveys.

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