Note: This article has been updated to include research and links from The Netherlands and Belgium.
We are going to admit from the start that we have very few answers but lots of questions. Gay male sexual habits and practices have not been thoroughly studied much around the world, well or accurately due to homophobia, lack of funding, guys in the closet and the general belief that all gays are promiscuous. There are few scientific studies that prove or disprove how many sexual partners gay guys have on average or if, like with straights, there is a small percentage of us that are having lots of sex and others not much at all. Thankfully, The Netherlands and Belgium are leaders in gay male health studies and research.
For straight people, the answer to “what is sex” is very clear. It most likely means penile penetration of the vagina. Yes, many are known to have anal and oral sex, but the basic answer is usually the same, and anything else is considered deviant. Straight guys averaged around 6.4 sexual partners in a lifetime. Stop laughing.
For homosexuals, sex with our gender is the benchmark for who we are. It is the one major difference between us and our straight brothers. Our sexual lives are constantly questioned and analyzed but no one has ever asked us the most fundamental of questions: what does gay sex mean? And if we have not come to a common consensus on this basic topic, how can we say how many sexual partners we have had in the last three, six, nine months or even years?
Why should we care?
At GMJ we don’t actually care, but are fascinated by some of the responses we received when interviewing guys of different ages, backgrounds and races from around the world. But the question comes up very often from the medical community as well as anytime we seek services from government sponsored health clinics and HIV/AIDS, GLBT organizations. What they do with these figures, we honestly don’t know.
As a gay male community, we should care about the number we and our brothers give because it helps to shape the narrative around our sexual behavior and the public perception that we are whores who deserve whatever STDs we contract. This also influences policy and funding for our general healthcare needs. For example: Think about the term “Truvada whore” and how it is shaping the conversation about PrEP usage. But other social issues like marriage equality, adoption and gays in the military are also designed around the premise that we don’t deserve rights because we are sexually irresponsible.
As The Guardian reported. “The idea of the rampaging predatory homosexual is so ingrained in the western psyche as to inform not only fear, hatred and abuse but also policy and laws. Part of the justification of Bill Clinton’s risible “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, preventing gay people in the military from coming out, was fueled by the belief that in doing so their straight colleagues would either feel at risk or actually be at risk of unwanted sexual advances.”
Why are we asked about our number of sexual partners?
It is very common to seek out STD heath/medical care and be asked about the number of sexual partners you have had over a specific period of time from providers. In theory, this is to help assess your level of risk of contracting an STD or specifically HIV. The problem with this concept is that is based on the law of averages. Or in other words, bullshit. See, the doctors, nurses and people working for the GLBT, HIV clinics think that if you have, say, 100 sexual partners that you are at risk for contracting an STD from all 100 of them. This would only be true if each and every one of your partners had an active STD, and if HIV positive, they were not undetectable. If you have sex with 100 guys, and they all are STD free, your risk of contracting an STD is ZERO, not 100. Also, they don’t factor in PrEP and condom usage.
But, and they will never tell you this, if you have sex with two (2) guys, one of which has never been tested for HIV but is positive, you are severely at risk for contracting this illness. It is not the number of partners that determines your risk, rather the active infection of the person you have sex with. Also, and even more importantly is the type of sex you have with your partners. Do you always use condoms, are you on PrEP, are your partners HIV positive but undetectable? As usual, it is not the answer, rather the question, which is most important.
Are gays whores?
We prefer to think of ourselves as very popular. But the truth of the matter is that there are not really any reliable surveys to say how much sex gays have compared to straights. The one most cited is from OKCupid.
“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
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.”
What is the problem?
If we take a quick look back at the OKCupid survey we need to remember a few things.
- This is an online dating app for people looking for long-term relationships
- When seeking a long-term partner, judgements about sexual history are high
- People lie!
- The final sentence from OKCupid is very homophobic and sex negative
And the biggest issue is that we still have not answered the question of “what is gay sex”?
Here are our questions:
Must there be penile/anal penetration?
Do both parties have to ejaculate?
Is it only sex for the one that does ejaculate or for both?
Does oral sex count?
Is it sex for the guy who ejaculates or both, no matter what?
Does rimming count as sex?
What if the guy doing the rimming ejaculates but the rimmee doesn’t? Or vice-versa?
If multiple guys are involved, must all parties ejaculate or is it sex only for those that do?
If in a group setting, do all of the guys count as sexual partners?
Is there a difference between sexual intercourse (fucking) and sexual contact (jerking off, kissing)
Is mutual jerking-off sex? Is ejaculation necessary?
What about the usage of sexual aids like dildos and other toys?
How do fetishes fall into the mix? For example: water sports or bondage play?
Is “cyber sex”, sex?
Well, this is the truth as much as anything can be called true. Homosexuality is normal but not “the norm”. This means that depending on where a guy lives, if he is out and what his connection to other gay males are via bars, the internet or public spaces, he can have as little or as much sex as plausible. There is also the new issue of marriage. Some guys do want to settle down with one guy and live in monogamy, but others have different sorts of arrangements that work very well for them.
Age and location play a large role but so does when a guy comes out. Many older guys who come out late in life feel they need to catch up on what they missed and start having more sex than they ever did in their younger years. Our sexual lives are like the tide, they ebb and flow, and no one should feel bad or be made to feel shamed about the amount of sex they have. Gay male sex is amazing and great. The physical connection of two (or more) males is something special and should be cherished, not counted and logged in a ledger to be used against us at another point in our lives.
As gay males, we also have a culture that celebrates our sexuality. From circuit parties and sex parties and clubs, we do our best to enjoy our bodies and those of others. This is not a bad thing, but it does complicate things when dealing with straights. No matter how you answer the questions listed above, one weekend at the White Party in Miami or Leather Pride, anywhere in the world, could have you rack up a pretty “high” number of partners.
Finally, outside of the time wasters that live on social media, most gay guys who want to have sex have an open avenue to travel. We are not burdened by societal mores about virginity and being “good boys”. This is when patriarchy actually benefits us. Men are not sluts or whores by societal standards.
What questions should we be asked/asking?
- Do you have a healthy sex life, or one at all?
- Are you regularly tested for all STDs?
- Do you take precautions that are right for your lifestyle, like PrEP and condoms?
- If you are HIV positive, how well is your health and are you undetectable?
- Do you enjoy the sex you are having?
One final note about gay male couples and sex:
“Gay male couples tend to approach sex differently. We all know that gay male couples are much more likely to entertain the idea of, or even be in, a non-monogamous relationship. Part of this is cultural and historical; part of this is the nature of men’s sexuality in general (hey, truth be told, MANY more straight men would be non-monogamous if given the opportunity by their wives, as I have learned from working with straight men in my practice, and some (just like gay men) take that prerogative even if it’s directly violating a monogamy agreement). Gay men are much more likely, in general, to only “not” be appalled at the idea of another person (man) having sex with their partner/spouse, but to be turned on by it.
Gay men have a greater capacity (in general) for “sport sex,” and less about foreplay; they can separate sex from love more easily. Without a woman’s particular sexual makeup in the equation, it changes the sexual equation. You really can’t directly compare a straight couple’s sex life with a gay male couple’s sex life. Some things just don’t “translate” culturally, physically, socially, emotionally, etc. So, part of my job in couples counseling is to help gay men understand this, and to avoid making direct comparisons to straight relationships all the time (some of the time is OK, particularly in confronting double-standards and internalized homophobia).
Part of my expertise as a gay men’s specialist therapist is to understand the special cultural considerations of gay men, by this point in my life and career, in extreme detail of “cultural competency” of psychotherapeutic/clinical social work practice. By validating to a gay male couple that their sex life must be discussed not only “apart” of any heteronormative expectations, but also independently of even OTHER gay male relationships they might know of, the couple can be reassured that the decisions and practices they make are unique and customized to them. There is no one proper “cookie-cutter” sex life for gay male couples that fits all.”
“While this is also true for straight couples, issues of monogamy, frequency, type of sex, the “vanilla-versus-kink” spectrum, BDSM, and even time management discussions differ. While this is not necessarily unique to gay men, a big factor can be finding time for sex, when often both partners are busy, high-level executives or professionals who work extraordinarily long hours or have jobs that require frequent travel.”
No matter what your personal sex life is like, you don’t have the right to judge others. We have enough of that coming from outside of our community. Slut shaming doesn’t do any good for anyone but says more about you than the person getting his groove on. Mind your own business.
So, what is gay sex?
An intimate physical act between two (or more) guys, that are enjoying their bodies and companionship. It is also the most defiant thing you can do in this hostile world. GO OUT AND GET LAID!