How common is non-heterosexuality? A 13-site study of high school students over nine years by the Centers for Disease Control found varying rates of reported sexual orientations. The percentage who identified as gay or lesbian ranged from 1 to 2.6%, 2.9 − 5.2% bisexual, and 1.3 − 4.7% unsure. (1) A Gallup phone survey during the summer of 2012, believed the largest to investigate sexual orientation and gender identity, found that 3.4% of American adults identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. (2)
Trying to measure sexual activity by type of partner does not simplify things. Put simply, a few heterosexual teens have some same-sex activity, and a lot of lesbian and gay teens have some opposite-sex activity.A large 2011 study of men and women aged 15-21 found that 5% of heterosexual women and 1.7% of the heterosexual men had had same-sex sexual experiences. (These were defined as oral or anal sex for the men and any sexual experience for the women; forced sex was excluded.) This study grouped people who identified as homosexual and bisexual together; of those, 82.5% of the women and 60.2% of the men had had heterosexual experiences. More of these women had had same-sex sex (77.9%) than their straight peers had had heterosexual sex. (3)
Some teens are certain about the consistency of their attractions without any sexual partners at all. After all, we tend to assume straight virgin teenagers don’t need to “check” by experimenting with same-sex partners. Some gay and lesbian teens are equally sure before they become sexually active, and resent the question “how do you know if you’ve never tried straight sex?” For others, the pattern of their attractions may not be clear until well after their sexual activity begins.
An Israeli researcher found that the average age for queer kids to come out has fallen to 16, from 25 almost 20 years ago. The sample was 461 already-out LGB people aged 16-23. (4) Since it was not longitudinal and did not include any questioning or closeted people, this “new average” may be somewhat exaggerated, but the trend is clear.
1. Laura Kann et al, “Sexual Identity, Sex of Sexual Contacts and Health-Risk Behaviors Among Students in Grades 9-12 – Youth Risk Surveillance, Selected Sites, United States 2001-2009.” Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 6 June 2011 Vol 6.
2. Gary J Gates and Fran Newport , “Special Report: 3.4% of Adults Identify As LGBT” 10/18/12
3. Janice McCabe, Karin L. Brewster and Kathryn Harker Tillman, “patterns and Correlates of Same-Sex Sexual Activity Among U.S. Teenagers and Young Adults,” Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, 2011, 43(3);142-150
4. Guy Shilo, Riki Savaya. “Effects of Family and Friend Support on LGB Youths’ Mental Health and Sexual Orientation Milestones.” Family Relations, 2011; 60 (3): 318