By Bob Roehr
The landscape of Americans’ sexual activity was laid out in vast detail in a study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Sept. 15. The report “Sexual Behavior and Selected Health Measures” offered no great surprises, but it still provides something for everyone from the serious numbers wonk to the casual voyeur.
The 2002 National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG) is a once a decade study of a representative cross-section of the population, conducted over the 12 months beginning in March 2002 among 12,571 men and women ages 15-44.
The detailed survey took participants 60-90 minutes to complete in the home using an audio computer-assisted self-interviewing survey. That system maximizes privacy and has been shown to generate the most honest answers about topics that may carry some social taboo.
Among the findings of most interest to the LGBT community are that 6 percent of the males surveyed have had sex with another male; 5.7 percent having engaged in oral sex and 3.7 percent in anal sex. But the number drops by more than half, to 2.9 percent, when it comes to action within the last 12 months. Some 1.6 percent of men reported having sex only with other males over the last year.
Females were more likely to report ever having a same-sex experience (11 percent). That held true over the last 12 months (4.4 percent), but women were less likely than men to be exclusively same-sex oriented (1.3 percent).
However, the study authors caution that part of these differences might be attributed to differences in the way the questions were asked. Women were asked a generic question of “sexual experience of any kind” while men were asked about having oral or anal sex.
Further fueling the notion that men and women experience sexual orientation differently is that fact that three percent of women but only one percent of men have had both male and female sexual partners over the previous 12 months.
In response to the question, “Do you think of yourself as heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, or something else?” 90 percent of men age 18-44 said heterosexual, 2.3 percent homosexual, 1.8 percent bisexual, 3.9 percent something else, and 1.8 percent did not give an answer. Among women the corresponding responses were 90 percent, 1.3 percent, 2.8 percent, 3.8 percent, and 1.8 percent respectively.
Men who have had sex with men were far more likely than were men with no same-sex contact to have gone for an HIV test in the last year (29 percent vs. 14 percent). They also were more likely to have been treated for a sexually transmitted infection (17 percent vs. 7 percent) at some point in their lives.
Among the total population surveyed, males and females in the 25-44 age group reported roughly similar levels of sexual activity with opposite-sex partners. 97 percent have engaged in vaginal sex; 90 percent in oral sex; and 40 percent in anal sex.
Males 30-44 reported having an average of 6-8 female sexual partners in their lifetimes, while women said 4 partners. At the far end of the scale were those reporting have 15 or more sexual partners during their lifetime; 18 percent of Hispanic men, 22 percent of white men, and 34 percent of black men. The demographic breakdown for women was 4 percent, 10 percent, and 9 percent respectively.