Definitional Impediments to Research
Unfortunately, endeavors to assess the actual practices and the health consequences of male and female homosexual behavior are hampered by imprecise definitions. For many, being gay or lesbian or bisexual is a political identity that does not necessarily correspond to sexual behavior. And investigators find that sexual behavior fluctuates over time:
“[P]eople often change their sexual behavior during their lifetimes, making it impossible to state that a particular set of behaviors defines a person as gay. A man who has sex with men today, for example, might not have done so 10 years ago.”1

Defining the terms becomes even more difficult when people who identify as gay or lesbian enter heterosexual relationships. Joanne Loulan, a well-known lesbian, has talked openly about her two-year relationship with a man: “‘I come from this background that sex is an activity, it’s not an identity,’ says Loulan. ‘It was funny for a while, but then it turned out to be something more connected, more deep. Something more important. And that’s when my life started really going topsy turvy.'” While critics complain that “You can’t be a lesbian and be having sex with men,” Loulan sees no contradiction in the fact that she “adamantly refuses to call herself a bisexual, to give up the lesbian identity.”2
Several high-profile lesbian media stars that have abandoned lesbianism further illustrate the difficulty in defining homosexuality. An article about the now defunct couple, Anne Heche and Ellen Degeneres, said, “Although the pair never publicly discussed the reason for their breakup, it has been heavily rumored that Heche decided to go back to heterosexuality.”3 Heche married a man on Sept. 1, 2001.4

As recently as June 2000, pop-music star Sinead O’Connor said, “I’m a lesbian . . . although I haven’t been very open about that, and throughout most of my life I’ve gone out with blokes because I haven’t necessarily been terribly comfortable about being a lesbian. But I actually am a lesbian.”5 Then, shocking the gay world that applauded her “coming out,” O’Connor’s sexual identity fluctuated again when she withdrew from participating in a lesbian music festival because of her marriage to British Press Association reporter Nick Sommerlad.6

Although women get most of the press coverage of fluctuating between same-sex and heterosexual relationships, men can experience similar fluidity. Gay author John Stoltenberg has lived with a lesbian, Andrea Dworkin, since 1974.7 And a 2000 survey in Australia found that 19 percent of gay men reported having sex with a woman in the six months prior to the survey.8 This fluctuation in sexual “orientation” inhibits the creation of a fixed definition of homosexuality. As one group of researchers stated the problem:
“Does a man who has homosexual sex in prison count as a homosexual? Does a man who left his wife of twenty years for a gay lover count as a homosexual or heterosexual? Do you count the number of years he spent with his wife as compared to his lover? Does the married woman who had sex with her college roommate a decade ago count? Do you assume that one homosexual experience defines someone as gay for all time?”9

Despite the difficulty in defining homosexuality, the one thing that is clear is that those who engage in same-sex practices or identify themselves as gay, lesbian or bisexual constitute a very small percentage of the population. The most reliable studies indicate that 1-3 percent of people — and probably less than 2 percent — consider themselves to be gay, lesbian or bisexual, or currently practice same-sex sex.10

[1] Michael, et al., p. 172.
[2] Lynn Scherr, “Lesbian Leader Loves a Man,”, April 17, 1998.
[3] “Former Lesbian Anne Heche Engaged to Cameraman,”, June 1, 2001 (emphasis added), reprinted at m&Section=68&ID=5304.
[4] “The Facts: Anne Heche,” Eonline.msn, April 1, 2002,,128,31319,00.html.
[5] “Sinead O’Connor to Marry a Man,” Reuters, June 27, 2000,
[6] “Sinead Drops out of Wotapalava Tour,” JAM! Music, May 31, 2001, sinead.html.
[7] John Stoltenberg, “Living with Andrea Dworkin,” Lambda Book Report, May/June 1994, reprinted at rea.html.
[8] Julie Robotham, “Safe sex by arrangement as gay men reject condoms,” The Sydney Morning Herald, June 7, 2001. Data source: “2000 Male Out Survey,” National Centre in HIV Social Research, Australia.
[9] Michael, et al., p. 172.
[10] Edward O. Laumann, John H. Gagnon, et al., The social organization of sexuality: Sexual practices in the United States, p. 293, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994; Michael, et al., p. 176; David Forman and Clair Chilvers, “Sexual Behavior of Young and Middle-Aged Men in England and Wales,” British Medical Journal, 298: 1137-1142 (1989); and Gary Remafedi, et al., “Demography of Sexual Orientation in Adolescents,” Pediatrics, 89: 714-721 (1992).

Endnotes may also be found under Appendix A on the References page.