Gay author Gabriel Rotello notes the perspective of many gays that “Gay liberation was founded . . . on a ‘sexual brotherhood of promiscuity,’ and any abandonment of that promiscuity would amount to a ‘communal betrayal of gargantuan proportions.'”1 Rotello’s perception of gay promiscuity, which he criticizes, is consistent with survey results. A far-ranging study of homosexual men published in 1978 revealed that 75 percent of self-identified, white, gay men admitted to having sex with more than 100 different males in their lifetime: 15 percent claimed 100-249 sex partners; 17 percent claimed 250- 499; 15 percent claimed 500-999; and 28 percent claimed more than 1,000 lifetime male sex partners.2 By 1984, after the AIDS epidemic had taken hold, homosexual men were reportedly curtailing promiscuity, but not by much. Instead of more than 6 partners per month in 1982, the average non-monogamous respondent in San Francisco reported having about 4 partners per month in 1984.3

In more recent years, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control has reported an upswing in promiscuity, at least among young homosexual men in San Francisco. From 1994 to 1997, the percentage of homosexual men reporting multiple partners and unprotected anal sex rose from 23.6 percent to 33.3 percent, with the largest increase among men under 25.4 Despite its continuing incurability, AIDS no longer seems to deter individuals from engaging in promiscuous gay sex.5 A 2003 U. S.- based, Urban Men’s Health Study, reported that over 30% of the homosexual men studied frequented bathhouses with an average of 27 partners per year.6 In a 2003 study, Amsterdam “singles” averaged 22 casual partners/year, while those with a “steady partner” averaged eight (8).7 The average duration of partnerships was 1.5 years. In a 2005 Canadian vaccine trial, homosexual individuals reported 7 partners in the last 6 months.8

The data relating to gay promiscuity were obtained from self-identified gay men. Some advocates argue that the average would be lower if closeted homosexuals were included in the statistics.9 That is likely true, according to data obtained in a 2000 survey in Australia that tracked whether men who had sex with men were associated with the gay community. Men who were associated with the gay community were nearly four times as likely to have had more than 50 sex partners in the six months preceding the survey as men who were not associated with the gay community.10 This may imply that it is riskier to be “out” than “closeted.” Adopting a gay identity may create more pressure to be promiscuous and to be so with a cohort of other more promiscuous partners.

Excessive sexual promiscuity results in serious medical consequences — indeed, it is a recipe for transmitting disease and generating an epidemic.11 The HIV/AIDS epidemic has remained a predominantly gay issue in the U.S. primarily because of the greater degree of promiscuity among gays.12 A study based upon statistics from 1986 through 1990 estimated that 20-year-old gay men had a 50 percent chance of becoming HIV positive by age 55.13 As of June 2001, nearly 64 percent of men with AIDS were men who have had sex with men.14 Syphilis is also more common among gay men. The San Francisco Public Health Department recently reported that syphilis among the city’s gay and bisexual men was at epidemic levels. According to the San Francisco Chronicle:

“Experts believe syphilis is on the rise among gay and bisexual men because they are engaging in unprotected sex with multiple partners, many of whom they met in anonymous situations such as sex clubs, adult bookstores, meetings through the Internet and in bathhouses. The new data will show that in the 93 cases involving gay and bisexual men this year, the group reported having 1,225 sexual partners.”15

 A 2010 CDC data analysis reveals that the rate of primary and secondary syphilis among MSM (men who have sex with men) is more than 46 times that of other men and more than 71 times that of women. 16 Promiscuity is the factor most responsible for the extreme rates of these and other Sexually Transmitted Diseases cited below, many of which result in a shortened life span for men who have sex with men.

Promiscuity among lesbians is less extreme, but it is still higher than among heterosexual women. Overall, women tend to have fewer sex partners than men. But there is a surprising finding about lesbian promiscuity in the literature. Australian investigators reported that lesbian women were 4.5 times more likely to have had more than 50 lifetime male partners than heterosexual women (9 percent of lesbians versus 2 percent of heterosexual women); and 93 percent of women who identified themselves as lesbian reported a history of sex with men.17 Other studies similarly show that 75-90 percent of women who have sex with women have also had sex with men.18

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[1] Gabriel Rotello, Sexual Ecology: AIDS and the Destiny of Gay Men, p. 112, New York: Penguin Group, 1998 (quoting gay writer Michael Lynch).

[2] Alan P. Bell and Martin S. Weinberg, Homosexualities: A study of Diversity Among Men and Women, p. 308, Table 7, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1978.

[3] Leon McKusick, et al., “Reported Changes in the Sexual Behavior of Men at Risk for AIDS, San Francisco, 1982-84 — the AIDS Behavioral Research Project,” Public Health Reports, 100(6): 622-629, p. 625, Table 1 (November- December 1985). In 1982 respondents reported an average of 4.7 new partners in the prior month; in 1984, respondents reported an average of 2.5 new partners in the prior month.

[4] “Increases in Unsafe Sex and Rectal Gonorrhea among Men Who Have Sex with Men — San Francisco, California, 1994-1997,” Mortality and Morbidity Weekly Report, CDC, 48(03): 45-48, p. 45 (January 29, 1999).

[5] This was evident by the late 80’s and early 90’s. Jeffrey A. Kelly, PhD, et al., “Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome/ Human Immunodeficiency Virus Risk Behavior Among Gay Men in Small Cities,” Archives of Internal Medicine, 152: 2293-2297, pp. 2295-2296 (November 1992); Donald R. Hoover, et al., “Estimating the 1978-1990 and Future Spread of Human Immunodeficiency Virus Type 1 in Subgroups of Homosexual Men,” American Journal of Epidemiology, 134(10): 1190-1205, p. 1203 (1991).

[6]Woods, et al., Public Policy Regulating Private and Public Space in Gay Bathhouses, JAIDS Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes.Vol.32(4). April 2003 (pp 417-423).

[7]Lampinen, Et al., Sexual risk behavior of Canadian participants in the first efficacy trial of a preventive HIV-1 Vaccine. – Canadian Medical Associaitoion CMAJ Vol. 172(4) Feb 2005 (pp 479-83).

[8]Xiridou, et al., The contribution of steady and casual partnerships to the incidence of HIV infection among homosexual men in Amsterdam. AIDS Vol. 17 2003 (pp 1029-1038).

[9] A lesbian pastor made this assertion during a question and answer session that followed a presentation the author made on homosexual health risks at the Chatauqua Institute in Western New York, summer 2001.

[10] Paul Van de Ven, et al., “Facts & Figures: 2000 Male Out Survey,” p. 20 & Table 20, monograph published by National Centre in HIV Social Research Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, The University of New South Wales, February 2001.

[11] Rotello, pp. 43-46.

[12] Ibid., pp. 165-172.

[13] Hoover, et al., Figure 3.

[14] “Basic Statistics,” CDC — Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention, June 2001, (Nearly 8% (50,066) of men with AIDS had sex with men and used intravenous drugs. These men are included in the 64% figure (411,933) of 649,186 men who have been diagnosed with AIDS.)

[15] Figures from a study presented at the Infectious Diseases Society of America meeting in San Francisco and reported by Christopher Heredia, “Big spike in cases of syphilis in S.F.: Gay, bisexual men affected most,” San Francisco Chronicle, October 26, 2001, article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2001/10/26/MN7489 3.DTL (accessed 3/18/10).

[16]Centers for Disease Control. CDC Analysis Provides New Look at Disproportionate Impact of HIV and Syphilis among U.S. Gay and Bisexual Men. Press Release. Wednesday, March 10, 2010.

[17] Katherine Fethers, Caron Marks, et al., “Sexually transmitted infections and risk behaviours in women who have sex with women,” Sexually Transmitted Infections, 76(5): 345- 349, p. 347 (October 2000).

[18] James Price, et al., “Perceptions of cervical cancer and pap smear screening behavior by Women’s Sexual Orientation,” Journal of Community Health, 21(2): 89-105 (1996); Daron Ferris, et al., “A Neglected Lesbian Health Concern: Cervical Neoplasia,” The Journal of Family Practice, 43(6): 581-584, p. 581 (December 1996); C. Skinner, J. Stokes, et al., “A Case-Controlled Study of the Sexual Health Needs of Lesbians,” Sexually Transmitted Infections, 72(4): 277-280, Abstract (1996).