Debunked: gay men have 500-1000 partners
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This article debunks misleading statistics claiming that large portions of gay men have 500 or 1000 sexual partners or simply hundreds of partners. The statistics are cherry picked from a 1978 Bell & Weinberg book which surveyed highly-promiscuous San Francisco Bay Area men in the 1970s, most of whom were rounded up from gay bathhouses (sex clubs), cruising spots (hookup spots), porn stores and gay bars. About 25% of the men were prostitutes, which further exaggerates the reported high number of partners.:29-33 It was not a random sample (see: sampling bias) and it was never intended to be representative of the wider male homosexual population or even representative of gay men in San Francisco.:22
The claim is entirely debunked by more than two decades of large representative studies in multiple countries, which have shown that gay men typically have 10-20 sexual partners in their lifetimes. Together, these studies have surveyed over 100,000 people and are weighted for age and location so that they will accurately 'represent' the population and prevent skewing of data. Across all major representative surveys, about one-third of gay men had between 0 and 9 sexual partners in their life, about one third sat between 10 and 49 partners (most of these men had numbers in the low 10s and 20s) and between 1/4 and 1/3 had more than 50 partners. Just 1.8% of gay men had more than 500 sexual partners in 20 years of data from the General Social Survey, which has surveyed over 60,000 Americans.
Ironically, one could also cherry-pick from Alfred Kinsey (1948) and Westwood (1960) since their samples of gay men had fewer sexual partners than straight men. All skewed data is flawed and difficult-at-best to draw real conclusions from. The aforementioned representative studies, which are provided in this article, are much more useful.
The "hundreds of partners" claim is largely made by extremist religious figures, by the alt-right and by pseudoscience conversion therapists, but has unfortunately been made by some mainstream conservatives and Christians.
Debunking the claim
Unrepresentative, outdated and unscientific research
The main source for the claim originates from the 1978 book, Homosexualities by Bell & Weinberg. It is the source of the "28% of homosexuals have 1000 partners" and the "43% of homosexuals have 500 partners" claim. However, their survey was never representative of "homosexuals". It is only representative of their convenience sample of volunteers who were tremendously promiscuous, primarily because they were found in gay bathhouses, hookup spots, gay saunas, gay bars, etc., in San Francisco in the 1970s. One-quarter of the men were also prostitutes who reported receiving money for sex, which no doubt would bump the number up. The men were also radicals of the time, who rejected societal rules and institutions, while more reserved gay men were still in the closet.
Another survey sometimes used is Paul Van de Ven (1997). Its numbers are not as dramatic; however, it is just as unscientific as Bell & Weinberg because it surveyed 256 older men from "gay brothels, sex shops, beats, saunas, health centers frequented by gay men and pornography outlets". In Van de Ven, about 10.2% of the sample (or 25 men) claimed more than 1,000 partners. Some anti-gay websites have claimed that it was a survey of "2,583 older homosexuals", yet that is a complete lie. The survey was of 256 older men from a larger sample of 2,583 men of all ages. It is further claimed on some anti-gay sites that "the modal range for number of sexual partners ever [of homosexuals] was 101–500". However, that is simply misunderstanding what the 'mode' means. Approximately 65% of the men had fewer than 100 partners. The modal range of 101-500 results from the categorization of answers, which was as follows: 1, 2-10, 10-20, 21-50, 51-100, 101-500. As you can see, the categories towards the end capture much wider ranges of answers. If the categories were even, such as 1-50 and 51-100, the modal range would have been 1-50. Thus claiming that the "modal range is 101-500" is simply mathematical illiteracy. The 'mode' is considered largely useless in statistics. Further, all of the 256 men were born before 1948, meaning they grew up in a time when homosexuality was even more frowned upon than it is now. If a gay man wanted a sexual experience back then, it had to be brief and anonymous in order to avoid being exposed as a homosexual to his family and community, which could result in criminal charges and humiliation. There was little to no acceptance of intimate or long-term relationships between men. More importantly, because this survey sampled men from sexually-charged environments, it automatically excludes men who are not promiscuous.
Summary of issues:
- The research only surveyed highly-promiscuous men found in bathhouses (sex clubs), porn stores, brothels, and included prostitutes.
- The research didn't use representative samples, so it never intended to represent "all homosexuals".
- Anti-gay websites have hidden the date of the Bell and Weinberg book because it is from the 1970s.
- Anti-gay websites have lied about Van De Ven being a survey of "2,583 older homosexuals" when in reality his sample was 256 older men surveyed from sex clubs and porn stores.
- These surveys are cherry-picked while ignoring other literature at the time. One could also cherry-pick Kinsey (1948) and Westwood (1960) to claim that gay men have similar or fewer sex partners than straight men.
- Most of the 'partners' were not penetrative sex, but rather oral or mutual masturbation.
- The statistics are easily debunked by high-quality research, as shown below.
How many sexual partners do gay men actually have?
Number of lifetime sexual partners among gay men
Gay men typically have between 10 and 20 sexual partners in their life, using the data from the only credible source: representative sample studies with robust surveying techniques. Statistics can identify truths if they are sampled well and minimize selection bias. For example, all of the studies here are randomly sampled across thousands of people across a country and weighted so that they include respondents from each city according to its population and according to the age of the population. This prevents any distortions which would underreport or overreport promiscuity. Across all three studies, about 1/3 had between 0 and 9 sexual partners. Approximately 30-40% had between 10 and 49 sexual partners. However, most of those men were clustered in the 10-25 range. Between 1/5th and 1/3rd had more than 50 sexual partners. However, the upper figure was an Australian study that included acts such as 'kissing' or 'cuddling', which will push more men into that bracket.
|Study||Median number of lifetime sex partners||0-9 partners||10-49 partners||50 or more partners||Study size|
|NATSAL-3||19 partners||30%||45%||25%||15,000 people|
|GSS 2008-2018||11 partners||42%||35%||17%||12,000 people|
|ASHR 2012||22 partners (note 1)||30%||32%||38%*||20,000 people|
- Note 1: ASHR included 'kissing' or 'hugging' somebody as a sexual partner, and thus overall there are more sexual partners.
- Note 2: a 'sexual partner' was largely defined as someone with whom you had a sexual experience. It should be noted that most of the acts do not constitute penetrative sex. For example, in all three studies roughly 20% had anal intercourse in their last sexual experience, with roughly 80% of the men reporting mutual masturbation, kissing, or oral sex.
Number of sexual partners per year among gay men
Across all three highly representative studies, all showed that the majority of gay men had either 0 or 1 sexual partner in a year, and small minorities of gay men had more than 10 partners in a year (roughly 20%). Data from 2008-2018 in the U.S. GSS also shows that just 1.8% of men had more than 50 in a year (about one a week), which completely refutes the claim that gay men have a different partner every week. Further, a 2007 study examining earlier data in the General Social Survey found that "the majority of gay men had similar numbers of unprotected sexual partners annually as straight men and women".
Men (gay and straight) are more interested in sex
Based on numbers of partners per year, most gay men are not what you would call promiscuous. However, it is certainly true that a minority of gay men have a high number of partners. This has little to do with them being gay but, rather, is a result of male biology. Would a typical straight man not have sex with 10-20 females if he could? In one study, a woman approached random men on the street and propositioned them to come back to her apartment for sex. Roughly 75% of the men said yes and were excited by the prospect. The experiment was reversed, with an 'attractive' looking man approaching female strangers and propositioning them for sex. 0% of the woman were interested, with most reacting with disgust, anger, or disbelief. Therefore, men, in general, are more promiscuous than women, due to both biology and social reasons. For gay and bisexual men, this means access to sex is easier. However, because a third of gay men still fall into the 0-9 partners category, even when controlled for age, this means gay men differ in their behavior and do not all fit one stereotype. Not all men are interested in casual sex. It's also likely that promiscuous men are much louder about sex lives than the more reserved gay men. Thus, a confirmation bias is formed since people will only hear about the sex lives of promiscuous men.
What about STI rates?
Medical professionals explain that higher rates of sexually transmitted infections are mostly due to the ease of transmission through anal sex and number of sexual partners as the secondary factor. Anal sex transmits HIV at a rate 18 to 30 times higher than oral sex, thus it is much more easily transmitted among gay men who engage in anal sex. A 2007 study explains that the majority of gay men had similar numbers of unprotected sexual partners annually as straight men and women and that anal sex, not promiscuity, was the main contributing factor in rates of HIV transmission. The study states that heterosexuals would need to have three times as many sexual partners as gay men in order to have an HIV epidemic. This is not to say that gay men on average do not have more sexual partners, but rather it is not the main contributing factor. No doubt highly-promiscuous men are much more susceptible to HIV transmission, but the bulk of transmission occurs due to pure biology.
Use of the '500-1000 partners' claim
This is a list of individuals or organizations who have used the misleading 500-1000 partners statistics:
- The Family Research Council (FRC), a fundamentalist Christian group who frequently publish misleading statistics about gay men having between 500 and 1000 sexual partners in many of their materials. They were contacted by Alvin McEwen, who requested they stop pushing these false statistics, and the FRC agreed they would refrain from using the statistics. However, it appears they have returned to including the statistics again in their publications.
- Dennis Prager, a Jewish-American conservative pundit, radio-host and founder of PragerU, once claimed in the 1990s that "the typical male homosexual in America has had over 500 partners".
- StoneToss, the alt-right cartoonist, wrote "Fun fact: 28% of gay men have had over 1,000 sexual partners" under one of his cartoons, and included a link to a sketchy page on CARM (see below).
- CARM.org, run by Matt Slick, who uses the statistics on a page "statistics on homosexual promiscuity" with misleading claims such as Bell & Weinberg and the Van et Al study. Carm.org has intentionally hidden the 1978 date from its page so as to confuse the reader into thinking these statistics are somehow a credible source of information. They have further re-written the same statistics from Bell & Weinberg in different formats to make it appear as though multiple studies confirmed the 1000 partners claim.
- Steven Anderson, anti-gay pastor who advocates for the death penalty for homosexuals, claimed in a sermon that "28% of homos have 1000 partners" and "43% have more than 500 partners!". He then went on to say "so that cute little twinkie you work with has already been with over one thousand partners" and said that gay people are "violent, filthy and diseased!"
- Sam Hyde, alt-right comedian who claimed gay men have an average of "hundreds of sexual partners, unlike the average heterosexual man who has 10-15". Ironically, the average gay person does have 10-20 based on representative samples shown above. It has been argued that Hyde was trolling. However, the video on YouTube gained 550,000 views and thousands of comments praising him for "red pilling" people.
- John MacArthur, American pastor, claimed in one of his sermons that "the number of partners that average homosexuals have would be about 500… some as many as a thousand! That kind of lifestyle". The sermon video has over 1.5 million views as of 2020.
- Bryan Fischer, of the Christian "American Family Association" routinely included the false 500-1000 partners statistic in his articles because he claims to "care" about gays. Many respondents have queried his use of these statistics, but he doesn't care about their lack of credibility.
- Joseph Nicolosi, the pseudoscientific gay conversion therapist who was famed for making unscientific and misleading claims about homosexuality. He wrote a bizarre article referencing cherry-picked statistics such as Bell & Weinberg's 1970s sex club attendees and other 1980s research on unrepresentative samples of AIDS patients. Nicolosi wrote: "almost half of the white homosexual males said that they had had at least 500 different sexual partners during the course of their homosexual careers" and that "28 percent of homosexual males had had sexual encounters with one thousand or more partners".
- National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality, a pro-conversion therapy group run by Joseph Nicolosi.
- Christopher Badcock, in an article for Psychology Today wrote: "one study in San Francisco found that nearly 50% of gay men had more than 500 partners" and provided no reference. The study did not "find that 50% of gay men had more than 500 partners", but rather, 43% of the highly unrepresentative sample of promiscuous men who were not even representative of gay men in San Francisco. This is rather shocking from an academic at the University of London, and Dr Badcock should know better.
- Christopher Monckton, who claimed "official survey after official survey had shown that homosexuals had an average of 500-1,000 partners in their sexually-active lifetime", yet there are no "official surveys" which claim this at all. It's simply 1978 Alan Bell & Martin Weinberg which was never an "official survey" in any capacity.
- Jason Hill, a professor at DePaul University who has been described as a "self-hating" Jamaican, included the misleading statistics in an article on The Federalist. He shockingly wrote: "In all the studies I looked at, 43 percent of all gay men in Western democracies claimed to have had more than 500 partners in their lifetime, and 28 percent claimed more than 1,000." Hill is blatantly lying here since those statistics are directly quoted from Bell & Weinberg, and therefore cannot possibly be from "all the studies" he looked at from Western democracies. Hill gives no citations to any studies in his article and raises the question as to why he was made a professor.
- Caolan Robertson, on Lauren Southern's podcast claimed, "I was reading today something like 70% of gay men have over 500 partners in their lifetime, like its absolutely shocking", and then claimed "70% of gay people sleep with over 90 partners a year!".
- The Library of Hate, a webpage of misleading statistics which are called "hate facts". It falsely claims that 1/4 of gay men in America have had over 1000 sex partners. In reality, it was 1 in 4 men in a survey of promiscuous men who attended sex clubs in the 1970s. That is not representative of wider America.
- Vanguard America, a neo-Nazi group, created a meme titled "Misplaced Pride?" They printed it on stickers that read "28% of gay men have more than 1000 partners" and various other misleading claims. They pasted them on cars around the United States.
- Neil Whitehead, an anti-gay pseudoscientist who works for NARTH, who included the 1000 partners claim in his book My Genes Made Me Do It.
- 4chan /pol users, sometimes share the "30 year old groomer meme". It features "has 1000 partners" as one of the traits of an imagined "30-year-old groomer". Additionally, the statistics are posted on 4chan /pol whenever a post about gays comes up.
- Voat users, make the claim in the same format as the 4chan /pol users.
Note: this is not an exhaustive list, if you know of an individual who needs to be added, add a topic on the talk page.
- Homosexualities: A Study of Diversity Among Men and Women by Alan P. Bell & Martin S. Weinberg (1978) Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0671242121.
- General Social Survey Data Explorer data extracted 2008-2018 for men identifying as gay, number of sexual partners (requires account creation)
- "Sexual Behavior in the Human Male", American Journal of Public Health. 2003 June; 93(6): 894–898. PMCID: PMC1447861
- A Minority a Report on the Life of the Male Homosexual in Great Britain, (1960) Gordon Westwood
- Homosexuality: The Nature and Harm Arguments, John Corvino (2002) In: The Philosophy of Sex: Contemporary Readings, edited by Alan Soble. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 0742513459.
- Van de Ven (1997)
- Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948) Alfred Kinsey
- NATSAL Men who have sex with men table 2013
- Homosexual experience in the Second Australia Study of Health and Relationships 2014
- Gay Promiscuity Statistics (General Social Survey)
- Median Number of Adult Sexual Partners by Sexual Orientation the UNZ review
- Sexual Behavior Does Not Explain Varying HIV Rates Among Gay And Straight Men Christian Nordqvist (2007)
- Gender Differences in Receptivity to Sexual Offers: A New Research Prototype
- Family Research Council sneaking misleading studies back onto its webpage, Alvin McEwen (2011)
- Dennis Prager in the 1990s was still bigoted, (2011) on littlegreenfootballs.com
- I Doodoo, cartoon by StoneToss. (archived 2020)
- Pastor Steven Anderson: AIDS- The Judgement of God, Steven Anderson (2018) YouTube.com
- Privileged White Male Triggers Oppressed Victims, Ban This Video Now and Block Him, 2014 on YouTube.com
- Homosexuality and the Campaign for Immorality (Selected Scriptures), 2012 by John MacArthur on Youtube.com
- Bryan Fischer, Just Stop It, (2015) Alvin McEwen
- "An Open Secret The Truth About Gay Male Couples", (archived 2019) Joseph Nicolosi from josephnicolosi.com
- It's the mode men have more sex partners by Christopher Badcock, Phd (2017) on psychologytoday.com
- Lord Christopher Monckton 20,000 sexual partners] by Curtis M. Wong (2014) for The Huffington Post.
- Loveless, Narcissistic Sex Addicts: A Gay Man Critiques His Community, (2016) by Jason D. Hill, archived from TheFederalist.com
- "Talking to a Real Life Gay", Lauren Southern (2017) on Youtube.com
- The Library of Hate, (archived 2019) from fuckyoufaggot.com
- Driver claims someone put a homophobic sticker over her car's gay pride sticker, (2019) Fox6News
- The 30 year old groomer, archived (2020) from knowyourmeme.com