Double standard for promiscuous gay men?

Warning! This is a sincere question and not a flame of any type. I am appealing to the experience and temperance of members of the SDMB to not jump on this as any type of anti-gay thread, 'cause it ain’t

After reading this thread, I got to thinking about a double standard I hold (although it is fading away) for gay/straight people regarding number of sexual partners. When I hear of a gay guy having a one night stand (or many one night stands) I don’t think twice; it’s expected and normal. When I hear of a straight guy or girl doing the same thing I loose a little bit of respect (I’ll be the first to admit this isn’t really fair, and FYI, though the opportunity has not yet presented itself, I think I would be totally willing (in theory) to have a one night stand with a girl, assuming certain things about her. It’s an ingrained hypocrisy that I’m working on). Anyway… to the question:

Why is promiscuity an accepted part of gay culture. It seems that many people are completely accepting of gay men frequently having sex with strangers, while straight men/women start to accumulate nasty names after such behavior. (for a cite, I quote gobear from the linked thread:


Is there something deeper here than sexual orientation? Is there perhaps a movement towards promiscuity that has become entangled with “gay culture” and has been adopted as part of the gay lifestyle? Does being gay mean you’re predisposed to being promiscuous? I’d tend to think not, but do we have a double standard for gay/straight people when it comes to numbers of sexual partners?

I think being human makes you predisposed to being promiscuous. It is only conditioning that makes us want to be monotonous … err … I mean monogamous. Gay men are already breaking rules; we might as well break others that we, or at least some of us, don’t want to follow.

That being said, many gay men do form long-term monogamous relationships. If that is what they want, then more power to them.

I say let people do what they want, be it monogamy, polyamory, serial monogamy, or other. As long as it is consensual, why should people’s sex lives affect your opinion of them?

Hogamus, higamus, man is polygamous.
Higamus, hogamus, woman monogamous.

I’m sure there’s plenty of folks who think just the opposite.

My suspicion is that the truth, as in most things, lies in a middle way between those two positions. I’m also not sure that “being human” and “just conditioning” can be meaningfully separated from each other–I suspect (speaking from the outside looking in here) that some significant percentage of gay men are only promiscuous because they’re expected and encouraged to be–“just conditioning,” so to speak.

As for the double standards, and sources of taboo, and why people at any pont of the libido spectrum ever feel justified in viewing their spot as more moral than the other person’s, I can only quote the great Homer Simpson: “It’s because people are stupid. That’s why everyone does everything.”

I don’t know, I’ve always assumed that it wac more acceptable for men period to be more promiscuous, gay or otherwise. I hadn’t really considered it as a stright/gay issue. So I’ll go with what Homebrew said.



Before getting involved in a discussion regarding why gay men are so promiscuous, I’d very much like to know just how promiscuous gay men are.

All the research I’ve found on the subject on the web is from the likes of the Family Research Council; slanted in the extreme.

I acknowledge the possibility that gay men are more promiscuous than straight men; but I want evidence. From what I’ve experienced, there are gay subcultures that are promiscuous by nature, and those tend to be the most visible aspects of the gay community. But a closer inspection of gay life suggests that there are as many ways to be gay as there are to be straight, and that the promiscuity attributed to gay people in the media may be equalled in similar aspects of straight culture.

So, before we start discussing how promiscuous gay men are, can anybody give me some cold hard facts on just how promiscuous gay men are?

I’d also like to point out that in a society that actively discourages stable long-term relationships between gay people by denying them the benefits associated with marriage, promiscuity might be commonplace. But I’d like to see some data.

A lot of gay men do prefer monogamous relationships, Eonwe. Myself, for instance.

Most of my attempts to “pick up” when I was younger never went anywhere, and the few that did work weren’t all that enjoyable. I’m simply too shy and introverted to get much out of that kind of thing, and I’ve only found what I needed within a relationship.

But I recognize that that’s just me. Different people need different things.

Many gay men prefer things the other way. So what? Society wouldn’t care if we didn’t have these superstitions surrounding sex. Consensual sex is not wrong. The measure of an unethical act is harm – harm to others, harm to society. Anonymous sex is neither.

Also, thanks to the homophobia of our society, there are many men who feel they have no option other than anonymous sex. Men who’ve married, for example, before they realized they were gay or because they fell for that “ex-gay” swindle, and now have a wife and kids they don’t want to hurt. Guys who don’t realize there are any other options. And there are some men out there who simply aren’t ready to admit they’re gay. These guys really don’t have any outlet besides anonymous sex.

Why the “double standard?” I agree, it’s unfair. Promiscuity among heterosexuals should be tolerated as well.

I think Stuffy makes a good point. Historically and socially it has been more acceptable for men to be promiscuous; we turn a semi-blind eye and refer to such behavior as “sowing wild oats”, while the women on whom those oats are sown are regarded rather differently.

So, when you have two men in a world which, by and large, has no social constructs or expectations of gay men other than the ones we define for ourselves, then “promiscuity” can become a common practice. Basically, maybe there are more opportunities to be promiscuous when you’re gay rather than straight. But that doesn’t mean we all take advantage of them, or even seek them out.

Still, I’d avoid merging observations about individual promiscuity with concepts of “gay lifestyle”. I will admit to indulging in promiscuous behavior from time to time, but neither I nor my gay friends advocate or encourage this generally, as a way of life – especially not in this day and age.

I will throw another idea into the ring here (esp. since I see MrVisible’s post in Preview mode). I would suggest that the observation of (apparently) greater promiscuity among gay men arises because some heterosexuals have been inordinately interested in the sexual behavior of gay people (relative to straight people), in order to provide fodder for criticism, moralizing and the justification of intolerance and non-acceptance. This kind of attitude feeds on itself: deny the gay man the power to make the same choices as a straight man, and you’ll always have something to criticize and denigrate.

Ok, MrVisible, here’s an attempt at some internet research. I couldn’t (in the last 10 minutes at any rate) find any statistics, and I wonder if such a study has actually been done. Some quotes I’ve got (I have no idea how reliable these sources are) are:

From what seems to be (some of the sites pages are blocked here at work) a webzine (or web version of an actual magazine) Gay Today. This is a 1998 article about promiscuity and safe sex:

From the same site, in a review of Queer as Folk:

From a gay pride site at Lake Forest College in Chicago:

I’ll also point you to gobear’s quote in the OP.

Now, none of these have any statistical information, and are at most anecdotal. I don’t know how easy or if it is even possible to put a number on this issue. It does seem, though, that people within the gay community accept as an everyday fact that some significant portion of gay men are promiscuous, and that this proportion is significantly larger than the proportion of straight people who are the same; so much so that it is a significant (how many times can I use that word in one sentence) part of what the gay community is.

I also would like to see numbers if anyone has any, I just couldn’t dredge any up with google.

you ask, “As long as it is consensual, why should people’s sex lives affect your opinion of them?” Excellent question, not one that I’ve resolved in my own mind, but also not exactly the direction I want to take the discussion. Taking for granted that people are always going to be interested in what other people are doing in their bedrooms (or wherever), do people hold gay men to different standards of what is expected sexual behaviour when it comes to numbers of sexual partners? If so, why is that, and is that double standard acceptable or not (whether or not you want to say people should expect gay men to be more monogamous or people should expect less from straight people doesn’t really matter).

I do find interesting your statement:

Are you suggesting that the (unproven) higher instances of promiscuity among gay men is due to the fact that you are already engaging in “subversive” behaviour anyway? I could buy that.

Point definitely taken and agreed with. There seems to be a continuum of acceptably promiscuous sexual orientations/sexes (as dictated by pop culture/society), with straight women on one end, straight men next, and gay men on the other end (I’m not really sure where lesbians fit into the spectrum).


What do you mean by benefits? I would argue against the idea that lack of government support for homosexual marriage is a cause of promiscuity. People in general (this is obviously a big IMO) don’t remain monogamous for tax purposes, but because of some level of love, commitment, and common expectation that they both share. Monogamy does not equal marriage.


I’m afraid those quotes above really contain no information on the prevalence of promiscuity among gay men. It really would be interesting to see some facts.

And as to marriage; if it doesn’t promote stable relationships, why does it exist at all?

{ above added for clarity}

Quite true. BUT when a society does not offer gay people the same relationship options as straights, then that same society has no right to measure gay people by the same “standards” in relationship and sexual issues. That’s where the double standard comes from – hypocrisy – regardless of whether it reflects a real difference in gay vs. straight sexual behavior.

So no, marriage does not equal monogamy or vice versa; but we can’t talk meaningful about supposedly “higher” rates of promiscuous behavior among gays without comparing it to promiscuous behavior among straight people. Only I don’t see that the sexual behavior of straight people as an entire class is discussed in the same fashion as that of gays – that is, if we were all cut from the same cloth.

I tend to think that if gay marriage were to become a legal reality, we’d find that the perceptions of “higher” rates of promiscuity among gays would fade, not because those rates would necessarily change, but simply because we would pay them no more mind than we do promiscuous relationships among straights.

As to the quotes, I know they’re completely inadequate and as far as facts go irrelevant. I guess it seems to me that there is a cultural understanding, whether true or not, that a substantial portion of gay men are promiscuous. I do agree it would be interesting to find out some numbers about the actual prevalence of promiscuous gay men, but the point here is not about how many gay men are promiscuous, but from where the acceptance of gay promiscuity in contrast to the lack of acceptance of straight promiscuity came (I can’t tell you the temptation I had to say, “whence the acceptance came”… darned words dropping out of common usage). I find it hard to imagine there’s any statistic out there relating to this issue.


Could you restate this in a different way? I think I see what you’re saying and I agree with you, but I’m having a hard time disseminating the point. The double standard comes from… the fact that mainstream (aka straight) culture has given all gay sexual relations the cloak of illegitimacy by denying them marriage(the one true way to have a committed relationship with someone :rolleyes:), so it’s “normal” then for gay men to behave in ways that are not considered normal/acceptable for straight people?

I know that you started this thread to explore where your double standard in regards to gay promiscuity originated, but it seems you’ve leapt from that point into trying to determine "from where the acceptance of gay promiscuity in contrast to the lack of acceptance of straight promiscuity came ".

I propose that you’ll look long and hard and profitlessly for a reason that society accepts gay promiscuity, because society does no such thing.

There may be a generally perceived expectation that gay people have lots and lots and lots of hot kinky sex, but the idea that society accepts that is ridiculous. Do some searches on “homosexual promiscuity” and you’ll find that our theoretically promiscuous nature is one of the biggest reasons religious and political zealots find to deny us rights that straight people, no matter how promiscuous, take for granted.

Do a search on “homosexual promiscuity”, and you’ll find the same sort of anecdotal evidence you quoted above used to support the idea that gay people are unfit to adopt, and would sully the very idea of marriage, because they can’t refrain from being promiscuous. This is not societal acceptance, by anyone’s standard.

Ok, let me try one more time, and if you think I’m still missing the point, then maybe I’ll have to re-evaluate my premise.

warning - anecdote ahead:

I’ve got this friend who about two years ago came out. He is now very very very promiscuous. He’s been in France for about 9 months and I haven’t talked with him since he’s been there, but back when he was home myself and other friends of his got to hear stories about how he had been with 3, 4, or 5 men in a night out in Montreal. We (his friends) were talking one day, and came to the consensus that we felt he was being a little bit, um, slutty and were a little concerned that he might not be taking proper care of himself. We also realised that it took us quite some time to come to that state of mild disapproval. Before, we all just had kind of thought, “oh, he’s just doing the gay thing,” whereas if a straight guy or girl we knew had been behaving similarly our reaction would have been instantly negative.

This discrepancy is what I’m curious about. I’m not suggesting that society is hunky-dory about promiscuity when it’s among gays (heck, society doesn’t even really accept gays, let alone any behaviour that might be gay-related), I’m suggesting that society expects promiscuity from gays to a large degree.

I suppose there’s a reason why straight people seem to think that homosexual men are more promiscuous then others. Bath houses, pride parades, media presentation of young gay men dancing in clubs to the thumpa thumpa music, and many cities and states having problems with homosexual men cruising in public parks and rest areas.


And if the traditional avenues for socializing and dating – like, say, all those school dances they keep getting banned from – were open to gay men, maybe they wouldn’t be looking for sexual partners in rest areas and parks.

I live in Tucson, a city of 500,000 people. Let’s say, both for the sake of argument and because it’s a good conservative estimate, that 5% of Tucsonans are gay.

That’s 25,000 gay Tucsonans.

There are four gay bars in town. No bath houses. The Outoberfest celebration, a big festival in a local park with music and concession stands and yes, dancing, drew 4,000 people, IIRC. And this is known as a gay-friendly town.

I’d be amazed if the bars had a regular clientele of over 1,500 people each. Let’s say that’s all separate, and that everybody in the bar/festival scene is getting laid all the time. That’s 10,000 promiscuous gay Tucsonans. Or, significantly less than half of Tucson’s gay population.

As you can tell, getting the numbers right on this is close to impossible. What about bargoers who are just there to dance? What about people who hook up over the Internet? How do you determine how many gays are out there, and how often they have sex?

Whatever the case, even in my (obviously facile) extreme exaggeration, less than half of the gay population of Tucson falls into the promiscuous stereotype. The reality is probably a lot less than that.

In the meantime, Tucson has a dozen titty bars, hundreds of bars catering to straight people, an active community of swingers, and the Straight section of the classified ads in the raunchier independent paper is always five to eight pages, while the Gay section barely reaches two columns on a good week.

I’m sure the image of gay people as sexy, fabulous sex machines is appealing to the general population, but the assumption that that typifies gay people is absurd. Which goes along with the general rule that making assumptions based on media stereotypes is foolish.

And to counter your anecdote, Eonwe, here’s mine…

I’ve been in a monogamous relationship with a great, loving guy for eight months now, and have been living with him for the past four of those. We’re very serious about spending the rest of our lives together. Before I met him, I was celibate for two years; dated a few times, but didn’t find anyone interesting. Before that, a three year relationship.

It doesn’t fit the stereotype, and it’s not particularly interesting, so it wouldn’t get much media attention. But according to my experience, that’s what the gay lifestyle is like.

Society expects Mexicans to be lazy, and blacks to have big penises, and blonde women to be stupid, and southerners to be bigoted, and New Yorkers to be rude, and Canadians to have flappy heads. It’s a stereotype, just like any other.

It’s an easy stereotype to fall into, because it’s the most obvious, most media-friendly image of the gay community, most likely to bring in ratings and shocked comments from outraged viewers.

In my opinion, from my perspective, the reason you dismissed this behavior from your friend is that you’ve bought into that stereotype. “It’s just what gay people do.” Well, some do. Some don’t. But if you hadn’t had that stereotype in your way, you might have become concerned for your friend earlier; he might have been having problems which resulted in, or from, his promiscuity. He may have been in the throes of sexual addiction. Or he may have just been having a good time. But the stereotype of “that’s just what gay people do” kept you from seeing your friend as an individual.

After reading the latest posts since Eonwe posed her question to me, perhaps it might be helpful to observe that the question in this thread has evolved from the OP, “Why is promiscuity an accepted part of gay culture?” to include (or to be superseded by) the question, "Why is there a perception of high promiscuity among gays, and what perpetuates this perception?"

It’s not a trivial question, because any stereotype exists and is perpetuated for a reasons which serve someone else’s worldview.

Eonwe: yes, pretty much. I would have said that it is convenient for straight people to believe that gay people behave in ways which are not considered acceptable to mainstream (read: straight) culture i.e. far more promiscuously, because this perception justifies the conclusion that gays are somehow different, abherrent creatures whose unnatural behaviors should not be condoned with official recognition or sanction.

Or to re-state: the double standard – that gays are expected to behave, and do behave, more promiscuously than straights – is perhaps a largely fictitious construct, serving the interests of a mainstream society which wishes to keep gays marginalized because we are considered unnatural and/or immoral.

The double standard is rooted in hypocrisy: at the same time gays are criticized for an alleged pattern/culture of sexually irresponsible and immoral behaviors, mainstream society needs to believe that this pattern/culture actually exists to justify its attitudes about homosexuality. Another expression of this hypocrisy is that the sexual behaviors of unmarried straight people are not scrutinized and judged in quite the same way – because to examine such behaviors too closely might belie the arguments levelled at gays. This leads us right back to a double standard.

This may also explain why there aren’t any statistics or sources to support the anecdotal assertion that “gay men are more promiscuous” which led to your OP. One would need two sets of statistics to make that argument, and it sounds like neither set is out there.

And yet, I know very very few straight people who admit to that sort of behavior, while the gay people I know who are promiscuous are promiscuous and proud of it (or at least not ashamed).

In regards to this:

You’re absolutely right. Yet, as a straight man, I need to use my experience and skills of observation to help me understand the people I care about who are different than me. I’ve been told (by mass media as well as people I know) that gay people are differnet than me in more than just their attraction to people of the same sex. Isn’t that what gay pride and gay culture are all about? It’s more than just physical attraction to the same sex, yes?

So, if I observe the gay people I know (granted my circle of friends and aquaintances do not represent gays as a whole… not that any small group can), I see that some of them are masculine, some are effeminite, some are outgoing, some are shy, some are monogamous, and some are not. Of the gay people I know, a significant proportion of them are outwardly and openly promiscuous (and when I say significant, I’m not talking 50%, I mean something like 10-15%), and have no qualms talking about it. I have not observed that sort of percentage of my straight acquaintances being promiscuous. Maybe they are and just don’t talk about it as much, which I’m perfectly willing to accept.

So, under my umbrella conception of “normal” gay behaviour (not that all gays behave this way, but that a significant proportion, either in numbers or visibility, do) falls promiscuity. I don’t assume any gay person I meet is promiscuous, but I also am not shocked when I hear that it is the case.

Hm. This started as me admitting that I’ve got a stereotype block, and I ended up justifying it. Well, let’s say I was explaining it, but you are right, that my notions, right or wrong, of what is normal for gay people influenced my reaction to my friend.

I have had people tell me also, though, that going to clubs in Montreal and hooking up with guys there is just “what we [gays] do.” So it seems there is at least a strong constituancy of gay men for whom being gay means being promiscuous. I guess it’s just confusing when something is at the same time a political movement, a lifestlye, and a biological fact… sometimes those different aspects of “gay” can get confused.