Prevalence of homosexuality over time and in different cultures

There’s a GQ thread that has led to an ATMB thread related to this subject, so it got me wondering.

What is the prevalence of male homosexuality in society? Someone in GQ claimed 5-10%, which was disputed. Has that prevalence changed over time? Does it change by culture?

I’m putting this in GD because one of the posters in the other thread thought this whole question was taboo or forbidden here, but I’m sure that’s not the case. Also, maybe the prevalence changes by culture because homosexuality is not necessarily in-built? I’d be surprised, but I welcome cites to that effect.

Thanks. I don’t have much to contribute on the topic, so I’ll mostly be a spectator.

I’m not sure how that could be proven either way. First, there was never any polling done, and second, if you were gay in, say, 1650s England, it might have been best for your health not to mention it.

Well, part of my question is, what’s the prevalence today? Also, there are plenty of cultures in the world right now with really varied views on homosexuality – does the prevalence vary by culture today?

Anyway, I’m often amazed by how much information modern scholars have been able to glean from history, so you never know.

According to a report by the CDC is 2014:"—Based on the 2013 NHIS data, 96.6% of adults identified as straight, 1.6% identified as gay or lesbian, and 0.7% identified as bisexual." The figures are 1.8% for as gay for men, 1.5% for women.

Right, but let’s get Reuters on a poll in Saudi Arabia asking how many people identify as homosexual. I’m sure that the number will be severely underreported.

Looks like , depending on location and time;
Anywhere from 1.5 percent to about 11 percent.
6 percent or so does seem heavily predominant.

But with a much larger variety when you consider all shades of bisexuality. One study (German young adults) even has “exclusive heterosexuals” being in minority (45%), and considering all adults, only a not very large majority (63%).

Depends if you mean “practicing” or not.

The actual spectrum of sexual attraction and desires may not have changed much over the course of human history. There have always been people very strongly inclination towards exclusive heterosexuality, others to exclusive homosexuality and a wide spread different flavours in between.

Culture, law and societal pressure will have impacted whether people felt able to act on those desires but I doubt there was any great shift in the underlying inclinations, but I’m not sure sure how such a claim would be tested.

Genetic and epigenetic causes can’t have changed much, even though I assume that there might be differences from one population to another. I think that studies of identical vs fraternal twins have shown a limited correlation, which means that genetics plays a part, but only a part. That’s when the idea that homosexuality would be determined by what happens in the womb, like hormonal variations came. But this hasn’t been demonstrated, and it even seems that recently people seem to call bullshit on epigenetical hypothesis, and not just for homosexuality I’m not even sure how it could demonstrated that someone becomes homosexual because of what happens in the womb rather than, say, what happens during the first two years of life.

The problem is : how important are these “underlying inclinations”? Is there even any person whose sexual preferences are entirely determined and unchangeable since birth (or since soon after birth, since I assume that changes during, say, the first 6 month, are unlikely to be cultural)? If we assume a significant fluidity of sexual preferences (that is, the “normal person” is prone to both heterosexual and homosexual attractions, with some level of genetic variation), a child in an environment where either is considered normal and both are expected should be likely to become bisexual, with whatever experiences pushing him more in one direction than another.

That’s what I was thinking wrt ancient Greek culture. People whose culture expect them to have homosexual attractions will develop them because most people have the potential for both and most people conform to cultural expectations. I know that the newest historical theories (but newest doesn’t mean correct) hold now that homosexuality was in fact not acceptable, and that for instance Alexander’s famous lover wasn’t in fact a lover but a super super close friend, but I must say that I’m not really convinced. Especially since relationships between adult men and adolescents can’t be denied, and I don’t think that one can assert that being sexually attracted to a 15 yo male has nothing to do with homosexuality (although I guess that for the same reasons, a culture favoring and expecting ephebophilia but not sexual attraction to adult men could mold many men into feeling indeed attracted to adolescents and not much to adults).

So…we don’t know for sure and it’s complicated? :smiley: That’s seem to be a healthy point to start from.

I think these are all interesting points that may or may not be confirmed. As long as the analysis remains purely academic and not value-based I don’t much mind. If we find out more and say “oh, that’s interesting” and get on with our lives then so much the better.
If the research suggested that cultural factors always overrode any genetic propensity to fluid sexuality that’s one thing. Using that as a stepping-stone to say that we should engineer those cultural factors to minimise it? That is a huge problem for me. As is often the case it is not the scientific discovery that is a problem, it is what you choose to do with it.

I’m not happy with that boldened bit. I think I’d prefer to say that as long as the analysis is done with the ultimate purpose of greater understanding and increased human welfare and happiness then I don’t much mind.

Hi Clair - I’m not sure if this is a reference to the Fraternal Birth Order Effect or not.

In any case (and even though I would not argue that the effect is proven) there’s an interesting observation to be made here. I don’t think there would be any argument that (at least in “developed” countries) the lifetime total of pregnancies per woman has fallen; so you could speculate that the “natural” rate of male homosexuality (whatever that means) has fallen with it.

In other words if, currently, “It has been estimated that 15% of the homosexual demographic is associated with fraternal birth order” then we might also speculate that the effect was more important in the past.


While some have argued that, it is not the dominant paradigm to the best of my knowledge. It is unfortunately an impossible argument because the sources are highly challenge-able at such a remove. All the evidence for Hephaestion is circumstantial for instance, but there is a fair bit of it. Other references, i.e. to Bagoas, are far more explicit but are arguable because the existing sources are not contemporary and the original cites, if they existed, are lost.

The best educated guess is that Alexander was promiscuous with both sexes and Hephaestion was the only one he was close to. That, I believe, is the modern consensus.

No, I wasn’t thinking about this, but about the idea that, more generally, sexual orientation is determined during gestation. I had read about the fraternal effect, in fact, but had completely forgotten about it. It’s quite fascinating wrt the complexity of the biological processes at play. Especially when you read that being right handed or left handed would influence with already weird biological feedback.

Indeed, if the figures mentioned in this article are reliable, the prevalence of homosexuality should have significantly diminished with the reduction in size of families.

However, I see, still in this article, that they assume a prevalence of about 2%, while the link given earlier give figures that are all over the place : from 1.5% to almost 10% IIRC (and even more over the place for bisexuality, from 8% to a whooping 57%)

Thanks for the explanations. I wouldn’t know how valid the arguments are. It’s just that I noticed for a while that all recent articles or seemingly books on the topic seem to intend to dispel the “myth” that male homosexuality was not just accepted but even frequently celebrated in classical Greece, something that tended to be taken as granted when I was younger.

If fraternal birth order is a major factor, one would expect societies with higher birth rates to have higher rates of homosexual orientation. There is some indication that this is true, but no one knows by how much. Even if we could answer that, however, the proportion of men with a homosexual orientation isn’t the same thing as “the prevalence of male homosexuality in society”, depending on what specifically you’re talking about when you say homosexuality. Homosexual relationships? Homosexual activity? Very different things.

Yep, I don’t think I disagree with any of that. The reason I raised the fraternal birth order effect was that, in a discussion plagued by the lack of meaningful historic data, it was the one thing I could see that might suggest a trend over time in “the “natural” rate of male homosexuality (whatever that means)” (quoting myself). I think it’s interesting that it kinda suggests a downward trend in the rate over time, at least in what we now call “developed” countries. Make of that what you will.