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June 01, 2016

Gay and lesbian sex has doubled since 1990, Widener researcher finds

Researchers also find that acceptance of homosexuality has quadrupled

Gay and lesbian sex has doubled since 1990, according to a new study conducted by a Widener University professor and two other researchers.

The percentage of men who reported having sex with another man increased from 4.5 percent in 1990 to 8.2 percent in 2014. Likewise, the percentage of women who said they have had sex with another woman jumped from 3.6 percent to 8.7 percent.

"A lot of the same-sex sexual behavior is occurring in tandem with heterosexual behavior," Wells said. "This is really about people engaging in bi-sexual behavior."

Indeed, the percentage of adults who reported having sex with both male and female partners increased from 3.1 percent to 7.7 percent, the study found.

Wells was among a trio of researchers who analyzed data from the General Social Survey, a national survey of more than 30,000 adults that has gathered information on attitudes toward homosexuality since 1973. The group published their findings Wednesday in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior.

The researchers found that lesbian sexual experience is highest when women are young. But that same pattern was not true for men.

Wells suggested a "hook-up culture" might be partly responsible for that disparity, saying female sexual behavior is partly about performing for men. That might drive same-sex experimentation among women, Wells said, noting that "lesbian sex" is among the most popular pornography searches.

"We love seeing women make out," Wells said. "We love the idea of threesomes and women engaging in sex with one another."

The study also found that acceptance of homosexuality has nearly quadrupled since 1990. 

Acceptance levels increased to 49 percent in 2014, steadily rising from 13 percent in 1990. That stands in stark contrast to a marginal increase from preceding decades, when acceptance level essentially remained stagnant.

"It's really since the 1990s that we start to see this change happening," Wells said. "That's a pretty big change in a short amount of time. I think that's particularly surprising."

Among 18- to 29-year-olds, the acceptance level rose from 15 percent in 1990 – just two percentage points above the national rate – to 63 percent in 2014, a majority that easily tops the national rate. Researchers also found millennials to be more accepting of homosexuality than Generation X was at the same age.

Wells said the growing level of acceptance could be the result of varying factors including the same-sex marriage movement, a clearer understanding of discrimination, increased visibility on television and athletes coming out as homosexual. Another prominent factor is rising levels of individualism.

"Increasingly, people are less adherent to social norm," Wells said.

Jean Twenge of San Diego State University and Ryne Sherman of Florida Atlantic University assisted Wells in the research.