Kristie, Dmitriy T.M., and Tiffany L. sent in this post at OkCupid comparing 3.2 million profiles of straight people to those of gays and lesbians. Undermining the persistent stereotype that gays are more sexually promiscuous than straight individuals, OkCupid users, gay and straight, reported the same median number of sex partners (6), and the overall pattern is nearly identical regardless of sexual orientation:
And sexual encounters with someone of the same sex aren’t limited to people who identify as gay. Here are the results from a survey of 252,900 users who identify themselves as straight; about a third have either had at least one same-sex sexual encounter, or would like to:
Straight-identified women were significantly more likely to report a same-sex experience (and that it was pleasurable) or interest than were straight men. Here’s the pie chart for women:
And this is for men:
My guess is a lot of people will attribute that to women “playing” at being bisexual or going through a “stage,” but it seems likely to me that part of what is going on is that men’s gender performance is policed so much more harshly and constantly that men suffer greater consequences for same-sex encounters and have more reason to avoid them and to avoid even thinking of them as a possibility.
Reports of same-sex encounters or interest varied significantly by region. In the map, orange = higher rates, blue = lower (OkCupid doesn’t give any percents to go with the different colors, sorry):
There’s other data on personality profiles and, uh, the number of people who think the earth is larger than the sun (!) at the original post.
Emma M.H., Rebecca A., Natalee B., Josh L., Anna M., Jordan G., and an anonymous reader all sent in a link to a new analysis released by OkTrends, this time of members’ profile essays and the likes/interests/hobbies the essays mention, broken down by race/ethnicity and gender. They list items that were statistically unevenly distributed by race/ethnicity, showing up much more in some groups’ profiles than others’; these aren’t necessarily the most common items listed by each group.
Christian Rudder, the author of the OkTrends post, points out an interesting trend: rural identifying/mythologizing. White men mention “I’m a country boy,” while for White women, being a “country girl” features prominently, meaning both groups are more likely to use this term than other racial/ethnic groups. The men also mention liking hunting/fishing, while White women include horses/horseback riding, bonfires, and the “midwest,” as well as country music/musicians. Most OkCupid users, according to Rudder, are in large metro areas. Of course, you can live in a city and still go riding or fishing, or these can be things you did before you moved to the city that you still really wish you could do and so remain an important part of your identity; and given current demographics, it’s more likely that a former rural resident would be White than non-White, thus showing up more in Whites’ profiles. But I also suspect that references to the “midwest,” or things associated with romanticized rural life (you know, running around in a beautiful wheatfield during a thunderstorm and stuff) are a code for a certain type of masculinity and femininity. Among Whites, hunting/fishing indicates you’re a particular type of “guy’s guy,” while being “a country girl” who likes horses and thunderstorms is, I think, a stand-in for implying you’re down-to-earth, nice, not superficial. Being “country” is thus, a lot of the time, shorthand for being authentic.
Moving on, here’s the image for Black men:
We see more self-description than in White men’s profiles — “I am cool,” “tall, dark, and handsome,” “god-fearing,” “calm,” “laid-back guy.” White men (and to a lesser extent women) seem to focus on what they like, not really what they are like, with only “I’m a country boy” and “I can fix anything” showing up in the analysis.
If you combined general references to religion, they would stand out even more. In fact, African American men and women are quite a bit more likely than other groups to mention religion:
Data for Latino men:
Like Black men, they more frequently than White men mention personality characteristics — “I’m a funny guy,” “respectful,” “I’m a simple guy,” “outgoing and funny,” etc.
Latinas, like Latino men, mention specific dances, not just a love of music or musicians:
Rudder notes that Asian men are the most likely of any group to highlight a specific ethnic/national identity in addition to the more general “Asian” label:
I see that above with Latino men, too — references to being Peruvian, Colombian, Dominican, etc. If I had to take a stab at explaining this, I’d guess it was related to differences in how racial/ethnic categories have been applied to different groups. In the U.S. over time, White ethnic categories (say, being Dutch-American vs. Polish-American) have largely faded into the background, all subsumed under the powerful racial label “White.” Distinctions within that grouping have become largely optional, a neat thing to mention, perhaps, but not very socially meaningful. African Americans have often found themselves in the same situation, but due to much more negative forces. The generally shared experience of slavery, racism, and discrimination, as well as negative stereotypes of anyone perceived as Black, mostly erased ethnic identifications among African Americans. Being Black became a master status, such a socially important racial categorization that even those who wanted to be recognized as from a specific location (South Africa, Jamaica, etc.) often found themselves unable to get others to recognize their ethnic distinction.
The broader “Asian” and “Hispanic” labels emerged more recently in U.S. history, and members of both groups often actively fought to preserve distinctions within them. It wasn’t until the ’60s that a pan-Asian identity really began to emerge, such that being called “Asian” really meant anything to people, as opposed to thinking of themselves as Chinese, Vietnamese, etc. And “Hispanic” refers to ethnicity, not race (most Hispanics identify as White); ethnic identities are generally more flexible than racial categories. Aside from personal attachments, many groups thrown into the labels Asian and Hispanic have seen clear advantages to preserving distinctions based on nationality, believing that, say, being Japanese American would be less negatively stereotyped than being simply “Asian.”
So I wasn’t extremely surprised to see that Latino and Asian men specified identifies within those categories…but look back at the Latina image, and then this one for Asian women:
Nothing. Not one specific identifier for either group stood out. I don’t know what to make of that, and would love to hear your suggestions.
There are also specific breakdowns for Asian Indians and Pacific Islanders on the OkTrends, if you’re interested.
Middle Eastern men (a sort of odd category, but whatever) also specify nationalities, which is to be expected as this is another group that has engaged in active contests about their racial categorization in the U.S. (in particularly, fighting to be considered White, not Asian or Black) and also focus on technical/financial careers or expertise:
Middle Eastern women are the only group who prominently mention something about their physical appearance (“petite”), for whatever that’s worth, and again, no nationalities listed:
Of course, as Anna pointed out when she sent in the link, this data isn’t necessarily about people’s actual likes/interests, it’s about what they present as their likes/interests in the dating marketplace. On a dating website, you’re trying to present a profile of yourself…but one tailored to be attractive to others. She wonders to what degree social stereotypes of your racial group, as well as the group you’re interested in dating (if you have any preference) affects how you would describe your interests. That is, it’s possible that in some cases people highlight interests or hobbies that seem to fit social expectations of what they’ll like doing…or what they think the individuals they want to date will want to do, or want their date to want to do. To interpret these results, as OkTrends does, as straightforward evidence of differences in preferences by race/ethnicity, ignores the important fact that these are interests presented as part of an intentional performance for strangers, and may or may not reflect what we actually spend time doing, learning about, or paying attention to in our daily lives.
It turns out that a whopping 80% of all users who identify as bisexual message men or women, but not both.
The reasons for this are likely complex, diverse, and not immediately obvious.
Blogger Christian Rudder’s hypothesis:
This suggests that bisexuality is often either a hedge for gay people or a label adopted by straights to appear more sexually adventurous to their (straight) matches. You can actually see these trends in action…
The figure below plots age against the percent of self-identified bisexual men who message both men and women, only women, or only men. The percent that are bi in practice as well as theory message both men and women drops by about half between the ages of 18 and 54 (from about 20% to about 10%), but men in their 30s and early 40s are much more likely to message only women. Ticking biological clocks and hopes for a wife and kids perhaps?
The narrowing blue swatch may reflect the possibility that men who once identified as bisexual have come to terms with being plain ol’ gay (but the data isn’t longitudinal, so it may be a cohort thing instead of a life stage thing).
Or perhaps the distribution is the result of an interaction between age and who it’s easy to meet. Maybe young bisexual guys have an easy time meeting women and turn to the internet to meet men; whereas men in their 30s and beyond find it easy to meet men and so turn to the internet to meet women?
For women who identify as bisexual, the percentages messaging both men and women, just women, and just men show less of a trend across age.
Overall, however, 75% of women who identify as bisexual are not messaging both men and women. Rudder suggests that there may be a social desirability factor here; that is, that straight women know that men are into bisexual chicks and, so, they claim to be bi in order to appeal to the dudes.
UPDATE: I recommend reading the comments thread for a great discussion of sexual fluidity, the meaningulness of labels like “bisexuality,” and lots more good ideas for why this data looks like it does.
Hunting down the data source led me to another map. This one asked if burning the national flag should be illegal:
I suppose neither pattern will seem hugely surprising to most people given what we know about political affiliations, social attitudes, and geography in the U.S. And you could certainly criticize the first question for forcing people into a dichotomy that might not accurately represent their actual views (that is, probably most people would respond “neither” if given that option). But scholars argue that “forced choice” questions can give useful info about priorities and preferences — after all, even if you’d choose “neither” or “I value these rights equally” if given those options, choosing one or the other when forced does say something about which right seems more relevant if you have to hypothetically choose.
I often find myself bemused at our insistence on using sex (i.e., male or female) as the defining thing that describes our sexual orientation. We are homosexual, heterosexual, or bisexual, right? These words supposedly mean that we are sexually attracted to the same sex, the other sex, or both. Right?
No! Not by a long shot! Essentially no one is attracted to men, for example, no matter what their sexual orientation. I’m straight and female, but I am attracted to a very, very, very small subset of men. I’m generally only attracted to men within a certain age range, with kind faces (I find the chiseled look a bit intimidating); also, I prefer them to be relatively clean. If I can add non-physical characteristics, then being aggressive with buddies or rude to waitstaff or prone to jealousy are all turn-offs, as are certain politics. I’ll stop here. Suffice to say, suggesting that I’m attracted to men is a vast overstatement. Sexual orientation, as we think of it, simply doesn’t describe my proclivities. I suppose this is true for most of us.
I was reminded of this idea when I came across an OK Cupid post. Christian Rudder drew on the profiles of over 250,000 heterosexual users, discovering that a large percentage of them had (positive) sexual experiences with people of the same sex, or wanted to (source).
Thirteen percent of self-identified straight men have had a sexual encounter with another man. Seven percent of them enjoyed it. Another 5% haven’t had the pleasure, but they would like to.
Significantly more self-identified straight women, 33%, have had a sexual encounter with another woman. Twenty-six percent of them enjoyed it. Another 18% haven’t, but they would like to. Less than half reported that they hadn’t and figured they never would.
Reported sexual orientation, then, simply doesn’t map perfectly onto desires or behaviors, in addition to failing to capture the full complexity of our sexualities.