Demographics of sexual orientation

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The demographics of sexual orientation are difficult to establish for a variety of reasons.

One of the major reasons for the difference in statistical findings regarding homosexuality and bisexuality has to do with the nature of the research questions. Major research studies on sexual orientation are discussed. Most of the studies listed below rely on self-report data, which poses challenges to researchers inquiring into sensitive subject matter. More importantly, the studies tend to pose two sets of questions. One set examines self-report data of same-sex sexual experiences and attractions while the other set examines self-report data of personal identification as homosexual or bisexual. Fewer research subjects identify as homosexual or bisexual than report having sexual experiences or attraction to a person of the same sex. Several studies of sexual orientation in countries provide comparative perspectives. Tables comparing several U.S. cities' population numbers are also included. However, since many individuals may fail to report outside the heterosexual norm define their sexuality in their own unique terms, it is difficult to fully grasp the size of the LGBT population.

The type of survey being used and the type of setting a subject is in while being surveyed may affect the answer that the subject gives.

Incidence versus prevalence[edit]

Another significant distinction can be made between what medical statisticians call incidence and prevalence. For example, even if two studies agree on a common criterion for defining a sexual orientation, one study might regard this as applying to any person who has ever met this criterion, whereas another might only regard him/her as being so if they had done so during the year of the survey. According to the American Psychological Association, sexual orientation refers to an "enduring pattern of emotional, romantic, and/or sexual attractions to men, women, or both sexes", as well as to "a person's sense of identity based on those attractions, related behaviors, and membership in a community of others who share those attractions."[1] Therefore, a person can be celibate and still identify as being bisexual or homosexual based on romantic proclivities.[2]

Western perception of homosexuality versus the rest of the world[edit]

The population that has come to be referred to as "gay" in the West is not a descriptive term that would be recognized by all men who have sex with men (MSM) as known in the rest of the world. While gay culture is increasingly open and discussed, the world of MSM consists of a diverse population that often may respond differently depending on how communications in clinical settings are framed. "Gay" is generally used to describe a sexual orientation, while "MSM" describes a behavior.[3]

Some men who have sex with other men will not relate to the term "gay" or homosexual, and do not regard sex with other men as sexual activity, a term they reserve for sexual relations with women. This is particularly true among individuals from non-Western cultures. Nevertheless, it is common in the US. Terms such as MSM or "same gender loving" are often used in place of the word gay. Men in Africa and Latin America engage in sexual relationships with other men while still referring to themselves as "heterosexual", which is known as being on the "down-low".[4] The same is true of men who engage in homosexual activities in the military, gender-segregated schools and universities, or prison; most of them do not consider themselves gay but still engage sexually with members of their own sex in order to fulfill their desires.[5]

There is a lack of information on sexual behaviour in most developing countries. The limited sources that are available indicate that although homosexual self-identification might occur relatively infrequently, the prevalence of homosexual behaviour is higher. These men are not taken into consideration in some sexual identity surveys which may lead to under-reporting and inaccuracies.[6]

Importance of having reliable demographics[edit]

Reliable data on the size of the gay and lesbian population would be valuable for informing public policy.[7] For example, demographics would help calculate the costs and benefits of domestic partnership benefits, of the impact of legalizing gay adoption.[7] Further, knowledge of the size of the "gay and lesbian population holds promise for helping social scientists understand a wide array of important questions—questions about the general nature of labor market choices, accumulation of human capital, specialization within households, discrimination, and decisions about geographic location."[7]

The Kinsey Reports[edit]

Main article: Kinsey Reports

Two of the most famous studies of the demographics of human sexual orientation were Dr. Alfred Kinsey's Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948) and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953). These studies used a seven-point spectrum to define sexual behavior, from 0 for completely heterosexual to 6 for completely homosexual. Kinsey concluded that a small percentage of the population were to one degree or another bisexual (falling on the scale from 1 to 6). He also reported that 37% of men in the U.S. had achieved orgasm through contact with another male after adolescence and 13% of women had achieved orgasm through contact with another woman.[8]

His results, however, have been disputed, especially in 1954 by a team consisting of John Tukey, Frederick Mosteller and William G. Cochran, who stated much of Kinsey's work was based on convenience samples rather than random samples, and thus would have been vulnerable to bias.[9]

Paul Gebhard, Kinsey's former colleague and successor as director of the Kinsey Institute for Sex Research,[10] dedicated years to reviewing the Kinsey data and culling what he claimed were its purported contaminants. In 1979, Gebhard (with Alan B. Johnson) concluded that none of Kinsey's original estimates were significantly affected by the perceived bias, finding that 36.4% of men had engaged in both heterosexual and homosexual activities, as opposed to Kinsey's 37%.

Modern survey results[edit]

Recent critiques of these studies have suggested that, because of their dependence on self-identification, they may have undercounted the true prevalence of people with a history of same-sex behavior or desire.



The then largest and most thorough survey in Australia was conducted by telephone interview with 19,307 respondents between the ages of 16 and 59 in 2001/2002. The study found that 97.4% of men identified as heterosexual, 1.6% as homosexual and 0.9% as bisexual. For women 97.7% identified as heterosexual, 0.8% as lesbian and 1.4% as bisexual. Nevertheless, 8.6% of men and 15.1% of women reported either feelings of attraction to the same gender or some sexual experience with the same gender.[11] Overall, 8.6% of women and 5.9% of men reported some homosexual experience in their lives; these figures fell to 5.7% and 5.0% respectively when non-genital sexual experience was excluded.[12] Half the men and two thirds of the women who had same-sex sexual experience regarded themselves as heterosexual rather than homosexual.[13]


An update on the above study; it employs the same methodology, has a larger sample (20,055 respondents), and a broader respondent age range (16-69). The study found that 96.5% of the entire sample (or 96.7% of the men and 96.3% of the women) identified as heterosexual, a drop from the 2003 findings (97.5%).[14] Homosexuals accounted for 1.9% of the male population and 1.2% of the female population, a non-significant difference between the sexes. Bisexuals accounted for 1.3% of the male population and 2.2% of the female population. Women were significantly more likely than men to identify as bisexual, and less likely to report exclusively other-sex or same-sex attraction and experience. Similarly, more women reported same-sex experience and same-sex attraction. Nine percent of men and 19% of women had some history of same-sex attraction or experience. More women identified as lesbian or bisexual than in 2001–02. Homosexual/gay identity was more common among men with university education and living in cities, and much less common among men with blue-collar jobs. Both male and female bisexuality were more common among respondents under the age of 20. Male bisexuality was also overrepresented among older men.[15]



A study of 5,514 college and university students under the age of 25 found 1% who were homosexual and 1% who were bisexual.[16]



A random survey found that 2.7% of the 1,373 men who responded to their questionnaire had homosexual experience (intercourse).[17]



A study of 20,055 people found that 4.1% of the men and 2.6% of the women had at least one occurrence of intercourse with person of the same sex during their lifetime.[18][19]


In a nationally representative online survey of 7,841 French adults carried out by IFOP in early 2011, 6.6% of respondents identified as homosexual (3.6%) or bisexual (3%), and 90.8% as heterosexual.[20]

In another IFOP survey of 9,515 French adults conducted later that same year, 6.5% of the sample identified as homosexual (3%) or bisexual (3.5%).[21]



A study of the responses of 7,441 individuals, conducted by the ESRI, found that 2.7% of men and 1.2% of women self-identified as homosexual or bisexual. A question based on a variant of the Kinsey scale found that 5.3% of men and 5.8% of women reported some same-sex attraction. Of those surveyed, 7.1% of men and 4.7% of women reported a homosexual experience some time in their life so far. It also found that 4.4% of men and 1.4% of women reported a "genital same-sex experience" (oral or anal sex, or any other genital contact) in their life so far.[22] The study was commissioned and published by the Crisis Pregnancy Agency in partnership with the Department of Health and Children.



According to a survey employing the Kinsey scale, 4.5% of non-religious Israelis place themselves on points 5 or 6 on the scale, indicating a homosexual orientation with minor or non-existent opposite-sex attraction, and 91.5% placed themselves on points 0 or 1, which indicates a heterosexual orientation, with minor or non-existent same-sex attraction. In the category of young adults, aged 18 to 24, 7.4% placed themselves on Kinsey points 5 or 6, and 80% on points 0 or 1.[23]

In a separate survey using an online method and a nationally representative sample it was found that, among Israeli Jews, 11.3% of men and 15.2% of women were attracted to the same-gender, 10.2 and 8.7% reported lifetime same-gender encounters, while 8.2 and 4.8% self-identified as gay or bisexual men and lesbian or bisexual women, respectively.[24]



A random survey of 7,725 Italians (18–74 years old) conducted by ISTAT between June and December 2011 with CAPI technique[25] found that about 2.4% of the population declared to be homo- or bisexual, 77% heterosexual, 0.1% transsexual, 4% reported to be "other", 15.6% didn't answer. An extended survey including all the people that during their lives fell or are in love with a same-sex individual, or that had sexual intercourse with a same-sex individual, increases the percentage to 6.7% of the population. More men than women, more northerners than southerners, more younger than older people identified themselfes as homosexuals.[26]

The Netherlands[edit]


In a face-to-face survey carried out by the Dutch National Survey of General Practice, of the 4,229 men with a valid answer to the sexual orientation question, 1.5% self-identified as gay, 0.6% as bisexual and 97.9% as heterosexual. Of the 5,282 women, 1.5% self-identified as gay, 1.2% as bisexual, and 97.3% as heterosexual.[27]


In a nationally representative, online sample of 3145 men and 3283 women, 3.6% of the men and 1.4% of the women identified as gay. A further 5.5% of the men and 7.4% of the women identified as bisexual. Self-identification was assessed on a 5-point scale and all three non-exclusive options were combined for bisexual self-identification. Same-sex attraction is more prevalent than homo- or bisexual orientation. Of the men, 9.9% reported at least some same-sex attraction (4.2% exclusively). Among women, this was 10.9% (1.5% exclusively), of which a large group reported mainly heterosexual attraction. Of the men, 3.6% had had sex with men in the past six months and a further 2.0% with both men and women. For women, these percentages were 1.6% and 0.8% respectively. Gay or bisexual self-identification without same-sex attraction was almost non-existent. However, not all men and women who felt attracted to their own gender identified as gay or bisexual. Same-sex sexual behavior did occur among men and women who neither reported any same-sex attraction or a gay or bisexual identification, especially when lifelong sexual behavior was considered.[28]

New Zealand[edit]


In an anonymous survey of 8,000 New Zealand secondary school students conducted by the University of Auckland, 0.9% of those surveyed reported exclusive attraction to the same sex, 3.3% to both sexes and 1.8% to neither.[29]



In a random survey of 6,300 Norwegians, 3.5% of the men and 3% of the women reported that they had a homosexual experience sometime in their life.[30]


In an anonymous survey of 1,971 male high school students performed in 2003, 1% self-reported having had a boyfriend and 2% having fallen in love with a man.[31]


A volunteer-based research of adult Poles showed that differences in the mode of survey produce also significant differences in the share of people who will admit homosexual attraction. In paper-based surveys, 6% of respondents self-reported same-sex attraction, compared to 12% of online respondents. There were no other significant differences in other aspects of sexual life, and the two sets of volunteers were similar in age, education, and geographical location.[32]



In an anonymous survey of 1,978 male high school students performed in 2003, respondents answered a question regarding same-sex attraction by choosing a number in a 5-point Likert scale (1 = no and 5 = strong). Those who marked the number 5 made up 4% of the sample and those who marked the numbers 3 or 4, presented by researchers as self-reporting "some" same-sex attraction, 7%.[31]

United Kingdom[edit]

Sexual identity in the UK, 2012.

A study of 8,337 British men found that 6.1% have had a "homosexual experience" and 3.6% had "1+ homosexual partner ever."[33]


HM Treasury and the Department of Trade and Industry completed a survey to help the government analyse the financial implications of the Civil Partnerships Act (such as pensions, inheritance and tax benefits). They concluded that there were 3.6 m gay people in Britain—around 6% of the total population or 1 in 16.66 people.[34]


In an online survey carried out among over 75,000 Yougov panel participants in Britain, 90.9% identified as heterosexual, 5.8% as gay, lesbian or bisexual, 1.3% opted not to give an answer, and 2.1% gave other reasons.[35] Though the panel is not a probability sample, it was recruited to ensure that it closely matched the overall British population on demographic variables such as age, gender, employment status and socio-economic classification.[35] Ethnic minorities were less likely to identify as gay or lesbian than Whites (1.4% vs. 3.5%) but were more likely to say they prefer not to disclose their sexual orientation (7.5% vs 0.9%). More LGB than heterosexual respondents indicated they would be less likely to disclose their true sexual orientation in a face-to-face interview than in a self-administered, online survey.[36]


A representative survey of 238,206 Britons, exclusive to their categories, found 1% identified as gay or lesbian and 0.5% said they were bisexual. A further 0.5% self-identified as "other", and 3% responded as "do not know" or refused to answer.[37] In total this adds up to 5% of people who do not identify as heterosexual, or alternatively 98.5% who do not identify as either gay, lesbian or bisexual. Ben Summerskill, chief executive of the gay equality charity Stonewall stated: "This is the first time that people were asked and data collection happened on doorsteps or over the phone, which may deter people from giving accurate responses – particularly if someone isn't openly gay at home." Stonewall worked with 600 major employers and their experience had shown that these statistics increased when people were regularly asked about sexual orientation as part of general monitoring information.


The Integrated Household Survey,[38] produced by the Office of National Statistics, gives the following figures for the period April 2011 to March 2012:

  • 93.9 per cent of adults identified themselves as Heterosexual/Straight.
  • 1.1 per cent of the surveyed UK population, approximately 545,000 adults, identified themselves as Gay or Lesbian.
  • 0.4 per cent of the surveyed UK population, approximately 220,000 adults, identified themselves as Bisexual.
  • 0.3 per cent identified themselves as "Other".
  • 3.6 per cent of adults stated "Don't know" or refused to answer the question.
  • 0.6 per cent of respondents provided "No response" to the question.
  • 2.7 per cent of 16- to 24-year-olds in the UK identified themselves as Gay, Lesbian or Bisexual compared with 0.4 per cent of 65-year-olds and over.

In an anonymous online sex survey carried out by The Observer on the sex lives of the British, 4% of the 1,052 samples surveyed identified as gay or lesbian, and another 4% as bisexual.[39]


According to the Integrated Household Survey carried out in 2014:

  • 92.8 per cent of adults identified themselves as Heterosexual/Straight.
  • 1.6 per cent of adults in the UK identified their sexual identity as lesbian, gay or bisexual.
  • 0.3 per cent declared themselves as Other.
  • 5.3 per cent answered "Don't know" or refused to answer the question.
  • Around 2.6 per cent of adults aged 16 to 24 years identified themselves as lesbian, gay or bisexual. This decreased to 0.6 per cent of adults aged 65 and over.
  • London had the highest percentage of adults identifying themselves as lesbian, gay or bisexual, at 2.6 per cent.[40]

In a Yougov survey of 1,632 adults, 5.5% identified as gay, 2.1% as bisexual, and 88.7% as heterosexual.[41] Asked to place themselves on the Kinsey scale, 72% of all adults, and 46% of adults aged 18–24 years, picked a score of zero, meaning that they identify as totally heterosexual. Four percent of the total sample, and 6% of young adults, picked a score of six, meaning a totally homosexual identity.[42]

United States[edit]


Ratios of proportions[edit]

In general, most research agrees that the number of people who have had multiple same-gender sexual experiences is fewer than the number of people who have had a single such experience, and that the number of people who identify themselves as exclusively homosexual is fewer than the number of people who have had multiple homosexual experiences.[original research?]

Change over time[edit]

In addition, shifts can occur in reports of the prevalence of homosexuality. For example, the Hamburg Institute for Sexual Research conducted a survey over the sexual behavior of young people in 1970 and repeated it in 1990. Whereas in 1970 18% of the boys ages 16 and 17 reported to have had at least one same-sex sexual experience, the number had dropped to 2% by 1990.[43][44]

Data from the General Social Survey shows that the percentage of Americans reporting predominately same-sex partners remained stable between 1991 and 2010. In contrast, the percentage who reported ever having a same-sex partner increased, especially among women.[45]

Top cities[edit]


In 2009, in a survey conducted by University of São Paulo in 10 capitals of Brazil, of the men 7.8% were gay and 2.6% were bisexual, for a total of 10.4%, and of the women 4.9% were lesbian and 1.4% were bisexual, for a total of 6.3%.[46]

Of the men of the city of Rio de Janeiro, 14.3% were gay or bisexual. Of the women of the city of Manaus, 10.2% were lesbian and bisexual.[46]

Rank City Percentage
of city
LGB population
1 Rio de Janeiro 14.30% 1
2 Fortaleza 9.35% 2
3 Manaus 8.35% 3
4 São Paulo 8.20% 4
5 Salvador 8.05% 5
6 Brasília 7.95% 6
7 Belo Horizonte 6.85% 7
8 Curitiba 6.55% 8
9 Porto Alegre 5.95% 9
10 Cuiabá 5.65% 10

United States[edit]

The Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, a sexual orientation law think tank, released a study in April 2011[47] estimating based on its research that 1.7 percent of American adults identify as gay or lesbian, while another 1.8 percent identify as bisexual. Drawing on information from four recent national and two state-level population-based surveys, the analyses suggest that there are more than 8 million adults in the US who are lesbian, gay, or bisexual, comprising 3.5% of the adult population. Of men, 2.2% identify as gay and an additional 1.4% as bisexual. Of women, 1.1% identify as lesbian and an additional 2.2% as bisexual.

LGBT Adult Percentage by State in 2012.
Cities with the highest percentage of LGBTs in 2006.

These charts show lists of the cities and the metropolitan areas with the highest LGB population in terms of numbers of total gay, lesbian and bisexual residents, based on estimates published in 2006 by the Williams Institute of the UCLA School of Law.[48]

Top ranked by percent:

Rank City Percentage
of city
LGB population
population rank
1 San Francisco 15.4% 94,234 4
2 Seattle 12.9% 57,993 9
3 Atlanta 12.8% 39,805 12
4 Minneapolis 12.5% 34,295 16
5 Boston 12.3% 50,540 10
6 Sacramento 9.8% 32,108 20
7 Portland 8.8% 35,413 14
8 Denver 8.2% 33,698 17
9 Washington 8.1% 32,599 18
10 Orlando 7.7% 12,508 36

Top ranked by total population:

Rank City Percentage
of city
GLB population
population rank
1 New York City 6% 272,493 1
2 Los Angeles 5.6% 154,270 2
3 Chicago 5.7% 114,449 3
4 San Francisco 15.4% 94,234 4
5 Phoenix 6.4% 63,222 5
6 Houston 4.4% 61,976 6
7 San Diego 6.8% 61,945 7
8 Dallas 7.0% 58,473 8
9 Seattle 12.9% 57,993 9
10 Boston 12.3% 50,540 10
11 Philadelphia 4.2% 43,320 11
12 Atlanta 12.8% 39,085 12
13 San Jose 5.8% 37,260 13

Major metropolitan areas by total population:

Rank City GLB GLB%
1 New York CityNorthern New JerseyLong Island, NY 568,903 2.6%
2 Los AngelesLong Beach, CASanta Ana, CA 442,211 2.7%
3 Chicago–Naperville–Joliet, IL 288,478 3.1%
4 San FranciscoOaklandFremont, CA 256,313 3.6%
5 BostonCambridge, MAQuincy, MA 201,344 3.4%
6 Washington, D.C. 191,959 2.5%
7 DallasFort WorthArlington, TX 183,718 3.5%
8 MiamiMiami BeachFort Lauderdale 183,346 4.7%
9 AtlantaMarietta, GASandy Springs, GA 180,168 4.3%
10 PhiladelphiaCamden, NJWilmington, DE 179,459 2.8%

See also[edit]


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Further reading[edit]