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More adults accept and have had same-sex experiences

June 01, 2016

SAN DIEGO, Calif. (June 1, 2016)--Reflecting rapidly changing cultural attitudes in the United States toward sexuality, a new study finds that the percentage of adults who have had sex with people from their same gender has doubled since the 1990s. The study also found that acceptance of same-sex sexuality has increased among all generations, with Millennials the most accepting.

Jean Twenge, professor of psychology at San Diego State University and author of Generation Me, along with colleagues Ryne Sherman of Florida Atlantic University and Brooke Wells of Widener University, analyzed data from the General Social Survey, a nationally representative survey of more than 30,000 adults that has queried Americans about their attitudes toward same-sex sexual behavior since 1973 and about sexual partners since 1989.

Between 1990 and 2014 the percentage of men who reported having had sex with at least one man increased from 4.5 percent to 8.2 percent, and the number of women reporting having had sex with at least one woman increased from 3.6 percent to 8.7 percent. The percentage of adults reporting having had sex with both men and women rose from 3.1 percent to 7.7 percent.

Among Millennials--adults between the ages of 18 and 29 during the 2010s--7.5 percent of men and 12.2 percent of women reported having had a same-sex experience.

Lesbian sexual experiences are more likely to occur when women are young, the researchers found, while youth doesn't appear to be a factor for male gay sexual experience.

The survey also collected data on respondents' attitudes toward same-sex relations. Between 1973 and 1990, the percentage of adults who believed "sexual relations between two adults of the same sex [was] not wrong at all" hardly budged, rising from 11 percent to 13 percent. Since then, however, such acceptance has risen to 49 percent of all adults and 63 percent of Millennials in 2014. The researchers published their findings today in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior.

"These large shifts in both attitudes and behavior occurred over just 25 years, suggesting rapid cultural change," Twenge said.

What's driving this change? Several social and media factors are at play, Twenge said, but broadly, Americans appear to care less about social norms and more about their own wants.

"These trends are another piece of evidence that American culture has become more individualistic and more focused on the self and on equality," she said. "Without the strict social rules common in the past, Americans now feel more free to have sexual experiences they desire."
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San Diego State University

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