Monday, 25 June 2018

A Botch Up Of Statistics: Do Gay People Really Have More Sex?


A friend posted a link to an article in The Economist that I ended up clicking on to read. It purports to dispel the myth that gay people have more sex by mining the data from a popular dating site. Here is what they claim to have found:

"It seems that the gay men, straight men, gay women and straight women on OKCupid have all had exactly the same median number of reported partners: six."

Dear oh dear. It would appear that The Economist is being sloppy here - it is taking its sample group from one source - a dating site called OKCupid - which has an above average number of people not in relationships, therefore an expected above average number of sexual partners. That is not an adequate sample group for determining whether gay people have more sex than the broader heterosexual population.

It would be a bit like checking the UK population for homophobia, but only surveying people in mosques; or checking who in the UK population has obtained five GCSEs or more, but only surveying people serving time in prison; or checking the UK population for obesity, but only surveying people in gymnasiums. I have no idea whether gay people have more sex than straight people - but either way, mining such a small sample set from a popular dating site is not going to provide a reliable heuristic for determining one way or the other.

I could take a stab at the problem from an economic perspective - but I have nothing to base it on, only conjecture. And given that The Economist couldn't do any better than a highly unrepresentative source like OKCupid, I presume that there isn't a comprehensive data set on this matter (I haven't checked - so do post a link to correct me if I'm wrong).

A more inquisitive way to consider such questions from an economic perspective would be to ask: what might motivate gay people to have more sex than straight people? I can think of one or two possible reasons why. Here's one. Gay couples are disproportionately childless, and are therefore probably likely to have more sex than couples with children. Being childless they are probably less tired; they probably have more opportunities of an evening in not having to worry about the kids. Added to that, parents have extra reasons to stay healthy and live longer, which is probably a factor too in their living less tumultuous lives.

Another factor I can imagine has had a bearing on the statistics would be that, sadly, gay people have incurred more hostility for their sexual orientation over the years than straight people (although it's a lot better now). That might have led to more 'in the closet' sexual activity, but also more depression and anxiety, where increased sex may have had some ameliorating effect. Persecuted and marginalised people may also end up caring less about their own sexual well-being too, which may mean higher incidences of promiscuity.

Moreover, gay people who have felt depressed and marginalised because of their sexuality, especially younger people, are probably more likely to go out more to places where sex is part of the night-time scene; and in those environments they are probably more likely to consume more alcohol too, which may also increase the chance of more sex (this is a pattern that has swept across the heterosexual social circles too, with the binge culture providing succour through superficial sexual sustenance).

A final reason, which may play out in their thirties, is that straight men are more likely to have their sexual habits constrained by women looking to be mothers, whereas gay men would not experience those constraints, thereby opening up their options for other partners, and may have more sex in those scenarios.

All of this may contribute to gay people having, on average, more sex than straight people - especially if the lifestyle involves more surreptitiousness, increased family pressures and fewer stable relationships. I don't imagine I can test these hypotheses, and they may turn out to be implausible - but I fancy they are more plausible than The Economist's report from a very unrepresentative data set which is bound to skew the reality of the situation.

My speculative stab at the truth is based on the well worn principle that people usually have good reasons for doing what they do - and I can at least conceive of some possible reasons for changing behaviour regarding these matters. On the other hand, let's hope (and perhaps presume) that we've come a long way since the days of gay people feeling more pressured and under more duress than straight people - and that these past differences in behaviour and lifestyles are now narrow enough to be imperceptible.
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