How Many Straight People Are There?

That’s not an easy question to answer.

Posted Jul 04, 2016

There are two U.S. nationally representative studies that address this question: The National Survey of Family Growth (Copen et al., 2016) and the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent to Adult Health (Lindley et al., 2012). To make them comparable, I’ll focus on the young adult (roughly 24 to 34 years of age) portion of the data. The key here is to consider women and men separately and to distinguish sexual identity from sexual attraction from sexual behavior.

First, women:

If women only have three identity options (straight, bisexual, gay) to choose from, 93% say they’re straight. However, if they’re given the possibility of identifying as these three plus “mostly straight,” the proportion of straight women tumbles to 80%.

Similarly, if only given the choice of being sexually attracted to men, women, or both, 90% of women report that they are attracted to men. However, if being “mostly attracted to men” is offered, then the proportion of women exclusively attracted to men declines to 79%.

As regard to who they have sex with, 83% of straight women remain exclusively loyal to men.

Next, men:

About 95% of men identify as straight. This proportion declines only slightly (to 93%) if a mostly straight identity option is added.

Similarly, 95% of men report being sexually attracted only to women. If given the option of “mostly attracted to women” the proportion declines marginally, to 93%.

In regard to who they have sex with, again 95% of men only have sex with women. This percent declines to 91% if given the opportunity to choose “occasionally with men.”

Summary

Regardless of whether it’s sexual identity, attraction, or behavior, fewer women than men say they’re straight. This difference is most marked when it comes to sexual attraction and, somewhat less, regarding who they have sex with.

Three additional points are important to make.

One, response options matter. Adding a bit of spectrum (slightly, occasionally, mostly) reduces the total straightness of both sexes, especially women.

Two, men are becoming more like women. This point is most noteworthy when comparing the 18-to-24 year old cohort with the 25-to-34 year old cohort. The proportion of younger men who report that they are only sexually attracted to women declines to 89% when they have the opportunity to say sometimes they are attracted to men, which is toward the female pattern.

Three, these decreases in exclusivity opens the door for the increased visibility of other sexualities, such as bisexual, mostly straight, pansexual, and unlabeled.

Copen, C. E., Chandra, A., & Febo-Vazquez, I. (2016, January). Sexual behavior, sexual attraction, and sexual orientation among adults aged 18-44 in the United States: Data from the 2011-2013 National Survey of Family Growth. National Health Statistics Reports, Number 88. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Lindley, L. L., Walsemann, K. M., & Carter, J. W., Jr. (2012). The association of sexual orientation measures with young adults’ health-related outcomes. American Journal of Public Health, 102, 1177–1185. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2011.300262

Image by AnonMoos, colors modified by Lyon_Cyborg [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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