Are Some Heterosexual Men Not Totally Straight?

Neutralizing toxic masculinity may reduce the percentage of straight men.

Posted Jan 15, 2020

Asifidsay [CC BY-SA]
Source: Asifidsay [CC BY-SA]

Across all countries in which we have sufficient data, straight-identified men are the largest group—even larger than straight women. They make up between 90% to 95% of the U.S. male population, according to national surveys, and the percentage is higher in countries with traditional notions of masculinity, such as Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, and Greece.

Is this an over-estimation? Yes, but how much so is difficult to determine, largely because some heterosexual men say they are straight but are not totally straight. That is, they have a small but significant degree of sexual or romantic attraction to other men and yet still identify as straight. For example, in one online survey, 90% of men identified as straight when presented with the options of straight, bisexual, or gay. Yet just 83% reported being “predominantly not attracted to the same sex.” This group likely includes straight men and at least 7% (90% minus 83% = 7%) who have dual attractions but who reject a bisexual identity for a straight one.

Who are these men?

We really do not know, but we know they exist. During the past decade, I’ve questioned how straight some straight-declared men really are. We know that among women, a fairly large group (10% to 20%) identify as mostly straight based on their dual sexual and/or romantic attractions. Although far fewer men identify as mostly straight even when given the choice, some attest to having limited (say 10% of their) sexual or romantic attractions to the same sex. Biological evidence corroborates that they exist (e.g., their pupils dilate and their penis enlarges when watching homoerotic content). They are not merely closeted bisexual or gay men and their motives for not identifying as such are seldom to maintain normative straight male privilege or status. Rather, it best reflects their true sexual or romantic self.

Why men are so likely to identify as mostly straight is likely due to their desire not to be perceived as having any degree of gayness. In one study, men who reported having a small degree of same-sex attractions were given three sexual identity choices: straight, bisexual, and gay. Over 60% chose straight because that was closest to what they understood themselves to be; most of the others refused to answer or wrote "other." In their eyes, identifying as bisexual was too gay. Yet, they are not really totally straight and are thus misidentified as straight rather than mostly straight (having dual attractions), which they are.

How many men are mostly straight?

Reviewing various studies, the range is usually between 2% and 9% of the male population. For example, national statistics in 2016 reported that 6% of millennial young men claimed sexual attractions not totally to the opposite sex but “mostly to the opposite sex.” However, I believe this is a significant undercount, especially among Gen Z youth, many of whom have made sincere attempts to rid themselves of traditional notions of masculinity.

In a sample of over 3,000 sixth, eighth, tenth, and 12th-grade students in a Southeastern U.S. county, 16% identified as mostly straight—although, unfortunately, the sexes were not separated. The proportion of mostly straight people was over four times higher than bisexuals or gays/lesbians. Given that mostly straight is the fastest growing sexual orientation identity today, who knows how many truly exist.

Although I can’t tell you with certainty how many not-totally-straight-but-identifying-as-straight men there are, it’s likely, at the present moment, to be lower than among women and lower in older generations. Because many mostly straight men remain unaware of the meaning of their sexual or romantic attractions to other men (they’re “just buddies”), any count is likely to underestimate the total. After all, they may be men vested in toxic masculinity who strive to appear and act straight in conventional masculine ways and thus avoid the prevailing social stigma against men declaring any degree of same-sex sexuality.

Bottom Line 

My best guess is that 80% of the U.S. male population is totally straight, larger than any other group of either sex.

Finally, the reader who initially signaled his objections to my posts closed with, “Be who you are, but allow the same of me.” With this, I am in perfect agreement, as long as we give the same privilege and rights to all.

References

Goldbach, J. T., Raymond, H. F., & Burgess, C. M. (online). Patterns of bullying behavior by sexual orientation. Journal of Interpersonal Violence. doi:10.1177/0886260517741623

Rahman, Q., Xu, Y., Lippa, R. A., & Vasey, P. L. (online). Prevalence of sexual orientation across 28 nations and its association with gender equality, economic development, and individualism. Archives of Sexual Behavior. doi:10.1007/s10508-019-01590-0

Savin-Williams, R. C. (2017). Mostly straight: Sexually fluidity among men. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.