The survey results show Americans have undergone a fundamental shift in attitude toward, and willingness to engage in, same-sex relations.
The study also reveals that the proportion of Americans who have had same-sex sexual experiences appears to have doubled since the late 1990s.
The researchers – including Ryne Sherman, an assistant professor of psychology at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton – describe the study in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior.
They say the results show the cultural shift that has occurred in the United States over the last 40 years or so goes beyond just simple tolerance of gay, lesbian, and bisexual people and their civil rights.
They show the American public is more accepting than ever of same-sex sexuality and the freedom to engage in it – or is at least prepared to say so in a survey.
Either way, say the authors, this signifies a fundamental change in the last few decades in American attitudes to same-sex sexual relations.
For the study, the researchers analyzed data from 33,728 individuals who took part in the General Social Survey (GSS) – a nationally representative survey of what Americans think and feel about many issues, including intergroup relations.
The researchers focused on changes over time in two main areas: acceptance toward and experience of same-sex sexual behavior. They also looked at sexual experiences with both same- and opposite-sex partners (bisexual behavior).
The GSS has asked questions about acceptance of same-sex sexual behavior since 1973, and on sexual partners since 1989.
‘Lesbian sexual experience highest when women are young’
The results show that the percentage of men who reported having had sex with at least one man rose from 4.5 to 8.2 percent, while the percentage of women who said they had had sex with at least one woman rose from 3.6 to 8.7 percent.
The proportion of adults reporting having had sex with both male and female partners (bisexual experiences) rose from 3.1 to 7.7 percent.
The researchers also examined the results according to age groups. Of adults aged 18-29 during the 2010s (the Millenials), 7.5 percent of men reported having had at least one gay sexual experience, while 12.2 percent of women said they had had at least one lesbian sexual encounter. Prof. Sherman notes:
“Lesbian sexual experience is highest when women are young, suggesting there is some truth to the idea that some women are ‘lesbian until graduation’ or ‘bisexual until graduation,’ at least among younger generations such as Millennials. This pattern does not appear for gay sexual experiences.”
The biggest increase in same-sex behavior was seen among whites, and in the South and Midwest U.S., note the authors.
Millenials more accepting of same-sex relations than Generation X
One of the questions the GSS asks is: “What about sexual relations between two adults of the same sex – do you think it is always wrong, almost always wrong, wrong only sometimes, or not wrong at all?”
The researchers found that the proportion of those who said “not wrong at all” only rose from 11 to 13 percent between 1973-1990, but rose steadily after that to reach 49 percent in 2014 – the latest year for which GSS results are available.
Among those aged 18-19, acceptance of same-sex relations rose from 15 to 63 percent over the same period, indicating that a clear majority of America’s youngest adults accepts same-sex sexual relations.
The researchers also analyzed the data to see if the trends are due to age, period, or cohort, and found that Millenials are markedly more accepting of same-sex relations than Generation X – people born between the early 1960s and the early 1980s, after the baby boom that followed World War II.
“The change is primarily one of time period, where all adults shifted in their attitudes.”
Prof. Ryne Sherman