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Gays with a "main partner" have concurrent casual sexual relationships

N.E.Whitehead, August 2011

An interesting recent paper (Rosenberg, Sullivan, Dinenno, Salazar, & Sanchez, 2011) confirms that most gay men with one main partner for a given year also have concurrent casual sexual relationships. Main partner is defined as a person to whom one is committed above all others.

The paper presents good data on the number of gay partnerships per year, confirming previous findings by others, but what is new are data about gay relationships per year when there is also a main partner.

Over 11,000 men who have sex with men were interviewed. This is an enormous sample. Kinsey’s sample, large for its time, and with a much over-represented number of gay/lesbian people, only had about 1300 homosexual men. The paper interprets data from a CDC (Centers for Disease Control) project, and the research standard seems to be high.

Contrary to the stereotype, the typical number of sexual partners per year per person in the SSA community is not hundreds but about three, as referenced elsewhere on this site, and the paper approximately confirms this general finding. If there was no main partner the figure was five. The result for bisexuals was 2.5 partners. If a man who had sex with men had a main partner (68% of the sample),  the typical number of casual partners in a given year was about 2. This means, as has been anecdotally clear for a long time, that the norm, even with a partner to whom one is committed above all others, is not sexual exclusivity. But this paper appears to be the first giving a high-quality, quantitative result.

Compared with hetereosexuality

It is not easy to compare these figures directly with those for heterosexuals, because it is traditional to use a different basis in studies of heterosexuals - the percentage of people with “concurrent partnerships” in a given year.  Among heterosexuals the statistics (Adimora, Schoenbach, & Doherty, 2007) are that, in a given year, only 11% of men have “concurrent partnerships”,  the others being sexually exclusive. Many of those with concurrent partnerships are among the unmarried, hence it is not clear whether they have  a “main partner” and this makes the comparison more difficult. According to (Oyediran, Isiugo-Abanihe, Feyisetan, & Ishola, 2009) 16% of married men also have such concurrent relationships in a given year but this is a study of Nigerian men, and may not be typical of the West.

However it would be a good rule of thumb that a gay man with a main partner has a few other relationships
in a given year, but a heterosexual man would most commonly have no concurrent relationships.

The philosophical and cross-cultural ideal for marriage has traditionally been sexual exclusivity. But sexual exclusivity is not what is meant by gay “committed” relationships, or for heterosexuals in concurrent relationships. If a homosexual man says he committed to one man in any given year, it means he is typically having sexual relationships with three different men. 

 

 

Reference List

1.    Adimora, A. A., Schoenbach, V. J., & Doherty, I. A. (2007). Concurrent Sexual Partnerships Among Men in the United States. American Journal of Public Health.

2.    Oyediran, K., Isiugo-Abanihe, U. C., Feyisetan, B. J., & Ishola, G. P. (2009). Prevalence of and Factors Associated With Extramarital Sex Among Nigerian Men. Am J Mens Health.

3.    Rosenberg, E. S., Sullivan, P. S., Dinenno, E. A., Salazar, L. F., & Sanchez, T. H. (2011). Number of casual male sexual partners and associated factors among men who have sex with men: results from the National HIV Behavioral Surveillance system. BMC Public Health, 11, 189.