We examined change over time in the reported prevalence of men having sex with men and women having sex with women and acceptance of those behaviors in the nationally representative General Social Survey of U.S. adults (n’s = 28,161–33,728, ages 18–96 years), 1972–2014. The number of U.S. adults who had at least one same-sex partner since age 18 doubled between the early 1990s and early 2010s (from 3.6 to 8.7 % for women and from 4.5 to 8.2 % for men). Bisexual behavior (having sex with both male and female partners) increased from 3.1 to 7.7 %, accounting for much of the rise, with little consistent change in those having sex exclusively with same-sex partners. The increase in same-sex partners was larger for women than for men, consistent with erotic plasticity theory. Attitudes toward same-sex sexual behavior also became substantially more accepting, d = .75, between the early 1970s and early 2010s. By 2014, 49 % of American adults believed that same-sex sexual activity was “not wrong at all,” up from 11 % in 1973 and 13 % in 1990. Controlling for acceptance reduced, but did not eliminate, the increase in same-sex behavior over time. Mixed effects (hierarchical linear modeling) analyses separating age, time period, and cohort showed that the trends were primarily due to time period. Increases in same-sex sexual behavior were largest in the South and Midwest and among Whites, were mostly absent among Blacks, and were smaller among the religious. Overall, same-sex sexual behavior has become both more common (or at least more commonly reported) and more accepted.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT for USA
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.
Baldwin, A., Dodge, B., Schick, V., Hubach, R., Bowling, J., Malebranche, D., & Fortenberry, J. D. (2015). Sexual self-identification among behaviorally bisexual men in the midwestern United States. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 44, 2015–2026.
Bates, D., Maechler, M., Bolker, B., & Walker, S. (2015). Fitting linear mixed-effects models using lme4. Journal of Statistical Software, 67, 1–48.
Baumeister, R. F. (2000). Gender differences in erotic plasticity: The female sex drive as socially flexible and responsive. Psychological Bulletin, 126, 347–374.
Baunach, D. M. (2012). Changing same-sex marriage attitudes in America from 1988 through 2010. Public Opinion Quarterly, 76, 364–378.
Berg, N., & Lien, D. (2006). Same-sex sexual behavior: US frequency estimates from survey data with simultaneous misreporting and non-response. Applied Economics, 38, 1–13.
Black, D., Gates, G., Sanders, S., & Taylor, L. (2000). Demographics of the gay and lesbian population in the United States: Evidence from available systematic data sources. Demography, 37, 139–154.
Bolding, G., Davis, M., Hart, G., Sherr, L., & Elford, J. (2007). Where young MSM meet their first sexual partner: The role of the Internet. AIDS and Behavior, 11, 522–526.
Butler, A. C. (2000). Trends in same-gender sexual partnering, 1988–1998. Journal of Sex Research, 37, 333–343.
Butler, A. C. (2005). Gender differences in the prevalence of same-sex sexual partnering: 1988–2002. Social Forces, 84, 421–449.
Calzo, J. P., Antonucci, T. C., Mays, V. M., & Cochran, S. D. (2011). Retrospective recall of sexual orientation identity development among gay, lesbian, and bisexual adults. Developmental Psychology, 47, 1658–1673.
Campbell, W. K., Campbell, S., Siedor, L. E., & Twenge, J. M. (2015). Generational differences are real and useful. Industrial and Organizational Psychology: Perspectives on Science and Practice, 8, 324–408.
Catania, J. A. (1999). A framework for conceptualizing reporting bias and its antecedents in interviews assessing human sexuality. Journal of Sex Research, 36, 25–38.
Chandra, A., Copen, C., & Mosher, W. (2013). Sexual behavior, sexual attraction, and sexual identity in the United States: Data from the 2006–2010 National Survey of Family Growth. In A. K. Baumle (Ed.), International handbook on the demography of sexuality (Vol. 5, pp. 45–66). Amsterdam: Springer.
Chivers, M. L., Rieger, G., Latty, E., & Bailey, J. M. (2004). A sex difference in the specificity of sexual arousal. Psychological Science, 15, 736–744.
Des Jarlais, D. C., Paone, D., Milliken, J., Turner, C. F., Miller, H., Gribble, J., & Friedman, S. R. (1999). Audio-computer interviewing to measure risk behaviour for HIV among injecting drug users: A quasi-randomised trial. Lancet, 353, 1657–1661.
Diamond, L. M. (2000). Sexual identity, attractions, and behavior among young sexual-minority women over a two-year period. Developmental Psychology, 36, 241–250.
Diamond, L. M. (2003). Was it a phase? Young women’s relinquishment of lesbian/bisexual identities over a 5-year period. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 352–364.
Diamond, L. M. (2005). ‘I’m straight, but I kissed a girl’: The trouble with American media representations of female-female sexuality. Feminism & Psychology, 15, 104–110.
Diamond, L. M. (2008). Female bisexuality from adolescence to adulthood: Results from a 10-year longitudinal study. Developmental Psychology, 44, 5–14.
Donnelly, K., Twenge, J. M., Clark, M. A., Shaikh, S., Beiler-May, A., & Carter, N. T. (2016). Attitudes toward women’s work and family roles in the United States, 1976-2013. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 40, 41–54.
Eisenberg, M. (2001). Differences in sexual risk behaviors between college students with same-sex and opposite-sex experience: Results from a national survey. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 30, 575–589.
Eisenberg, M., & Wechsler, H. (2003). Substance use behaviors among college students with same-sex and opposite-sex experience: Results from a national study. Addictive Behavior, 28, 899–913.
Fahs, B. (2009). Compulsory bisexuality?: The challenges of modern sexual fluidity. Journal of Bisexuality, 9, 431–449.
Fenton, K. A., Johnson, A. M., McManus, S., & Erens, B. (2001). Measuring sexual behaviour: Methodological challenges in survey research. Sexually Transmitted Infections, 77, 84–92.
Fielding, R., Lam, T. H., & Hedley, A. (2006). Risk-behavior reporting by blood donors with an automated telephone system. Transfusion, 46, 289–297.
Floyd, F. J., & Bakeman, R. (2006). Coming-out across the life course: Implications of age and historical context. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 35, 287–296.
Gallup. (2015). Record-high 60% support same-sex marriage. http://www.gallup.com/poll/183272/record-high-americans-support-sex-marriage.aspx.
Gartrell, N. K., Bos, H. M., & Goldberg, N. G. (2012). New trends in same-sex sexual contact for American adolescents? [Letter to the Editor]. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 41, 5–7.
Ghanem, K. G., Hutton, H. E., Zenilman, J. M., Zimba, R., & Erbelding, E. J. (2005). Audio computer assisted self interview and face to face interview modes in assessing response bias among STD clinic patients. Sexually Transmitted Infections, 81, 421–425.
Glick, S. N., Cleary, S. D., & Golden, M. R. (2015). Increasing acceptance of homosexuality in the United States across racial and ethnic subgroups. Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes, 70, 319–322.
Gomillion, S. C., & Giuliano, T. A. (2011). The influence of media role models on gay, lesbian, and bisexual identity. Journal of Homosexuality, 58, 330–354.
Grov, C., Bimbi, D. S., Nanin, J. E., & Parsons, J. T. (2006). Race, ethnicity, gender, and generational factors associated with the coming-out process among lesbian, and bisexual individuals. Journal of Sex Research, 43, 115–121.
Grov, C., Breslow, A. S., Newcomb, M. E., Rosenberger, J. G., & Bauermeister, J. A. (2014). Gay and bisexual men’s use of the Internet: Research from the 1990s through 2013. Journal of Sex Research, 51, 390–409.
Hatzenbuehler, M. L. (2011). The social environment and suicide attempts in lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth. Pediatrics, 127, 896–903.
Hatzenbuehler, M. L., Corbin, W. R., & Fromme, K. (2011). Discrimination and alcohol-related problems among college students: A prospective examination of mediating effects. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 115, 213–220.
Hatzenbuehler, M. L., Dovidio, J. F., Nolen-Hoeksema, S., & Phills, C. E. (2009). An implicit measure of anti-gay attitudes: Prospective associations with emotion regulation strategies and psychological distress. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45, 1316–1320.
Hatzenbuehler, M. L., Keyes, K. M., & Hasin, D. S. (2009). State-level policies and psychiatric morbidity in lesbian, gay, and bisexual populations. American Journal of Public Health, 99, 2275–2281.
Hatzenbuehler, M. L., Pachankis, J. E., & Wolff, J. (2012). Religious climate and health risk behaviors in sexual minority youths: A population-based study. American Journal of Public Health, 102, 657–663.
Hatzenbuehler, M. L., Wieringa, N. F., & Keyes, K. M. (2011). Community-level determinants of tobacco use disparities in lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth: Results from a population-based study. Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, 165, 527–532.
Haydon, A. A., Herring, A. H., Prinstein, M. J., & Halpern, C. T. (2012). Beyond age at first sex: Patterns of emerging sexual behavior in adolescence and young adulthood. Journal of Adolescent Health, 50, 456–463.
Herbenick, D., Reece, M., Schick, V., Sanders, S. A., Dodge, B., & Fortenberry, J. D. (2010). Sexual behavior in the United States: Results from a national probability sample of men and women ages 14-94. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 7, 255–265.
Herek, G. M. (2000). Sexual prejudice and gender: Do heterosexuals’ attitudes toward lesbians and gay men differ? Journal of Social Issues, 56, 251–266.
Herek, G. M., Norton, A. T., Allen, T. J., & Sims, C. L. (2010). Demographic, psychological, and social characteristics of self-identified lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults in a US probability sample. Sexuality Research and Social Policy, 7, 176–200.
Hu, Y., Xu, Y., & Tornello, S. L. (2016). Stability of self-reported same-sex and both-sex attraction from adolescence to young adulthood. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 45, 651–659.
Hudepohl, A. D., Parrott, D. J., & Zeichner, A. (2010). Heterosexual men’s anger in response to male homosexuality: Effects of erotic and non-erotic depictions of male-male intimacy and sexual prejudice. Journal of Homosexuality, 57, 1022–1038.
Huebner, D. M., Kegeles, S. M., Rebchook, G. M., Peterson, J. L., Neilands, T. B., Johnson, W. D., & Eke, A. N. (2014). Social oppression, psychological vulnerability, and unprotected intercourse among young Black men who have sex with men. Health Psychology, 33, 1568–1578.
Kinnish, K. K., Strassberg, D. S., & Turner, C. W. (2005). Sex differences in the flexibility of sexual orientation: A multidimensional retrospective assessment. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 34, 173–183.
Konrath, S. H., Chopik, W., Hsing, C., & O’Brien, E. (2014). Changes in adult attachment styles in American college students over time: A meta-analysis. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 18, 326–348.
Konrath, S. H., O’Brien, E. H., & Hsing, C. (2011). Changes in dispositional empathy in American college students over time: A meta-analysis. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 15, 180–198.
Kozloski, M. J. (2010). Homosexual moral acceptance and social tolerance: Are the effects of education changing? Journal of Homosexuality, 57, 1370–1383.
Krumpal, I. (2013). Determinants of social desirability bias in sensitive surveys: A literature review. Quality & Quantity, 47, 2025–2047.
Kurth, A. E., Martin, D. P., Golden, M. R., Weiss, N. S., Heagerty, P. J., Spielberg, F., & Holmes, K. K. (2004). A comparison between audio computer-assisted self-interviews and clinician interviews for obtaining the sexual history. Sexually Transmitted Diseases, 31, 719–726.
LaMar, L., & Kite, M. (1998). Sex differences in attitudes toward gay men and lesbians: A multidimensional perspective. Journal of Sex Research, 35, 189–196.
Laumann, E. O., Gagnon, J. H., Michael, R. T., & Michaels, S. (1994). The social organization of sexuality: Sexual practices in the United States. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Levy, M. E., Wilton, L., Phillips, G., Glick, S. N., Kuo, I., Brewer, R. A., & Magnus, M. (2014). Understanding structural barriers to accessing HIV testing and prevention services among Black men who have sex with men (BMSM) in the United States. AIDS and Behavior, 18, 972–996.
Lewis, G. B. (2003). Black-white differences in attitudes toward homosexuality and gay rights. Public Opinion Quarterly, 67, 59–78.
Lippa, R. (2007). The relation between sex drive and sexual attraction to men and women: A cross-national study of heterosexual, bisexual, and homosexual men and women. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 36, 209–222.
Loftus, J. (2001). America’s liberalization in attitudes toward homosexuality, 1973 to 1998. American Sociological Review, 66, 762–782.
Louderback, L. A., & Whitley, B. E. (1997). Perceived erotic value of homosexuality and sex-role attitudes as mediators of sex differences in heterosexual college students’ attitudes toward lesbians and gay men. Journal of Sex Research, 34, 175–182.
Maulsby, C., Millett, G., Lindsey, K., Kelley, R., Johnson, K., Montoya, D., & Holtgrave, D. (2014). HIV among Black men who have sex with men (MSM) in the United States: A review of the literature. AIDS and Behavior, 18, 10–25.
McCabe, S. E., Hughes, T. L., Bostwick, W., & Boyd, C. J. (2005). Assessment of difference in dimensions of sexual orientation: Implications for substance use research in a college-age population. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 66, 620–629.
McCormack, M., Anderson, E., & Adams, A. (2014). Cohort effects on the coming out experiences of bisexual men. Sociology, 48, 1207–1223.
Millett, G. A., Peterson, J. L., Flores, S. A., Hart, T. A., Jeffries, W. L., 4th, Wilson, P. A., & Remis, R. S. (2012). Comparisons of disparities and risks of HIV infection in black and other men who have sex with men in Canada, UK, and USA: A meta-analysis. Lancet, 380, 341–348.
Millett, G. A., Peterson, J. L., Wolitski, R. J., & Stall, R. (2006). Greater risk for HIV infection of black men who have sex with men: A critical literature review. American Journal of Public Health, 96, 1007–1019.
Morrison, M. A., & Morrison, T. G. (2011). Sexual orientation bias toward gay men and lesbian women: Modern homonegative attitudes and their association with discriminatory behavioral intentions. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 41, 2573–2599.
Mustanski, B., Lyons, T., & Garcia, S. C. (2011). Internet use and sexual health of young men who have sex with men: A mixed-methods study. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 40, 289–300.
Netzley, S. B. (2010). Visibility that demystifies: Gays, gender, and sex on television. Journal of Homosexuality, 57, 968–986.
Ohlander, J., Batalova, J., & Treas, J. (2005). Explaining educational influences on attitudes toward homosexual relations. Social Science Research, 34, 781–799.
Przedworski, J. M., McAlpine, D. D., Karaca-Mandic, P., & VanKim, N. A. (2014). Health and health risks among sexual minority women: An examination of 3 subgroups. American Journal of Public Health, 104, 1045–1047.
Ratcliff, J. J., Lassiter, G. D., Markman, K. D., & Snyder, C. J. (2006). Gender differences in attitudes toward gay men and lesbians: The role of motivation to respond without prejudice. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 32, 1325–1338.
Reback, C. J., & Larkins, S. (2010). Maintaining a heterosexual identity: Sexual meanings among a sample of heterosexually identified men who have sex with men. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39, 766–773.
Rupp, L. J., Taylor, V., Regev-Messalem, S., Fogarty, A., & England, P. (2014). Queer women in the hookup scene: Beyond the closet? Gender & Society, 28, 212–235.
Schaie, K. W. (1965). A general model for the study of developmental problems. Psychological Bulletin, 64, 92–107.
Scott, H. M., Pollack, L., Rebchook, G. M., Huebner, D. M., Peterson, J., & Kegeles, S. M. (2014). Peer social support is associated with recent HIV testing among young Black men who have sex with men. AIDS and Behavior, 18, 913–920.
Sherkat, D. E., De Vries, K. M., & Creek, S. (2010). Race, religion, and opposition to same-sex marriage. Social Science Quarterly, 91, 80–98.
Sherkat, D. E., Powell-Williams, M., Maddox, G., & De Vries, K. M. (2011). Religion, politics, and support for same-sex marriage in the United States, 1988–2008. Social Science Research, 40, 167–180.
Smith, T. W. (1992). A methodological analysis of the sexual behavior questions on the General Social Surveys. Journal of Official Statistics, 8, 309–325.
Smith, T. W., Hout, M., & Marsden, P. V. (2015). General Social Survey, 1972–2014 [Cumulative File]. ICPSR34802-v1. Storrs, CT: Roper Center for Public Opinion Research, University of Connecticut/Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research [distributors], 2013-09-11.
Steinman, E. (2000). Interpreting the invisibility of male bisexuality: Theories, interaction, politics. Journal of Bisexuality, 1, 15–45.
Stotzer, R. L., & Shih, M. (2012). The relationship between masculinity and sexual prejudice in factors associated with violence against gay men. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 13, 136–142.
Thompson, E. M. (2006). Girl friend or girlfriend? Journal of Bisexuality, 6(3), 47–67.
Thompson, E. M., & Morgan, E. M. (2008). “Mostly straight” young women: Variations in sexual behavior and identity development. Developmental Psychology, 44, 15–21.
Tourangeau, R., & Yan, T. (2007). Sensitive questions in surveys. Psychological Bulletin, 133, 859–883.
Turner, C. F., Ku, L., Rogers, S., Lindberg, L., Pleck, J., & Sonenstein, F. (1998). Adolescent sexual behavior, drug use, and violence: Increased reporting with computer survey technology. Science, 280, 867–873.
Turner, C. F., Villarroel, M. A., Chromy, J. R., Eggleston, E., & Rogers, S. M. (2005). Same-gender sex among US adults: Trends across the twentieth century and during the 1990s. Public Opinion Quarterly, 69, 439–462.
Twenge, J. M. (2014). Generation Me: Why today’s young Americans are more confident, assertive, entitled—and more miserable than ever before (2nd ed.). New York: Atria Books.
Twenge, J. M., Campbell, W. K., & Gentile, B. (2012). Generational increases in agentic self-evaluations among American college students, 1966-2009. Self and Identity, 11, 409–427.
Twenge, J. M., Carter, N. T., & Campbell, W. K. (2015a). Time period, generational, and age differences in tolerance for controversial beliefs and lifestyles in the U.S., 1972-2012. Social Forces, 94, 379–399.
Twenge, J. M., Sherman, R. A., Exline, J. J., & Grubbs, J. B. (2016). Declines in American adults’ religious participation and beliefs, 1972–2014. Sage Open, 6, 1–13.
Twenge, J. M., Sherman, R. A., & Wells, B. E. (2015b). Changes in American adults’ sexual behavior and attitudes. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 44, 2273–2285.
Villarroel, M. A., Turner, C. F., Eggleston, E., Al-Tayyib, A., Rogers, S. M., Roman, A. M., & Gordek, H. (2006). Same-gender sex in the United States: Impact of T-ACASI on prevalence estimates. Public Opinion Quarterly, 70, 166–196.
Vrangalova, Z., & Savin-Williams, R. C. (2010). Correlates of same-sex sexuality in heterosexually identified young adults. Journal of Sex Research, 47, 92–102.
Wells, B. E., & Twenge, J. M. (2005). Changes in young people’s sexual behavior and attitudes, 1943–1999: A cross-temporal meta-analysis. Review of General Psychology, 9, 249–261.
Whitley, B. (2009). Religiosity and attitudes toward lesbians and gay men: A meta-analysis. International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 19, 21–38.
Yang, Y. (2008). Social inequalities in happiness in the United States, 1972 to 2004: An age-period-cohort analysis. American Sociological Review, 73, 204–226.
Yang, Y., & Land, K. C. (2013). Age-period-cohort analysis: New models, methods, and empirical applications. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.
About this article
Cite this article
Twenge, J.M., Sherman, R.A. & Wells, B.E. Changes in American Adults’ Reported Same-Sex Sexual Experiences and Attitudes, 1973–2014. Arch Sex Behav 45, 1713–1730 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-016-0769-4
- Sexual partners
- Birth cohort
- Time period