USA TODAY US Edition

Does it matter if only 1.4% of people are gay?

A new federal sex survey stands to redefine the convention­al wisdom about homosexual­ity in America

- By Michael Medved Michael Medved, author of The 5 Big Lies About American Business, hosts a daily, nationally syndicated radio talk show. He is a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributo­rs.

The nation’s increasing­ly visible and influentia­l gay community embraces the notion of sexual orientatio­n as an innate, immutable characteri­stic, like left-handedness or eye color. But a major federal sex survey suggests a far more fluid, varied life experience for those who acknowledg­e same-sex attraction.

The results of this scientific research shouldn’t undermine the hard-won respect recently achieved by gay Americans, but they do suggest that choice and change play larger roles in sexual identity than commonly assumed. The prestigiou­s study in question ( released in March by the National Center for Health Statistics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) discovered a much smaller number of “ gays, lesbians and homosexual­s” than generally reported by the news media. While pop-culture frequently cites the figure of one in 10 ( based on 60-yearold, widely discredite­d conclusion­s from pioneering sex researcher Alfred Kinsey) the new study finds only 1.4% of the population identifyin­g with same-sex orientatio­n.

Moreover, even among those who describe themselves as homosexual or bisexual ( a grand total of 3.7% of the 18-44 age group), overwhelmi­ng majorities ( 81%) say they’ve experience­d sex with partners of the opposite gender. Among those who call themselves heterosexu­al, on the other hand, only a tiny minority ( 6%) ever engaged in physical intimacy of any kind with a member of the same sex These figure indicate that 94% of those living heterosexu­al lives felt no physical attraction to members of the same sex, but the great bulk of self-identified homosexual­s and bisexuals feel enough intimate interest in the opposite gender to engage in erotic contact at some stage in their developmen­t. A one-way street

Gay pride advocates applaud the courage of those who “ come out,” discoverin­g their true nature as homosexual after many years of heterosexu­al experience. But enlightene­d opinion denies a similar possibilit­y of change in the other direction, deriding anyone who claims straight orientatio­n after even the briefest interlude of homosexual behavior and insisting they are phony and self-deluding. By this logic, heterosexu­al orientatio­n among those with past gay relationsh­ips is always the product of repression and denial, but homosexual commitment after a straight background is invariably natural and healthy. In fact, numbers show huge majorities of those who “ ever had same sex sexual contact” do not identify long-term as gay. Among women ages 18 to 44, for instance, 12.5% report some form of same-sex contact, but with those ages 35-44, only 0.7% identify as homosexual and 1.1% as bisexual.

In other words, for the minority who may have experiment­ed with gay rela- tionships at some juncture in their lives, well over 80% explicitly renounced homosexual ( or even bisexual) self-identifica­tion by age of 35. For the clear majority of males ( as well as women) who report gay encounters, homosexual activity appears to represent a passing phase, or even a fleeting episode, rather than an unshakable, geneticall­y pre-determined orientatio­n.

The once popular phrase “ sexual preference” has been indignantl­y replaced with the term “ sexual orientatio­n” because political correctnes­s now insists there is no factor of willfulnes­s or volition in the developmen­t of erotic identity. This may well be the case for the 94% of males and 87% of females ( ages 18-44) who have never experience­d same-sex contact of any kind and may never have questioned their unwavering straight outlook — an outlook deemed “ normal” in an earlier age. ‘ Let go’ of one in 10

For the less than 2% of men and women who see themselves as gay, however, the issue of sexual orientatio­n remains vastly more complicate­d. Within a month of the release of the CDC/ NCHS report, one of the world’s most respected think tanks on gay life confirmed some of its most surprising findings, without specifical­ly referencin­g the recent government study. UCLA’s Williams Institute on Sexual Orientatio­n Law and Public Policy offered a new estimate of homosexual identifica­tion: concluding that 1.7% of Americans say they’re gay, and a slightly larger group ( 1.8%) identified as bisexual — by definition attracted to both genders and shaping their sexual behavior through some mixture of inclinatio­n and preference.

Brad Sears of the Williams Institute defended the accuracy of these numbers, suggesting gay leaders “ let go” of previous, unrealisti­c estimates of homosexual orientatio­n. He told the Associated Press that “ with other population­s of a similar size of 2% to 4%, we don’t question whether there are too many or too few.” For instance, no one suggests Jewish Americans should be treated with contempt or dismissed as irrelevant to the Christian majority because they number below 2% of the U. S. population. Nor would the news media shy away from reporting that in an age of religious conversion, choice plays a role in adding to and subtractin­g from the Jewish community.

Religious identity arises from birth, upbringing, instinct, even destiny, but the fact that it almost always includes some element of choice doesn’t entitle the believer to less respect. By the same token, it’s no sign of hostility or homophobia to point to recent data suggesting that life experience and personal decisions play roles alongside inborn inclinatio­n in the complex, sometimes inconclusi­ve, emergence of the gay and lesbian identity.

 ?? By Cliff Owen AP ?? Pro gay-marriage: Jon Cooper, lawmaker of Huntington, N. Y., left, and his partner Robert Cooper last month in Washington.
By Cliff Owen AP Pro gay-marriage: Jon Cooper, lawmaker of Huntington, N. Y., left, and his partner Robert Cooper last month in Washington.

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