10 Myths About Sexual Orientation Debunked By Science

June 1, 2018 by Justin Lehmiller


In recognition of June being LGBT Pride Month, I’ll be running several LGBT-themed posts on the blog over the next few weeks. To start us off, let’s debunk some of the most common myths and misconceptions about sexual orientation.

1.) Homosexuality is contagious (i.e., you can “catch the gay”). Research has failed to find support for the idea that same sex attraction is transmitted through social contact. For example, a recent, large-scale study found that same-sex attraction does not spread within adolescent peer groups. Likewise, other research has found that gay parents are no more likely to raise gay children than their heterosexual counterparts.

2.) You can “pray the gay away.” Research on adults who have attempted to change their sexual orientation–whether through religion or other means–reveals that such treatments are generally ineffective and, in fact, are often harmful.

3.) If you’re into crossdressing, you’re definitely gay. To the contrary, research suggests that most crossdressers are actually heterosexual, married men. While it’s true that some gay folks enjoy crossdressing, you certainly don’t have to be gay in order to be into it.

4.) Lesbians have a lot less sex than everyone else. The concept of “lesbian bed death” has been around for decades, but it’s time we put it to bed. Studies have found that lesbian couples tend to have sex less often than other types of couples; however, looking only at sexual frequency is misleading because when lesbians have sex, they spend more time on it than everyone else. Moreover, research finds that lesbian couples are no less sexually satisfied than other couples.

5.) Bisexuals are just gays who haven’t come out yet. Many people hold this belief, including both gay and heterosexual folks, but it isn’t true. Of course there are some people who have said they were bisexual because they weren’t quite ready to come out as gay (something known as “transitional bisexuality“), but the fact that this occurs doesn’t invalidate the sexual identities of everyone who says they’re bisexual. See here and here for research supporting the notion that bisexuality is a distinct sexual orientation.

6.) Being bisexual means you’re equally attracted to men and women. Being bisexual means you have a capacity for attraction to men and women, but that attraction to each sex does not necessarily have to be equally strong. For instance, research has found that bisexual men usually demonstrate more genital arousal to one sex over the other, although the direction of the effect is inconsistent (i.e., some show more arousal to women, others show more arousal to men). Research on bisexual women has found that they don’t exhibit equal levels of arousal to men and women either. Some bisexual persons may experience equally high levels of attraction, but equal attraction is neither an essential nor defining feature of bisexuality.

7.) Anal sex is the most common sexual behavior among gay men. Although there is a common tendency to conflate “gay sex” with “anal sex,” this doesn’t match up with reality. Research finds that oral sex and mutual masturbation are far more common among men who have sex with men. Not only that, but anal sex has actually become quite common among heterosexuals–it’s definitely not a behavior limited to persons of any one sexual orientation.

8.) All lesbians do is “scissor.” Locking legs like a pair of scissors and rubbing vulvas is something that some lesbians practice (an act also know as tribadism); however, not all of them do it. Furthermore, other sexual behaviors actually appear to be more common among lesbian and bisexual women, including oral sex, fingering, and mutual masturbation.

9.) In same-sex couples, one partner is necessarily the “husband” and the other is the “wife.”Although popular media depictions of same-sex couples tend to portray them as consisting of someone who plays the role of a traditional husband and someone who plays the role of a traditional wife, the reality is that same-sex couples are less likely to adopt strict roles than their heterosexual counterparts. In fact, research shows that same-sex couples tend to share power and responsibility more equally.

10.) Same-sex parents aren’t as good as different-sex parents. The vast majority of research on parenting has found that children typically do just as well regardless of sexual orientation of their parents. However, it’s worth noting that one recent study–which found that adopted children’s outcomes were unrelated to parental sexual orientation–also revealed that same-sex parents tend to adopt higher-risk kids than heterosexual adopters. In light of this, the fact that children of same-sex parents are just as well off is quite a testament to the parenting qualities of same-sex couples.

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Written by
Dr. Justin Lehmiller
Founder & Owner of Sex and Psychology

Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He runs the Sex and Psychology blog and podcast and is author of the popular book Tell Me What You Want. Dr. Lehmiller is an award-winning educator, and a prolific researcher who has published more than 50 academic works.

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