Ten Myths About Sexual Orientation Debunked By Science
June 3, 2019 by Justin Lehmiller
June is LGBT Pride Month, so I’ll be running several posts on LGBTQ+ issues on the blog over the next few weeks. To get us started, let’s begin by debunking some of the most common myths and misconceptions about sexual orientation.
1. ) Myth: Homosexuality is contagious (i.e., you can “catch the gay”). Truth: Same sex attraction is not transmitted through social contact. As some evidence of this, consider a recent, large-scale study finding that same-sex attraction did not spread within adolescent peer groups. Adolescents’ patterns of sexual attraction were unrelated to those of their friends.
2.) Myth: You can “pray the gay away.” Truth: 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.) Myth: If you’re into crossdressing, you’re gay. Truth: Research suggests that most crossdressers are actually heterosexually identified, married men. While it’s true that some gay folks enjoy crossdressing, being gay is hardly a prerequisite for this activity.
4.) Myth: Lesbians have a lot less sex than everyone else. Truth: While the concept of “lesbian bed death” has been around for decades, it’s just not an accurate reflection of reality. Studies have found that lesbian couples do 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. Research finds that lesbian couples are no less sexually satisfied than other couples, either.
5.) Myth: Bisexuals are just gays who haven’t come out yet. Truth: While many people hold this belief (including a lot of gays and lesbians), it isn’t true. There are certainly some people who have claimed to be bisexual in the process of coming out as gay (something known as “transitional bisexuality“); however, the fact that this occurs doesn’t invalidate the sexual identities of everyone who identifies as bisexual. See here and here for research finding that bisexuality is a distinct sexual orientation.
6.) Myth: Being bisexual means you’re equally attracted to men and women. Truth: Being bisexual just means you have a capacity for attraction to men and women; however, attraction to each sex does not have to be equally strong. For instance, research has found that bisexual men usually demonstrate more genital arousal to one sex over the other. The direction of this effect is inconsistent, though, with some showing more arousal to women and others showing more arousal to men. Research on bisexual women has found that they don’t necessarily 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.) Myth: Anal sex is the most common sexual behavior among gay men. Truth: Although there is a common tendency to conflate “gay sex” with “anal sex,” this doesn’t match reality. Research finds that oral sex and mutual masturbation are far more common behaviors among men who have sex with men. Not only that, but anal sex has actually become quite common among heterosexuals, too, meaning it’s not a behavior limited to persons of any one sexual orientation.
8.) Myth: All lesbians do is “scissor.” Truth: 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.) Myth: In same-sex couples, one partner is necessarily the “husband” while the other is the “wife.” Truth: Although popular media depictions of same-sex couples often 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 relationship roles than their heterosexual counterparts. In fact, research shows that same-sex couples tend to share power and responsibility more equally.
10.) Myth: Same-sex parents aren’t as good as different-sex parents. Truth: The vast majority of research on parenting has found that children do just as well regardless of the sexual orientation of their parents. It’s also worth noting that one recent study–which, incidentally, found that adopted children’s outcomes were unrelated to parental sexual orientation–also revealed that same-sex parents tended to adopt higher-risk kids than heterosexual adopters. The fact that children of same-sex parents are just as well off is therefore quite a testament to the parenting qualities of same-sex couples.
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Dr. Justin LehmillerFounder & 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.Read full bio >