How Similar or Different are the Sex Lives of Gay and Straight Men?
June 28, 2021 by Justin Lehmiller
Do the sex lives of men in relationships differ based on their sexual orientation? This question is difficult to answer because there’s not a lot of research out there on this subject, and the studies that are available have some serious limitations. For example, samples of gay and heterosexual men often differ on more than just sexual orientation—they may also differ on a number of other factors, such as age and relationship length, which makes it difficult to pinpoint the origins of any differences observed.
A recent study published in the Journal of Sex Research sought to rectify these issues and provide a more definitive look at how similar vs. different men’s sex lives are based on their sexuality.
This study involved 3,916 gay and heterosexual men in relationships who were matched on several demographic characteristics, including age, ethnicity, relationship length, education level, and whether or not they had children. Participants completed an online survey that contained detailed questions about their sexual practices and satisfaction.
The results pointed to a number of important similarities, but also a few differences.
First, in terms of how often participants reported having sex, gay and heterosexual men did not differ—on average, they reported having sex about 7 times per month.
They didn’t differ in overall sexual satisfaction either. For both groups, more than half (56-57%) reported being sexually satisfied. The factors that predicted greater sexual satisfaction tended to be the same, too, and these included having more frequent sex, being happier with the overall relationship, better communication, trying more new things in bed, and spending more time on sex.
Where most of the differences emerged were in the types of sexual behaviors reported. For example, heterosexual men were less likely than gay men to engage in anal intercourse or stimulation, to give and receive oral sex, to engage in mutual masturbation, to watch porn with their partner, to share and act out their fantasies, and to engage in threesomes and group sex.
By contrast, heterosexual men were more likely than gay men to say their partner wore sexy underwear, to make date nights, to give or receive massages, to switch positions during sex, and to incorporate food with sex.
Heterosexual and gay men reported similar levels of sexual communication overall; however, some intimate communication behaviors differed, with heterosexual men being more likely to say “I love you” during sex and gay men being more likely to talk about their sex fantasies. It’s also worth pointing out that while greater communication was linked to greater satisfaction across groups, communication was an even stronger predictor of gay men’s sexual satisfaction than it was for heterosexual men.
There are a few limitations of this research worth noting. First, it only speaks to gay and heterosexual men in relationships. If you were to look at singles instead, the results might be very different. Second, this study did not account for whether the relationships were monogamous or consensually non-monogamous. The sex questions were only in reference to one’s “primary” partner. Because gay men are more likely to be in some type of sexually open relationship compared to heterosexual men, it would be important for future research to account for monogamy/non-monogamy status in looking at things like frequency of sex, sexual satisfaction, and sexual communication.
Overall, these results point to a number of similarities in the sex lives of gay and heterosexual men in relationships. In general, they’re having pretty similar amounts of sex and, on average, are about equally satisfied.
The biggest difference occurred in the types of sexual behaviors reported. Whereas gay men reported more behaviors centering around specific sex acts (like watching porn together and acting out a fantasy), heterosexual men reported more acts centering around building intimacy (like going on a date night or trading massages). As the authors of this study suggest, this may be because heterosexual men are more likely to follow a sexual script that ties together romance and sex.
To be clear, this isn’t to say that gay men’s sex lives are devoid of intimacy or romance. For example, a majority of both gay and heterosexual men said “I love you” the last time they had sex—it’s just that heterosexual men were even more likely to do so. Likewise, similar numbers of both gay and heterosexual men described their last encounter as “loving and tender” or as “passionate.”
In short, while sex itself might look different for gay and heterosexual men, zooming out to consider things like sexual frequency and satisfaction reveals far more similarities than differences.
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To learn more about this research, see: Frederick, D., Gillespie, B. J., Lever, J., Berardi, V., & Garcia, J. R. (2021). Sexual Practices and Satisfaction among Gay and Heterosexual Men in Romantic Relationships: A Comparison Using Coarsened Exact Matching in a US National Sample. The Journal of Sex Research.
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 >