Friday, January 02, 2009

21 Reasons Why Gender Matters: Footnote 67, promiscuity and fidelity

From page 10 of the anti-gay pamphlet "21 Reasons Why Gender Matters":

Indeed, high rates of multiple partnering in the homosexual community continues to be the norm. As one recent report notes, “The majority of the 2006 respondents had engaged in sex with between one and 10 partners in the six months prior to the survey [over 63 per cent], while almost 20% of the men reported having had sex with more than 10 partners.”67

I do wish the Fatherhood Foundation would be more accurate in their referencing. Footnote 67 lists the quoted text as coming from the "Gay Community Periodic Survey. Sydney: National Centre in HIV Social Research, 2007, pp. 14-15", by Iryna Zablotska, et. al. Close, but not quite: the NCHSR conducts multiple surveys in multiple cities around Australia, and they all specify the city in the title. There is no single "Gay Community Periodic Survey".

There is, among others, a "Gay Community Periodic Survey: Canberra 2006". This marks the second time that the pamphlet garbled the title of the work they referenced, and the error is more severe this time. It took me quite a while to locate the one they were talking about. I suppose I should be thankful they gave me page numbers, and that they were the right ones: many of the references in anti-gay literature in general and in this pamphlet in particular fail to go that far.

Despite the inaccurate referencing of the title, the text of the quote is accurate. Whether it supports the conclusion that the authors are trying to suggest - that homosexual relationships are all fundamentally unfaithful and unstable - is less clear. The pamphlet's authors could have mentioned that this survey was not limited to gay men in regular relationships: on page 6 the survey notes that "about 60% of the men in the sample were in a regular sexual relationship with a man at the time of completing the survey". So 40% of the men were, how shall we say, "swinging singles", "footloose and fancy free"? Gee, you think that should be taken into account when reporting the findings about number of sex partners? Or is it more convenient for the pamphlet's authors to just let readers leap to the wrong conclusion that this says something about "infidelity" in gay relationships?

Perhaps more suited to the pamphlet authors' purposes are the figures on men who are both in a "regular sexual relationship" and have "regular casual sexual relations" as well. They comprised 29.1% of the 2006 respondents according to the Table on page 6 of the survey, which sounds like a lot. Yet it is still less than the number of respondents who reported having sex only with a regular partner: 31.6%. Furthermore, despite the stereotype of all gay men being horribly oversexed, 14.5% of the 2006 survey respondents reported having no sexual contact over the 6 month period at all.

I feel strangely sorry for that 14.5%. Here everyone is saying how much sex gay men have and this lot isn't getting any. Or then again, maybe they prefer it that way. It's impossible to tell just by looking at the numbers.

Of course, the survey was only asking about behaviour during a six month period, so it's entirely possible that the "monagamous" and "no sexual partners" entries for that particular period were in part due to circumstance rather than choice. Some clarification is available on page 21. Figure 28 provides a breakdown of "Agreements with regular male partners about sex outside the relationship". The figure is about split 3 different ways: 30.4% "Anal intercourse is permitted only with a condom", 33.3% "no sexual contact with casual partners is permitted", 26.7% "no spoken agreement about sex" (remaining percentages are 5.2% "no anal intercourse with casual partners is permitted" and 4.4% "anal intercourse without a condom is permitted"). I would say that the figures for monogamous and non-monogamous relationship arrangements seem about equal, but that large chunk who report no agreement makes such estimates impossible. It is not possible to say which is more common. It is possible to say that (a) monogamous male-male relationships exist, and (b) the number is far from miniscule, if we view the results of this survey as representative of relationships.

And that is the final problem with the way the pamphlet uses the survey, what is it really measuring? Seems to me that it's a measure of sexual behaviour of a specific subsegment of GLBT individuals, not an overall examination of the quality of our emotional partnerships.

"Regular sexual partner" as used in the survey could include everything from "man of my dreams" to "fuckbuddy", the survey doesn't care about such distinctions. The recruiting strategy of the survey described on pages 1-2 also seems biased in favour of gay men who identify strongly with the existing gay community, under-representing those gay men who might not identify with mainstream gay culture and its urban liberal sexual morality.

And of course, as in each and every one of these anti-gay statistics, we only ever hear the scary stories about the alleged sexual proclivities of gay men. Where are women in all this? I begin to understand why some lesbians view the lesbian experience and more problematic than that of gay men: their very existence is totally disregarded in so many fundamental ways.

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