Sex & the British: The Facts of Homosexual Life
Julia Field, Anne Johnson, Jane Wadsworth and Kaye Wellings, The Independent (London, England)
HOMOSEXUALITY - HOW COMMON IS IT?
Until very recently, society viewed homosexuality as sickness or sin. Up to 1967, male homosexuality was a criminal offence in Britain, and only in 1974 was it removed from the list of psychiatric disorders by the American Psychiatric Association, to be replaced by the diagnosis "sexual orientation disturbance".
We saw last week that, since the Second World War, the idea that sex should be confined to marriage has declined dramatically. But, as we shall see, the idea that sex should be confined to relationships between men and women is still widely held. The growing acceptance of gay sex in the 1970s received a setback with the advent of Aids in the 1980s. Sexual relationships between men and women are still very much the socially accepted norm.
But it is at least widely recognised, as it was not earlier in the century, that people do not fall into two simple and opposed categories: homosexual and heterosexual. Rather, people's sexual preferences and experiences are best represented on a continuum.
Our questioning - of nearly 19,000 people aged 16 to 59 - tried to reflect this. In face-to-face interviews, we asked respondents about their sexual orientation on two levels. First, we asked them about sexual attraction: were men, for example, exclusively or mainly attracted to women, exclusively or mainly attracted to men, or were they attracted to both sexes equally? Second, we asked about sexual experience: was their experience exclusively or mainly with the opposite sex, exclusively or mainly with members of their own sex, or was it with both equally? Interviewees were told: "Sexual experience is any kind of contact with another person that you felt was sexual - it could be just kissing or touching, or intercourse or any other forms of sex."
This gave us a five-point scale to assess homosexuality (though we never used this term) in both attraction and experience: only homosexual, mostly homosexual, both hetero- and homosexual, mostly heterosexual, only heterosexual.
The vast majority - 90.2 per cent of men and 92.4 per cent of women - claimed exclusively heterosexual experience and attraction. Some of the others reported no sexual attraction or experience or refused to answer. Only 1 man in 100 said that he had had sexual experience exclusively or mostly with other men; fewer than 3 women in 1,000 said that they had been exclusively or mostly lesbian.
There was little difference between preference and practice. We found no support here for the theory that large sections of the population harbour unrealised fantasies about homosexuality. Only 2.2 per cent of men and 2.6 per cent of women said that they were attracted to their own sex but had not translated this into experience.
But how readily do people report homosexual experience? These answers, as we said, were given during face-to-face interviews. But we also asked respondents to fill out a written booklet, with a different set of questions. Respondents were able to seal these booklets before handing them to the interviewer, and they could be identified only by a number on the cover.
These results were different. Men of all age groups, except the under-20s, admitted to more homosexual experience than they had in the interviews. The disparity increased with age. Women also admitted to more homosexual contact, although in their cases the disparity was less marked.
The written answers told us that 6.1 per cent of men and 3.4 per cent of women had had some kind of homosexual contact. Again, this could have been just kissing and cuddling. But, for 3.6 per cent of men and 1.7 per cent of women, it had involved genital contact. And 1.4 per cent of men and 0.6 per cent of women had had a partner of the same sex within the previous five years.
The figure for male homosexual genital contact is somewhat higher …
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Sex & the British: The Facts of Homosexual Life. Contributors: Julia Field, Anne Johnson, Jane Wadsworth and Kaye Wellings - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: January 23, 1994. Page number: Not available. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
This material is protected by copyright and, with the exception of fair use, may not be further copied, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means.