Busting gay stereotypes with data

October 15, 2010

(This article was first published on Revolutions, and kindly contributed to R-bloggers)

As a gay guy, you sometimes have to put up with some pretty offensive stereotypes that get thrown your way by extremists in the community and the media. These stereotypes are usually deployed in the form of anecdotes about how gay people are "promiscuous" or "corrupting". These misrepresentative anecdotes have serious consequences, not just in the continued denial of fundamental civil rights to gay people in places like Iran and Nigeria and the United States, but also at the individual level. Recently here in the US, there's recently been a rash of suicides by gay teens. (Some of the stories were recounted in this heartwrenching statement (video) by Forth Worth (TX) Councilman Joel Burns, and the It Gets Better Project is a wonderful new resource for gay teens subjected to bullying.)   

But as every good data analyst knows, the plural of "anecdote" is not "data". But without data published outside of the academic literature, it's been hard to combat the anecdotes with reality.

Until now: Enter the clever folks at dating site Ok Cupid, who have used their database of 3.1 million user profiles to put these stereotypes to the test. Because each profile includes a self-reported sexual orientation along with a wealth of demographic, profile and essay information, data analysis reveals that:

  • Gay men (and women) are no more promiscuous than their straight counterparts, based on self-reported statistics on number of sexual partners, and
  • Gay people are not sexually interested in straight people, based on searches for profiles according to reported sexuality. In fact, there was not a single gay user in the OK Cupid database who primarily searched for straight people.

To be sure, this isn't a peer-reviewed academic analysis. You can argue that the population of Ok Cupid members isn't representative of the population as a whole: it certainly skews young and single. (For example, I'm nearing 40 and have been married to my wonderful husband for 6 years: I don't have a profile on Ok Cupid.) But, it's data, and as always the data say what the data say: amongst the population of people with profiles on Ok Cupid, these offensive stereotypes just don't hold water.

That said, some stereotypes are based in truth, looking at this analysis of personality traits (based on key phrases appearing in profiles):

Straight men are more interested in sports? Knock me down with a feather. For the complete details of this analysis and much more besides, check out the link below.

oktrends: Gay Sex vs. Straight Sex

To leave a comment for the author, please follow the link and comment on their blog: Revolutions.

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