Nearly 50% are open to same-sex experiences

Outside the box: Miley Cyrus, Harry Styles and Janelle Monae have all refused to label their sexuality.

Is everyone a little bit gay? A new poll has found that four in 10 people are open to a same-sex experience. The number rises among young people. Is sexuality more fluid than we think?

It is almost a year since Harry Styles stood on a California stage on the last day of his first solo tour, and said the words that inspired a thousand headlines, “Well, we’re all a little bit gay, aren’t we?”

A new YouGov poll suggests that more and more people are starting to agree with him. When 2,115 adults in the UK were asked if they would consider a same-sex experience with the right person, only 53% responded, “Absolutely not”. A quarter said it was unlikely, but “not impossible”; 10% said, “Maybe, if they really liked them” and 4% said, “Yes”. That means that just under half of the population is at least open to the idea.

Among 18 to 24-year-olds, the numbers were even higher: 61% were open to same-sex experiences.

Harry Styles is not the only celebrity to suggest that sexuality is fluid. In February, Miley Cyrus told Vanity Fair magazine, “People fall in love with people, not gender, not looks, not whatever. What I’m in love with exists on almost a spiritual level. It has nothing to do with sexuality.”

Meanwhile, Janelle Monae told Lizzo in an interview for Them magazine: “For me, sexuality and sexual identity and fluidity is a journey. It’s not a destination.”

In fact, the idea of being either “homosexual” or “heterosexual” is relatively new. The words simply did not exist in English until late Victorian times. Philosopher Michael Foucault points out that, before then, although men having sex with men was a crime, it was seen more as a temptation that anyone might face, rather than as an identity.

In 1948, a researcher named Alfred Kinsey devised a seven-point scale to describe human sexuality. The number zero meant “exclusively heterosexual”, while six meant “exclusively homosexual”.

Although homosexuality was still illegal, he found that almost half of the American men he interviewed had “reacted sexually” to both men and women.

Gay marriage is now legal in many countries in the West; ideas about sexuality have come full circle. Many people, therefore, are rejecting the need for labels at all.

Born this way?

Is everyone a little bit gay? Drawing a line between “straight” and “not straight” was helpful during the gay rights movement, as it allowed LGBT people to speak as a group and demand acceptance. But more and more people don’t feel that they neatly fit into a box. Many now believe that you love the person you love, regardless of gender.

On the other hand, plenty of people still think they were born straight, just as some people are born gay or bisexual. Can we really tell them they are wrong? As for labels, they are useful for understanding your own sexuality, finding community, and for the gay rights movement. After all, the progress that has been made is fragile. The fight is not over.

You Decide

  1. Is everyone a little bit gay?
  2. Are labels like “gay” and “straight” outdated?

Activities

  1. Write definitions of the following five words: “straight”, “gay”, “bisexual”, “sexuality”, “gender”.
  2. Create a timeline of sexuality and the gay rights movement over the last 200 years.

Some People Say...

“The only queer people are those who don’t love anybody.”

Rita Mae Brown, US writer, activist and feminist

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Humans are not the only species to have same-sex experiences. Penguins, Japanese macaque monkeys, Laysan albatrosses, bonobos, bottlenose dolphins — have all been found to display homosexual behaviour.
What do we not know?
Why homosexual tendencies exist in either humans or animals. After all, they do not make much sense from a purely evolutionary standpoint since gay sex does not produce children. Like laughter or the human desire to produce art, it remains a mystery — but is no less valid. We also do not know whether it is something that you are born with (if there is a “gay gene” that determines sexuality), or if it is something more complicated.

Word Watch

YouGov
Conducted for The Times. Despite four in 10 people being open to same-sex experiences, 86% of people taking the poll identified as straight, with 5% gay or lesbian, and 4% bisexual. It found that women were more open to the idea of same-sex experiences than men.
Victorian
The English word “homosexual” is generally traced back to 1892, in a translation of a study on sexuality by Richard von Krafft-Ebing. The word “heterosexual” came later.
Michael Foucault
French author of a series of books entitled The History of Sexuality, first published in 1976. For more, look under Become an Expert.
Crime
Sex between men was first made illegal in England by Henry VIII in 1533. It was decriminalised in 1967.
Alfred Kinsey
US scientist who began researching human sexuality in the 1930s. His two books on male and female sexuality caused a scandal when they were published in 1948 and 1953.
Fragile
Yesterday, the British Social Attitudes Survey found that the number of people believing that there is nothing wrong with gay sex has fallen for the first time since 1987. But the shift in attitudes isn’t firmly established in society.

Subjects