Gender identity and sexuality are very nuanced. There’s no foolproof way to tell if someone is gay. But we crunched the numbers to see what science says on gaydar and beyond. Read on:
‘Gaydar’ can be controversial.
Sometimes, it turns out they’re right. But the judgments aren’t always perfect. In fact, some studies show you can tell about a person from his face. That said, there are factors to consider… Like culture, for one.
With that in mind, we’ve compiled research-backed statistics and information on how to tell if someone is gay.
Table of Contents
Top Statistics About Being Gay You Should Know:
- 2-10% of people reveal having same-sex relations.
- Sexual orientation can be determined as young as 6-7 years old all the way to much later in life.
- More lesbians (1,026) than gays (791) are victims of sexually-oriented hate crimes.
- But more lesbians are perceived with more acceptance than gays.
- Homophobia, heterosexism, and anti-gay violence lead people to hide their sexual orientation.
Understanding Sexual Orientation
Gender, romantic preference, and sexual orientation are very nuanced. They span across a spectrum.
By definition, sexual orientation refers to who a person is attracted to and who they want to have a relationship with (emotionally, romantically, and sexually). This is what we know as gay, lesbian, straight, bisexual, and asexual.
- 2 to 10% of people have same-sex relations across cultures. (Science/AAAS, 2019)1.
- The terms “lesbian” and “gay” are used to refer to people who are attracted to a person of the same sex. (Frontiers, 2012)2.
- 71% of the sexual minority still find gay, lesbian, and bisexual categories salient options. (National Library of Medicine, 2009)3.
Homosexuality in the United States
The US has a slew of annual Pride celebrations and growing cultural acceptance for LGBTQ people. And (!) they even legalized same-sex marriage.
So what is it like being a homosexual in America? What is the rate of homosexuality in the US? Is it common or pretty rare?
- 5.6% of American participants identify themselves as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. (Statista, 2020)4
- More Gen Zs (15.9%) than Millennials (9.1%) identify themselves as LGBT. (Statista, 2020)
While there are a good number of gay people in the US, that doesn’t mean everyone is welcoming.
- 1,026 lesbian victims of anti-lesbian hate crimes and 791 gay victims of anti-gay hate crimes in the US. (Statista, 2020)5
Gay Male Sexuality: What the Science Says
It’s natural to be gay. But, at the same time, people keep trying to understand how it works. Really.
The thing is—there is no real explanation for why some men are gay. What’s more, there is no right or wrong answer to it. But with lots of studies and research done on it, we might be able to understand it better in the near future.
To start, how soon or how late in life does a person determine their sexual orientation?
- As young as 6 or 7 up to much later in life—in the 30s, 40s, and 50s. (Case Western Reserve University, Unspecified)6
There is also a range of homosexuality among gay people and at certain points in their life.
- 10% of males were more or less exclusively homosexual. (Kinsey Institute, 1948)7
- 8% of males were exclusively homosexual for at least three years between the age of 16 and 55. (Kinsey Institute, 1948)7
- 9.9% of males have had an extensive homosexual experience. (Kinsey Institute, 1979)8
- 30% of males had homosexual experience with orgasm. (Kinsey Institute, 1973)9
- 25% of adolescents (those under the age of 20) had homosexual experiences, with 3% “substantial homosexual histories” and 3% “exclusively homosexual histories.” (Kinsey Institute, 1973)9
Why Some Men Are Gay: The Hunt for “Gay Genes”
Why are some men gay while others are not? Is there a “gay gene”? Can you predict someone’s sexuality?
These are some questions that have been boggling the minds of researchers over the years. To shed light on that, look at these stats:
- Genes account for 8% to 25% of same-sex behavior. (Nature, 2019)10
There IS a genetic component when it comes to a person’s sexual preference. However, there is NO SINGLE “gay gene” that indicates a large impact on sexual behaviors. Environmental and cultural factors, among others, come into play as well.
- “Fraternal birth order effect” shows that the more older brothers a male person has, the more likely he will be gay. (The Atlantic, 2016)11
- H-Y antigens not functioning are believed to trigger the creation of maternal antibodies in male fetuses when they are not present in the mother’s body, which happens more often with each boy a woman bears. (The Atlantic, 2016)11
- X-chromosomal genetic factor showed evidence of being associated with bisexuality and homosexuality in men. (The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 2009)12
- A man with 4 older brothers has a 6% chance of being gay, while a man without older brothers has a 2% chance of being gay. (ResearchGate, 1996)13
Knowing If Someone Is Gay
You might have a “gaydar,” or you might not. But the only way to know for sure is if the person TELLS you they’re gay. It’s never nice to assume or label people on what they are, especially not by the way they act or dress.
- 38% of gay men say they were younger than 10 when they first felt they were not heterosexual or “straight.” (Pew Research, 2013)14
- No consensus among scientists about the exact reasons an individual develops an orientation for the same sex. (American Psychological Association, 2008)15
- Patterns of emotional, romantic, and sexual attraction may arise without previous sexual experience. (American Psychological Association, 2008)15
You might get a feeling that a person you know is gay. But they might not “come out” of the closet because of the social pressure and stigma in the society to be heterosexual.
- Many people conceal their sexuality because of homophobia, heterosexism, and anti-gay violence. (Psychiatric Times, 2004)16
Are There “Tests” to Gauge/Know If Someone Is Gay?
There is no sure-fire way to know if someone is gay. How a person behaves or dresses isn’t about sexuality but personal identity.
If YOU think you might be gay…
- Allow yourself to feel your feelings. There’s no right or wrong way to know your orientation for sure. (Healthline, 2019)17
If you think you’re gay and don’t know where to start, you can try these online tests. Of course, the results won’t be 100% accurate, but they could be a good place to start if you’re confused.
Men Disclosing They’re Gay/Homosexual
Coming out might to your loved ones, especially family and friends, might not be easy at first. You can expect positive and negative reactions. But it’s not impossible.
- 77% of gay men reveal their sexual orientation to most or all important people in their lives. (Pew Research, 2013)18
What stopped gay men from coming out?
- 28.8% expected their family reaction. (ResearchGate, 2010)19
- 19.6% feared rejection or ostracism. (ResearchGate, 2010)19
After coming out, what were their family’s reactions?
- 18.4% were non-accepting to accepting (ResearchGate, 2010)19
- 15.9% were refusing to discuss it after opening up (ResearchGate, 2010)19
- 11% were shocked and in disbelief (ResearchGate, 2010)19
- 9.2% weren’t accepting (ResearchGate, 2010)19
- 7.4% were indifferent (ResearchGate, 2010)19
- 6.1% weren’t surprised (ResearchGate, 2010)19
- 4.2% were angry and hostile (ResearchGate, 2010)19
- 5.5% were unsure how to react (ResearchGate, 2010)19
Perceptions of LGBT Discrimination
Unfortunately, there is a social stigma for many gay people. Here’s how:
- 58% were targeted by slurs or jokes (Pew Research, 2013)18
- 39% were rejected by a close friend or family member (Pew Research, 2013)18
- 30% were physically attacked or threatened (Pew Research, 2013)18
- 29% were made to feel unwelcome in a place of worship (Pew Research, 2013)18
- 21% were treated unfairly by an employer (Pew Research, 2013)18
Accepting Homosexuality in the Society
How is the LGBT accepted in the community? Across the LGBT population, lesbians and bisexual women are more accepted than gay men.
- 1 in four respondents (out of 1,197) perceive acceptance of lesbians (Pew Research, 2013)18
- 33% for bisexual women; 8% for bisexual men (Pew Research, 2013)18
- 15% for gay men (Pew Research, 2013)18
- 3% for transgender people (Pew Research, 2013)18
Community Identity and Engagement
With people being more “woke” nowadays, many call out sexism. Here’s how people are showing support to the LGBT community:
- 51% of respondents didn’t buy a product or service from a company that doesn’t support LGBT rights, and 49% bought a product or service from a company that supports LGBT rights. (Pew Research, 2013)18
- 52% of respondents attended an LGBT Pride event. (Pew Research, 2013)18
- 40% participated in a rally or marched to show support for LGBT rights. (Pew Research, 2013)18
- 39% say they belong to an LGBT organization. (Pew Research, 2013)18
- 31% donated money to politicians supporting LGBT rights. (Pew Research, 2013)18
Is there a way to tell if someone is gay? Unfortunately, as we discussed, there’s no foolproof answer to that. Even the person themselves might not be able to give a 100% definitive answer.
Thankfully, many resources and studies are available to help us better understand the subject.
- Science/AAAS, 2019. A study with 493,001 participants from the US, the UK, and Sweden.
- Frontiers, 2012. A study by the American Psychological Association on Sexual orientation and gender identity.
- National Library of Medicine, 2009. A survey of 2,500 Californian high school students on adolescent sexual orientation.
- Statista, 2020. A US survey of 15,349 respondents aged 18 years and older.
- Statista, 2020. A US survey of victims of gender or sexual orientation related hate crime.
- Case Western University Reserve, Unspecified. An educational piece on Sexual Orientation Myths & Facts.
- Kinsey Institute, 1948. A research study where 5,300 white males were interviewed for Sexual Behavior in the Human Male.
- Kinsey Institute, 1979. A study by Gebhard and Johnson in The Kinsey Data.
- Kinsey Institute, 1973. A reanalysis of Alfred Kinsey’s Data by John Gagnon and William Simon.
- Nature, 2019. A 2019 study that is the largest on the genetic basis of sexuality where genomes from 500,000 people were studied.
- The Atlantic, 2016. A piece by journalist Olga Khazan on How Older Brothers Influence Homosexuality.
- The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 2009. A study with 239 male subjects (65 were homosexuals).
- ResearchGate, 1996. A study by Ray Blanchard with 877 hetero and homosexual participants aged 18-22 years old.
- Pew Research, 2013. A study of 1,197 self-identified LGBT adults (aged 18 years and older).
- American Psychological Association, 2008. A pamphlet prepared by psychologists to lead in removing the stigma of mental illness in lesbian, gay, and bisexual orientations.
- Psychiatric Times, 2004. A journal piece of Jack Drescher, MD, on The Closet: Psychological Issues of Being In and Coming Out.
- Healthline, 2019. A medically-reviewed article.
- Pew Research, 2013. A survey of LGBT Americans with 1,197 self-identified LGBT adult participants.
- ResearchGate, 2010. A survey with participants of 166 Australian gay men.