In recent years, there's been a push for people to acknowledge that, contrary to what the lyrics of Katy Perry's 2008 hit "I Kissed a Girl" may have us to believe, straight men can be just as open to same-sex experimentation as their female counterparts.
Now, we have data to back it up.
In a National Health Statistics Report released Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics has come up with a fresh batch of "national estimates of sexual behavior, sexual attraction and sexual orientation among women and men aged 18 to 44." Lurking within the many pages of findings is statistical evidence that a number of straight men out there are indeed having gay sex with each other, no homo. (Except actually lots of homo.)
The report is based on survey answers from more than 9,000 respondents, collected between 2011 and 2013. Participants were asked about their sexual experiences, as well as which sexual orientations they identified with.
The contrast between reported sexual orientation and actual, IRL sexual experience is where things get interesting. Just 1.9% of men in the report identified as gay, while 2% said they were bisexual. And yet: 6.2% of men reported having had same-sex sexual encounters. So openly gay dudes actually made up the smallest group of men who've had gay sex among the respondents? Ooh, that's interesting.
It's worth keeping in mind that 1% of men in the study refused to share their sexual orientations altogether, which could account for some of the gay sex in question. But we do know that a number of the guys who have had sex with other men identify as exclusively straight. In looking specifically at the heterosexual men of the study (who made up 95.1% of the men surveyed), 2.8% of them reported having engaged in anal or oral sex with another dude.
This percentage is actually down from the last time the CDC came out with this report back in 2011, when 3.2% of straight men said they'd had a same-sex encounter. Yet these numbers still indicate that the stereotypical belief that women are sexually fluid and men aren't is flat-out wrong. Even though it's still more common for women to dabble in same-sex contact than men (almost three times more common, according to the CDC report), it seems that men's desires are just as complex as women's, regardless of whether they identify as straight or gay.
The numbers tell us that male sexual fluidity isn't exactly a new phenomenon. But the question of whether straight men can have same-sex desire was particularly buzzy last year, popping up everywhere from Reddit threads to the MTV episode True Life: I'm a Gay-For-Pay Porn Star.
A driving force behind the discussion was the 2015 release of Not Gay: Sex Between Straight White Men, in which author Jane Ward explored the complicated relationship between male same-sex experimentation and sexual identity. Specifically, she argued that participating in gay sex doesn't automatically mean that a man is gay or bisexual.
"He could be a straight guy," Ward told Mic last year. "He knows there are gay and bisexual identities, but he has no interest in either of those. He feels totally at home in straight culture. That is the story of his life. Who are we to say his entire life is a lie because he has the capacity to have sex with a man once?"
A handful of male celebrities have also come forward saying they avoid sexual labels altogether, such as R&B star Frank Ocean and America's Next Top Model contestant Nyle DeMarco. Most recently, Teen Wolf heartthrob Colton Haynes took a very chill approach to addressing gay rumors about him, simply writing on Tumblr that his "secret gay past" wasn't a secret at all and that we should all "enjoy life" with "no regrets."
At face value, the CDC's results fit squarely into the larger trend of millennials increasingly moving away from sexual labels and toward embracing sexuality's gray areas. But there's been a backlash to the emerging male sexual fluidity trend; specifically, within the gay community. While Haynes might've brushed off his same-sex attraction as not a big deal, the Advocate's Jase Peeples took a different approach.
In a recent op-ed, Peeples wrote that taking such a flippant approach to same-sex male attraction could actually do more harm than good for the gay community at large. In his piece, Peeples cited examples of antigay bigotry and violence, arguing that "we need to stop pretending that avoiding the topic [of coming out as gay] altogether is somehow making the world a better place for people who aren't heterosexual. It doesn't."
But at the end of the day, the truth is that the only people who know anything about these guys' identities and sexual preferences are themselves. No matter how many studies or reports are conducted, sexual activity and sexual orientation will still always be complicated personal issues that are likely to result in a variety of different experiences for every individual, fraught with a wide range of feelings and stories that numbers alone just can't tell.
So, well, shrug. Maybe the ultimate takeaway from all this data is that data is meaningless (lol) and we should all just listen to the wise and profound Nicki Minaj in her 2012 anthem "Starships": "Fuck who want and fuck who you like."
May 25, 2016, 3:48 p.m. Eastern: This story has been updated.