Sex & the British: Survey explodes myths about homosexuality: Findings will strengthen argument for MPs to reduce homosexual age of consent to 16. Peter Wilby reports

ABOUT one in 16 British men and one in 29 women have had a homosexual experience, according to the largest survey ever carried out of British sexual behaviour.

The survey - financed by the Wellcome Trust - explodes the myth that British men are more likely to be homosexual than those in other countries. Equally false, according to the survey, is the belief that young people can be 'inducted' into lifelong homosexuality by early experience. Men and women who first experienced homosexuality before the age of 16 were less likely than those who started homosexual practices later to have had a partner of the same gender in recent years.

The findings will be powerful ammunition for those lobbying MPs to support legislation to lower the age of consent from 21 to 16. The House of Commons is expected to vote on the proposition next week.

Previous estimates of the extent of homosexuality were based largely on the Kinsey Report, carried out in the United States in the 1940s. This suggested 1 in 10 men were homosexual. But Kinsey did not survey a representative sample of the American population.

The Wellcome survey, carried out by Social and Community Planning Research, interviewed nearly 19,000 Britons, aged 16 to 59, in 1990-91. It rejects the idea that the population can be divided simply into 'gays' and 'straights'. The huge majority of those who have had homosexual experiences have also had a partner of the opposite sex. Even among men who had had a male sexual partner in the last two years, 42 per cent had also made love to a woman during that period. Men who have had large numbers of female partners are more likely than monogamous men to have had a homosexual experience.

The survey found 6.1 per cent of men and 3.4 per cent of women had had homosexual contact but, for many, the experience had been confined to kissing and cuddling. Only 3.6 per cent of men and 1.7 of women reported genital contact. The number who reported homosexual partners within the past two years was even smaller: 1.4 per cent of men and 0.6 per cent of women.

Several surveys have been conducted overseas recently which have produced similar results on homosexuality. In France, 4.1 per cent of men reported at least one experience of homosexual intercourse during their lives - countering the view, expressed by Edith Cresson, the former French prime minister, that English men were peculiarly prone to homosexuality because of their boarding school experience. In fact, the Wellcome survey shows, people who have been to boarding school are more likely to have had homosexual experience at some stage in their lives, but no more likely than anyone else to have been actively gay in the recent past.

The survey shows that homosexual experience is almost twice as common among middle-class people as among the working-classes. And men living in Greater London are more than twice as likely to report homosexual experience as men living in other regions.

The view that gay men are specially promiscuous is also questioned. Half the men who had had homosexual partners reported only one such partner. Fewer than one in nine men with homosexual experience had had 20 or more male partners. No woman reported more than 20 female partners.

Mr Justice Harman, sitting in the High Court, last night granted an injunction restraining Associated Newspapers, owners of the Daily Mail, from reproducing any substantial parts of the survey except those that the Independent on Sunday has already published.

(Photographs and graphs omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
Sport
footballBrighton vs Arsenal match report
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken about the lack of opportunities for black British actors in the UK
film
News
people
News
Rapper Jay Z performs on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury in 2008
people
News
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us