A new study of thousands of young people in the US and UK has concluded that, in short, you can’t catch the gay. That is, having friends and family who are gay does not make a person any more likely to report same-sex attractions, even when other related correlations can be identified.
The researchers focused on 14,738 of the 90,000+ students that completed a series of three in-depth home interviews — the first being conducted at around 16 years of age, the second a year later, and the third five years after the second. As part of the interviews, students were asked to name, identify, and elucidate the relationships with their closest five male and five female friends, many of whom were also involved in the longitudinal study. They were also asked specific questions to gauge sexual activity, relationship desire, and same-sex attraction.
Using the data from the first and second interviews, the researchers employed a statistical method to see whether subjects’ reported level of same-sex attraction was at all related to that of their friends. Data from the first interview was used to control for predilection to future same-sex attraction, sexual activity, and the desire to seek out relationships. It was also used to control for homophily — the idea that people tend to choose friends who behave similarly.
The analysis returned the increase in odds of reporting a certain behavior associated with each friend or sibling who engages in the same behavior. Subjects were far more likely to engage in sexual intercourse (1.79x) if their friends were also engaged in sexual activities. The same was true for seeking out romantic relationships (2.69x). However, they weren’t more likely to report same-sex attraction (0.96x).
“Although we found evidence that both sexual activity and desire to have a romantic relationship may spread from person to person, attraction to same sex partners did not spread,” the researchers say.
Yes, it’s based on self-reporting, but the fact that the results remained consistent even among those who accept homosexuality (and therefore have little incentive to deny their own same-sex attractions if they had them) and five years later suggests this is of minimal concern. So relax, bigots; your kids aren’t going to catch the gay if they have gay friends.