It turns out “one-in-four” is a bit high.
The common adage — coined by a Yale alum in 1987 to describe the surprisingly high proportion of homosexuals she encountered during a campus reunion — is not too far off, according to a News poll, sent last week to 5,186 undergraduates, of which 1,770 students responded. A total of 17.7 percent of Yale men — about one in six — said they are attracted only to men, compared to 8.1 percent of Yale women who said they are attracted only to women. Additionally, 12.2 percent of Yale women said they were bisexual, roughly three times the rate of men who said they are attracted to both men and women.
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The survey indicated that gay men and bisexual women engage in oral sex more frequently than their straight peers, but they are also slightly more likely to use barrier protection and to get tested for sexually transmitted infections.
But even though sexual activity was higher among some segments of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender population polled, there is no sexual health organization specifically geared toward LGBT students on campus, said the student leaders of the LGBT Co-Op and Maria Trumpler, director of the Office of LGBTQ Resources.
“We could certainly do better,” Trumpler said, referring to the sexual health resources available to LGBT Yalies.
‘FILLED WITH GAYS’
Yale has long been a mecca for the gay community, gaining national attention in the 1980s for its vibrant and sizable LGBT community when it was referred to in a Wall Street Journal article by Julie Iovine ’77.
Today, as survey results indicate, Yale’s gay male population is much higher than the national average. Some students interviewed even said that, when they were choosing between comparable Ivy League schools, Yale’s gay population tilted their decision.
“It’s filled with gays,” Amalia Skilton ’13 said. “Yale was the school with the most open, active gay community.”
Former LGBT Co-Op co-coordinator Yoshi Shapiro ’11 said Yale has long been known as a popular place for gay men, but the same is not necessarily true for lesbians.
The News survey showed that the proportion of homosexual students is fairly constant across class years, but the number of students who identified as bisexual rose from year to year. And as the bright college years pass, fewer male students identify as straight, dropping from 81 percent for the class of 2013 to 74 percent for the class of 2010, while the rate of women identifying as bisexual jumps from 8 percent for 2013 to 16 percent for 2010.
Hannah Bruckner, the director of undergraduate studies for sociology, has conducted extensive research on homosexuality. She speculated that there could be a discrepancy between gay men and women at Yale because homosexual and questioning youth have a more difficult time in high school; queer women were twice as likely as their queer male peers to be sanctioned by a government institution, such as the juvenile justice system, according to the senior paper of a student with whom she worked last year.
Yet while some queer students interviewed said that one in six seems an accurate estimate for the number of homosexual men on campus, Trumpler said such surveys are generally unreliable because they reflect what response the person surveyed feels like choosing at that one moment.
“It’s not a fixed thing you can count,” Trumpler said. “My working estimate is that people who are not exclusively heterosexual are probably more than 3 percent and probably less than 90 percent of the population.”
Kiki Fehling ’11, treasurer of the LGBT Co-op, expressed doubt about the poll’s accuracy, as well, because she said gay students would be more eager to complete such a survey. For this reason, she said she thinks the figures could be slightly inflated.
‘FALSE SENSE OF SECURITY’
Even if they are not as numerous as survey results indicate, Yale’s LGBT students engage in sexual activity just as often as their straight peers, if not more.
Slightly more than 40 percent of bisexual men and women surveyed said they had performed or received oral sex in the past week, according to the survey. About 39 percent of male homosexuals said they engaged in oral sex in the past week. By comparison, 33 percent of straight men, 30 percent of lesbians and 27 percent of straight women said they engaged in oral sex within the past week.
About one in four gay and bisexual men who answered the News’ poll said they had used the Internet to “find a hookup,” making them about eight times more likely than their straight male peers to engage in this practice.
Heterosexual and homosexual men have had roughly the same amount of sexual intercourse in the past week, and bisexual men and women are the most sexually active group, the poll indicated.
Shapiro, the former LGBT Co-op co-coordinator, said this discrepancy could arise from the fact that Yale’s overall sex culture does not necessarily apply to queer women.
“This random go-to-Toad’s hookup culture is not the same for women who sleep with women,” Shapiro said. “There’s less anonymity in the queer scenes in general at Yale but particularly in the queer women scene.”
Nationwide, rates of sexually transmitted infections are higher among men who have sex with men than among straight men and women, said Dana Dunne, an assistant professor at the School of Medicine who specializes in STIs. Chief of Student Medicine and Athletic Medicine James Perlotto ’78 noted that at Yale, there has been rise in cases of syphilis of late, particularly among men who have sex with men.
Dunne attributed this rise in part to a lack of awareness about the consequences of STIs in comparison to the aftermath of the AIDS epidemic of the ’80s.
“The young gay man may not have the immediate message and image of this still deadly disease in his head, and the motivation for condom use subsequently decreases,” she said.
Still, at Yale, gay men get tested for STIs at higher rates than their peers, according to the poll. Trumpler said such levels of testing suggest that gay Yale students are well aware of the history of the spread of HIV among gay men. She added, however, that not all sex education is tailored to include LGBT people.
Even today, members of the LGBT Co-op said, the ripples of the HIV epidemic are still being felt. During Co-op reunions, for instance, an entire generation of gay men is missing from the ranks of alumni, members of the Co-op said.
University Health Services offers informed doctors, pamphlets and counselors to help LGBT students with sexual health issues, Perlotto said.
Yet as of today, there is not a specific organization on campus dedicated to promoting LGBT sexual health — a problem Alberto Navarro ’13, co-coordinator of Queer Peers, said he hopes to fix. Today, Navarro and other Queer Peer leaders are meeting to discuss the possibility of creating an organization that would encourage gay Yalies to practice safe sex.
“Some people are kind of lulled into a false sense of security in that they believe that just because they are at Yale, they are safe,” Navarro said. “There’s not adequate information that targets the queer population.”
Sex Week will target the queer population with a Master’s Tea with female-to-male porn star Buck Angel on Saturday in Pierson College.
Previously in the News’ “Sex at Yale” series:
Monday: Yalies, under the Covers