Here's ten common myths, stereotypes and misconceptions about gay and lesbian people. How many have you heard before?
"How do you know you are gay if you haven’t tried sex with someone of the
A lot of people who write into the problem page have had this question presented to them once they come out to friends and family. Just as daft a question would be to ask them back how they can be so certain of their heterosexuality if they’ve never had a same-sex experience. The simple answer is that you don’t have to try sex with anyone to know that you want sex with some people and not others. If I was never close to a man again, if all men except myself were teleported to another planet, I’d still be lusting after them for the rest of my life. Because I’m gay. Simple.
Sexuality isn’t a choice. Sexuality is a deep-rooted part of who you are and it dictates who you are attracted to, before you so much as have your first kiss. I knew I was gay when I was fourteen but I didn’t have a physical relationship until I was nineteen. During those intervening five years I was still as gay as I am now at thirty-eight years old.
So I know that I am gay even though I have never had sex with a woman because I have no desire to do so – the feelings aren’t there. Woman are wonderful but sleeping with them isn’t a part of me. I'm not programmed to respond to their bodies in the way a straight man is, just as it's not a part of a straight man's nature to respond sexually to the bodies of other men.
Don’t put yourself into sexual situations that don’t feel right for you, even if those around you think it’s a good idea that you 'give it a try'. It’s not fair on you or the subject of the experiment. The only reason you should ever have sex with someone is because you truly want to.
"Gay men are effeminate, promiscuous and bitchy. Lesbian women are butch,
Gay people are as varied in appearance and behaviour as heterosexual people. Their beliefs and values have as broad a range as you can imagine. Although stereotypes might have originally been founded on genuine observations, they tends to focus on the most visible elements of a minority group. It’s human nature to want to label things so that we can make sense of the world. Putting all gay people in a box and assuming they all behave in a certain way makes it easier to deal with the unknown.
I’ve worked with straight people in the past who were very surprised that I seemed so ‘normal’ and not like what they had expected of a gay man. You might hold stereotypes in your mind of minority groups, but try to be open minded and see the broader picture. Sexuality shouldn't be a way of assuming how someone behaves or what motivates them. Remember too that if a person does exhibit stereotypical traits, such qualities are not necessarily negative.
- "Gay people only go to gay bars. They like clubbing, dance music and taking drugs."
Many gay people enjoy gay venues for a number of reasons. See the section about the gay scene to find out more. As mentioned in the above myth buster, gay people are a diverse bunch just like straight people, and as likely to be into rock music and stamp collecting as they are clubbing and strawberry alcopops. Being gay doesn't mean you have to join a special club with it's own uniform and behaviour guidelines. If you prefer a quiet chat in a cafe to a noisy night of clubbing, then go for it. Don't be defined by your sexuality and what some people think it encompasses. Just be yourself.
- "All gay men have anal sex."
Anal (or penetrative) sex is just one sexual activity that a male same-sex couple may engage in, but it's not limited to gay couples. There is no compulsory sexual activity, whether you're gay or straight, male or female. It’s up to the individuals involved to decide what they enjoy and feel comfortable doing. Many gay men don’t enjoy anal sex, or choose not to engage in it for various reasons, while some guys thoroughly enjoy it. It’s the same for any sexual act and is based on personal taste.
Visit the sex page to find out more.
- "If you are gay you will go to hell when you die!"
This myth, along with a wider look into the relationship religion has with homosexuality, is covered on the dedicated religion pages.
- "In a gay relationship who's the 'man' and who's the 'woman'?"
Because we're raised to think of a relationship in male-female role terms, people assume these roles are emulated in a same-sex relationship. People might assume there is a female (passive, penetrated) and male (dominant, penetrator) role in the bedroom of a same-sex male relationship, or that one woman in a lesbian relationship is butch and manly while the other is feminine.
These sort of ideas about relationship roles are very old fashioned. In our modern world traditional ideas about female and male roles within a heterosexual relationship have changed: stay-at-home fathers, career women etc. People are very diverse and they create relationships that suit them.
- "Gay people can't have real relationships like straight people can."
Some people view same-sex relationships are inferior or 'not the real thing'. Some view being gay as a weird sexual fetish rather than someone's sexuality, and think that real romantic love can only be found with someone of the opposite sex.
Gay people fall in love and can have healthy, happy, lasting, monogamous relationships just like heterosexual people can. The powerful feelings responsible for bringing people together are the same. Same-sex relationships are as likely to succeed or fail as opposite-sex relationships (though some gay couples can find their relationship under strain from the start because of homophobia in the community). It's the people within the relationship who make or break it, who define it's strengths and qualities. It has nothing to do with the gender mix.
See these tips on nurturing a successful relationship.
- "Gay people are more prone to mental illness."
Being gay is not a mental health problem itself, but mental health problems among gay people are relatively high.
Gay people face obstacles and challenges that straight people don't. It's tough growing up gay when the world around you may be telling you that it's wrong to be who you are. Homophobia and bullying, feelings of isolation and loneliness, and having to pretend to be someone else to please peers, puts great strain on someone's daily life. It's no wonder that some gay people develop mental health problems such as depression and anxiety, and that they might self-harm or even contemplate suicide.
Nobody is born depressed, anxious or suicidal. It's negative life experiences that can result in problems, regardless of whether you are gay or straight.
If you are struggling, the mental health pages are a good place to start.
- "Gay men are more likely to be child abusers."
Some people think that homosexuality is a perversion or abnormality and put it in the same box as paedophilia. It's a cheap shot used by extremists that manipulates parents into being afraid.
Homosexuality has nothing to do with paedophilia; being sexually attracted to members of the same sex is not the same as being sexually attracted to children.
Child abuse is a big topic that is beyond the scope of this website. If you need help, please visit Childline.
- "AIDS is a gay man's disease."
HIV (the virus that leads to AIDS) can infect anyone regardless of sexuality, though lesbians are at low risk. Here are some facts about the virus:
- HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is the virus that leads to AIDS.
- A person doesn't 'catch AIDS'. They become HIV positive (HIV+).
- HIV attacks the immune system, making it harder for the body to protect itself from viruses.
- The HIV virus is found in the blood, sexual fluids and breast milk of an infected person.
- HIV is passed from an infected person via unprotected sex (anal or vaginal), sharing needles (drug use), contaminated blood (via blood transfusion), from mother to child via breast milk or directly from the blood of an infected person if enough enters someone else's body.
- In unprotected sex, HIV can be passed between the person who is penetrated and the person who penetrates, and vice-versa, in both anal and vaginal sex (i.e. you are not safe if you are the 'top').
- HIV is a virus that anyone can get, gay or straight. However, risk of infection is higher with unprotected anal sex because of the delicate lining of the anus which can lead to bleeding, thus HIV finding its way into the bloodstream.
- HIV progresses to AIDS when the infected person becomes seriously ill because of their damaged immune system.
- You can protect yourself from HIV and other STI (sexually transmitted infections) by using condoms.
For more information on HIV and AIDS, see Avert's website. AVERT is an international HIV and AIDS charity based in the UK, working to avert HIV and AIDS worldwide.