Pubs: Sexual Milestones with Male and Female Partners

An examination of normative sexual development.  In this study, young men reported on the age at which they achieved several sexual “milestones” or firsts.  We looked at two things: 1) the age and sequence of achieving several sexual firsts, and 2) differences between men with female partners vs. men with male partners.

Why study normative sexual development?  Most research on adolescent sexual behavior has mostly been about identifying which kids are most likely to get (or get someone) pregnant) and which kids are most likely to catch a sexually transmitted infection (STI).   But most adolescents who have sex – and that’s more about 60% of high school seniors in the US – don’t get pregnant and don’t get a disease.  As researchers, we don’t know much about these kids.

Why compare guys with female partners to guys with male partners? For all that we here about how straight & gay men have different sexual orientations, there are very few studies that have examined their sexual behavior.  if sexual orientation is about sex life, you’d expect some differences in sexual behavior, wouldn’t you?

Who?  We surveyed 263 young men, most of whom were undergraduates; some graduate students also completed the survey.  We intentionally contacted campus organizations that were likely to have substantial numbers of young men who had some kind of sexual experience with men.  A few young men who heard about the study by word of mouth were also allowed to participate.  As a result, the participants were a little older than is typical of studies with undergraduates.

There were 141 young men whose sexual experiences were exclusively with women, 31 whose sexual experiences were exclusively with men, and 78 who reported some type of sexual experience with both women and men.

What were the findings?

On average, guys with female partners experienced their first kiss around age 14, first “serious” relationship around age 16, and first kiss a little after age 17. The averages were the same for guys who only had female partners and the guys who had both female & male partners.  By contrast, guys with male partners experienced their first kiss after age 16, first “serious” relationship around age 18, and first sex around age 16.

In addition, the vast majority of guys with female partners moved “around the bases” slowly and in order, with most experiencing first kiss at least one year before first sex.  (That includes guys who’ve kissed a girl but haven’t had sex yet.)  Some guys with male partners also did that, but they were more likely to have their first kiss and first sex in the same year.

So what? This is one of very few studies that demonstrates that a young man’s sexual experiences vary based on whether he chooses male or female partners.  Guys with both female & male partners tended to be quite similar to their peers with “only” partners of one sex. In other words, “sexual orientation” has some impact on the age at which a guy experiences his firsts, and the order he does so.

The study also tells us that sex-of-partner is more useful, and more accurate, than “sexual orientation.”

Smiler, A. P., Frankel, L. B. W., & Savin-Williams, R. C. (2011). Normative sexual development among sexual minority and heterosexual male youth. Journal of Adolescence, 34, 727-735