A gay senior holds a rainbow flag
Posed by model (Photo: Shutterstock)

A new study has shown that older gay men tend to enjoy sex with more partners than their straight peers.

The study was prompted by last year’s mpox outbreak (formerly known as monkeypox). Researchers in the UK wanted to find out how our sex lives change so that they could better model how a virus, such as mpox, might spread.

The most common route of transmission for last year’s outbreak in the UK and US was gay sexual encounters.

Lead researcher Dr Julii Brainard, from the University of East Anglia’s Norwich Medical School, said: “Before this study, many models about sexually transmitted diseases assumed that everyone over a certain age — say 40 or 65 — stopped being sexually active, or at least stopped having multiple partners.

“Or there might be an assumption that young people have the most sex. But the answer is more nuanced, and it partly depends on people’s sexuality.”

The study, published this week in PLOS ONE quizzed 5,000 people. Over 800 were recruited via Grindr and a further 1,000 gay men via Facebook and Instagram. The researchers wanted to make sure they included a large number of men who have sex with men as that’s who made up the bulk of last year’s mpox cases.

Besides their sexuality, participants were asked how many sexual partners they’d had in the last three weeks and the last three months.

Multiple partners more common among gay men of all ages

The key findings were as follows.

Having multiple sexual partners (“partner concurrency”) was more common among gay men.

Most people surveyed had either zero or one sexual partner at any age in the preceding three weeks. However, when asked about multiple partners, the responses differed greatly depending on sexuality.

For example, 17% of gay men aged 70+ had more than one partner in the previous three weeks. This rose to 25% of gay men in that age bracket recruited via social media. This compared with 2% of straight respondents aged 70+.

Across all age groups, 43% of gay men recruited via social media said they’d had multiple recent partners. This rose to 52% of those found via Grindr.

Sexual activity in heterosexuals does appear to drop off more dramatically after around the age of 50.

More than three-quarters of women aged 70 years and older “who identified as heterosexual or had any male partners in last 3 months, had had no male partners in the last three weeks,” the study noted.

For straight men, 50 percent aged 70+ “didn’t have a female partner in the most recent three weeks.”

The study noted there was a straightforward decline for heterosexual people between age and partner count, “but a peak in partner counts and concurrency for [gay and bi men] in middle age years (age 35–54).”

Tracking infections

Dr. Brainard said, “We managed to collect a lot of data from MSM [men who have sex with men] who practiced partner concurrency. About 45 percent of them sustained partner concurrency from age 27 to 63. Even at age 65+ the respondents recruited via social media still tended to have more sexual contact than the general population sample at the same age.”

“Models of disease spread shouldn’t assume that young people are necessarily most at risk or that having multiple partners just stops happening at a strict age threshold.”

One explanation for the high number of horny gay guys was how the study recruited people. Brainard said, “It may be that the algorithms that Facebook or Instagram use to identify [gay and bisexual men] are also very good at finding that subset of people.”

As mpox primarily impacted gay men in 2022, the researchers did not set out to include a large number of lesbians or trans people in their study. Therefore, figures for these groups were not large enough to draw conclusions from.

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