Gay men and lesbians have more sexual partners than straight people, but not as many as most people think, according to the results of a national sex survey.

The Australian Study of Health and Relationships used phone interviews of more than 19,000 people aged between 19 and 56 years chosen at random to attempt to paint a picture of Australian sexual behaviour.

Of the respondents, less than two percent of men and one percent of women identified as homosexual. More than 15 percent of women and more than eight percent of men said they had been attracted to the same sex, and almost nine percent of women and six percent of men had had some homosexual behaviour.

Andrew Grulich, head of the HIV Epidemiology and Prevention Program at the National Centre in HIV Epidemiology and Clinical Research at the University of NSW, was a principal researcher.

Dr Grulich told the Star the percentage of respondents who identified as homosexual was consistent with results from other sex surveys conducted overseas.

But the incidence of same-sex sexual experience among people who did not identify as homosexual was higher in Australia, he said.

The survey results showed gay men and lesbians had more sexual partners in their lifetimes than straight people. But in the year leading up to the phone interviews, the surveyed gay men had had an average of only two sexual partners.

Dr Grulich said the results contradicted the idea that gay men were promiscuous, and also demonstrated the broad scope of the survey. When surveys had been conducted in the past with subjects taken from Mardi Gras fair day or inner-city gyms, the average number of sexual partners was significantly higher.

I think a lot of people who live in the big cities will be surprised at how low the figure is. [It shows] there are plenty of gay people living out in the suburbs who live much quieter lives, he said.

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