Americans are more open-minded towards same-sex couples, and are more likely to engage in same-sex behaviours, compared to 30 years ago. Scientists have discovered that not only are people more tolerant, they are also better at accepting same-sex sexuality or choosing it for themselves.

The study, published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior, spans the last three decades analysing social trends and attitudes towards homosexuality and bisexuality.

The authors have found out that same-sex sexual experiences have doubled over the period, while acceptance of same-sex sexual relations has quadrupled.

This suggests a profound cultural shift has occurred, leading people to recognise gay rights, but also to feel freer with their sexuality – or at least least freer to report a same-sex experience.

Same-sex experiences multiplied

The researchers, from Florida Atlantic University, relied on data from the General Social Survey (GSS), a nationally representative survey of U.S. adults conducted since 1972. Questions in the survey on acceptance of same-sex sexual behaviour have been asked since 1973, and those on sexual partners have been asked since 1989.

Although the proportion of respondents who believed "sexual relations between two adults of the same sex" was "not wrong at all" didn't evolve much over the last decades, the researchers identified clear signs that mentalities had changed and that people now engaged more openly in same-sex relations.

The percentage of men who reported having had sex with at least one man nearly doubled since 1989, going from 4.5% to 8.2%. For women, it more than doubled, increasing from 3.1% to 7.7%.

It is not clear whether this is because people are more confident in divulging their sexual experiences, or if these relationships have actually become more frequent. However, it does show a change in how same-sex behaviours are perceived. This is further confirmed by the fact the proportion of people who "accepted" these relationships rose, reaching a near majority in 2014 at 49%.

Generational gap

Of course, this also means that more needs to be done to convince half of American citizens who still do not accept same-sex behaviours, to be more tolerant. The researchers are confident this tolerance will be more prevalent in the next few years as young "Millennials" adults appear more open-minded than their parents.

Among people aged 18 to 29 years old in the 2010's, 7.5% of men have had a gay sexual experience, and 12.2% of women have had a lesbian sexual experience. Acceptance rose from 15% in 1990 to 63% in 2014. Little by little, American adults are shifting their attitudes towards homosexuality and bisexuality.

"Millennials are markedly more accepting of same-sex behavior than GenX'ers were at the same age – but then, so are most adults," concludes co-author Ryne Sherman. "The change is primarily one of time period, where all adults shifted in their attitudes."