Internet dating sites, with their outdated photos and false claims about time spent at the gym, haven't historically been the most reliable information sources. But the online matchmaker OK Cupid has gotten attention in recent weeks for some surprising results that turned up in an analysis of its users' profiles and match searches. Using the site's 3.2 million members as a data pool, OK Cupid found that, contrary to stereotype, its gay users were no more promiscuous than its straight users. In fact, the median number of total sex partners for all its members, regardless or gender or sexual orientation, was the same: six.
That suggests that singleness isn't as swinging as is commonly believed. Forty-five percent of OK Cupid's gay members and 44% of its straight users have had five or fewer partners. Even more striking, the data showed that a mere 2% of gays using the service have 23% of the reported gay sex. In other words, a promiscuous few are sullying the reputations of the much more monogamous many. (Think of it as the gay version of what "Sex and the City" did to public perceptions of single women in New York.)
As the last gasp of "don't ask, don't tell" reverberates through the courts, Congress and the Pentagon (and, most recently, recruitment offices, which as of Wednesday were forbidden, for awhile at least, to turn away enlistees who identified themselves as gay), it's hard not to apply the OK Cupid findings to the issue of gays in the military. The long-standing argument against allowing openly gay troops is that it would threaten trust and "unit cohesion." Marine Corps Gen. James T. Conway (who retires Thursday) said in a Fox News interview last week that 95% of Marines would be uncomfortable serving alongside openly gay soldiers because it would "cause potential problems with regard to their order and discipline."
If Conway was cagey about the meaning of "potential problems," a Wall Street Journal op-ed earlier this year by Mackubin Thomas Owens, editor of the Foreign Policy Research Institute's journal Orbis, dared to spell out his own definition at least. "The glue of the military ethos," he wrote, " is what the Greeks called philia — friendship, comradeship or brotherly love.... The presence of open homosexuals in the close confines of ships or military units opens the possibility that eros … will be unleashed into the environment." The result would be "sexual competition, protectiveness and favoritism."
Putting aside for a moment how ill advised it is to invoke the ancient Greeks when taking any kind of stand against homosexuals, what are we to make of Owens' main argument, which is that love and war — or even love and infatuation — don't mix? Perhaps that's a question for heterosexual men and women currently serving alongside each other in many units and by and large coping just fine with all that unleashed straight erotic potential.
Maybe the real "potential problem" isn't that a gay (or straight) soldier would sacrifice the unit for his beloved (or crush object.) Maybe there's another more primordial fear at work here: that gays have an agenda, that they prey on straights.
Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center, a research institute at UC Santa Barbara whose studies support the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," told me he sees such notions as a cover for a subtext of "moral judgments and sexual disgust." Cover or not, though, the Family Research Council found the idea compelling enough to hold a news conference in May called "How Overturning 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' Will Increase Sexual Assaults in the Military."
Which brings us back to OK Cupid. If its data can tell us anything, it has to be who is hitting on whom. And guess what: The infamous gay agenda is nowhere in evidence. In more than 4 million match searches, just 0.6% of gay men have ever searched for straight men, and just 0.1% of lesbians have ever searched for straight women. Moreover, not a single gay Ok Cupid client searched primarily for straight people as potential partners or casual hookups.
However, not all of OK Cupid's findings bode so well for American fortitude and global competitiveness. In a wildcard question, 642,533 of its 3.2 million users were asked which was bigger, Earth or the sun. Five percent of men and 10% of women, gay and straight, chose Earth.
Perhaps not asking and not telling does have its place. At any rate, I think we've finally discovered a group of people who absolutely, positively shouldn't be in the military.