1) The reason why HIV took hold so quickly in the gay community is to do with what is sometimes called the ‘gay lifestyle’: highly promiscuous, lots of sex with lots of partners (and by ‘lots’ I mean dozens or even hundreds per month), along with a high consumption of alcohol and other drugs. And all sexually transmitted infections, but most noticeably the more unusual ones (HIV, syphilis and lymphogranuloma venereum) will spread more readily under such conditions. And you’d think that catching these nasty illnesses would cause people to stop and realise that there’s something toxic about the way that they’re living – but most of them don’t.
But there’s a danger when talking about a ‘gay lifestyle’ that we assume that all gay people behave like this. They don’t. I go to professional conferences and see presentations from people working in places like London and Brighton on how they deal with these highly promiscuous individuals. But we see relatively few of them in Reading. Perhaps they gravitate to those places (like Brighton and central London) where there are large gay communities, and live there. But in leafy Berkshire, if you have gay neighbours next door, in all probability they are not much different from your heterosexual neighbours on the other side. When civil partnerships were first recognised in 2005, a lot of gay couples took the opportunity to put their faithful, long-term relationships onto a legal footing (and thus put many heterosexual couples to shame).
2) How common is homosexuality? The National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (NATSAL) is probably our most accurate and up-to-date source of information. According to the most recent survey, 8% of men reported having ever had a sexual experience of any kind (not necessarily full sex) with another man. Now this isn’t the same as ‘being’ homosexual; many of these ‘experiences’ would have been either a brief experiment, or an unwanted encounter. When asked a more specific question – whether they had had a male partner within the past 5 years – only 2.5% answered ‘yes’. For women, the figures for sex with other women were very slightly higher. Some of these people would also have had heterosexual partners during the same time period. So a reasonable ‘working figure’ might be 2-2.5% of the population, And not all of these will be exclusively homosexual. There are a substantial proportion who are bisexual – which means they are attracted to both men and women.
So it’s a small minority of people for whom homosexuality is a personal issue, rather than a theoretical one. And this, I think, is the real problem. As one of the 98% who cannot even imagine what it’s like to have a same-sex attraction, let alone feel tempted to act upon it, I find it difficult to sympathise with impulses and behaviours that seem to me to be so obviously un-natural. And I am not alone. In Christian circles, it often seems as if We, the comfortable heterosexual majority, are discussing amongst ourselves what to do about Them. Like the 99 sheep of Jesus’ parable, we’re safe and snug in the field. So it’s worth noting that the Shepherd was particularly concerned about the missing one – the one who got cut off from the rest of the flock.