Numerous studies over the years have attempted to establish the percentage of men and women who are homosexual, and the percentages vary from study to study. As noted earlier in the chapter, the 2011 National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG), based on in-person interviews of 13,495 individuals ages 15 to 44, found that 1.1% of women and 1.7% of men identified themselves as lesbian or gay. A greater percentage of respondents had experienced at least one same-sex contact in their lifetime—13% of women and 5.2% of men (Chandra et al., 2011).

The common synonym for homosexual is gay. The term has moved into popular use to describe homosexual men and women as well as the social and political concerns related to homosexual orientation. It has also come to be used, mainly by teens, as a negative label, as in "That is so gay!" (Caldwell, 2003). Pejorative words such as faggot, fairy, homo, queer, lezzie, and dyke have traditionally been used to demean homosexuality.

However, in certain gay and lesbian subcultures, some people use these terms with each other in positive or humorous ways (Bryant & Demian, 1998).

Many men and women born after 1970 call themselves queer and refer to queer culture to defuse the negativity of the word and blur the boundaries between subgroups of gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and all variations of transgendered people belonging to the "queer nation." The inclusive acronym LGBTQ—lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and questioning—is often used in discussions of civil rights for nonheterosexual people (Vary, 2006).