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A new study shows just how rapidly America has come to accept homosexuality after centuries of, at best, discomfort.

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In "Changes in American Adults’ Reported Same-Sex Sexual Experiences and Attitudes, 1973–2014," published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior this week, three psychologists plot the acceptance of homosexual behavior, using previously unanalyzed data from the General Social Survey of Americans, which is administered annually by the University of Chicago. Here's the chart they came up with showing overall acceptance alongside rates of reported homosexual behavior among men and women.

By 2014, 49% of American adults believed that same-sex sexual activity was “not wrong at all,” up from 11 % in 1973 and 13% in 1990, the paper says.

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In an email, paper co-author Jean Twenge, of the San Diego State University psychology department, and author of Generation Me, said the sudden turnaround in public sentiment that began in the early '90s could have begun earlier but was delayed by the AIDS crisis. In general, she said, Western culture's increasing emphasis on individualism and self-expression has allowed for the embrace of different sexualities and lifestyles.

"The modern idea is 'do what's right for you,' and that has meant more freedom for people to engage in same-sex sexuality and accept it among others," she said.

The authors also derived a few other major findings about homosexuality—most significantly, more people are having, or admitting to, same-sex relationships:

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  • The share of men reporting homosexual relationships increased to 8.2% in the early 2010s from 4.5% in the early '90s
  • The share of women increased to 8.7% from 3.6% over the same time period.
  • Bisexual behavior (having sex with both male and female partners) increased from 3.1 to 7.7 %

While these numbers reflect evolving attitudes about gay and bisexual sex, it only explains part of what's happened, the study's authors note.

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Another explanation: The rise of so-called hookup culture. Millennial women (born between 1982 and 1996) had the greatest share of same-sex relationships, at 12.37%. Hookup culture, the authors write, "provides opportunities (and perhaps pressure) for sexual behavior between women, ranging from women kissing in public for male entertainment to threesomes." They continue:

This suggests a possible performance effect or ‘‘lesbian until graduation’’ effect for recent cohorts in which women engage in sex with other women while young (often in college) and subsequently have sex with men (e.g., Diamond, 2003, 2008).This trend does not appear for men’s same-sex experiences.

Millennial men tied with their "Silent Generation" grandparents for fewest same-sex partner share, at 7.54%. In an email, Twenge clarified that this purported hookup culture was less about number of partners and more about experimentation. While more people are saying they've had same-sex relationships, across all eras 4% of men and 5% of women say they've had bisexual experiences, compared with 1.7% of men and .9% of women who've exclusively had same-sex relationships.

"People are getting married later, which leaves more years for sex with different partners," Twenge said. "The interesting thing is we found in a previous paper using this same dataset that Millennials have fewer sexual partners than Boomers did. So they have fewer partners, but more of these partners are of the same sex. So I think the main story isn't more partners or hookups, but that people feel more free to have sex with partners of the same sex.

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Rob covers business, economics and the environment for Fusion. He previously worked at Business Insider. He grew up in Chicago.