April 23, 2011

Kinsey And The 10 Percent Homosexuality Myth

Determining statistics on homosexuality was challenging back in Kinsey's time, and is still controversial.

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Ah, that old “10 percent” figure is back in the news, and I do believe that Alfred Kinsey (who died in 1956), would be out in the blogosphere ranting about this oversimplification of his findings on homosexuality.

In 1947, Kinsey published the landmark book on human sexuality, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male.  This best seller included interviews with over 5500 men.   In this shocking report on sex, the authors revealed that the sexual lives of Americans were more diverse than anyone had dared to admit. This volume is the source of the now-mythic statistic that 10% of men are homosexual.

The actual “10%” number represents the percentage of Kinsey’s male sample who had been in “more or less exclusively homosexual relationships for the previous 3 years.” Of the over 5,000 men interviewed, 37% had had ANY homosexual contact to orgasm in their lives, and about 4% had ONLY had homosexual contact in their lives.

These numbers differed in the female sample, later published in Sexual Behavior in the Human Female in 1953: 2-6% reported being lesbians for the previous 3 years, 13% had had some same sex contact, and 1-3% had only had same sex relations.

Repeat it often and it becomes a fact

In the 1970’s, leaders in the gay liberation movement picked up the 10% figure and ran with it. It was indeed a part of Kinsey’s research, and it had a nice ring to it.
The challenge today is counting the LGBT population, like counting households, marriages, income, etc.  One the other hand, for the sake of public health, it is important to know what people actually do sexually, as well as how they define their sexual orientation.

For more on numbers and sexual orientation, check out the “Kinsey Scale” and UCLA’s Williams Institute’s summary of LGBT statistics.