What Kinsey Really Said

by William H. DuBay

Forty years after sex researcher Alfred Kinsey told us that the world is not made up of two different kinds of people, gay and straight, we still read in the papers, "According to Kinsey, one out of ten (or one out of seven or five, depending on who is writing the piece) is homosexual." Such statements must have Kinsey spinning in his grave. Not only did he never make any such statements, he went out of his way to disclaim them.

The study that Kinsey and his colleagues published (Sexual Behavior in the Human Male in 1948 and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female in 1953) remains to date the largest and most significant study of human sexuality. Based on 16,000 in-depth personal interviews from the widest sampling of the general population, the Kinsey studies constitute most of what we know about homosexual behaviors.

Kinsey was not the first or the last to observe that "homosexual" is a label society has invented to stigmatize and control the behavior. He repeatedly condemned the practice of labelling people homosexual:

"The classification of sexual behavior as masturbatory, heterosexual, or homosexual, is, therefore, unfortunate if it suggests that only different types of persons seek out or accept each kind of sexual activity. There is nothing known in the anatomy or physiology of sexual response and orgasm which distinguishes masturbatory, heterosexual, or homosexual reactions...(Kinsey et al., 1953:446) It would clarify our thinking if the terms could be dropped completely out of our vocabulary (Kinsey et al., 1948:617).

"Males do not represent two discrete populations, heterosexual and homosexual... Only the human mind invents categories and tries to force facts into pigeonholes. The living world is a continuum in each and every one of its aspects...(Kinsey et al., 1948:639).

"It is amazing to observe how many psychologists and psychiatrists have accepted this sort of propaganda, and have come to believe that homosexual males and females are discretely different from persons who respond to natural stimuli. Instead of using these terms as substantives which stand for persons, or even as adjectives to describe persons, they may better be used to describe the nature of the overt sexual relations, or of the stimuli to which an individual erotically responds (Kinsey et al., 1948:616-617).

"In regard to sexual behavior, it has been possible to maintain this dichotomy only by placing all persons who are exclusively heterosexual in a heterosexual category and all persons who have any amount of experience with their own sex, even including those with the slightest experience, in a homosexual category... The attempt to maintain a simple dichotomy on these matters exposes the traditional biases which are likely to enter whenever the heterosexual or homosexual classification of an individual is involved" (Kinsey et al., 1953:468-469)

While emphasizing the continuity of gradations between exclusively homosexual and exclusively heterosexual histories, Kinsey proposed his heterosexual-homosexual rating scale, based on both overt and psychological experiences (Kinsey et al., 1948:638-41):

0. Exclusively heterosexual with no homosexual
1. Predominantly heterosexual, only incidental homosexual
2. Predominantly heterosexual, but more than incidentally homosexual
3. Equally heterosexual and homosexual
4. Predominantly homosexual but more than incidentally heterosexual
5. Predominantly homosexual, but incidentally heterosexual
6. Exclusively homosexual.

Kinsey summarized his findings (Kinsey et al., 1948:650-51) on the incidence of homosexual behavior among white males in the U.S. population in these words:

"37 per cent of the total male population has at least some overt homosexual experience to the point of orgasm between adolescence and old age. This accounts for nearly 2 males out of every 5 that one may meet.

"50 per cent of the males who remain single until age 35 have had overt homosexual experience to the point of orgasm, since the onset of adolescence.

"58 per cent of the males who belong to the group that goes into high school but not beyond, 50 per cent of the grade school level, and 47 per cent of the college level have had homosexual experience to the point of orgasm if they remain single to the age of 35.

"63 per cent of all males never have overt homosexual experience to the point of orgasm after the onset of adolescence.

"50 per cent of all males (approximately) have neither overt nor psychic experience in the homosexual after the onset of adolescence.

"13 per cent of the males (approximately) react erotically to other males without having overt homosexual contacts after the onset of adolescence.

"30 per cent of all males have at least incidental homosexual experience or reactions (i.e., rate 1-6) over at least a three-year period between the ages of 16 and 55. This accounts for one male out of every three in the population who is past the early years of adolescence.

"25 per cent of the male population has more than incidental homosexual experience or reaction (i.e., rates 2-6) for at least three years between the ages of 16 and 55. In terms of averages, one male out of approximately every four has had or will have such distinct and continued homosexual experience.

"18 per cent of the males have at least as much of the homosexual as the heterosexual in their histories (i.e. rate 3-6) for at least three years between the ages of 16 and 55. This is more than one in six of the white male population.

"13 per cent of the population has more of the homosexual than the heterosexual (i.e., rates 4-6) for at least three years between the ages of 16 and 55. This is one in eight of the white male population.

"10 per cent of the males are more or less exclusively homosexual (i.e., rate 5 or 6) for at least three years between the ages of 16 and 55. This is one male in ten in the white population.

"8 per cent of the males are exclusively homosexual (i.e. rate a 6) for at least three years between the ages of 16 and 55. This is one male in every 13.

"4 per cent of the white males are exclusively homosexual throughout their lives, after the onset of adolescence."

The findings on homosexual behaviors of females are slightly lower but equally impressive.

Kinsey drew our attention to the common practice of labelling "heterosexual" only those who are exclusively homosexual, but labelling "homosexual" anyone who has had even minimal homosexual experience. "The persons who are identified as 'homosexuals' in much of the legal and social practice," he wrote, "have rated anything between 1 and 6 on the above scale" (Kinsey et al., 1948:651).

Investigators of Kinsey's Institute for Sex Research confirmed this important observation (Bell et al., 1981:9). They found that the sexual behaviors of 1000 gay-identified persons in the San Francisco area ranged from two to six on the Kinsey scale, a range so broad as to include a full third of the population of this country. Whatever gay-identified persons have in common with one another, it is clearly not their sexual behavior but their adoption of the homosexual role.

Kinsey felt that the high incidence of homosexual activity among males of high school education was of particular importance:

"These are the males who most often condemn the homosexual, most often ridicule and express disgust for such activity, and most often punish other males for their homosexuality. And yet, this is the group which has the largest amount of homosexual activity... As a group these males may strenuously deny that their sexual contacts have anything to do with homosexuality; but the full and complete record indicates that many of them have stronger psychic reactions to other males than they care to admit. When they no longer find themselves being paid for such contacts, many of them begin paying other males for the privilege of sexual relations" (Kinsey et al., 1948:384).

Kinsey himself was surprised at the high incidence of homosexual behaviors in our society and continually challenged his own data. He finally concluded:

"Over a period of several years we were repeatedly assailed with doubts as to whether we were getting a fair cross section of the total population or whether a selection of cases was biasing the results. It has been our experience, however, that each new group into which we have gone has provided substantially the same data. Whether the histories were taken in one large city or another, whether they were taken in large cities or small towns, or in rural areas, whether they came from one college or from another, a church school or a state university or some private institution, whether they came from one part of the country or from another, the incidence data on the homosexual have been ore or less the same.

"While the validity of the data on all of the sexual outlets has been tested and retested throughout the study, especial attention has been given to testing the material on the homosexual" (Kinsey et al., 1948:625).

As to the origins of homosexual behaviors, Kinsey, like Freud, felt that all persons are born bisexual and one's sexual activities and pleasures depend on a wide variety of causes. Countless studies convinced him that any strong emotion can trigger sexual arousal. He wrote,

"The picture is that of the psychosexual emerging from a much more generalized and basic physiologic capacity which becomes sexual as the adult knows it, through experience and conditioning (Kinsey et al., 1953:165).

"Considering the physiology of sexual response and the mammalian backgrounds of human behavior, it is not so difficult to explain why a human animal does a particular thing sexually. It is more difficult to explain why each and every individual is not in every type of sexual activity...(Kinsey et al., 1953:451)

"I think that much of human sexual behavior is no more complicated than a person's likes or dislikes for particular foods, books, amusements, or anything else. Through it all, association is a very important factor. This means that what a person happens to do one time is avoided or repeated another time, depending upon the pleasure derived from the first experience (in Pomeroy, 1972:324).

"This problem, is after all, part of the broader problem of choices in general: the choice of the road that one takes, of the clothes that one wears, of the food that one eats, of the place in which one sleeps, and of the endless other things that one is constantly choosing. A choice of a partner in a sexual relation becomes more significant only because society demands that there be a particular choice in this matter, and does not so often dictate one's choice of food or of clothing" (Kinsey et al., 1948:661).

In a 1983 review of 228 major studies on sexual orientation published in 48 different journals, Psychologist John DeCecco and his colleagues at San Francisco State University found that the investigators were unable to define the term, much less come up with any evidence for its existence (Shively et al., 1983/84). This paper and others reinforced Kinsey's position that what makes an act homosexual is the object of the desire and not the subject. As Kinsey insisted, "If the term homosexual is restricted as it should be, the homosexuality or heterosexuality of any activity becomes apparent by determining the sexes of the two individuals in the relationship (Kinsey et al., 1948:615)."

In short, Kinsey gave us a picture of human sexuality quite different than the rigid categories of gay and straight propagated in the media. Instead, he gave us a picture of an astounding variety in human sexual experience, a variety, he insisted, that is quite unlike anything else in nature, a variety that physiological differences alone cannot explain.

Kinsey concluded his chapter on homosexuality in the "Male" volume with this paragraph:

"If all persons with any trace of homosexual history, or those who were predominantly homosexual, were eliminated from the population today, there is no reason for believing that the incidence of the homosexual in the next generation would be materially reduced. The homosexual has been a significant part of human sexual activity since the dawn of history, primarily because it is an expression of capacities that are basic in the human animal" (Kinsey et al., 1948:666).

William H. DuBay is a writer living in Poulsbo, Washington. His books include The Human Church, Doubleday, 1966, and Gay Identity: The Self Under Ban, McFarland, 1987.


Bell, A. P., Weinberg, M. S., and Hammersmith, S. K. Sexual Preference: Its Development in Men and Women. Bloomington, Indiana: University of Indiana Press, 1981.

Kinsey, A. C., Pomeroy, W. P., and Martin, C. E. Sexual Behavior in the Human Male. Philadelphia: Saunders, 1948.

______, _______, _______, and Gebhard, P. H. Sexual Behavior in the Human Female. Philadelphia: Saunders, 1953.

Pomeroy, W. B. Dr Kinsey and the Institute for Sex Resarch. New York: Harper & Row, 1972.

Shively, M. G., Jones, C., and De Cecco, J. P. "Research on Sexual Orientation." Journal of Homosexuality 9 (2/3), Winter/Spring 1983/84:127-36.

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First-Time Serial Rights © William H. DuBay, 2001. Reprinted with the permission of William H. DuBay.