Incidence, Frequency, and the Kinsey 0-6 Scale of Homosexuality

Soon after Alfred Kinsey began tabulating the sex data he was collecting in the 1940's it became obvious that several new modes of analyzing it would be necessary, both for clarity and to avoid confusion. For instance, to show how easy and feasible homosexual contacts are for "the human animal" as Kinsey liked to say, it was necessary to determine their incidence -- that is, how many people's sex histories contained at least one such experience to the point of orgasm.

Likewise, an accumulative incidence figure was needed to indicate what percentage of the histories reflected at least one such homosexual experience by each age (a gradually rising curve since additional individuals each year "come out" or try out such activity). These group data also made it possible to draw a curve that would accurately estimate how many subjects would eventually have at least one overt homosexual experience. As Kinsey put it, "at least 37% of the male population has some homosexual experience between the beginning of adolescence and old age.... This is more than one male in three of the persons that one may meet as he passes along a city street."

But of course, a single experience does not a homosexual make (even though a sizable portion of lay observers has always been ready to assume so). Nor, in any case, does an incidence figure reflect when and how often homosexual experiences may be repeated -- thus the need for some measure of frequency. Frequency figures were determined by ascertaining in each history how many and how often homosexual contacts (to the point of orgasm) were experienced by or before age fifteen, as well as during each five-year period thereafter, through age fifty-five.

However, since homosexuality can exist as a psychological response (sometimes in the absence of any kind of overt activity of the kinds noted by incidence or frequency figures), Kinsey also devised his famous Heterosexual-Homosexual scale from 0 to 6;

0 = entirely heterosexual
1 = largely heterosexual, but with incidental homosexual history
2 = largely heterosexual, but with a distinct homosexual history
3 = equally heterosexual and homosexual
4 = largely homosexual, but with a distinct heterosexual history
5 = largely homosexual, but with incidental heterosexual history
6 = entirely homosexual

As indicated, this scale not only takes into account differences in the balance between heterosexual and homosexual actions, but also allows an investigator to consider "psychologic reactions" in arriving at each rating. Thus, two people might be rated "6" for being exclusively homosexual, with one of them living out his or her experiences, while the other might have as little as no overt activity of this kind -- for reasons ranging from moral inhibitions to simply a lack of opportunity.

Ordinarily, it is easy to arrive at a single rating for a person's mental and physical responses. But whenever the two are in sharp discord (such as when a man has most or all of his sexual activity with women, but requires homosexual fantasies to actually reach orgasm) there is much to criticize in the compromises implicit in the 0-6 scale. (To such complaints Kinsey simply pointed out that while such rating difficulties and imperfections are, indeed, apparent in some cases, it is nevertheless useful, the best rating device so far, and that more is gained by using than by ignoring it.)

The combination of applying these measures of incidence, of frequency, and of placement on the 0-6 Scale (tabulated yearly or for a lifetime) not only permitted the Kinsey Research to cast out oversimplified stereotypes long used in defining heterosexual and homosexual variations, but to offer a variety of samples of its white male population, among them that:

58 percent of the males who belong to the group that goes into high school but not beyond, 59 percent of the grade school level, and 47 percent of the college level have had homosexual experience to the point of orgasm if they remain single to the age of 35.

13 percent of males react erotically to other males without having overt homosexual contacts after the onset of adolescence. (This 13 percent, coupled with the 37 percent who do have overt homosexual experience, means that a full 50 percent of males have at least some sexual response to other males after adolescence -- and conversely, that only the other 50 percent of the male population is entirely heterosexual throughout life.)

25 percent of the male population has more than incidental homosexual experience or reactions (i.e. rates 2-6) for at least three years between the ages of 16 and 55.

18 percent of males have at least as much homosexual as heterosexual in their histories (i.e. rate 3-6) for at least three years between the ages of 16 and 55.

13 percent of the male population has more homosexual than heterosexual experience (i.e. rates 4-6) for at least three years between the ages of 16 and 55.

8 percent of males are exclusively homosexual (i.e. rate 6) for at least three years between the ages of 16 and 55.

4 percent of males are exclusively homosexual throughout their lives after the onset of adolescence.

Here, as elsewhere, data concerning homosexuality is cited for males rather than females, not out of "male bias" but mainly because equivalent female data often cannot be understood without extensive additional explanation. Orgasm, for instance, is fundamental to virtually all overt male sexuality, while with females, psychological arousal, overt sexual action, and actual orgasm are often disconcertingly apart. In fact, orgasm is reached in only about half of female homosexual contacts (and in a still smaller portion of female heterosexual contacts).

Moreover, female sexuality tends to be far more pliant, and thus more changeable, than equivalent male responses. Thus while the sexual revolution made no appreciable change in the male percentages mentioned above, certain changes in female responses, especially regarding homosexual try-outs, have been noted subsequent to Kinsey's 1953 findings. The reasons for these and a host of other complex matters in both male and female sexuality continue to intrigue sex researchers, and continue to validate the Kinsey 0-6 scale as a much needed and appreciated measuring and descriptive device.

by C.A. Tripp
(Copyright 1990 Wayne R. Dynes. Reprinted from "The Encyclopedia of Homosexuality" (New York, 1990))