Dr Alfred Kinsey was a landmark figure in our community history, as one of the first scientific voices to lend evidential weight to debunk claims that homosexuality was abnormal. Based on interviews with thousands of subjects, he developed a spectrum of human sexuality with what became known as the Kinsey scale.
Kinsey, the 2004 biopic by gay director Bill Condon, depicted the man as a fascinating figure, a man obsessed by his work, sometimes to his detriment, yet his enthusiasm was so pervasive he dragged everyone along – students, his bosses at the university, and his family. He was a social and sexual liberal in a time of stifling puritanic conservatism. Before Kinsey became interested in human sexuality, he was studying gall wasps. He applied the same meticulous investigative methods to the study of both subjects. He was interested in every variant of human sexual behaviour, and set out to document it.
The first publication to stem from these interviews was the 1948 book Sexual Behaviour In The Human Male. Kinsey discovered that the scale of human sexual behaviour was much wider than had been assumed. He devised a seven-point scale of sexuality to document this diversity, with “0” being exclusively heterosexual and “7” exclusively homosexual. Based on their recounted sexual histories in interviews, Kinsey was able to place each of his subjects at a point somewhere on this scale.
Kinsey said in his writings that it was impossible to determine the number of people who were heterosexual or homosexual, only to determine sexual behaviour at certain points in time. Nevertheless, certain percentage figures from Kinsey’s book have echoed down the ages, the most famous being the “10% of men are homosexual” which is still quoted today.
Subsequent studies have shown that 10% is probably too high a figure, and if Kinsey were still alive, he’d agree because he never said it in the first place. He actually stated that 10 per cent of his sample were “more or less exclusively homosexual (ie rate 5 or 6) for at least three years between the ages of 16 and 55”. In terms of exclusive homosexuality, Kinsey’s sample had a prevalence rate of 4% for men. Such statistics have become highly political over the years, as noted by the authors of the 1994 study Sexual Behaviour in Britain. Most people are heterosexual, so it’s a given that gays and lesbians are a deviation from the statistical norm, but: “While deviation from a statistical norm might properly be termed diversity… deviation from a moral norm denotes perversion – a term heavily laden with opprobrium.”
Religion has attempted for centuries to dictate moral norms for society, but it is only recently that the fruits of their labours have warranted their very own set of statistics. A 2005 study by Gregory Paul published in The Journal of Religion and Society set out to test the hypothesis that high rates of religious practice correlate with lower rates of crime, promiscuity and abortion. It found precisely the opposite. In particular, the USA was by far the most striking example of a prosperous democracy with high religious belief, a seriously dysfunctional society, and high rates of sexually transmitted diseases.
What’s more, a study published in The Journal of Adolescent Health that same year discovered that fundamentalist American teens who sign “abstinence pledges” were six times more likely to have engaged in oral sex than their non-pledging counterparts. Boys were four times more likely to successfully embark on an anal odyssey with girlfriends.
However in the final analysis, it was not statistics that advanced the battle for gay/lesbian civil rights in New Zealand – it was common sense and humanity. People couldn’t ignore the evidence of their very own eyes. A majority of politicians and the public simply looked around them and realised that GLBT people were their sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, mothers, and fathers. And discriminating against your family isn’t the best way to promote family values, is it?
Kinsey’s pioneering work shed light on this fact, regardless of the numbers involved, and this challenge to religious orthodoxy was too much for some to stand. It seems they’d rather we all were kept in the dark about the scientific facts of human nature.
| Chris Banks