Err, no, it’s not

Drawing on the widest survey of sexual behaviour since the Kinsey Report, David Spiegelhalter, in his book Sex By Numbers, answers key questions about our private lives. Here he reveals how Kinsey’s contested claim that 10% of us are gay is actually close to the mark.

When you wade through the explanation you end up with what we all generally knew. The 10% number is for those who have had a same sex experience, the 1-3% number is for those who are preferentially same sex over a decent period of time.

The reason we shouldn’t then say that 10% are gay is because there’s another number we need there. What percentage have had a heterosexual experience? If that’s 99% (say, just as an invention) then by our very same standard we’ve got 99% are heterosexual and 10% are homosexual. Doesn’t work, does it?

None of this has anything at all to do with rights of civil liberties of course. Consenting adults get to do what adults consent to and there’s an end to it.

12 thoughts on “Err, no, it’s not”

  1. It’s the problem you get into when you define “gay” as something you are, rather than same-sex activity which is something you do.

    There is lots of evidence that males forced into same-sex environments will indulge in same sex activity. Prisons, public schools. It’s nothing to do with “being” gay though.

  2. I don’t believe that ten per cent of people gave had a homosexual experience, and I went to boarding school where half the masters (in retrospect) were probably bent.

    The image of public schools as hotbeds of gayery is bollocks – we were robustly heterosexual and highly interested in the local female population (and they in us which was nice).

    So if ten per cent of my school chums didn’t do anything gay, and I’m sure they didn’t, where was all this happening?

  3. How old are you, Interested? I get the feeling that the rife gheyness was an historical phenomenon of Victorianism.

  4. Int-

    Well, Victorianism lasted long after the Victorian period. But I think it was extinct by the time we were young (I’m 49).

  5. So Much for Subtlety

    It is worse than most people think:

    Kinsey’s headline finding was that “at least 37% of the male population has some homosexual experience between the beginning of adolescence and old age”, meaning physical contact to the point of orgasm. He claimed that 13% of males were predominately homosexual for at least three years between the ages of 16 and 55 (scoring at least 4) and that 4% of males were exclusively homosexual all their lives (scoring 6).

    37%? There’s b0ll0cks and then there’s b0ll0cks.

    There really just are no Gay people in the world to a first order approximation.

    But I do like the admission that 1. laws work to deter and 2. they know the 10% figure is nonsense but they use it anyway.

  6. There’s no reason to trust Kinsey’s estimates, but equally no reason to think modern surveys are getting this far wrong. I trust the data Spiegelhalter reports (he is a thoroughly reliable statistician).

    No one should trust a newspaper subhead to summarize the following article accurately.

  7. Yeah but if there was only 3% of the population who are ‘something’ then how are the ‘Something Support’ charities going to get their ‘donations’ from the taxpayer?

    That’s why one in five of us is mentally ill and – according to a Graun article recently – 5% of us suffer from gender dismorphia. Although for the latter, to say ‘suffer’ is wrong, because it’s a real thing and definitely not because they are mental…

  8. Philip Scott Thomas

    IanB –

    “It’s the problem you get into when you define “gay” as something you are, rather than same-sex activity which is something you do.”

    Kinda sorta yes. I reckon, though, it’s more like defining “gay” as which sex one is actually attracted to and wanks over versus which sex is willing to use to get oneself off.

  9. Kinsey also found that 26% of men and women are erotically aroused by being bitten, so there’s your next Guardian campaign.

  10. So Much for Subtlety

    PaulB – “There’s no reason to trust Kinsey’s estimates, but equally no reason to think modern surveys are getting this far wrong. I trust the data Spiegelhalter reports (he is a thoroughly reliable statistician).”

    So just to make Paul B’s claim clear, Spiegelhalter supports NATSAL:

    Let’s start with sexual identity. The National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (Natsal) is the most reliable source of information on what Britons do in private, and has taken place every 10 years since 1990. Natsal-3, from around 2010, asked which “best describes how you think of yourself”: a) heterosexual/straight; b) gay/lesbian; c) bisexual, d) other?

    Over an age-range from 16 to 74, 1% of women and 1.5% of men consider themselves gay/lesbian, and 1.4% of women and 1% of men think of themselves as bisexual.

    There are likely to be more coarse fishermen in Britain than gay people. We should ignore them.

  11. What percentage have had a heterosexual experience? If that’s 99%…

    There are plenty of weird, ugly, unattractive men in the world. I suspect a good few % of men have never had sex at all.

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