How reliable were Alfred Kinsey's figures in his books on American sexuality?

In Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948) and the following book on female sexuality in 1953 Kinsey and his colleagues, based on the interviews they had conducted, drew many general conclusions about the sexual experiences of the average American in that era: so many per cent had engaged in pedophilia, so many per cent in zoophilia, coprophilia, etc, besides more normal sexual practices such as heterosexual, homosexual sex.

But how sound are Kinsey’s conclusions about the sexuality of the average American of that time? It strikes me that the people who took part in Kinsey’s study and answered the searching and frank questions about their sexuality would not be your average John Q or Joan Q Public. It was a repressed era and I’m willing to bet most Americans would not have volunteered information to Kinsey about such intensely private matters and that those who would consent to take part in the study would be people more likely to have engaged in diverse sexual behavior and more comfortable answering frank questions about it.

In other words what Kinsey produced was not Sexual Behavior in the Human Male but Sexual Behavior in Those Human Males Willing to Discuss The Most Private Areas of Their Sex Lives, a very different book, and one from which it would be very difficult if not impossible to draw any sound conclusion on the sexuality of the average American.

Were these concerns raised at the time and if so how did Kinsey address them?

Why would you conclude that? Others would say those who would consent to take part in the study would be people LESS likely to have engaged in diverse sexual behavior.

It would depend on how confidentiality was assured.

When I was growing up, I was taught many times that 10% of the population is homosexual, and “the Kinsey study” was always given as the source for this information. This was incorrect. Kinsey never found or reported the 10% of the population figure.

As the OP noted, Kinsey published two well-known studies, one about men and one about women, both based on survey results. For males, Kinsey estimated that 8% were exclusively homosexual for part of their adult lives, and 4% were exclusively homosexual for their entire adult lives. A larger percentage had some homosexual experience. Among females, figures were smaller for all of these questions. There was a margin of error on all these figures.

More recent research gives figures of between 1 and 2 percent homosexual, and between 0 and 1 percent bisexual for both genders. So Kinsey’s numbers regarding homosexuality and bisexuality were too high, and sample bias as described in the OP probably played a role. Regarding other topics besides sexual orientation I haven’t read anything, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a similar bias was evident.

Oh you mean the guy who actively covered up pedophiles for his “researches”.

Here’s John Tukey, who knew a thing or two about statistics if anyone ever did:

“A random selection of three people would have been better than a group of 300 chosen by Mr. Kinsey”.

If you follow the NPR link in your link you’ll see an interview with a demographics guy who says that Kinsey never made the claim that 10% of people were homosexual, only that 10% of the people he interviewed were. He never claimed that was a proper randomized survey which indicated the percentage in the general population.

Kinsey Institute’s brief summary of US studies

Generally I think of Kinsey like Freud. An important pioneer, but certainly not the last word

At the very least, an inaccurate statistical and scientific analysis is a step up from earlier working theories that the key element at play was demonic possession.

The era which gave us the Pill and Playboy?

He published 6 years before Playboy and 12 years before the Pill was approved as a contraceptive. Also, those were both heterosexual endeavors .

Whatever his accuracy, Kinsey’s numbers were infinitely* better than the numbers existent before his.

And Playboy was as big a deal as Kinsey - Hefner fought several court cases of “obscene” and “indecent”. He put the whole ‘definition of pornography’ discussion in play.

This was an age when “dirty” books were mailed in “Plain Brown Wrapper” because of US Postal Inspectors really did prosecute people who mailed pornography.

And, if a homosexual story was found, all hell broke loose. Long after heterosexual stuff could include pictures.

    • actually, it is an undefined operation. What is any number as a ratio to zero?

From what i understand and have read, roughly 2.8% of the population is gay and thats been consistent for roughly 100 years. I studied this issue on and off over a 2-4 year period. Identical Twin Studies (twins with 100% same DNA) done by 5 countries show born gay is highly questionable as well. There’s a lot more gray area than the pro gay crowd would ever tolerate being said publicly but science and psychology have known for 100 years already. Its a civil rights issue so they are silent.

I’m not sure what the point of that last part is. Even if it was proved that homosexuality is 100% an acquired characteristic… so what? Why should it be subject to legislation?

Similarly, no matter what conclusions we draw about gender (i.e. male vs female), why do we need legislation about it?

Kinsey published the first book in 1948, based on research carried out in the years previous. The Pill and Playboy were from the next decade and it would not be until the 60s that the US started to treat sex less puritanically.

Its quite revealing how crude and incorrect his statistical methods were. It shows how recent the statistical methods that are now considered the basis of science really are.

He actually didn’t believe statistical sampling, as we know it today, at all and thought (based on his background in surveying insect life) that is was more important to get samples of the different varieties you are studying, rather than a representative cross section of the population.

Hence his figures are generally considered to be way off the mark.

Because there has historically been a correlation between those willing to talk about sex and those willing to experiment with sex. I don’t know if this is natural or due to how religion and sex intertwine here in the U.S.

I will say this–I’ve never met a single person who likes to talk about sex that only prefers vanilla missionary style sex in the context of a committed marriage. And I know that one of the things that was so “scandalous” about gay people was how open they were about sex–it’s why to this day some people have problems with Gay Pride parades.