This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 16 table of contents.


In the 1940s and 1950s, pioneering sex researcher Alfred Kinsey shocked the American public by reporting that over 50% of all men had experienced homosexual episodes during early adolescence and adulthood, and 10% of the public was homosexual in orientation during adulthood. Modern surveys suggest the correct figure is about 5% if you define homosexuality by repeated homosexual contacts during adulthood. The figure drops to 1.5% if the question is "Are you currently involved in a lasting homosexual relationship." So the answer to the question, "How common is homosexuality," can range from 1.5% to over 50%, depending on how you define the term.

What are various estimates of the frequency of homosexuality? What scale did Kinsey propose?

Kinsey is also famous for proposing a scale on which sexuality could be rated as homosexual, heterosexual, or something in between. A bisexual person, who seeks and desires both types of sex, would be in the middle of the scale.

Many psychologists believe a homosexual orientation is natural for some people and not a sickness or abnormality. Certainly there are many homosexuals who feel this way. A famous researcher, Evelyn Hooker, wrote:

The majority of [homosexuals] I have interviewed believe that they were born as homosexuals, or that familial factors operating very early in their lives determined the outcome. In any case, it is a fate over which they have no control, and in which they have no choice. It follows as a consequence that the possibility of changing to a heterosexual pattern is thought to be extremely limited. To fight against homosexuality is to fight against the inevitable since they are fighting against their own "nature" in its essential form, as they experience it. They believe that homosexuality is "natural" for them, as heterosexuality is for others. (Hooker, 1967, p.183)

What is homophobia?

This does not prevent some people from feeling very threatened by, and hateful of, homosexuality. Homophobia is an exaggerated hatred of homosexuals. It is distinct from disapproval based on religious or moral grounds. Like other phobias, homophobia is irrational and intense and may disturb normal behavior.

What is one provocative explanation for homophobia?

Some psychologists explain homophobia by arguing that people who are sexually confused or attracted to both sexes must fight off same-sex attractions in order to feel normal. If mental defenses against same-sex attraction are failing, a person feels compelled to "shore up the defenses." This is done by developing an exaggerated defensive reaction: homophobia. If true, this would be an example of the defense mechanism Freud called reaction formation.

In other words, homophobic people might be fighting off any traces of homosexual feelings within themselves. This line of reasoning predicts that a secure heterosexual will be less homophobic than a person who is insecure in sexual orientation. That is a challenging thesis. To prove it, you would need ways of measuring feelings hidden under layers of strong defenses. So this argument is likely to remain provocative but unproved.

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