Half of Britain’s youth say they are neither gay nor straight, but somewhere in between, a new poll has found. And while nearly a third of people thought that sexuality was binary, gay or straight, nearly two in three people believe it to be a sliding scale.
The findings show how successful the Kinsey school of thought on sexuality – credited with sparking the sexual revolution of the 1960s – has been.
In a poll of 1632 people of all ages taken by YouGov last week, 89 percent of respondents classified themselves as heterosexual, while just six percent declared themselves gay or lesbian.
But that result was not uniform across all age groups: of those aged 60+, 96 percent were straight and just one percent were gay, while at the other end of the scale, 83 percent of 18-25 year olds were straight, and ten percent said they were gay. Similar figures were recorded for 26-39 year olds.
There were also differences between the sexes: 10 percent of all the male respondents identified as gay, whereas only two percent of women identified as lesbian.
But when asked to place themselves on the Kinsey Scale, which grades sexuality from 0, completely heterosexual to 6, completely homosexual, just 46 percent of 18 – 24 year olds placed themselves at 0. A further 6 percent said they were completely homosexual, whereas everyone else was somewhere on the scale.
By comparison, 88 per cent of those aged 60+ placed themselves at 0 on the scale, and for the overall population, including both those age groups, 72 percent said they were completely heterosexual.
The idea that sexuality can be measured on a sliding scale was first introduced in the 1940s by Alfred Kinsey in his landmark book Sexual Behaviour in the Human Male.
Kinsey wrote: “Males do not represent two discrete populations, heterosexual and homosexual. The world is not to be divided into sheep and goats. It is a fundamental of taxonomy that nature rarely deals with discrete categories… The living world is a continuum in each and every one of its aspects.”
The scale also featured in his follow-up book Sexual Behaviour in the Human Female, published five years later in 1953.
Kinsey has been both widely lauded and criticised over the years. His role in ushering in the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 70s has secured him a place in popular culture of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, but critics point to his own sexual proclivities, which they say undermined the objectivity of his work.
According to his biographer James Jones, although Kinsey was married, he and his wife had an open relationship, both sleeping with other partners which in Kinsey’s case included other gay men. He had affairs with his students and with research subjects, justified as necessary to gain the confidence of his subjects, as well as encouraging co-workers to sexually experiment with each other.
Jones also records that Kinsey had a long held habit of inserting objects into his urethra in order to punish himself for homoerotic feelings. Eventually he became so accustomed to the pain that he was able to circumcise himself without anaesthesia.
More controversially, in his book on male sexuality, Kinsey included data tables which reported the observations of orgasms in children between the ages of five months and fourteen years. He claimed that the data was collected through recollections of adults of their young sexual lives.
The data led anti-pornography campaigner Judith Reisman, in her 1990 book Kinsey, Sex and Fraud, to attack Kinsey’s “junk science” and allege that “Kinsey’s research involved illegal experimentation on several hundred children”.
In response, amid a growing furore, the Kinsey Institute was forced to admit that the data had been collected from just one source, a paedophile named Rex King who also indulged in incest and bestiality.
Yet despite the controversy, the conclusions to emerge from Kinsey’s work has become accepted as a cultural norm, as noted by YouGov analyst Will Dahlgreen. Commenting on the results of the poll, Dahlgreen noted that “With each generation, people see their sexuality as less fixed in stone.
“People of all generations now accept the idea that sexual orientation exists along a continuum rather than a binary choice – overall 60% of heterosexuals support this idea, and 73% of homosexuals. 28% of heterosexuals believe that ‘there is no middle ground – you are either heterosexual or you are not’.”
And while the majority still think of themselves as heterosexual, Dahlgreen said that people were more willing to open themselves up to the idea of homosexual activity. “Putting yourself at level 1 allows for the possibility of homosexual feelings and experiences,” he said.
In a further set of questions posed only to those who identified as straight, respondents were asked whether, “if the right person came along at the right time,” they could conceivably be attracted to, have a sexual experience with, or have a relationship with someone of the same sex.
“Level 1s were at least 35% more likely to say they could than level 0s,” said Dahlgreen. “More than anything, it indicates an increasingly open minded approach to sexuality.”