The Kinsey Scale is a research tool used to report an individual’s sexual orientation based on their sexual histories, including any sexual behaviors, thoughts, and feelings throughout their life.
The Kinsey scale was developed by Drs. Alfred Kinsey, Wardell Pomeroy, and Clyde Martin. The first findings using this tool were reported and published in the best-selling and then-controversial Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948) and later in Sexual Behavior of the Human Female (1953), which are now known collectively as the Kinsey Reports.
History and Origin of the Kinsey Scale
Kinsey believed that human sexuality is fluid, that sexual and romantic attraction did not exist merely as heterosexual or homosexual, and that sexual behaviours and feelings could change over time. His research reflects this belief.
Prior to Kinsey, any study of sexuality was a medical venture. Kinsey, then a biologist, was determined to make the study of sex a legitimate and respected science in its own right. To bring the Kinsey scale and the groundbreaking Kinsey Institute research it bolstered to the masses, Kinsey and his colleagues conducted thousands of interviews, with Kinsey himself conducting over 8000 of them.
How the Kinsey Scale works
Also known as the Heterosexual-Homosexual Rating Scale, the Kinsey scale system of rating sexual orientation works on a seven-point scale, ranging from 0 to 6 with an additional category of “X.”
0 denotes someone who is exclusively heterosexual (i.e. attracted to the opposite sex) while 6 denotes exclusively homosexual (i.e. sexually attracted to the same sex). Ratings 1-5 broke the otherwise bisexual category down into the more varying degrees to which one may feel attracted to the same and opposite sex, and “X” was assigned to anyone who reported “no socio-sexual contacts or reactions” at the time of their interview.
Kinsey Scale Rating System
0: Exclusively heterosexual
1: Predominantly heterosexual, only incidentally homosexual
2: Predominantly heterosexual, but more than incidentally homosexual
3: Equally heterosexual and homosexual
4: Predominantly homosexual, but more than incidentally heterosexual
5: Predominantly homosexual, only incidentally heterosexual
6: Exclusively homosexual
X: No socio-sexual contacts or reactions
Kinsey’s research also showed that sexual attraction, behaviour, thoughts, and feelings were not always consistent across time. An individual subject could report different scores at different points in their life. This further affirmed their assumption of a fluid continuum with regard to human sexuality.
One can self-report their number based on the description of each category. However, there is no official Kinsey “test”. The Kinsey scale numbers were assigned by the researchers to their interview subjects based on the information provided during the interview process. It is not a diagnosis of one’s sexual orientation but an indicator of the trends observed by researchers in a research setting, and as such is subject to limitations.
The Limitations of the Kinsey Scale
There are still limitations to the Kinsey scale. It does not account for all possible sexual identities and assumes a cisnormative sex and gender binary, which does not account for the possibility of a test subject being anything besides a cis man or cis woman. This overlooks and undercuts the existence of transgender, non-binary, and other gender-nonconforming people as well as intersex individuals.
Kinsey’s research also does not distinguish between different styles of attraction, thereby blending sexual and romantic attraction as one single phenomenon, nor does it distinguish very well between one’s sexual behaviours and tendencies for attraction. These conflations reduce the nuances of different attraction models and do not speak to the different ways humans connect with themselves and others.
As such, the Kinsey scale may not have a positive effect on every individual who finds it. Due to these limitations, the scale could further confuse or alienate someone. However, the Kinsey scale has proven a powerfully simple tool to help many begin their journey to explore or better understand the nuances of their sexuality and sexual experiences.
Other Sexual Orientation Scales
Since the Kinsey scale was first used, other more sophisticated grading tools have been developed to address more variables in the human sexual experience. Notable amongst these other tests are the Klein Sexual Orientation Grid, the Storms Scale, and the Sell Assessment of Sexual Orientation (SASO).
The Klein Sexual Orientation Grid
Developed by Fritz Klein in 1978, the Klein Sexual Orientation Grid asks questions based on seven categories: sexual behavior, sexual attraction, sexual fantasies, emotional preference, social preference, lifestyle, and self-identification factors. It also accounts for the past, present, and “ideal” responses from the individual.
The Storms Sexuality Axis
Created by Michael D. Storms in 1980, the Storms Sexuality Axis builds on the Kinsey scale’s by conceptualizing it over both x and y axes. His expansion made more room for the categories of bisexuality and asexuality.
Sell Assessment of Sexual Orientation
The SASO test was developed by Dr. Sell in 1996. This test breaks sexual orientation down into three categories: sexual attraction, history of sexual contact, and sexual identity. By asking a series of 12 questions, this test places an individual’s sexual orientation somewhere on a scale.
Today, more than 200 scales exist to measure, describe, and report on the expression of human sexual orientation.
The Kinsey Scale’s legacy
Despite its current limitations, the Kinsey scale was a groundbreaking and pioneering development for its time. The results of the Kinsey Institute’s research challenged the beliefs and perceptions of human sexuality held by society and contemporary medical science alike.
Not only did Kinsey’s research acknowledge that sexuality exists on a spectrum rather than within a set few boxes, it affirmed that women are sexual beings as much as their male counterparts. It indicated that any individual can exist somewhere between the two polarities, thereby accounting for some of the fluidity of the queer experience. It also recognized that one’s expression of their sexuality can be subject to change over time, all of which paved the way for more nuanced and refined research to follow.
Furthermore, including the rating of X to note any individuals who experienced no sexual attraction, thereby acknowledging asexuality as a possible valid sexual identity rather than a mere sexual dysfunction had its merits for future affirmation of the asexual spectrum.
Ultimately, the success of the Kinsey Reports established the study of human sexuality as an important field of research and helped support feminist and queer liberation movements. While it may reduce individuals to a number for research purposes, it does not assign a level of normalcy to any possible grade nor does it attempt to prescribe treatment to anyone based on their results. Every rating is equally valid and wherever one may fall on the scale is just as normal as any other.