Should our moral reasoning about homosexuality be affected by how often homosexuality occurs?
Since the release of the widely publicized Kinsey studies in the 1940’s and 50’s, estimates of the prevalence of homosexuality have played a central role in debates about homosexuality. Many places have reported that "10% of the adult population is homosexual” including scientific literature, professional literature and even church documents.
Findings about prevalence are typically brought into the moral debate for one of two purposes:
The 10% statistic became popular in the late 1970’s as the pro-gay movement sought to legitimize homosexuality and equate it with other minority rights issues. But the 10% statistic began to be widely and publicly called into question in the 1990’s. Other studies that had been given high marks for their methods and accuracy were reporting much smaller percentages, typically 1-4%. This caused people to evaluate Kinsey’s methods and accuracy. They found he did not use a sample set of people that fairly represent the whole population. There were too many college graduates, too many Protestants, too few Catholics, too many sex offenders – 26% of the people in his sample were convicted sex offenders, too many prisoners –25% of the people in his sample were prisoners, too many volunteers from the homosexual community, and his definitions of homosexuality and heterosexuality were biased - any heterosexual who had felt even the most vague attraction a single time to a person of the same sex was classified as a homosexual.
Other institutions that have solid reputations have conducted major, national studies. Here is what they reported:
The following table provides results from additional studies:
From these studies we can conclude that the prevalence of homosexuality among men in North America is not 10%. There is good evidence to suggest that less than 3%, and perhaps less than 2%, of males are homosexually active in a given year. The rate of men who live a sustained and exclusive commitment to homosexuality is certainly less than 3%.
Female homosexuality has not been studied as extensively and continues to be estimated at approximately half or less than the male rates.
So when the two are combined, homosexuality accounts for less than 3% of the North American population.
Connecting Prevalence to Morality
Whether homosexuality is rare or common should not play a major role in Christianity’s view of Christian morality. In no other activity is prevalence (how often something happens) linked to morality. Christianity considers behaviours such as greed, pride, lust to be immoral even though they occur much more frequently than homosexuality. Many more people throughout history have struggled with these vices than have struggled with homosexuality. That they are happen frequently does not detract from the fact that the church identifies them as wrong or immoral. Other behaviours are quite rare. Cannibalism & necrophilia (sexual attraction to dead bodies) are rare and considered wrong or immoral. So the prevalence of a behaviour does not have a direct bearing on whether it is a sin or moral concern.
To apply this understanding to homosexuality - prevalence does not answer the difficult, complicated moral question about homosexuality. Further, there is no reason to view homosexuality as neutral or as a moral good because of the misrepresentation that it is more common than it is.
Unfortunately inflated estimates of how often homosexuality occurs are used explicitly as the basis for significant changes in church teachings. Correcting inflated estimates may not affect the moral debate but it is important to see the misuse of science and clarify our understanding of how common is homosexuality.