Should our moral reasoning about homosexuality be influenced 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:
  1. To promote a pro-gay position
  2. To misrepresent the traditional Christian position and then use science to refute the misrepresentation thereby enhancing the pro-gay position

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:

  • A study of 5,514 Canadian college and university students under the age of 25 found 1% who were homosexual and 1% who were bisexual. Study by King et al. (1988). Canada, Youth and AIDS Study. Kingston, ON: Queen's University.
  • A study of 8,337 British men found that 6.1% had had "any homosexual experience" and 3.6% had "1+ homosexual partner ever." Study by Johnson, A.M. et al. (1992). Sexual lifestyles and HIV risk. Nature, 360(3), Dec. 3, 1992, 410-412.
  • A French study of 20,055 people found that 4.1% of the men and 2.6% of the women had at least one occurrence of intercourse with person of the same sex during their lifetime. Study by ANRS: Agence Nationale de Recherches sur le Sida investigators (1992). AIDS and sexual behavior in France. Nature, 360(3), Dec. 3, 1992, 407-409.
  • A Danish random survey found that 2.7% of the 1,373 men who responded to their questionnaire had homosexual experience (intercourse). Study by Melbye, M. & Biggar, R.J. (1992). Interactions between persons at risk for AIDS and the general population in Denmark. American Journal of Epidemiology, 135(6), 593-602.
  • The USA National Health Interview Survey does household interviews of the civilian non-institutionalized population. The results of three of these surveys, done in 1990-1991 and based on over 9,000 responses each time, found between 2-3% of the people responding said yes to a set of statements which included "You are a man who has had sex with another man at some time since 1977, even one time." Study by Dawson, D. & Hardy, A.M. (1990-1992). National Centre for Health Statistics, Centres for Disease Control, Advance Data, 204, 1990-1992.
  • In a random survey of 6,300 Norwegians, 3.5% of the men and 3% of the women reported that they had had a homosexual experience sometime in their life. Study by Sundet, J.M., et al. Prevalence of risk-prone sexual behaviour in the general population of Norway. In Global Impact of AIDS, edited by Alan F. Fleming et al. (New York: Alan R. Liss, 1988), 53-60.

The following table provides results from additional studies:


Exclusive same-gender sex

Some same-gender sex in last 12 months

Some same-gender sex

Some since adulthood

Some since puberty

Billy et al. (1993)
Males only

1.1% in last 10 years


2.3% in last 10 years

Fay et al. (1989)
Males only



6.7% since age 19 (3.3% occasionally or fairly often)


Lauman et al. (1994)


4.1% in last 5 years

4.9% since age 18


Lauman et al. (1994)


2.2% in last 5 years

4.1% since age 18


Rogers & Turner (1991)
Males only
Study 1: 1.9%
Study 2: 1.2%
Study 3: 2.4%
Study 4: 2.0%
All since 18
Study 1: 4.8%
Study 2: 4.9%
Study 3: n/a
Study 4: 6.7%
Sell et al. (1995)
Last 5 years
US : 0.82%
UK: 1.15%
Fr: 0.72%
Last 5 years
US: 5.42%
UK: 3.51%
Fr: 9.94%
Sell et al. (1995)
Last 5 years
US: 0.27%
UK: 0.54%
Fr: 0.14%
Last 5 years
US: 2.96%
UK: 1.54%
Fr: 3.02%
Spira et al. (1993)
Males only




Spira et al. (1990)
Males only

0.8% in last 5 years

1.4% in last 5 years

Wellings et al. (1994)
Males (Britain)




Wellings et al. (1994)
Females (Britain)




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.