The Kinsey Report
The most extensive early study of female homosexuality was provided by the Institute for Sex Research, who published an in-depth report of the sexual experiences of American women in 1953. More than 8,000 women were interviewed by Alfred Kinsey and the staff of the Institute for Sex Research in a book titled Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, popularly known as part of the Kinsey Report. The Kinsey Report’s dispassionate discussion of homosexuality as a form of human sexual behavior was revolutionary. Up to this study, only physicians and psychiatrists studied sexual behavior, and almost always the results were interpreted with a moral view.
Kinsey and his staff reported that 28% of women had been aroused by another female, and 19% had a sexual contact with another female.[note 10] Of women who had sexual contact with another female, half to two-thirds of them had orgasmed. Single women had the highest prevalence of homosexual activity, followed by women who were widowed, divorced, or separated. The lowest occurrence of sexual activity was among married women; those with previous homosexual experience reported they got married to stop homosexual activity. Most of the women who reported homosexual activity had not experienced it more than ten times. Fifty-one percent of women reporting homosexual experience had only one partner. Women with post-graduate education had a higher prevalence of homosexual experience, followed by women with a college education; the smallest occurrence was among women with education no higher than eighth grade.
Based on Kinsey’s scale where 0 represents a person with an exclusively heterosexual response and 6 represents a person with an exclusively homosexual one, and numbers in between represent a gradient of responses with both sexes, 6% of those interviewed ranked as a 6: exclusively homosexual. Apart from those who ranked 0 (71%), the largest percentage in between 0 and 6 was 1 at approximately 15%. However, the Kinsey Report remarked that the ranking described a period in a person’s life, and that a person’s orientation may change. Among the criticisms the Kinsey Report received, a particular one addressed the Institute for Sex Research’s tendency to use statistical sampling, which facilitated an over-representation of same sex relationships by other researchers who did not adhere to Kinsey’s qualifications of data.
The Hite Report
Twenty-three years later, sexologist Shere Hite published a report on the sexual encounters of 3,019 women who had responded to questionnaires, under the title The Hite Report in 1976. Hite’s questions differed from Kinsey’s, focusing more on how women identified, or what they preferred rather than experience. Respondents to Hite’s questions indicated that 8% preferred sex with women and 9% answered that they identified as bisexual or had sexual experiences with men and women, though they refused to indicate preference. Hite’s conclusions are more based on respondents’ comments than quantifiable data. She found it “striking” that many women who had no lesbian experiences indicated they were interested in sex with women, particularly because the question was not asked. Hite found the two most significant differences between respondents’ experience with men and women were the focus on clitoral stimulation, and more emotional involvement and orgasmic responses. Since Hite performed her study during the popularity of feminism in the 1970s, she also acknowledged that women may have chosen the political identity of a lesbian.
Lesbians in the U.S. are estimated to be about 2.6% of the population, according to a National Opinion Research Centers survey of sexually active adults who had had same-sex experiences within the past year, completed in 2000. A survey of same-sex couples in the United States showed that between 2000 and 2005, the number of people claiming to be in same sex relationships increased by 30%—five times the rate of population growth in the U.S. The study attributed the jump to people being more comfortable self-identifying as homosexual to the federal government.[note 11] The government of the United Kingdom does not ask citizens to define their sexuality; only percentage estimates of 5–7% are provided. Estimates of lesbians are sometimes not differentiated in studies of same-sex households, such as those performed by the U.S. census, and estimates of total gay, lesbian, or bisexual population by the U.K. government. However, polls in Australia have recorded a range of self-identified lesbian or bisexual women from 1.3% to 2.2% of the total population.
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