Battelle Sex Study Prompts Conservative Backlash

A 1993 survey, countering the well-known Kinsey Reports on human sexuality, showed a lower prevalence of gay men in the U.S. population. Conservatives continue to use the survey as “proof” that gays and lesbians should be discounted as significant constituents by politicians.

Summary of Event

In 1993, the results of a survey by the Battelle Human Affairs Research Centers, based in Seattle, Washington, countered common knowledge. Most gays and lesbians had accepted Alfred Kinsey’s 1948 research that gay men made up 10 percent of the U.S. population. The new report, published in the March-April issue of Family Planning Perspectives, Family Planning Perspectives (periodical) challenged Kinsey’s numbers, stating that 2.3 percent of men in the United States had reported any homosexual activity in a ten-year period. [kw]Battelle Sex Study Prompts Conservative Backlash (Mar.-Apr., 1993)
[kw]Sex Study Prompts Conservative Backlash, Battelle (Mar.-Apr., 1993)
[kw]Conservative Backlash, Battelle Sex Study Prompts (Mar.-Apr., 1993)
[kw]Backlash, Battelle Sex Study Prompts Conservative (Mar.-Apr., 1993)
Battelle sex study (1993)
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Kinsey Reports;counterstudy
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[c]Government and politics;Mar.-Apr., 1993: Battelle Sex Study Prompts Conservative Backlash[2270]
[c]Organizations and institutions;Mar.-Apr., 1993: Battelle Sex Study Prompts Conservative Backlash[2270]
[c]Civil rights;Mar.-Apr., 1993: Battelle Sex Study Prompts Conservative Backlash[2270]
Billy, John O. G.
Tanfer, Koray
Grady, William R.
Klepinger, Daniel H.
Kinsey, Alfred

Whereas the Christian Right Christian Right;and Battelle sex study[Battelle sex study] rejoiced in the new report, gay and lesbian leaders worried that the lower numbers would translate into less political clout. Antigay movement The chair of the anti-gay Traditional Values Coalition, Traditional Values Coalition Lou Sheldon, Sheldon, Lou weighed in with the words “Tremendous political impact!” Conservatives stressed that the numbers meant that the needs of gays and lesbians could be discounted by politicians and policymakers. Conservative Phyllis Schlafly Schlafly, Phyllis said, “It shows politicians they don’t need to be worried about 1 percent of the population.” AIDS activist Larry Kramer Kramer, Larry predicted political fallout, saying, “This will give [U.S. president] Bill Clinton a chance to welch [sic] on promises. Democracy is all about proving you have the numbers. The more numbers you can prove you have, the more likely you’ll get your due.”

Roger MacFarlane, MacFarlane, Roger a founder of New York’s Gay Men’s Health Crisis, countered, “I don’t care if there are only 10 of us in the whole country. Do we have equal rights or not?” His point underscored the need for health care, AIDS research dollars, and protection from hate crimes.

Reportedly, the Battelle Center’s aim in completing the study was not to jeopardize the needs of gays and lesbians but to look at the sexual behavior of men twenty to thirty-nine years of age. In 1991, the center surveyed 3,321 men and finalized its report, which was authored by John O. G. Billy, Koray Tanfer, William R. Grady, and Daniel H. Klepinger (all research scientists at the Battelle Center). Subjects were asked about their sexual history, initiation, partners, risk-taking activities, attitudes, knowledge of contraception, and condom use.

Data indicated that in the ten years previous to the study’s end date, only 2.3 percent of the interviewed men had gay sex. Gay sex, exclusively, was practiced by 1.1 percent of the men surveyed. Because the Battelle survey was not conducted exactly like the Kinsey study, however, comparing the two is somewhat like comparing apples with oranges. For instance, Kinsey studied a larger group, and he used a rating scale. Kinsey rated orientation from zero (exclusively heterosexual) to six (exclusively homosexual), and he found that 10 percent of the men surveyed thought that they were about a 5 to 6 on the scale; 8 percent rated themselves a 6.

Also, the Kinsey and Battelle studies differ in the length of time that had been under survey: For Kinsey, the time in question was the previous three years; for Battelle, the previous ten years. Of the 5,000 men in the Kinsey group, 10 percent said that they had had sex with men in the previous three years. Of the 3,321 Battelle men, 1 percent said that they had had sex with men in the previous ten years. Men in the Battelle study, who had not come out completely as gay for ten years, may not have been “counted” as gay. Also, the Battelle categories do not recognize bisexual men or men older than age forty (more of whom are out).

Some limitations existed in the Battelle study. The interviewers were exclusively female, with no prior training in sex research. The women talked to the men in the men’s homes, face-to-face, as strangers (but not anonymously). The men in the study may have been reluctant to tell the truth to the surveyors because of religious or social taboos against homosexuality, or because of legal implications. Sexologist Samuel S. Janus, who has conducted many sex surveys, notes that face-to-face interviews often have faulty results.

The women did not ask the men about being gay, only about men having sex with men, so closeted or celibate men would not have been counted. Each subject was asked (reportedly at the end of the survey) for his social security number, place of employment, and two references. If they suspected that these questions would be asked, they might not have answered truthfully for fear of losing jobs, housing, reputations, or family. Of the men who were approached for an interview, 30 percent had declined to take part in the survey. One possible reason for there being few gays in the survey is that gays tend to cluster in urban areas, and that surveying a particular region would not account for these clusters.

There have been other studies about the prevalence of homosexuality, the first being the survey of sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld in 1903-1904. This report found 2.3 percent of surveyed men to be exclusively gay; bisexuals accounted for 3.4 percent. In 1953, Kinsey surveyed 5,940 women, finding 2 to 6 percent exclusively lesbian. A 1973 study by John Gagnon and William Simon, and one in 1974 by M. Hunt, were similar to those of Kinsey. Data collected in 1970 and 1980, later released in 1988-1991 by the National Opinion Research Center, showed that 6 percent of those surveyed had at least one gay or lesbian sexual experience. The wide survey by Samuel and Cynthia Janus in 1993 reported that same-gender sex occurred more than just occasionally for 9 percent of men and 5 percent of women. In that same year, the Yankelovich Monitor Survey found 5.7 percent of the population regarded itself as gay or lesbian. In the next year, Robe T. Mitchell and research partners noted that 2.8 percent of men identified as gay or bisexual, and 2.8 percent of women as lesbian or bisexual.


Curiously, the Battelle study never intended to scrutinize the size of the gay population. Instead, the Battelle Center wanted to find out whether or not men (of all sexual orientations) were practicing safer sex. The survey provided much data about male sexual behavior in addition to the figures about the frequency of gay sex. In particular, data showed that men were still having a lot of unprotected sex, which could lead to HIV transmission, but this critical finding was forgotten by the public in the controversy over the survey’s numbers.

As for the lasting impact of the 1993 Battelle study, the report is still being used by conservatives to discount the needs of gays and lesbians. In Ontario, Canada, for example, the report was being used in 2004 by religious groups trying to get schools to “convert” gay and lesbian children to heterosexuality. Battelle sex study (1993)
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Kinsey Reports;counterstudy

Further Reading

  • Adler, Jerry. “Sex in the Snoring 90’s.” Newsweek, April 26, 1993, 54-57.
  • Billy, John O. G., Koray Tanfer, William R. Grady, and Daniel H. Klepinger. “The Sexual Behavior of Men in the U.S.” Family Planning Perspectives 25, no. 2 (March/April, 1993): 52-60.
  • Kinsey, Alfred C., Wardell B. Pomeroy, and Clyde E. Martin. Sexual Behavior in the Human Male. Oxford, England: Saunders, 1948.
  • Kinsey, Alfred C., Wardell B. Pomeroy, Clyde E. Martin, and Paul H. Gebhard. Sexual Behavior in the Human Female. Oxford, England: Saunders, 1953.
  • Minton, Henry L. Departing from Deviance: A History of Homosexual Rights and Emancipatory Science in America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002.
  • Painton, Priscilla. “The Shrinking Ten Percent.” Time, April 26, 1993, 27-29.
  • Tanfer, Koray, and Battelle Human Affairs Research Center. “National Survey of Men: Design and Execution.” Family Planning Perspectives 25, no. 2 (March/April, 1993): 83-86.

1948: Kinsey Publishes Sexual Behavior in the Human Male

March 5, 1974: Antigay and Antilesbian Organizations Begin to Form

1977: Anita Bryant Campaigns Against Gay and Lesbian Rights

November 7, 1978: Antigay and Antilesbian Briggs Initiative Is Defeated

1979: Moral Majority Is Founded

Spring, 1984: AIDS Virus Is Discovered

November, 1986: Californians Reject LaRouche’s Quarantine Initiative

June 27, 1988: Report of the Presidential AIDS Commission

November 3, 1992: Oregon and Colorado Attempt Antigay Initiatives

September 21, 1996: U.S. President Clinton Signs Defense of Marriage Act