The Kinsey Scale, also known as the Heterosexual-Homosexual Rating Scale, is one of the oldest and most widely used scales to describe sexual orientation.
Though outdated, the Kinsey Scale was groundbreaking at the time. It was among the first models to suggest that sexuality isn’t a binary where people could either be described as heterosexual or homosexual.
Instead, the Kinsey Scale acknowledges that many people aren’t exclusively heterosexual or exclusively homosexual — that sexual attraction can fall somewhere in the middle.
The Kinsey Scale was developed by Alfred Kinsey, Wardell Pomeroy, and Clyde Martin. It was first published in Kinsey’s book, “Sexual Behavior in the Human Male,” in 1948.
The research used to create the Kinsey Scale was based on interviews with thousands of people about their sexual histories and behaviors.
It’s used to describe sexual orientation. However, it’s considered outdated nowadays, so it isn’t really used much outside of academia.
As the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University notes, the Kinsey Scale has numerous limitations.
It doesn’t account for differences between romantic and sexual orientation
It’s possible to be sexually attracted to people of one gender and romantically attracted to people of another. This is known as a mixed or cross orientation.
It doesn’t account for asexuality
While there’s an “X” on the Kinsey scale to describe “no sociosexual contacts or reactions,” it doesn’t necessarily account for someone who’s had sexual relationships but is asexual.
Many are uncomfortable identifying with (or being identified as) a number on a scale
There are only 7 points on the scale. There’s a much wider diversity when it comes to sexual orientation.
There are arguably infinite ways to experience sexual attraction.
Two people who are a 3 on the Kinsey Scale, for example, may have very different sexual histories, feelings, and behaviors. Flattening them into a single number doesn’t account for those differences.
It assumes that gender is binary
It doesn’t take anyone who isn’t exclusively masculine or exclusively feminine into account.
It reduces bisexuality to a point between homosexuality and heterosexuality
According to the Kinsey Scale, when interest in a person of one gender increases, interest in a person of other decreases — as if they were two competing feelings and not experiences that are independent of each other.
Bisexuality is a sexual orientation in its own right.
No. The term “Kinsey Scale test” is commonly used, but according to the Kinsey Institute, there’s no actual test based on the scale.
There are various online quizzes based on the Kinsey Scale, but these aren’t supported by data or endorsed by the Kinsey Institute.
If you do use the Kinsey Scale to describe your sexual identity, you can identify with whatever number feels comfortable to you.
If you aren’t comfortable using the Kinsey Scale to describe yourself, you can use other terms. Our guide to different orientations includes 46 different terms for orientation, behavior, and attraction.
Some terms used to describe sexual orientation include:
- Asexual. You experience little to no sexual attraction to anyone, regardless of gender.
- Bisexual. You’re sexually attracted to people of two or more genders.
- Graysexual. You experience sexual attraction infrequently.
- Demisexual. You experience sexual attraction infrequently. When you do, it’s only after developing a strong emotional connection to someone.
- Heterosexual. You’re only sexually attracted to people of a different gender to you.
- Homosexual. You’re only sexually attracted to people who are the same gender as you.
- Pansexual. You’re sexually attracted to people of all genders.
- Polysexual. You’re sexually attracted to people of many — not all — genders.
The same can also apply to romantic orientation. Terms to describe romantic orientation include:
- Aromantic. You experience little to no romantic attraction to anyone, regardless of gender.
- Biromantic. You’re romantically attracted to people of two or more genders.
- Grayromantic. You experience romantic attraction infrequently.
- Demiromantic. You experience romantic attraction infrequently. When you do, it’s only after developing a strong emotional connection to someone.
- Heteroromantic. You’re only romantically attracted to people of a different gender to you.
- Homoromantic. You’re only romantically attracted to people who are the same gender as you.
- Panromantic. You’re romantically attracted to people of all genders.
- Polyromantic. You’re romantically attracted to people of many — not all — genders.
Yes. The researchers behind the Kinsey Scale found that the number can shift over time, as our attraction, behavior, and fantasies can change.
Yes. There are a few different scales or measurement tools that were developed as a response to the Kinsey Scale.
As it stands, there are more than 200 scales used to measure sexual orientation nowadays. Here are a few:
- Klein Sexual Orientation Grid (KSOG). Proposed by Fritz Klein, it includes 21 different numbers, measuring past behavior, present behavior, and ideal behavior for each of the seven variables.
- Sell Assessment of Sexual Orientation (SASO). Proposed by Randall L. Sell, it measures various attributes — including sexual attraction, sexual orientation identity, and sexual behavior — separately.
- Storms Scale. Developed by Michael D. Storms, it plots eroticism on an X- and Y-axis, describing a wider range of sexual orientations.
Each of these scales has their own limitations and advantages.
The Kinsey Scale was groundbreaking when it was first developed, laying the foundation for further research into sexual orientation.
Nowadays, it’s considered outdated, though some still use it to describe and understand their own sexual orientation.
Sian Ferguson is a freelance writer and editor based in Cape Town, South Africa. Her writing covers issues relating to social justice, cannabis, and health. You can reach out to her on Twitter.