Alfred Charles Kinsey (June 23, 1894 – August 25, 1956), was a professor of entomology and zoology, who in 1947, founded the Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction at Indiana University, now called the Kinsey Institute. Kinsey's research on human sexuality profoundly influenced social and cultural values in the United States during the 1960s. Kinsey presented sexual activity as amoral acts, not just divorced from the responsibilities of marriage and family, but suggesting that homosexuality and pedophilia were widespread in American society, and therefore normal. With the air of scientific respectability, Kinsey's publications led people to believe that there were missing out on pleasures that others were experiencing, transforming attitudes and practices relating to sex and thereby laying the foundation for the sexual revolution. This revolution, however, instead of releasing people into a life of greater happiness and fulfillment as Kinsey expected, also opened the door to the heartbreak of divorce, teenage pregnancy, and family breakdown, and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.
Alfred Charles Kinsey was born on June 23, 1894, in Hoboken, New Jersey, to Alfred Seguine Kinsey and Sarah Ann Charles. Alfred was the eldest of three children. Although his mother had received little formal education, his father was a professor at Stevens Institute of Technology. Alfred's parents were rather poor for most of his childhood. Consequently, the family could often not afford proper medical care, which may have led to young Alfred's receiving inadequate treatment for a variety of diseases including rickets, rheumatic fever, and typhoid fever. These indicate that he received suboptimal exposure to sunlight (the cause of rickets in those days before milk and other foods were fortified with vitamin D) and lived in unsanitary conditions for at least part of his childhood. Rickets, leading to a curvature of the spine, resulted in a slight stoop that prevented Kinsey from being drafted in 1917 for World War I.
Both of Kinsey's parents were extremely conservative Christians; this left a powerful imprint on Kinsey for the rest of his life. His father was known as one of the most devout members of the local Methodist church. As a result, most of Kinsey's social interactions were with other members of the church, often merely as a silent observer while his parents discussed religion with other similarly devout adults. Kinsey's father imposed strict rules on the household including mandating Sunday as a day of prayer (and little else), outlawing social and sexual relationships with girls, and proscribing knowledge of anything remotely sexual including masturbation. Such a strict upbringing was not entirely uncommon at the time. Most college freshmen then had little understanding of even the most basic facts about human sexuality. Kinsey ultimately disavowed the Methodist religion of his parents and became an atheist.
At a young age, Kinsey showed great interest in nature and camping. He worked and camped with the local YMCA often throughout his early years. He enjoyed these activities to such an extent that he intended to work professionally for the YMCA after his education was completed. Even Kinsey's senior undergraduate thesis for psychology, a dissertation on the group dynamics of young boys, echoed this interest. He subsequently joined the Boy Scouts when a troop was formed in his community. His parents strongly supported this (and joined as well) because at the time the Boy Scouts was an organization heavily grounded in the principles of Christianity. Kinsey diligently worked his way up through the Scouting ranks to Eagle Scout in only two years, rather than in the five or six years it took most boys. Despite earlier disease having weakened his heart, Kinsey followed an intense sequence of difficult hikes and camping expeditions throughout his early life.
It seems likely that Kinsey's early exposure to nature was responsible for his interest in entomology, which occupied him for the first half of his career. At the completion of high school, Kinsey approached his father with plans to study botany at college. His father demanded that he study engineering at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken. Kinsey was unhappy at Stevens, and later remarked that his time there was one of the most wasteful periods of his life. Regardless, however, he continued his obsessive commitment to studying. At the end of two years at Stevens, Kinsey gathered the courage to confront his father about his interest in biology and his intent to continue studying at Bowdoin College in Maine. His father vehemently opposed this, but finally relented. Accompanying Kinsey's victory, however, came the effective loss of his relationship with his father, which deeply troubled him for years.
In 1914, Kinsey entered Bowdoin College, where he became familiar with insect research under Manton Copeland. Two years later, Kinsey was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and graduated magna cum laude with degrees in biology and psychology. He continued his graduate studies at Harvard University's Bossey Institute, which had one of the most highly regarded biology programs in the United States. It was there that Kinsey studied applied biology under William Morton Wheeler, a scientist who made outstanding contributions to entomology.
Under Wheeler, Kinsey worked almost completely autonomously, which suited both men quite well. For his doctoral thesis, Kinsey chose to do research on gall wasps. Kinsey began collecting samples of gall wasps with obsessive zeal, traveling widely and taking 26 detailed measurements on hundreds of thousands of gall wasps. His methodology made an important contribution to entomology as a science. Kinsey was granted his doctoral degree in 1919, by Harvard. He published several papers in 1920, under the auspices of the American Museum of Natural History in New York, introducing the gall wasp to the scientific community and laying out its phylogeny.
Kinsey married Clara Bracken McMillen, whom he called Mac, in 1921. They had four children. Their first-born, Don, died from complications of juvenile diabetes in 1927, just before his fifth birthday. Anne was born in 1924, Joan in 1925, and Bruce in 1928.
Kinsey died on August 25, 1956, at the age of 62, of a heart ailment and pneumonia.
Kinsey's early career, which spanned almost two decades, was in Entomology. He spent years researching every detail of the gall wasp, collecting and documenting numerous specimens. His later work, for which he became famous, and also infamous, was in the area he called Sexology.
Upon the completion of his doctorate, Kinsey joined the department of zoology at Indiana University in 1920, as an assistant professor. His wife and colleagues referred to Kinsey as "Prok" (for Professor Kinsey). There, the indefatigable Kinsey continued his work on gall wasps, traveling widely over the next 16 years to collect and catalogue specimens. Kinsey was particularly interested in the evolutionary history of the tiny insect, which measures 1-8 millimeters. He published a monograph devoted to the origin of gall wasp species in 1930, The Gall Wasp Genus Cynips: A Study in the Origin of Species, with a second major work in 1935, The Origin of Higher Categories in Cynips.
Kinsey is generally regarded as the father of "sexology," the systematic, scientific study of human sexuality. He initially became interested in the different forms of sexual practices around 1933, after discussing the topic extensively with a colleague, Robert Kroc. It is likely that Kinsey's study of the variation of mating practices among gall wasps led him to wonder how widely varied sexual practices among humans were.
In 1935, Kinsey delivered a lecture to a faculty discussion group at Indiana University, his first public discussion of the topic, wherein he attacked the "widespread ignorance of sexual structure and physiology" and promoted his view that "delayed marriage" (that is, delayed sexual experience) was psychologically harmful. Kinsey obtained research funding from the Rockefeller Foundation, which enabled him to inquire into human sexual behavior through interviews of thousands of subjects.
The Kinsey Reports
Kinsey founded The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction, often shortened to Kinsey Institute. at Indiana University in 1947. Its original goals were the study of human sexuality and human sexual behavior. To conduct the vast number of interviews that Kinsey envisioned as necessary for his study, he hired as co-researchers Paul Gebhard, Wardell Pomeroy, and Clyde Martin. In 1948 and 1953, the Institute published two monographs on human sexuality, generally known as the Kinsey Reports.
The Kinsey Reports were published as two books on human sexual behavior, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948) and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953). These research reports astounded the general public and were immediately controversial and sensational. The findings caused shock and outrage, both because they challenged conventional beliefs about sexuality and because they discussed subjects that had previously been taboo. The belief that heterosexuality and abstinence were both ethical and statistical norms had never before been seriously challenged.
Probably the most widely cited findings of the Kinsey Reports regard the prevalence of different sexual orientations. Kinsey devised a novel method for expressing a mixture of same-sex and opposite-sex involvement. Instead of a three-category system—heterosexual, bisexual, and homosexual—he created a more fine-grained spectrum. The "Kinsey scale" ranked individuals from 0 to 6, with 0 being completely heterosexual and 6 completely homosexual. A 1 was considered predominantly heterosexual with only incidental homosexual experiences, a 2 mostly heterosexual with more serious homosexual experiences, a 3 completely equal homosexual and heterosexual experiences, and so on.
Kinsey reported that most American males fell in the 1 to 2 range of the scale and that a large majority appeared to be at least somewhat bisexual (in the 1 to 5 range). The study also reported that 10 percent of American males surveyed were mostly or completely homosexual for at least part of their adult lives (in the 5 to 6 range).
Based on his data and findings, others claimed that 10 percent of the population are homosexual, and that women enhance their prospects of satisfaction in marriage by masturbating previously. Neither claim was made by Kinsey, but both were (and continue to be) attributed to him.
Data were gathered primarily by means of interviews, which were encoded to maintain confidentiality. Other data sources included the diaries of convicted child molesters. The data were later computerized for processing. All of this material, including the original researchers' notes, remains available from the Kinsey Institute to qualified researchers who demonstrate a need to view such materials. The institute also allows researchers to submit statistical programs (SPSS) to be run on the data, which remains a unique resource in both the size of the survey and the care with which it was documented.
The statistics were more carefully compiled and interpreted than was common at the time, and his subjects' confidentiality more carefully protected. However, his subject matter lent itself to sensationalism.
The Kinsey Reports have been widely criticized as promoting degeneracy. Sexual Behavior in the Human Male has been on two lists of the worst books of modern times. It was #3 on the Intercollegiate Studies Institute's 50 Worst Books of the Twentieth Century and #4 on Human Events' Ten Most Harmful Books of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries
There have been serious criticisms pertaining to sample selection and sample bias in Kinsey's research. In 1948, the same year as the original publication, a committee of the American Statistical Association, including notable statisticians such as John Tukey condemned the sampling procedure. Tukey was perhaps the most vocal critic, saying "A random selection of three people would have been better than a group of 300 chosen by Mr. Kinsey." . Criticism principally revolved around the over-representation of some groups in the sample: 25 percent were, or had been, prison inmates, and 5 percent were male prostitutes. A related criticism, by some of the leading psychologists of the day, notably Abraham Maslow, was that he (Kinsey) did not consider the bias created by the data representing only those who were willing to participate.
In response to these criticisms, Paul Gebhard, Kinsey's successor as director of the Kinsey Institute, spent years "cleaning" the Kinsey data of its purported contaminants, removing, for example, all material derived from prison populations in the basic sample. In 1979, Gebhard (with Alan B. Johnson) published The Kinsey Data: Marginal Tabulations of the 1938-1963 Interviews Conducted by the Institute for Sex Research. Their conclusion, to Gebhard's surprise (he claimed), was that none of Kinsey's original estimates were significantly affected by this bias.
Despite Gebhard's work, questions pertaining to the sampling and methodology continue to be an issue for many who criticize Kinsey's findings.
Issues of Child Abuse
In the Kinsey Reports are data concerning pre-adolescent orgasms. Particularly controversial are tables in the male volume. For example, table 34 is, "Examples of multiple orgasms in pre-adolescent males. Some instances of higher frequencies." A typical entry indicates that a certain 7 year-old had seven orgasms in a three hour time period. Kinsey's critics state that data such as these could have only been obtained by direct observation of or participation in child abuse. In particular, they point to the information given in table 32, "Speed of pre-adolescent orgasm; Duration of stimulation before climax; Observations timed with second hand or stop watch," and say that the only way such precise data could have been collected was through cooperation with child molesters.
The Kinsey Institute states unequivocally on its website, "[Kinsey] did not carry out experiments on children; he did not hire, collaborate, or persuade people to carry out experiments on children." It goes on to say,
Kinsey clearly stated in his male volume the sources of information about children's sexual responses. The bulk of this information was obtained from adults recalling their own childhoods. Some was from parents who had observed their children, some from teachers who had observed children interacting or behaving sexually, and Kinsey stated that there were nine men who he had interviewed who had sexual experiences with children who had told him about how the children had responded and reacted. We believe that one of those men was the source of the data listed in the book.
Thus, while Kinsey and his collaborators denied sexual experiments involving children, they acknowledged that the data came from a pedophile with extensive experience sexually abusing children. This is hardly a resounding confirmation of the sample as typical of the American public. And even his colleagues realized there were moral issues involved in using evidence of criminal, morally repugnant behavior in scientific research: "To get data," Pomeroy said later, "Kinsey would have made a deal with the devil."
General Issues of Ethics and Morality
Some conservative groups, including RSVPAmerica, headed by Judith A. Reisman, and the Family Research Council have stated that they aim to discredit the Kinsey Reports. These groups have often accused Kinsey's work of promoting "unhealthy" sexual practices or norms, such as premarital and adulterous relationships, both heterosexual and homosexual, in addition to the sexual abuse of children already mentioned.
Other attacks have centered on the sex life and motives of Kinsey himself, and his colleagues. Kinsey encouraged his team to act without boundaries in their sexual practices, and did the same himself. Gebhard admitted that he "felt a certain amount of pressure and so I tried homosexuality and it didn't work, it just wasn't my cup of tea". Although Kinsey may have believed that his work would liberate people from their inhibitions and restraints, allowing them to experience the joy of sex more fully, many were concerned that he was missing some important aspect of moral, ethical, or even spiritual responsibility that goes with the sexual act. T.C. Boyle, author of The Inner Circle (2004), a fictionalized account of Kinsey's research group, commented:
I do feel ultimately that there is a spiritual element that Kinsey is disregarding. And that perhaps his behavior with his inner circle, with his wife, with the wives of—of his fellow researchers might have been harmful in ways that he wouldn't admit. Or didn't want to know about: harmful emotionally.
Finally, widespread consensus has claimed that the Kinsey Reports were themselves responsible for moral decay in society (Devine 2001).
The Kinsey Institute continues Kinsey's work. Among its functions is to preserve the supporting materials of the Kinsey Reports and subsequent publications, making them available for new research while preserving confidentiality. The Kinsey Institute’s research program also addresses current problems in human sexuality and sexual behavior. The library and archival collections include over 110,000 items, including popular culture materials, films, databases, and archival materials, as well as scholarly books and articles. The Kinsey Institute Gallery showcases selected pieces from the Institute's collection of art, artifacts, and photography.
Educational components include graduate training through Indiana University, and research-based information services for students and the public, including the Kinsey Institute Sexuality Information Service for Students (KISISS).
Though he did not live to see it, Kinsey's work helped form the foundation of the sexual revolution that swept the United States in the 1960s and 1970s. The Kinsey Reports made public sexual practices that had previously been completely private. His academic treatment of human sexuality was the first of its kind, the influence of which can be seen in most contemporary universities that now have classes on sex. Kinsey's work also led to the teaching of sex education to children in junior high schools and high schools across the United States.
Kinsey has been credited for triggering the Liberation Movement of the 1960s, but he has also been blamed for increasing promiscuity, teen pregnancy, and the spread of AIDS. Ultimately, Kinsey ignored the responsibility that must accompany freedom, with disastrous consequences.
- 1920. "New Species and Synonymy of American Cynipidae" in Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History.
- 1920. "Life Histories of American Cynipidae" in Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History.
- 1920. "Phylogeny of Cynipid Genera and Biological Characteristics" in Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History.
- 1926. An Introduction to Biology.
- 1930. The Gall Wasp Genus Cynips: A Study in the Origin of Species.
- 1938 (original 1933). New Introduction to Biology.
- 1935. The Origin of Higher Categories in Cynips.
- 1998 (original 1948). Sexual Behavior in the Human Male.
- 1998 (original 1953). Sexual Behavior in the Human Female.
- Christenson, Cornelia. Kinsey: A Biography. Indiana University Press, 1971.
- Devine, Tony, J.H. Seuk & A. Wilson (eds). Cultivating Heart and Character:Educating for Life's Most Essential Goals. Chapel Hill, NC:Character Development Publishing, 2000. ISBN 1892056151
- Duberman, M. Book Review of Johns H. James Alfred C. Kinsey: A Public/Private Life reprinted with permission from the November 3, 1997 issue of The Nation retrieved from The Kinsey Institute website October 21, 2006
- Gathorne-Hardy, Jonathan. Alfred C. Kinsey: Sex the Measure of All Things. London: Chatto & Windus, 1998.
- Jones, James H. Alfred C. Kinsey: A Public/Private Life Norton, 1991.
- Katz, Jonathan Ned. The Invention of Heterosexuality. NY, NY: Dutton. Penguin Books, 1995. ISBN 0525938451
- Kinsey, A.C., W.B. Pomeroy & Martin C.E. Sexual Behavior in the Human Male. Philadelphia, PA: W.B. Saunders, 1948. ISBN 0253334128
- Kinsey, A.C, Pomeroy W.B., C.E. Martin, & Gebhard P.H. Sexual Behavior in the Human Female. Philadelphia, PA: W.B. Saunders, 953. ISBN 025333411X
- Pomeroy, Wardell. Dr. Kinsey and the Institute for Sex Research. Harper & Row, 1972.
- Reisman, Judith A., Eichel, Edward W., Court, John H., & J. Gordon Muir. Kinsey, Sex and Fraud. Lafayette, LA: Lochinvar-Huntington House Publishers, 1990.
- Reisman, Judith A. Kinsey:Crimes and Consequences. Hartline Marketing, 1990. ISBN 0966662415
- Squiers, Carol and Jennifer Yamashiro. Peek - Photographs from the Kinsey Institute. 2000. ISBN 1892041359
- American Experience - Kinsey
- Kinsey Institute Timeline of Events and Major Publications
- The Kinsey Institute Sexuality Information Service for Students
- The Kinsey Institute Website
- The Kinsey Report movie IMDb
- Time Magazine Cover August 24, 1953 Time Magazine cover featuring Alfred Kinsey
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