Alfred C. Kinsey: Contributions to American Sexuality

Kinsey is regarded by many to be the foremost pioneer in the quantitative study of human sexuality. From his roots studying marriage and sex to his quantitative studies on women's sexuality, Dr. Alfred Kinsey is a research pioneer in human sexuality.

His interest in human sexuality fortuitously began when in 1938 the Indiana Association of Women Students petitioned the university to offer a noncredit course on marriage. Kinsey coordinated the course and presented lectures on the biological dimensions of sex and marriage. In preparing for his lectures in what quickly became a very popular course, he discovered that little survey research was available on human sexuality.

Initially, Kinsey gathered data from students in his classes, then from other students and faculty, and later from people whom he could persuade to be interviewed. At his own expense, he interviewed people in other Midwestern cities, thereby adding people from other social classes to his sample.

In 1941, Kinsey obtained a grant from the National Council's Committee for Research in the Problems of Sex, which was at the time funded by the Rockefeller Foundation. He assembled a multidisciplinary research team that included Clyde Martin, a student assistant who became a research associate; Wardwell Pomeroy, a clinical psychologist; and Paul Gebhard, an anthropologist. Kinsey and his colleagues established the Institute for Sex Research in 1947 as a separate, nonprofit organization.

Kinsey - A Controversial Seller

Kinsey published "Sexual Behavior In The Human Male" in 1948, which came to be known as the "Kinsey Report." The report immediately created controversy for its revelations of the sexuality of white American males. It sold more than 250,000 copies and was translated into a dozen languages.

In 1953 the Institute published Sexual Behavior In The Human Female, which also sold more than 250,000 copies and was translated into several languages. These two reports sharply challenged many myths about sexual behavior in American society and revealed findings on various previously taboo topics, such as extramarital sexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality, oral sex, masturbation, and prostitution.

Kinsey's research focused on six different outlets to sexual orgasm, namely masturbation, petting, nocturnal dreams, heterosexual coitus, homosexual behaviors, and bestiality. He related these forms of sexuality to various socioeconomic variables, namely age, education, marital status, occupation, and religious identification.

Many Americans in particular were shocked to learn that females are as capable of sexual response as men. Previously, the prevailing cultural myth was that women merely engaged in sex for procreative purposes or to please their male partners. Half of the females interviewed stated that they had engaged in premarital coitus and one-quarter stated that they had engaged in extramarital sex.

Kinsey's Shocking Research Findings

Kinsey's Homosexuality Statistics Shocked America

Kinsey's findings on homosexuality also shocked the American public. He reported that a third of American males and 13 percent of American females claimed to have had at least one same-sex orgasmic experience by age 45.

Furthermore, approximately 10 percent of the males admitted to having been predominantly homosexual for at least three years between the ages of 16 and 55, and four percent of white males described themselves as exclusively homosexual. Kinsey's research refuted the widely held notion that heterosexuality and homosexuality are exclusive forms of behavior.

Additionally, Kinsey found that a person's sexual orientation could change over the course of his or her lifetime. The two Kinsey reports also revealed a widespread prevalence of masturbation. His study found that more than 90 percent of white males and 62 percent of females admitted having engaged in this behavior.

Kinsey Contributes to the Sexual Revolution

A major weakness of the two Kinsey reports was their failure to examine the sexual behavior of people of color in the United States. Furthermore, the samples relied heavily upon middle-class, college-educated Americans under age 35.

Despite these limitations, the Kinsey reports served as significant benchmarks in the quantitative study of sexuality in U.S. society and their findings contributed to an era of more relaxed attitudes concerning sexual behavior. In this sense, the Kinsey reports contributed to what has been termed the Sexual Revolution, or reconfiguration of sexual mores after the Second World War. Kinsey's research and other studies by the Institute for Sex Research created and continue to create controversy in the larger society, particularly among conservative social forces. A Congressional committee accused the Institute of contributing to an alleged Communist takeover of the United States and accused the Rockefeller Foundation of "un-American" behavior, resulting in the latter's decision to withdraw funding for the Institute.

Attacks upon Kinsey's research appear to have contributed to his untimely death at age 62 in 1956. Nevertheless, the Institute has continued to produce a long list of studies of American sexual behavior including: "Pregnancy, Birth, and Abortion" (1958); "Sexual Offenders: An Analysis of Types" (1965); "Homosexualities: A Study of Diversity Among Men and Women" (1978); and "Sexuality and Morality in the U.S." (1989). Despite the wide-spread acceptance of the scientific study of sexuality in U.S. society, conservative forces continue to attack the work pioneered by Kinsey as well as on-going studies by the Institute for Sexual Research.

Copyright 2002 Sinclair Intimacy Institute

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