Alfred Kinsey

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Alfred Kinsey


United States

Birth - Death

1894 - 1956




Alfred Kinsey was a Professor of entomology and zoology whose path breaking research into the sexual behaviour of males and females created a new area of study called Sexology. His research was innovative, though controversial, because it presented a radical new approach to thinking about the relationship between the sexes, including the incorporation of same-sex attraction.

Kinsey’s post-secondary school education was focussed on the sciences including biology, botany, and zoology despite his father’s request that he study the more practical field of engineering. He went on to do post-graduate work at Harvard. He then joined the Indiana State University as an Assistant Professor of Zoology.

It was not until 1938, when a course opening occurred in the subject of marriage, that Kinsey turned his attention to the study of the history of sexual behaviour. As part of a research project in this area, Kinsey began collecting over 18,000 interviews with individuals on the subject matter. He combined these interviews with his own personal observations and, unique at the time, his own sexual experimentation with volunteers. He founded the Institute for Sex Research at the University to apply techniques of scientific research to this new field of study.

The result of this research was published in two groundbreaking books: Sexual Behaviour in the Human Male (1948) and Sexual Behaviour in the Female (1953). Both became international best sellers. Their publication caused considerable attention and controversy because of the radical insights they provided on gender behaviour. Topics covered included sexual orgasm, sexual practices, sexual orientation, and mating practices. Conclusions included revelations such as that 90% of males masturbated, 85% had experienced pre-marital intercourse, and 70% of males had paid a prostitute at least once.

A notable innovation from his research which gained international attention was his creation of the Kinsey Scale. This was a measurement from 0 to 6 of an individual’s sexual preference for the same or opposite sex, ranging from exclusively heterosexual at 0 to exclusively homosexual at 6. This presentation caused significant controversy because it suggests there exists degrees of sexual orientation, and that such could be fluid and accommodate a mix of attractions.

The discussion of this topic was considered taboo at the time. Nevertheless, Kinsey created and published his Kinsey Reports on a regular basis, thereby making him an international celebrity on these issues.

To back up his findings, Alfred Kinsey included a good proportion of volunteers from all aspects of life and all degrees of sexual orientation. Examples included homosexuals, prostitutes, pedophiles, prisoners, and teenagers. This caused further controversy and questions about bias in his studies.

Kinsey himself was an acknowledged bisexual individual. Although he married in 1921 and had four children, he was very open about his equal attraction to men and his various same-sex relationships. He admitted that he was an experimenter in his own research efforts. Part of his research included his own personal relationships with members of each sex, and this often led to personal criticisms of immorality against him.

Kinsey’s supporters label him the ‘father of the Sexual Revolution’. His critics call him a ‘sexual psychopath’ and attribute the increase in promiscuity, transmission of sexual diseases, rape, divorce, and more to his popularity.

How does one distinguish genuine scientific research and results on controversial sexual relationships from sensationalism? First, there is the breadth of the scale involved in his pioneering research that, even today, has not been matched. Second, there is the strength and innovation of the methodology used in the research. Third is the degree of influence and subsequent research and discussion that his work generated during his time and thereafter. Though undoubtedly some of his research is flawed (by including over-representation of particular asset classes, for example), Kinsey exposed the world to issues no one really wanted to talk about. He created a greater comfort level for the various genders and sexual minorities (such as women, or the LGBTQ community) to present their issues more fully.

See Also

Further Reading/Research

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