Alfred Kinsey

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Alfred Kinsey

Kinsey interviewing a woman.
BornAlfred Charles Kinsey
June 23, 1894
Hoboken, New Jersey, United States
DiedAugust 25, 1956(1956-08-25) (aged 62)
Bloomington, Indiana, United States
ResidenceUnited States
InstitutionsIndiana University
Alma materBowdoin College
Harvard University
Known forSexology and human sexuality: Kinsey Reports, Kinsey scale, Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction
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Alfred Kinsey

Kinsey interviewing a woman.
BornAlfred Charles Kinsey
June 23, 1894
Hoboken, New Jersey, United States
DiedAugust 25, 1956(1956-08-25) (aged 62)
Bloomington, Indiana, United States
ResidenceUnited States
InstitutionsIndiana University
Alma materBowdoin College
Harvard University
Known forSexology and human sexuality: Kinsey Reports, Kinsey scale, Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction

Alfred Charles Kinsey (June 23, 1894 – August 25, 1956) was an American biologist, professor of entomology and zoology, and sexologist who in 1947 founded the Institute for Sex Research at Indiana University,[1] now known as the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction. He is best known for writing "Sexual Behavior in the Human Male" (1948) and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female" (1953), also known as the Kinsey Reports, as well as the Kinsey scale. Kinsey's research on human sexuality, foundational to the field of sexology, provoked controversy in the 1940s and 1950s. His work has profoundly influenced social and cultural values in the United States, as well as internationally.


Early life and education

Kinsey was born on June 23, 1894, in Hoboken, New Jersey, the son of Sarah Ann (née Charles) and Alfred Seguine Kinsey. Kinsey was the eldest of three children. His mother received little formal education; his father was a professor at Stevens Institute of Technology.

Kinsey's parents were poor for most of his childhood, often unable to afford proper medical care. This may have led to a young Kinsey receiving inadequate treatment for a variety of diseases including rickets, rheumatic fever, and typhoid fever. His health records indicate that Kinsey received suboptimal exposure to sunlight (often the cause of rickets, before milk and other foods were fortified with vitamin D) and lived in unsanitary conditions for at least part of his childhood. Rickets led to a curvature of the spine, which resulted in a slight stoop that prevented Kinsey from being drafted in 1917 for World War I.

Kinsey's parents were devout Christians. His father was known as one of the most devout members of the local Methodist church. Most of Kinsey's social interactions were with other members of the church, often as a silent observer, while his parents discussed religion.[2] Kinsey's father imposed strict rules on the household, including mandating Sunday as a day of prayer (and little else).

At a young age, Kinsey showed great interest in nature and camping. He worked and camped with the local YMCA throughout his early years. He enjoyed these activities to such an extent that he intended to work professionally for the YMCA after completing his education. Kinsey's senior undergraduate thesis for psychology, a dissertation on the group dynamics of young boys, echoed this interest. He joined the Boy Scouts when a troop was formed in his community. His parents strongly supported this (and joined as well) because the Boy Scouts was an organization that was based on the principles of Christianity. Kinsey worked his way up through the Scouting ranks to earn Eagle Scout in 1913, making him one of the earliest Eagle Scouts.[3] Despite earlier disease having weakened his heart, Kinsey followed an intense sequence of difficult hikes and camping expeditions throughout his early life.

In high school, Kinsey was a quiet but hard-working student. While attending Columbia High School, he was devoted his energy to academic work and playing the piano. At one time, Kinsey had hoped to become a concert pianist, but decided to concentrate on his scientific pursuits instead. Kinsey's ability to spend immense amounts of time deeply focused on study was a trait that would serve him well in college and during his professional career. He seems not to have formed strong social relationships during high school, but earned respect for his academic ability. While there, Kinsey became interested in biology, botany and zoology. Kinsey was later to claim that his high school biology teacher, Natalie Roeth, was the most important influence on his decision to become a scientist. Kinsey approached his father with plans to study botany at college. His father demanded that he study engineering at Stevens Institute of Technology instead. Kinsey was unhappy at Stevens, and later remarked that his time there was one of the most wasteful periods of his life.[citation needed]

Regardless, he resumed his commitment to study. At Stevens, he primarily took courses related to English and engineering, but was unable to satisfy his interest in biology. 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.

In the fall of 1914, Kinsey entered Bowdoin College, where he studied entomology under Manton Copeland, and was admitted to the Zeta Psi fraternity, in whose house he lived for much of his time at college.[4][5] In 1916 Kinsey was elected to the Phi Beta Kappa society and graduated magna cum laude, with degrees in biology and psychology.[6] He continued his graduate studies at Harvard University's Bussey 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.

Kinsey chose to do his doctoral thesis on gall wasps, and began zealously collecting samples of the species. He traveled widely and took 26 detailed measurements of hundreds of thousands of gall wasps; his methodology was itself an important contribution to entomology as a science. Kinsey was granted a Sc.D. degree in 1919 by Harvard University, and 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 describing its phylogeny. Of the more than 18 million insects in the museum's collection, some 5 million are gall wasps collected by Kinsey.[7]

Kinsey wrote a widely used high-school textbook, An Introduction to Biology, which was published in October 1926.[8] The book endorsed evolution[need quotation to verify] and unified, at the introductory level, the previously separate fields of zoology and botany.[9][better source needed][10] Kinsey also co-wrote Edible Wild Plants of Eastern North America with Merritt Lyndon Fernald, published in 1943. The original draft of the book was written in 1919–1920, while Kinsey was still a doctoral student at the Bussey Institute and Fernald was working at the Arnold Arboretum.[11]

Personal life

Marriage and family

Kinsey's home in Bloomington

Kinsey married Clara Bracken McMillen in 1921. They had four children. Their first-born, Donald, died from the acute complications of juvenile diabetes in 1927, just before his fifth birthday. His daughter, Anne, was born in 1924, followed by Joan in 1925, and Bruce in 1928.

Kinsey designed his own house, which was built in the Vinegar Hill neighborhood of Bloomington, Indiana at 1320 First Street. There he practiced his deep interest in gardening.[12]

Kinsey and sexology

The Kinsey Reports

Kinsey is widely regarded as the first major figure in American sexology. He initially became interested in different forms of sexual practices in 1933, after discussing the topic extensively with a colleague, Robert Kroc. It is likely that Kinsey's study of the variations in mating practices among gall wasps led him to wonder how widely varied sexual practices among humans were. During this time he developed a scale measuring sexual orientation, now known as the Kinsey Scale which ranges from 0 to 6, where 0 is exclusively heterosexual and 6 is exclusively homosexual; a rating of X, for asexual, was later added by Kinsey's associates.

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 further study human sexual behavior. He published Sexual Behavior in the Human Male in 1948, followed in 1953 by Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, both of which reached the top of the bestseller lists and turned Kinsey into a celebrity. These publications later became known as the Kinsey Reports. Articles about him appeared in magazines such as Time, Life, Look, and McCall's. The Kinsey Reports, which led to a storm of controversy, are regarded by many as a precursor to the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s.

Controversial aspects of his work

Kinsey's research went beyond theory and interview to include observation of and participation in sexual activity, sometimes involving co-workers. The data published in Sexual Behavior in the Human Male and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953) remains well-regarded in the scientific and psychiatric communities. He justified this as being necessary to gain the confidence of his research subjects. He encouraged his staff to do likewise, and engage in a wide range of sexual activity, to the extent that they felt comfortable; he argued that this would help his interviewers understand the participant's responses.[13][14] Kinsey filmed sexual acts which included co-workers in the attic of his home as part of his research;[15] Biographer Jonathan Gathorne-Hardy explains that this was done to ensure the films' secrecy, which would have caused a scandal had it become public knowledge.[16][17] James H. Jones, author of Alfred C. Kinsey: A Public/Private Life, and British psychiatrist Theodore Dalrymple, amongst others, have speculated that Kinsey was driven by his own sexual needs.[18]

Kinsey collected sexual material from around the world, which brought him to the attention of U.S. Customs when they seized some pornographic films in 1956; he died before this matter was resolved legally.[15]

Kinsey wrote about pre-adolescent orgasms using data in tables 30 to 34 of the male volume, which report observations of orgasms in over three-hundred children between the ages of five months and fourteen years.[19] This information was said to have come from adults' childhood memories, or from parent or teacher observation.[20] Kinsey said he also interviewed nine men who had sexual experiences with children, and who told him about the children's responses and reactions. Little attention was paid to this part of Kinsey's research at the time, but where Kinsey had gained this information began to be questioned nearly 40 years later.[21] It was later revealed that Kinsey used data from a single pedophile and presented it as being from various sources. Kinsey had seen the need for participant confidentiality and anonymity as necessary to gain "honest answers on such taboo subjects".[22][23] The Kinsey Institute wrote that the data on children in tables 31–34 came from one man's journal (started in 1917) and that the events concerned predated the Kinsey Reports.[23][24]

Jones wrote that Kinsey's sexual activity influenced his work, that he over-represented prisoners and prostitutes, classified some single people as "married",[25] and that he included a disproportionate number of homosexual men, which may have distorted his studies.[13][14] he also omitted African-Americans from his research.[26] Bullough explains that the data was later reinterpreted, excluding prisoners and data derived from an exclusively gay sample, and the results indicate that it does not appear to have skewed the data. Kinsey may have over-represented homosexuals, but Bullough considers this may have been because this was stigmatized and needed to be understood.[13][14] It was Paul Gebhard, in the 1970s, who removed all suspect data, and recalculated Kinsey's findings. He found only slight differences between the original and updated figures.[27]

Kinsey in the media

The popularity of Sexual Behavior in the Human Male prompted widespread media interest in 1948. Time magazine declared, "Not since Gone With the Wind had booksellers seen anything like it."[28] The first pop culture references to Kinsey appeared not long after the book's publication; Martha Raye [sold] a half-million copies of 'Ooh, Dr. Kinsey!'"[29] Cole Porter's song "Too Darn Hot", from the Tony Award–winning Broadway musical Kiss Me, Kate, devoted its bridge to an analysis of the Kinsey report and the "average man's favorite sport." In 1949 Mae West, reminiscing on the days when the word "sex" was rarely uttered, said of Kinsey, "That guy merely makes it easy for me. Now I don't have to draw 'em any blueprints...We are both in the same business...Except I saw it first."[30]

The publication of Sexual Behavior in the Human Female prompted even more intensive news coverage: Kinsey appeared on the cover of the August 24, 1953, issue of Time. The national news magazine featured two articles on the scientist, one focusing on his research, career and new book,[31] the other on his background, personality, and lifestyle.[32] In the magazine's cover portrait, "Flowers, birds, and a bee surround Kinsey; the mirror-of-Venus female symbol decorates his bow tie."[33] The lead article concludes with the following observation: "'Kinsey...has done for sex what Columbus did for geography". Kinsey's work contains much that is valuable, but it must not be mistaken for the last word."[31] Ironically, following this quite serious evaluation of his work, Kinsey actually appeared on the very first Jack Benny TV program (September 15, 1953) placing himself and his research processes as a joke pertaining to Benny's 'fantasy' about Marilyn Monroe. As it turned out, this was her very first appearance on TV.[34]


Kinsey died on August 25, 1956, at the age of 62. The cause of death was reported to be a heart ailment and pneumonia.[35] This passage was written about his work in The New York Times:

The untimely death of Dr. Alfred C. Kinsey takes from the American scene an important and valuable, as well as controversial, figure. Whatever may have been the reaction to his findings—and to the unscrupulous use of some of them—the fact remains that he was first, last, and always a scientist. In the long run it is probable that the values of his contribution to contemporary thought will lie much less in what he found out than in the method he used and his way of applying it. Any sort of scientific approach to the problems of sex is difficult because the field is so deeply overlaid with such things as moral precept, taboo, individual and group training, and long established behavior patterns. Some of these may be good in themselves, but they are no help to the scientific and empirical method of getting at the truth. Dr. Kinsey cut through this overlay with detachment and precision. His work was conscientious and comprehensive. Naturally, it will receive a serious setback with his death. Let us earnestly hope that the scientific spirit that inspired it will not be similarly impaired.[36]

Legacy in popular culture

After the publication of Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, a character called "Dr. Kinsey" appeared on the September 15, 1953 television episode of The Jack Benny Program as a bow-tied man interviewing a young woman on board a cruise ship that has left Hawaii. When "Dr. Kinsey" identifies himself to Jack Benny, Benny steps away in embarrassment.[37]

The 2000s (decade) saw a renewed interest in Kinsey. The musical Dr. Sex focuses on the relationship between Kinsey, his wife, and their shared lover Wally Matthews (based on Clyde Martin). The play—with score by Larry Bortniker, book by Bortniker and Sally Deering—premiered in Chicago in 2003, winning seven Jeff Awards. It was produced off-Broadway in 2005. The 2004 biographical film Kinsey, written and directed by Bill Condon, stars Liam Neeson as the scientist and Laura Linney as his wife. In 2004 T. Coraghessan Boyle's novel about Kinsey, The Inner Circle, was published. The following year, PBS produced the documentary Kinsey in cooperation with the Kinsey Institute, which allowed access to many of its files. Mr. Sex, a BBC radio play by Steve Coombes concerning Kinsey and his work, won the 2005 Imison Award.[38]

Significant publications

See also


  1. ^ "Origin of the Institute". The Kinsey Institute. Retrieved 2010-03-30. 
  2. ^ American Experience | Kinsey | People & Events | PBS
  3. ^ "Alfred Charles Kinsey (1894-1956)". American Experience: Kinsy. PBS. Archived from the original on 21 December 2006. Retrieved 2006-11-09. 
  4. ^ Weinberg, Martin S. (1976). Sex Research: Studies from the Kinsey Institute. Oxford University Press. pp. 25 
  5. ^ Gathorne-Hardy, Jonathan (2000). Sex, the Measure of All Things: A Life of Alfred C. Kinsey. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. pp. 37–38. ISBN 0-253-33734-8 
  6. ^ Christenson, Cornelia V. (1971). SKinsey: A Biography. Bloomington/London: Indiana University Press. pp. 29 
  7. ^ Yudell, Michael (July 1, 1999). "Kinsey's Other Report". Natural History 108 (6). ISSN 0028-0712. 
  8. ^ Christenson, Cornelia V. (1971). Kinsey, A Biography. Indiana University Press. p. 57. ISBN 0-253-14625-9. 
  9. ^ Kinsey, Alfred Charles (1927). William Fletcher Russell. ed. An Introduction to Biology. Lippincott. 
  10. ^
  11. ^ Del Tredici, Peter. "The Other Kinsey Report." Natural History, ISSN 0028-0712, July 1, 2006, vol. 115, issue 6.
  12. ^ Indiana Historic Sites and Structures Inventory. City of Bloomington Interim Report. Bloomington: City of Bloomington, 2004-04, 90.
  13. ^ a b c Bullough, Vern L. (08-01-1999). "Book Review "Alfred C. Kinsey: Sex the Measure of All Things; A Biography"". Journal of Sex Research. 
  14. ^ a b c Bullough, Vern L. (03-01-2006). "The Kinsey biographies". Sexuality & Culture (Vol 10, No 1). 
  15. ^ a b "Kinsey Establishes the Institute for Sex Research". American Experience: Kinsey. PBS. Archived from the original on 21 January 2008. Retrieved 2008-01-03. 
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^ Jones, James H. (1997). Alfred C. Kinsey: A Public/Private Life (1. ed. ed.). New York: Norton. ISBN 0-393-04086-0. 
  19. ^ Kinsey, Alfred Charles; Clyde Eugene Mart (1998 (reprint of 1948 original)). Sexual Behavior in the Human Male. Indiana University Press. pp. 178–180. ISBN 0-253-33412-8. 
  20. ^ Kinsey Institute statement denies child abuse in study
  21. ^ Brown, Mick (2004 November). "The bedroom and beyond". Telegraph magazine. Archived from the original on 2 December 2009. Retrieved 2009-12-07. 
  22. ^ Welsh-Huggins, Andrews (September 1995). "Conservative group attacks Kinsey data on children". Herald-Times. "'There couldn't have been any research if we turned them in,' he said. "Of course we knew when we interviewed pedophiles that they would continue the activity, but we didn't do anything about that.' Providing such absolute assurances of anonymity was the only way to guarantee honest answers on such taboo subjects, said Gebhard." 
  23. ^ a b Pool, Gary (1996 Sept-Oct). "Sex, science, and Kinsey: a conversation with Dr. John Bancroft - head of the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction". Humanist. Retrieved 2008-01-07. 
  24. ^ Kinsey Institute director denies allegations by Reisman
  25. ^ Jones, James H. (1997). Alfred C. Kinsey: A Public/Private Life. New York: Norton.
  26. ^ Reumann, Miriam (2005). "American Sexual Character: Sex, Gender, and National Identity in the Kinsey Reports". Archives of Sexual Behavior (University of California Press, Berkeley: Springer Netherlands) 36 (5): 294. 
  27. ^ Gathorne-Hardy, Jonathan (2005). Kinsey: A Biography, p 285. London: Pimlico
  28. ^ "How to Stop Gin Rummy". Time. 1948-03-01. Archived from the original on 17 October 2007.,9171,794270,00.html. Retrieved 2007-09-11. 
  29. ^ Rich, Frank (2004-12-12). "The Plot Against Sex in America". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-09-11. 
  30. ^ "People". Time. 1949-03-07. Archived from the original on 17 October 2007.,9171,853645,00.html. Retrieved 2007-09-11. 
  31. ^ a b "5,940 Women". Time. 1953-08-24. Archived from the original on 9 October 2007.,9171,818752,00.html. Retrieved 2007-09-11. 
  32. ^ "Dr. Kinsey of Bloomington". Time. 1953-08-24.,9171,818753-1,00.html. Retrieved 2007-09-11. 
  33. ^ Reinisch (1990), p. xvii.
  34. ^ "The Jack Benny Show from September 15 1953". 
  35. ^ "Dr. Kinsey is Dead; Sex Researcher, 62". New York Times. 08-26-1956. 
  36. ^ Quoted in Pomeroy (1972).
  37. ^ "The Jack Benny Show from September 15, 1953". Retrieved 6 November 2011. 
  38. ^ "Imison Award 2005". Society of Authors. Retrieved 2007-09-12. 
  39. ^ Daniel Radosh (6 December 2004). "The Culture Wars: Why Know?". The New Yorker. Retrieved 14 November 2010. 


External links