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Kinsey Report


KINSEY REPORT is comprised of two studies by Alfred Kinsey exploring male and female sexuality. Detailed scientific studies based on eleven thousand inter-views, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948) and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953), challenged widely held beliefs about human sexuality, including prevalent medical literature that posited that women were not sexual beings. Kinsey's work effectively separated sexuality from morality and emphasized the importance of sexual adjustment to a stable union. More than any previous book, Kinsey's studies placed sex on the national stage and inspired public discourse on American sexuality.

Kinsey, a biologist by training, became involved in sex research in 1938, when he was placed in charge of an interdisciplinary course on marriage and family at Indiana University. Although physicians had engaged in research on sexual behavior in the 1920s and 1930s, such research remained controversial. By Kinsey's own accounts, he sought to reconfigure sexual research, to free it from moral judgment, and to treat it as a scientist would from data collection to its presentation, replete with charts, graphs, and a comprehensive review of the literature in the field. He assembled and trained a team of researchers and interviewers who collected over eighteen thousand interviews with men and women. Kinsey conducted eight thousand of the interviews himself.

Until the publication of the Kinsey Report, public exposure to topics in human sexuality had been primarily through hygiene courses, where teachers warned of the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases, masturbation, and any sex act deemed outside a narrowly defined norm. No one could have predicted the magnitude of the response to Kinsey's studies. The demand for his Sexual Behavior in the Human Male far outpaced its print run. The book sold 250,000 copies and spent twenty-seven weeks on the New York Times best-seller list. His Sexual Behavior in the Human Female was also a runaway bestseller.

Members of the scientific community condemned Kinsey's studies for what they claimed were specious scientific methods and conclusions tainted by Kinsey's own cultural attitudes toward sex. In addition, his findings shocked traditional moralists. The general public, however, seemed ready to consume what the report had to offer. Because Kinsey's data was so extensive, his report offered readers documentation of a wide range of sexual variations and revealed a vast undercurrent of sexual practices that countered what the public had assumed was the sexual "norm." At a time when television especially glorified a picture of family life altogether devoid of sex, Kinsey revealed that masturbation and premarital petting were almost universal and that women, like men, were sexual beings. Moreover, over a third of adult males had homosexual experiences.

Although widely renounced for the pretense that sexual data could be or even should be presented as an objective science devoid of discussion of moral or social implications, Kinsey's work altered the American sexual landscape forever. Of particular concern both in the 1950s and in the early twenty-first century were the sections of the report that discuss incidents of pedophilia. The scientific context of the report legitimized open discussion of sexual subjects in the media, at universities, and in the home. The Kinsey Report encouraged more open discussion of homosexuality, which Kinsey presented as but another form of sexual activity, and female sexuality.


D'Emilio, John, and Estelle B. Freedman. Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America. New York: Harper and Row, 1988.

Jones, J. H. Kinsey: A Public/Private Life. New York: Norton, 1997.

Leslie J.Lindenauer

See alsoSex Education ; Sexual Orientation ; Sexuality .

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