Alfred Charles Kinsey
Alfred Charles Kinsey
American Zoologist and Sexologist
In the 1950s, American zoologist and sex researcher Alfred Kinsey established himself as the preeminent authority on the sexual behavior of men and women in America. The publication of Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948) and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953) blazed new trails in the field of sex research, leading to reassessments of research practices and of medical, psychiatric, and public attitudes towards sex. Before achieving notoriety as a sexologist, Kinsey was a trained entomologist and the world's leading expert on the American gall wasp. Regardless of the focus of his research, throughout his career Kinsey sought to uncover details and amass evidence, thereby making significant contributions to the fields that he explored.
Alfred Charles Kinsey was born on June 23, 1894, in Hoboken, New Jersey, to Alfred and Sarah Ann Kinsey. His mother and father, a self-educated teacher at the Stevens Institute of Technology, were strict and deeply religious. In spite of being a sickly child, Kinsey joined the newly formed Boy Scouts of America and was one of the first persons to earn the rank of Eagle Scout. A natural born taxonomist, Kinsey filled his boyhood days collecting plant and animal specimens.
After high school, Kinsey studied mechanical engineering at the Stevens Institute for two years before switching colleges and career direction. With little support from his father, Kinsey enrolled in the biology program at Bowdoin College, graduating in the top of his class in 1916.
A scholarship from Harvard financed Kinsey's graduate studies. Between 1916 and 1920, Kinsey collected thousands of ant-sized insects during the course of his study of gall wasps, an insect that lays its eggs inside plant stems. At the completion of his graduate studies, he accepted a teaching position at Indiana University, where he continued his gall wasps studies while carrying a full teaching load and completing two high school textbooks. The results of his gall wasp research were published in two separate texts—The Gall Wasp Genus Cynips: A Study in the Origin of the Species (1930) and The Origin of Higher Categories of Cynips (1936).
Kinsey's research interests changed dramatically in 1938 when he was invited to coordinate a new interdisciplinary course on marriage and family. Dissatisfied with the available information on human sexuality, Kinsey set out to bring the study of sexuality up to date, conducting new research based on the objective principles of sound scientific investigation rather than moralistic guidelines and outdated laws.
In 1938 Kinsey's early study of human sexual behavior was based on responses to questionnaires completed by students enrolled in his course. As the validity of these responses came into question, Kinsey changed his data gathering technique to face to face interviews. Over time, his questioning technique evolved into an elaborate series of questions designed to tweeze out the most intimate details of an individual's sexual history, while at the same time reducing or eliminating the opportunity for the individual to provide false information. His questioning technique and that of his three other colleagues stood up under rigorous scrutiny by his peers.
In December 1948 Kinsey and his colleagues published Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, the first of two highly controversial texts. This and his subsequent book, Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953), came to be known as the Kinsey Reports. Both volumes were filled with frank discussions of biological functions in nonjudgmental contexts. Information derived from thousands of American men and women challenged established perceptions of homosexuality, masturbation, premarital and extramarital relationships, and the role of sex in women's lives.
Before his death on August 25, 1956, resulting from pneumonia and heart complications, Kinsey had personally conducted 7,935 interviews. Additionally, a $23,000 grant awarded by the Rockefeller Foundation in 1943, with continued funding until 1954, enabled Kinsey and his colleagues to found the Institute of Sex Research of Indiana University.