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  • Wednesday, December 08, 2004


    More Kinsey

    The movie Kinsey has stirred a fair amount of vituperative attention. Here's some quotes from an overview of his career and the effect of his work on public perceptions and knowledge of sex and sexuality. From The Joy of Sexology:
    Months earlier, conservative activists had launched an onslaught against the film. Radio host Laura Schlessinger and Judith Reisman, author of a book titled Kinsey, Sex and Fraud, tried to place ads in a Hollywood trade publication alleging Kinsey was a pervert and a pedophile. (Their ads were declined as obscene.) Focus on the Family and Concerned Women for America, two social conservative organizations, later bombarded newspaper film critics with mailers impugning Kinsey's character and research. When Kinsey opened to the public, the Abstinence Clearinghouse, a network for chastity educators, organized foot soldiers to picket theaters and hand out pamphlets titled "Casualties of Kinsey." The group's director, Leslee Unruh, explained that "Kinsey should be looked upon in the history books as Hitler, as Saddam Hussein."

    While conservative pitchforks have been raised at each of these harbingers of the sexual revolution, the anger directed at Kinsey even today, a half century after his death, is unique. For decades, every member of Congress who has tried to choke the spigot of federal funding for sexuality or AIDS studies has hurled invectives at both Kinsey and the University of Indiana research center that bears his name. When the 50th anniversary of his books arrived, conservatives marked the occasion by founding new anti-Kinsey advocacy organizations, such as Restoring Social Virtue and Purity (RSVP). Each year, the Abstinence Clearinghouse devotes two hours of its annual conference to debunking a man whose fame and influence peaked generations ago.

    Why does Kinsey hold such a distinct place in conservative crosshairs? The answer is the same reason that his studies of American sexual behavior were so influential when they first appeared. Unlike Freud, whose theories were debated by the educated classes, Kinsey published books that everybody read – or read about. And unlike Henry Miller, Bob Guccione, or Xaviera "the Happy Hooker" Hollander, Kinsey didn't present himself as an advocate of sexual license, but as an objective scientist describing the sexual profligacy and heterogeneity that already existed in American culture. It was the apparent impartiality of his data that so shook America's settled notions of sexuality, as deeply as Darwin's theory of natural selection did the literalist biblical notions of creation.

    Kinsey quit teaching two years later to conduct the first large-scale survey of Americans' sexual experiences. He perfected his interview techniques, developed a shorthand to record answers without disrupting a conversation, trained a handful of research assistants, and hit the road for the 48 states in a modified truck with an extra fuel tank and heavy springs for cross-country terrain that his students had nicknamed the "Kinsey juggernaut." His goal was to collect 100,000 sexual histories; he ultimately got 18,000.

    In 1948, he dissected the nation's sex life in the first of two volumes (of a planned series of nine), Sexual Behavior In The Human Male. He methodically sliced Americans' bedroom experience by marital, premarital, and post-marital experiences; by frequencies of intercourse, masturbation, and orgasm; by preferences for position, foreplay, and gender of partner. In 173 graphs and 162 tables, Kinsey correlated these trends with subjects' occupation, education, hometown, church attendance, age at onset of puberty, and a dozen other variables to find, for example, that better educated couples prolong foreplay; that men and women reach their sexual peak at different ages; that blue-collar workers tended to have affairs earlier in their marriage, while white-collars workers tended to stray later. Physiologically, Kinsey demonstrated that masturbation doesn't cause infertility, that nearly every part of the body is sensitive to some degree of erotic stimuli.

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