Many recognize Kinsey as the founder of sexology, the systematic study of human sexuality. This month, Kinsey’s life and contributions will be illustrated on the silver screen in the simply-titled Kinsey, directed by Academy Award winner Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters) and starring Liam Neeson.
Although Kinsey would later become known as the pioneer of sex research, a high school classmate once labeled him “the shyest guy around girls you could think of.”
Following high school, Kinsey’s parents pressured him to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering. However, in 1914 he abandoned the field to pursue his passion for biology.
In 1920 Kinsey worked as an assistant professor of zoology at Indiana University. Here he became an expert on the wall gasp, a non-stinging insect about the size of an ant. It is also here that he met his future wife. Chemistry student Clara Bracken McMillen was also greatly interested in insect evolution, and this shared passion of insects strangely led to their love for each other.
Equipped with his newfound experience in the area, Kinsey set out to teach the first marriage course at Indiana University. It became a hugely popular class, likely because it emphasized the sexual component of marriage. Many students turned to Kinsey for sex advice, but the doctor quickly realized that his students required information that he did not have. Determined, Kinsey set out to further study human sexuality.
In 1947, Kinsey opened the Institute for Sex Research (today known as the Kinsey Institute). The Institute, and Kinsey’s research, was generously funded by the Rockefeller Foundation.
Kinsey assembled a research team to help him take “sex histories” — elaborate interviews to uncover what clandestine activities took place in the bedroom.
Kinsey began his sex histories by interviewing his students and colleagues, followed by a wide array of people, in order to achieve a diverse sample. During the interviews — which covered over 200 types of sexual behaviour — Kinsey and his research team behaved in a friendly, often indifferent manner. Their goal was to make the interviewee feel as comfortable as possible so he or she would disclose everything.
In 1948, Kinsey published Sexual Behavior in the Human Male. The book sold 25,000 copies within days and has since sold over 200,000 copies. Kinsey was showered with praise; he became the subject of songs, articles and editorial cartoons. Many were shocked by his findings, which stated that 67 to 98 per cent of men had premarital sex (depending on social class), 92 per cent masturbated, and 37 per cent had had a homosexual experience. However, many researchers feel that this last percentage is much too high due to Kinsey’s erroneous methods of investigation.
Regardless, Kinsey’s report had a significant impact on society. It helped spark the sexual revolution of the ’60s and encouraged people to talk about sex.
In 1953, Kinsey released Sexual Behavior in the Human Female. Unlike his first study, this book outraged many; people refused to believe that 62 per cent of women masturbated, nearly 50 per cent indulged in premarital sex and 26 per cent admitted to extra-marital affairs.
Congressional investigators believed that Kinsey tainted the previously pure vision of women in an effort to destroy American values. They also suggested Kinsey was influenced by communists. These accusations led to the Rockefeller Foundation cutting the Kinsey Institute’s funding. Kinsey was deeply affected by the loss of funding. He believed himself a failure until his final interview, in which he regained confidence in his work.
In 1956, Kinsey died from a heart attack. However, the Kinsey Institute continues to conduct scientific studies and students continue to learn about sex. Alfred C. Kinsey, considered the “American Freud,” will continue to be remembered for being the first to study the central activity behind so many bedrooms doors.
Kinsey opens in select theatres Nov. 12. For more information about Alfred C. Kinsey, check out Understanding Human Sexuality, www.indiana.edu/~kinsey and www2.foxsearchlight.com/kinsey/site/.