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Alfred Charles Kinsey was
born in Hoboken, New Jersey on June 23, 1894. His father was Alfred Sequine Kinsey and mother Sarah Ann Charles (Brown & Fee, 2003). Kinsey rebelled against his father’s wishes of being an engineer and attended Bowdoin College in Maine to be a biology student. He graduated with honors in 1916 and later became a student of applied biology at Harvard. William Morton Wheeler became his mentor as they studied the evolutionary taxonomy of the gall wasp and discovered several new species (Brown & Fee, 2003). In 1924 he married Clara Bracken McMillen, a student at the University of Indiana and had 4 children(Brown & Fee, 2003). He died of heart disease on August 25, 1956 (Brown & Fee, 2003)
Alfred Kinsey interviewing a subject.
After graduating from Harvard Kinsey became a professor of zoology in 1929 at the University of Indiana (Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 2010). After publishing his first study on gall wasps Kinsey expected to advance as a professor to a more prestigious university but no one responded to his publication and it result
ed in a disappointment. After this occurrence he decided to change his career path towards a different direction (Brown & Fee, 2003). In 1938 he was offered to teach a new course at the University of Indiana on marriage and family. Before the only classes on sexuality were hygiene classes taught by the American Social Hygiene Association and this new class focused more on sexually transmitted diseases and masturbation (Bullough, 1998). This was a team-taught class and after having positive responses from the students Kinsey changed his area of research from gall wasps to the human sexual experience (Brown & Fee, 2003).
Later co-workers strongly objected his teaching methods because they were strictly biological. The president Herman Wells gave Kinsey a choice to either teach the way the others wanted him to or stop teaching the class and commit all his time to sex research (Bullough, 2004). While he did accept to only focus on research he was at first not given the financial support. He then received an exploratory grant from the CPRS committee in 1941. The reasons he was given this grant were because he was a full-time professor, an established scientist, was married with children (evidence he was not a sex-pervert), and was very dedicated and detailed oriented to his work (Bullough, 2004). His research included conducting in-depth interviews of his students’ sexual history and later even interviewed many people in close communities and big cities. Kinsey was later given other grants from the Research Council and Rockefeller Foundation (Brown & Fee, 2003). In 1947 Kinsey was receiving half of the CPRS committee’s budget to further his research on human sexuality.
Personal Life Related to Interest in Sexuality
Kinsey’s first personal encounter of having sex was 7 months after his marriage. He would almost be considered “prudish” in the beginning of his marriage. His wife ended up needing small surgery to take care of her adherent clitoris and this was an area of biology that Kinsey new very little about. Human sexuality was accepted for animals but ignored for humans and this initially intrigued him on the topic (Bullough, 2004).
Also during his teachings of gall wasps he questioned human sexuality frequently. This was during the age of Victorian sexual morality where he found current research on sex inaccurate and harmful to his students (Granzig, 2006).
Work on Human Sexuality
Before the 19th century the study of sex was strictly a moral issue and while it progressively became more scientific, physicians were the ones to primarily conduct the research (Bullough, 1998). The funding for these types of studies was limited and in order to receive support the researchers had to be recommended or know someone on the committee. The donors were very strict about the types of studies being conducted as well (Bullough, 1998). Prior to Kinsey’s research, there were only 19 American researchers of sexual behavior who went about their studies somewhat scientifically but Kinsey did not think their research was as substantial as it could have been (Bullough, 2004).
First Kinsey’s scientific research consisted of
information about life cycle, evolution, geographic distribution and speciation of the gall wasp (Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 2010). He discovered new information about these topics and
there is even a family of gall wasps named after him. He was the most knowledgeable person in the world about gall wasps but he was never acknowledged for the work he completed and decided to study something that would reach a broader audience (Bullough, 2004). His work on sexuality started by interviewing his students’ sexual histories and his studies primarily included in-depth interviews. His team in total completed about 18,000 interviews, 8,000 of which were conducted on his own. They started out asking basic information, then recollections of sex education and previous knowledge on sexual topics. This included questions about masturbation, fantasies, and homosexuality. Not only students but also adults and even children were interviewed throughout the process (Bullough, 2004). His research on human sexual behavior
had financial support from the National Research Council, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the University of Indiana (Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 2010). Kinsey also
collected materials of 35 major categories and over 200 subcategories of all biomedical fields as well as social and behavioral science, religion, education, law, literature, the arts, erotica, music and ballads, wall inscriptions, newspapers, scandal sheets, magazine, household implements, ads, comics books, and more (Bullough, 2004).
In 1948 Kinsey and his colleagues used their research about human sexuality and published the
Sexual Behavior in the Human Male
. This became a bestseller and in 3 months it sold 200,000 copies. The book spoke about the topics of masturbation, adultery, and homosexuality. He was praised as well as criticized for the work he did (Brown & Fee, 2003). In 1953 the
Sexual Behavior in the Human Female
was published which talked about women’s masturbation, premarital sex, and orgasms (Brown & Fee, 2003). The Rockefeller Foundation ended their funding after this book was published because the counterattacks on his work eventually led to a congressional investigation (Brown & Fee, 2003).
There were many attacks against Kinsey’s work, which eventually helped lead him to sickness and death. The first began with teachers at Indiana opposing the way Kinsey was teaching the class on marriage and family and the way he conducted his interviews. For example one teacher charged Kinsey of asking girls how long their clitorises were and this teacher believed more in the morality of sex as opposed to the science. Kinsey was exceptionally open about sex and many people opposed this (Bullough, 1998).
He was also challenged because he believed in total objectivity. His discussions of homosexuality as just another form of sexual activity, women sexuality and orgasms, extramarital intercourse and pedophiles (intergenerational sex) were the most criticized for during that time because he didn’t turn the participants over to authorities and didn’t think children were seriously harmed by intergenerational sex. His statistical sampling was not randomized and he overrepresented certain groups of the population primarily being students from Indiana (Bullough, 1998).
Kinsey also ignored topics like swinging, group sex, and alternative lifestyles because he said these were statistically insignificant. He was also not interested in the issues of pregnancy or STDs (Bullough, 1998).
Kinsey challenged the assumptions about sex in the U.S. and made it possible to openly talk about topics like premarital sex, masturbation and oral sex (Bullough, 1998). He stressed that homosexuals were normal human beings and changed the way we think about sex overall (Bullough, 2004).
This was the first time anyone offered sexual statistics that were free of moral bias and did not have prejudice medical opinions with no scientific value (Granzig, 2006).
His data showed that masturbation did not cause blindness, hairy palms, infertility, blood loss and insanity by stating that over 90% of males masturbate (Granzig, 2006). Kinsey
challenged beliefs about sexuality specifically that women were not asexual beings (Bullough, 1998).
He was also the main reason why homosexuality was removed from the list of diseases in
Diagnostic and Statistical Manuel of Mental Disorders
in 1973 and still had an influence on the definitions of sexual behaviors 17 years after his death (Granzig, 2006).
Kinsey conducted breakthrough studies of male and female sexual behavior, which helped start the “sexual revolution” of the 1960s and 70s (Brown & Fee, 2003). He was a major influence on changing American’s attitudes about sexuality in the 20th century, influenced feminism, gay and lesbian movements and went against the medical and psychiatric views of society (Bullough, 1998).
Kinsey created a program that exists now called
the Institute for Sex Research in 1947 at the University of Indiana (Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 2010). Kinsey also
established a library at the University of Indiana containing sources about sexuality, which gave researchers information to conduct further studies (Bullough, 1998).
Without the contributions of Kinsey sex would still be seen as a disease, morally wrong, and corrupted (Granzig, 2006).
Alfred Charles Kinsey. (2010). Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th Edition, 1. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.
Brown, T. M., & Fee, E. (2003). Alfred C. Kinsey: A Pioneer of Sex Research. American Journal of Public Health, 93(6), 896-897. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.
Bullough, V. L. (1998). Alfred Kinsey and the Kinsey Report: Historical Overview and Lasting Contributions. Journal of Sex Research, 35(2), 127-131. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.
Bullough, V. L. (2004). Sex Will Never Be the Same: The Contributions of Alfred C. Kinsey. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 33(3), 277-286. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.
Granzig, W. A. (2006). THE LEGACY OF ALFRED C. KINSEY. Sexuality & Culture, 10(1), 99-102. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.
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