Alfred C. Kinsey

James H. Jones’ biography of Alfred C. Kinsey, ALFRED C. KINSEY: A PUBLIC/PRIVATE LIFE, is an impressive work. The product of decades of research, this book will long stand as the definitive study of its subject. It is also a compelling psychological portrait of a driven man, which effectively captures the aching humanity behind the officially “scientific” facade erected around Kinsey and his work. Jones’ thesis, persuasively buttressed by the evidence he has gathered, is that there were two Kinseys. First, there was the public Kinsey—the model scientist, cool, rational, disinterested, and, at home, the perfect family man, devoted to wife and children. Second, there was a private Kinsey, an unhappily repressed homosexual, relieving unresolved anxieties through acts of sexual masochism, a man who encouraged unrestrained erotic expression and experimentation at work and at home, and, increasingly, a man burning with an intense desire to overturn the Victorian mores which at mid-twentieth century still governed American attitudes toward sexuality.

Born in 1894, into a strict and intensely religious household, Kinsey learned as a boy to mask his inner urges behind an outward show of conformity. Through college, graduate training in biology, and a teaching and research career at Indiana University, Kinsey wrestled with his desires, and struggled to earn social approval. But his researches into gall wasps, based on massive sampling failed to win him acclaim. By mid-life, his career seemed at a dead end. The opportunity to teach a course on “marriage” gave his career a new direction, and Kinsey a chance to reconcile, at least in part, his public and private selves. He became a sex researcher, basing his conclusions on data drawn from thousands of interviews. His subsequent reports on male and female sexual behavior shocked readers, and stimulated a discussion which would help lay the foundations for the sexual rebellion of the 1960’s. Exhausted by his labors, and the controversy which resulted from them, Kinsey died in 1956, a martyr to his intensely personal crusade to reform America.