Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 440
Following the publication of European studies and the development of the new profession of psychoanalysis, American colleges during the 1930’s began to move with the times and offer courses in sex education and marriage. Indiana University introduced a noncredit course on marriage in 1938. To teach the course the university tapped a middle-aged biologist of unquestioned moral standing.
Alfred C. Kinsey was an unlikely point man for a sexual revolution. Raised in a strict Methodist family and trained as a scientist, he was a crew-cut, bow-tied paragon of Midwestern virtue. He had earned a doctorate in entomology from Harvard University in 1920. His two-volume study of gall wasps marked him as a leading geneticist of his day and proved that he excelled in collecting and interpreting statistical data. For his sex and marriage course, Kinsey used interviews to quantify American sexual behavior through sex histories scientifically. A public controversy over his work arose almost immediately.
In 1940 the president of Indiana University, who was sympathetic to Kinsey’s work, responded to complaints from local clerics by advising Kinsey that he could either teach his course or record his histories, but not both. Kinsey chose the latter. By 1948 he was ready to begin publishing his findings.
Kinsey’s first book, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948), was an immediate best-seller. Its findings supported the idea that healthy sexual activity made for healthy marriages; it also suggested rates of extramarital sex and homosexuality were higher than previously suspected and said that virtually all young males masturbated. Church groups united in accusing Kinsey of trying to lower moral standards. One well-known minister summed up this sentiment by raging that it was “impossible to estimate the damage this book will do to the already deteriorating morals of America.”
Kinsey defended his research methods and worried about his funding for ongoing research. His second book, Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953) also became a best-seller. His revolutionary findings included observations of great variety in female sexual activity and a lack of frigidity among women. In short, the book established that there was little that could be called “normal” in sexual behavior. An Indianapolis minister labeled Kinsey “a cheap charlatan.” A New York rabbi called Kinsey’s book “a libel on all womankind.” McCarthyism, which was then sweeping the country, led Roman Catholic publications to suggest that Kinsey was helping Americans to “act like Communists” and moved a New York congressman to demand that the postmaster general ban Kinsey’s book from the mails because it was “the insult of the century against our mothers, wives, daughters, and sisters.” The Rockefeller Foundation dropped its support for Kinsey’s research.
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