Kinsey Report Research Paper Starter

Alfred Kinsey

Kinsey Report

(Research Starters)

In 1948, biologist Alfred C. Kinsey published the groundbreaking research report, “Sexual Behavior in the Human Male”, which has served as the impetus for the modern study of human sexuality. Now referred to colloquially as “The Kinsey Report”, it remains a controversial and oft-cited body of research. The Kinsey Report challenged many medical and social beliefs about homosexuality and female sexuality, and it contributed heavily to the feminist and gay/lesbian movements of the twentieth century. Kinsey used a taxonomic approach to the classification of human sexual behaviors, which allowed for the first scientific study of what had previously been seen as a moral or medical area of concern.

Keywords Bestiality; Bias; Bipolar Scale; Committee for Research in Problems of Sex (CRPS); Gay and Lesbian Studies; Gender Studies; Homosexuality; Human Sexuality; Kinsey, Alfred; Kinsey scale; Pedophile; Sample/Sampling; Sexual Behavior in the Human Male; Taxonomy

The Kinsey Report


Alfred C. Kinsey (1894–1956) was an American, Harvard-educated biologist and professor of entomology and zoology. In 1947, Kinsey founded the Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction at Indiana University. It was posthumously renamed the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction. Kinsey is best known as the lead researcher and author of the 1948 Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, which became an international bestseller and drastically changed the perceptions of human sexuality among both the public and the academic body researching the field. Along with the 1953 volume Sexual Behavior in the Human Female , the two reports created a great deal of discussion and controversy and became an enduring part of American culture (Steinberg, 2005; Herzog, 2006).

References to "The Kinsey Report" abound in both the academic literature and in popular culture. In 1964, US poet Ogden Nash titled a piece "The Kinsey Report Didn't Upset Me, Either" in which he wrote, "I won't allow my life to be regulated by reports, whether rosily optimistic or gloomily cadaveric" (Nash, 1964, p.1). In 2004, the critically acclaimed movie Kinsey, starring actor Liam Neeson as Alfred Kinsey, portrayed the researcher who revolutionized the study of human sexuality. In addition, there have been academic and trade books published about the studies, their impact on science and culture, and about Kinsey himself.

In the decades following the publication of Kinsey's seminal studies, debates about the methods he used, the conclusions he drew, and about his own sexual practices fueled a controversy that began soon after the reports were first disseminated. Kinsey received a great deal of praise for breaking the silence that had surrounded sexual matters and for making public norms and behaviors that had been considered much more rare and deviant than the research revealed (Herzog, 2006).

Historical Background

The study of human sexuality was considered a moral issue prior to 1890, when the medical community began to address issues of sexual function and sexually transmitted diseases, albeit with a nod to the moral standards of the times. Doctors, with backgrounds in biology, anatomy, and medicine, were seen as the most logical experts in the field (Bullough, 1998). Havelock Ellis and Magnus Hirschfeld were physicians whose research focused on sex through the use of sexual histories, much like Kinsey. The significant difference in their methods, though, is considered to be critical to the divergence in their findings. Ellis compiled histories through correspondence with volunteers, while Hirschfeld relied upon historical data and personal knowledge until late in his career when he began to conduct personal interviews (Bullough, 1998). "Unfortunately, Hirschfeld used only a small portion of his data in his published books, and before he could complete a comprehensive study of sexuality, his files were destroyed by the Nazis" (Bullough, 1994, as cited in Bullough, 1998, p. 127). While some of the data reported in those early studies came from the physicians' own practices and research, it was supplemented by anthropological studies, and much of it was informed by the political and moral standards of the early twentieth century (Bullough, 1998).

Other early research by physicians was published by psychiatrists, especially those trained as psychoanalysts, such as George Henry. These studies lacked validity in that their basic assumptions were flawed (for example, that homosexuals are ill). Furthermore, their questions were designed to determine differences among heterosexuals, but they lacked comparative studies with which to validate them (Henry, 1941, as cited in Bullough, 1998). Despite the difficulties in producing valid research, assumptions about the medical community's authority to explore human sexuality endured. When the Committee for Research in the Problems in Sex (CRPS), a grant-funding organization endowed through the Rockefeller's National Research Council, began awarding funds to researchers to conduct sex surveys, physicians were among the first to receive the monies (Bullough, 1998).

Kinsey was a classically trained scientist who taught courses in general biology, an author who had published several textbooks, and a researcher and world-renowned expert on gall wasps. He began his study of human sexuality in 1938 when he was invited to become a member of an interdisciplinary team delivering a course on marriage and family at Indiana University (Bullough, 1998). In 1941 he received an initial exploratory grant from the CRPS, which was followed by full funding the following year. Kinsey's approach to the study was clinical; he used taxonomy to dispassionately classify and describe behaviors and had no moral, ethical, or political agenda to inform his conclusions. The CRPS viewed Kinsey as a favorable candidate for research into human sexuality; he was a bench scientist with impeccable research skills, he was a full professor at a major university, his research into the field had the full support of the university administration, and he was married with adolescent children (Bullough, 1998). According to Bullough (1998), "the CRPS came to be so committed to Kinsey that by the 1946–1947 academic year, he was receiving half of the committee's total budget" (p. 129).

Kinsey's Research Methods

Kinsey's method of data collection involved personal interviews with volunteer subjects. One issue that he faced was in the creation of a representative sample population of American adults. Steinberg (2005) states, "People who agreed to give their sexual histories would necessarily be a self-selected, and therefore skewed, subset of the total population" (p. 19). Kinsey sought to mitigate the problem by using a large number of subjects, hoping that the volume would lessen the bias. This also worked with his methodology as the taxonomic approach required that data from as many subjects as possible be gathered. Although Kinsey had hoped to interview 100, 000 subjects from a variety of distinct cultural subgroups for the report, only 18,000 were completed by the time the Rockefeller Foundation had stopped funding for the research in 1954. Kinsey had personally interviewed 8,000 participants. He believed that self-administered questionnaires encouraged dishonest responses and inaccuracies. He held that participants would only be truthful about their sexual experiences when questioned personally because discrepancies, untruths, and contradictions could be explored by the interviewer (Steinberg, 2005; Bullough, 1998).

Kinsey developed a system of variegated questions and checks to detect lies that respondents might tell, and he believed that his system was effective. Interviewer bias was also a concern, and to mitigate that, he instituted a process through which two interviewers would meet with the same subject independently and at different times and responses would be compared. According to Bullough (1998), there were four interviewers, including Kinsey, and "if there was a bias, it came to be a shared one. The questions, however, were so wide-ranging that this too would limit much of the potential for slanting the data in any one direction" (p. 129).

Kinsey's challenge was to create an interview instrument and environment in which subjects would feel free to discuss a subject on which they had largely remained silent. Kinsey taught his researchers to project a sincere and objective demeanor that would put subjects at ease to disclose their sexual identities. Steinberg (2005) asserts, "his basic method—a contribution to sexual science as profound and long-lasting as the data he produced—was to lead people out of their socially enforced silence around sex and into a bubble of free speech where they had permission to speak openly and honestly about sex" (p. 19). In removing the moral overtones from the research, Kinsey removed the taboo that had kept subjects from disclosing their sexual truths; by keeping the research clinical and for scientific use, they were able to elicit more information.

In his reports, Kinsey dismissed sexual practices he deemed outliers, or statistically insignificant. Pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases were ignored along with sexual behaviors such as swinging, group sex, sadism, masochism, transvestitism, voyeurism, and exhibitionism. Homosexuality, pedophilia, and bestiality, however, were studied in some depth. He treated sex as a part of human behavior, demystifying its discussion and bringing into focus the aspects of sexuality that define individuals by making the study scientific rather than voyeuristic (Bullough, 1998).

Further Insights

Kinsey's Findings

The Kinsey studies had a profound impact on both American culture and the study of human sexuality. Bethell (2005) states, "Remember the Kinsey sermon: there is no such thing as abnormality, just ceaseless sexual variety" (p. 1), and Steinberg offers, "'Everybody's sin is nobody's sin,'...

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