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An introduction to the life of alfred c kinsey

Hoboken, New Jersey23 June 1894; d. Bloomington, Indiana, 25 August 1956biology, taxonomy, human sexuality. Kinsey was a biologist at Indiana University with a special interest in taxonomy and its application to the gall wasp.

In 1938, at the age of forty-four, he was asked to teach a marriage course for students. This task confronted him with the extraordinary lack of scientific evidence relating to human sexual behavior, and led him to spend the rest of his life striving to fill this gap in knowledge. The extent to which human sexual behavior had been systematically studied previously was minimal, and in several respects Kinsey was a pioneer who broke through the social taboos to pursue his scientific goals, in the process carrying out a project that has not yet been equaled in size, breadth, or scope.

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His work also provoked considerable controversy, which has continued, at intervals, ever since. He started on this great undertaking relatively late in his career, and he died eighteen years later, when only sixty-two. Both of his parents were devout Methodists with very conservative social values.

By the time he was in college, he followed an exhausting schedule of work, study and long nature expeditions. A high school science teacher, Natalie Roeth, introduced Kinsey to the biological sciences, but his father insisted that he study engineering at Stevens. After two years, Kinsey rebelled and transferred to Bowdoin College, where he graduated magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa.

Although Kinsey had to take an overload of courses to complete degrees in psychology and biology while working to earn his keep, he maintained his strong interest in the piano and continued to work with YMCA camps. There he studied with William Morton Wheeler, a prominent entomologist who studied ant societies. Kinsey chose gall wasps for the subject of his dissertation. After completing a PhD in zoology in 1919, he was awarded a Sheldon Traveling Fellowship, which subsidized a postdoctoral year in the field.

He toured remote areas of the United Statesadding to an already large collection of gall wasps.

In 1920 he accepted the invitation of ichthyologist Carl Eigenmann to join the Department of Zoology at Indiana University. For more than twenty years Kinsey devoted his academic life to an investigation of the taxonomy of gall wasps of the genus Cynips. By the time of his death he had studied more than five million specimens.

When he began his work in graduate school, traditional taxonomy tended to focus on typical specimens. But Kinsey took quite a different approach, one that reflected the growing an introduction to the life of alfred c kinsey of evolutionary biology. From an evolutionary point of view, one needed to study populations of organisms, and the variations among them were of crucial interest. So Kinsey not only collected large numbers of specimens, he also measured them under the microscope, noting all sorts of differences between them.

Because he was also interested in speciation and biogeography, Kinsey needed to collect specimens from diverse regions. Gall wasps do not travel far from their protective galls. Hence it is relatively easy for populations to become isolated, and this leads to an unusually large number of what Kinsey thought of as species many in the early twenty-first century would be viewed as subspecies.

Starting in 1922 Kinsey published long papers on his findings, followed by two extensive books: The Gall Wasp Genus Cynips: Kinsey bluntly contrasted his approach with that of systematists who stick pins in a few so-called representative samples and place them in a box.

His views on taxonomy won wide acceptance, and his 1926 textbook for undergraduates, An Introduction to Biology, was well received and went through three editions. And in 1938 Kinsey set out to offer a marriage course to Indiana undergraduates. Soon he was investigating the varieties of human sexual behavior with the same vigor as he had pursued gall wasps. His goal was 100,000 interviews—perhaps not surprising, considering the more than a million gall wasps he had amassed.

He had planned a series of books based on this data, but only published two of them before his early death: Pregnancy, Birth and Abortion 1958Sex Offenders: Marginal Tabulations of the 1938—1963 Interviews 1979. The two Kinsey volumes made a huge impact. The first, an extremely dry book filled with dense tables, sold more than 200,000 copies in its first six weeks.

Within four months, it was at the top of the New York Times bestsellers list. Within the first year, there were translations in French, Spanish, Italian, and Swedish.

By 1950 the attention of the public and media turned to anticipating the volume on females. Although at the outset this also received a massive response from the media most of it in the three weeks before it was officially publishedthe reaction was brief by comparison with the first volume.

Overall, reactions to both books an introduction to the life of alfred c kinsey from outrage to admiration. The reactions from the scientific community were also mixed, mainly concerning issues of methodology, which will be considered further. Probability sampling, in which random selection is used to improve representativeness, was in its infancy when Kinsey began his long-running study.

He also believed probability sampling to be inappropriate because of the high refusal rate to be expected in a sex survey. However, he also deliberately over-sampled relatively rare varieties of sexual behavior in order to have enough of each variety from which to draw useful conclusions, a technique advocated today for the study of behavior in minority groups. Kinsey was clearly sensitive to criticisms of his sampling approach and defended his methodology within the work itself.

Once published, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male elicited a number of critical reviews from statisticians. Following a lengthy period of assessment, a detailed report by the review group of three—William Cochran, Frederick Mosteller and John Tukey—was published. The group acknowledged the difficulties that Kinsey had faced, which were similar to but in many respects more formidable than those faced by many other large scale social surveys, and concluded that he had been justified in not using probability sampling in the earlier stages of his project.

However, they did advise that he should do so, at least on a modest scale, in the future. By then the data for Sexual Behavior in the Human Female had already been largely collected. Given the potential for selection bias that his method involved, the review group was critical of his lack of caution in interpreting his findings, as well as his incorrect use of statistical procedures e.

The sampling problem was most marked in Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, mainly because of the inclusion of large numbers of prisoners within the non-college sample.

Alfred C. Kinsey: an introduction...

When confronted by his colleagues Paul Gebhard, Wardell Pomeroy, and Clyde Martin concerning the differences in the sexual behavior data between women with prison records and those without, Kinsey agreed to omit such special groups from the analysis, and they were excluded from consideration in Sexual Behavior in the Human Female.

This made clear the under-sampling of non-college-educated men and women. In general, therefore, these samples were of most value in studying the college-educated part of the population.

One issue that did look different as a result of this process was the incidence of male homosexual behavior. Whereas incidence figures for college-educated males did not change much, those for the non-college-educated, once those with criminal records were excluded, looked markedly lower. Gagnon and Simon 1973 reanalyzed the data from the college-educated group and found that, whereas 30 percent reported at least one homosexual experience, in more than half this experience occurred before the age of fifteen; an additional third had experienced all their homosexual acts during adolescence.

This left about 3 percent with extensive and 3 percent with exclusive homosexual histories.


Kinsey had not drawn attention to the fact that these reported same-sex experiences were predominantly occurring in early adolescence. Of some interest is the possibility that there may have been a substantial drop in this early adolescent male homosexual expression over the last fifty years. It focused on behaviors and responses and did not ask about feelings, attitudes, or values. Modern sex research would question the validity of such recalled frequencies, except for fairly recent time periods of recall.

Unfortunately, his method of interviewing, along with an elaborate method of coding answers, which needed to be memorized by the interviewer, required extensive training; not surprisingly, the method has not been used in more recent surveys.

He regarded orgasm, at least in the male, as the most precise and specific indicator of a sexual experience. He acknowledged that there were many sexual situations or encounters that did not result in orgasm.

Although somewhat of an oversimplification, this does have scientific heuristic value. By the time Kinsey wrote Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, his position had shifted somewhat on this issue.

Along with this shift came a more sensitive attitude to female sexuality than had been apparent in the volume on men. Maybe this resulted from his confrontation with the mass of female data as it emerged, which challenged many of his male-oriented attitudes.

Maybe he also responded to the criticisms of women whose opinion he clearly respected. Later in the volume, one finds the following: Although he repeatedly asserted throughout both volumes that his task was to obtain and present the facts, leaving the sociopolitical and moral significance of such facts to others, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that he also had a mission.

However, as he never explicitly stated a sociological or moral mission, it was left to others to suggest various agendas: Kinsey was decidedly not a communist, but a Republican. To what extent Kinsey had insight into the impact of his personal sexual history on his research scholars will never know.

Thus Kinsey described how marriage counselors, most of whom came from the upper social level, imposed their concepts of sexual normality on lower-level couples, where they did not fit. A recurring theme in both volumes was the extent to which such laws did not reflect actual sexual practice. At the time Kinsey was researching, virtually all forms of nonmarital sexuality were illegal, and some forms of an introduction to the life of alfred c kinsey behavior within marriage e.

In the volume on women, the emphasis is different. It is inescapable that Kinsey chose to study human sexuality in an extremely behavioral fashion. Although he commented at length on the social processes that shaped sexual morality, and often referred to the anguish and guilt suffered by individuals whose sexual behavior contravened the sexual mores of their group, he confined himself to describing their behavior without attempting to assess its emotional concomitants. There was little or no consideration of love, intimacy, or tension.

Much of his writing in these two volumes studiously avoids engaging with such concepts, leaving the text somewhat impersonal and incongruously cold considering its topic. At the time that his two volumes were an introduction to the life of alfred c kinsey, there was little information about sexuality available to the general public, and he was criticized for making his findings available to ordinary people rather than restricting them to professionals and clergy.

This has been a particular issue in relation to surveys of adolescents, where there is the added concern that research questions suggest ideas, leading to behavior that may not otherwise have happened.

Although his data, together with an abundance of evidence from other sources, clearly indicate that such socio-sexual changes had started well before Kinsey published his findings, and have occurred extensively throughout the industrial world and are linked to a range of other important social changes, such as change in the status of women, critics nevertheless continue to blame Kinsey.

A particular theme in this demonization has been to accuse him of sexual offenses against children. These allegations, which range from his being a pedophile, to his carrying out sexual experiments on children, or training other individuals to do so, are entirely without foundation, and are solely based on his reporting of the sexual, and in particular, orgasmic responses of children Tables 31 to 34, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male.

Kinsey to some extent was vulnerable to such allegations because he did not indicate clearly the source of this information. Subsequently, the Kinsey Institute made it clear that the information for these four tables came from one man, who had not only been involved throughout his adult life in numerous sexual activities with men, women, and children, but had also carefully documented his experiences. Kinsey interviewed this man close to the writing of the male volume and was clearly interested in his documented observations, which were made available to Kinsey.

In any case, whether ill judged or not, Kinsey cannot be held responsible for the sexual exploitation of these children, and there is no indication that he abused or promoted the abuse of any other children. Kinsey as a Scholar of Sexual Science. In Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, he reported important and striking differences in male and female patterns of behavior and attitudes.