Sunday, November 28, 2004

The man who discovered sex

Alfred C. Kinsey is the recent subject of a film, Kinsey, and a novel, The Inner Circle, by T.C. Boyle. Why the fascination with Kinsey? Because Kinsey got the sexual revolution started.

Kinsey was a zoologist specializing in gall wasps when he was drafted to teach a course on "marriage" (i.e. sex) at Indiana University in 1938. He was appalled at how little his students knew about the subject. According to one study at the time, 96 percent of young people didn't know the word "masturbation," and when told what it meant, 40 percent thought it caused insanity. The most popular marital guide of the day called oral sex within marriage "the hell gate of the realm of sexual perversion."

Kinsey devised an interview consisting of more than 300 questions about Americans' sex lives to find out what people did behind closed doors. He and four colleagues traveled the country, taking 18,000 "sexual histories."

In 1948, Kinsey published Sexual Behavior in the Human Male. In it, he reported that 85 percent of white men had had premarital sex, that 50 percent had had extramarital sex, and that 69 percent had frequented prostitutes. The Kinsey Report, as it became known, sold 270,000 copies, and Kinsey became a celebrity. He was compared to Darwin and Copernicus. But he became most famous for one statistic in particular: that 10 percent of men are gay.

Ironically, Kinsey never said it. He didn't even believe there were "heterosexuals" and "homosexuals" - only heterosexual or homosexual acts. What he found was that 37 percent of men had had at least one homosexual experience, that 10 percent "were more or less exclusively homosexual" for at least three years, and that four percent were exclusively homosexual their entire lives.

Kinsey often pointed out that because America's morality laws prohibited oral sex and other "deviant" acts, even within marriage, 95 percent of the people he met were sex criminals. He believed that social mores should be more in line with actual behavior. "There are only three kinds of sexual abnormalities," he once said. "Abstinence, celibacy and delayed marriage."

Sexual Behavior in the Human Female was his second book. The typical pre-Kinsey attitude toward female sexuality was summed up by a marriage manual that said for men, sex was as easy as falling off a log, while for women, it was "as simple as being that log." Kinsey showed that most women needed some form of direct clitoral stimulation. He also reported that 63 percent of women masturbated, and that 14 percent were capable of multiple orgasms. He also revealed that half of married women had had premarital sex, and that of those, 77 percent had no regrets. A nymphomaniac, said Kinsey, is "someone who has more sex than you do."

America was not yet ready to hear that their mothers and daughters were sexual creatures. The backlash to the book included congressional hearings, obscenity charges and an FBI investigation. Kinsey was branded a Communist out to destroy the American family. Depressed and stressed, he died of heart failure at 62.

But his work changed the world and paved the way for the sexual revolution. One by one, states undid laws against fornication, adultery and sodomy, usually citing Kinsey as their authority. Schools began to teach sex education based on his principles. (condensed from The Week, November 26, 2004)

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