Alfred Charles Kinsey (June 23, 1894 – August 25, 1956), was an American biologist and professor of entomology and zoology who in 1947 founded the Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction at Indiana University, now called the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction. Kinsey's research on human sexuality profoundly influenced social and cultural values in the United States and many other countries in the West which went through the sexual revolution starting in the 1960s.
Biography[edit | edit source]
Birth[edit | edit source]
Alfred Kinsey was born on June 23, 1894, in Hoboken, New Jersey, to Alfred Seguine Kinsey and Sarah Ann Charles. Kinsey was the eldest of three children. His mother had received little formal education; his father was a professor at Stevens Institute of Technology. His parents were rather poor for most of Kinsey's childhood. Consequently, the family often could not afford proper medical care, which may have led to young Kinsey's receiving inadequate treatment for a variety of diseases including rickets, rheumatic fever, and typhoid fever. This health record indicates that Kinsey received suboptimal exposure to sunlight (the cause of rickets in those days before milk and other foods were fortified with vitamin D) and lived in unsanitary conditions for at least part of his childhood. Rickets, leading to a curvature of the spine, resulted in a slight stoop that was to prevent Kinsey from being drafted in 1917 for World War I.
Early years[edit | edit source]
Both of Kinsey's parents were extremely conservative Christians; this left a powerful imprint on Kinsey for the rest of his life. His father was known as one of the most devout members of the local Methodist church and as a result most of Kinsey's social interactions were with other members of the church, often merely as a silent observer while his parents discussed religion with other similarly devout adults. Kinsey's father imposed strict rules on the household including mandating Sunday as a day of prayer (and little else), outlawing social relationships with girls, and prohibiting knowledge of anything remotely sexual including masturbation. Such a strict upbringing was not entirely uncommon at the time. As a child, Kinsey was forbidden to learn anything about the subject that was to later bring him such fame. Kinsey ultimately disavowed the Methodist religion of his parents and became an atheist.
Love of nature[edit | edit source]
At a young age, Kinsey showed great interest in nature and camping. He worked and camped with the local YMCA often throughout his early years. He enjoyed these activities to such an extent that he intended to work professionally for the YMCA after his education was completed. Even Kinsey's senior undergraduate thesis for psychology, a dissertation on the group dynamics of young boys, echoed this interest. He joined the Boy Scouts when a troop was formed in his community. His parents strongly supported this (and joined as well) because the Boy Scouts is an organization heavily grounded on the principles of Christianity. Kinsey diligently worked his way up through the Scouting ranks to Eagle Scout in only two years, rather than in the five or six years it took most boys. Despite earlier disease having weakened his heart, Kinsey followed an intense sequence of difficult hikes and camping expeditions throughout his early life.
High school[edit | edit source]
In high school, Kinsey was a quiet but extremely hard-working student. He was not interested in sports, but rather devoted his prodigious energy to academic work and the piano. At one time, Kinsey had hoped to become a concert pianist, but decided to concentrate on his scientific pursuits instead. Kinsey's ability early on to spend immense amounts of time deeply focused on study was a trait that would serve him well in college and during his professional career. Kinsey seems not to have formed strong social relationships during high school, but he earned respect for his academic ability. While there, Kinsey became interested in biology, botany and zoology. Kinsey was later to claim that his high school biology teacher, Natalie Roeth, was the most important influence on his decision to become a scientist.
College[edit | edit source]
Upon graduation from Columbia High School, Kinsey approached his father with plans to study botany at college. His father demanded that he study engineering at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken. Kinsey was unhappy at Stevens, and later remarked that his time there was one of the most wasteful periods of his life. Regardless, however, he continued his obsessive commitment to studying. At Stevens, he primarily took courses related to English and engineering, but was unable to satisfy his interest in biology. At the end of two years at Stevens, Kinsey gathered the courage to confront his father about his interest in biology and his intent to continue studying at Bowdoin College in Maine. His father vehemently opposed this, but finally relented. Accompanying Kinsey's victory, however, came the effective loss of his relationship with his father, which deeply troubled him for years to come.
In 1914, Kinsey entered Bowdoin College, where he became familiar with insect research under Manton Copeland. Two years later, Kinsey was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and graduated magna cum laude with degrees in biology and psychology. He continued his graduate studies at Harvard University's Bussey Institute, which had one of the most highly regarded biology programs in the United States. It was there that Kinsey studied applied biology under William Morton Wheeler, a scientist who made outstanding contributions to entomology. Under Wheeler, Kinsey worked almost completely autonomously, which suited both men quite well. For his doctoral thesis, Kinsey chose to do research on gall wasps. Kinsey began collecting samples of gall wasps with obsessive zeal. He traveled widely and took 26 detailed measurements on hundreds of thousands of gall wasps. His methodology made an important contribution to entomology as a science. Kinsey was granted a Sc.D. degree in 1919 by Harvard University. He published several papers in 1920 under the auspices of the American Museum of Natural History in New York, introducing the gall wasp to the scientific community and laying out its phylogeny. Of the more than 18 million insects in the museum's collection, some 5 million are gall wasps collected by Kinsey.
Marriage[edit | edit source]
Kinsey married Clara Bracken McMillen, whom he called Mac, in 1921. They had four children. Their first-born, Don, died from the complications of juvenile diabetes in 1927, just before his fifth birthday. Anne was born in 1924, Joan in 1925 and Bruce in 1928.
Death[edit | edit source]
Kinsey died on August 25, 1956, at the age of 62. The cause of death was reported to be heart disease and pneumonia. This passage was written about his work in the New York Times:
The untimely death of Dr. Alfred C. Kinsey takes from the American scene an important and valuable, as well as controversial, figure. Whatever may have been the reaction to his findings -- and to the unscrupulous use of some of them -- the fact remains that he was first, last, and always a scientist. In the long run it is probable that the values of his contribution to contemporary thought will lie much less in what he found out than in the method he used and his way of applying it. Any sort of scientific approach to the problems of sex is difficult because the field is so deeply overlaid with such things as moral precept, taboo, individual and group training, and long established behavior patterns. Some of these may be good in themselves, but they are no help to the scientific and empirical method of getting at the truth. Dr. Kinsey cut through this overlay with detachment and precision. His work was conscientious and comprehensive. Naturally, it will receive a serious setback with his death. Let us earnestly hope that the scientific spirit that inspired it will not be similarly impaired.
Career[edit | edit source]
Textbook[edit | edit source]
Kinsey published a widely used high school textbook, An Introduction to Biology, in October 1926. The book endorsed evolution and unified, at the introductory level, the then separate fields of zoology and botany, overcoming the resistance to their unification that was prevalent at the time.
Edible plants[edit | edit source]
Kinsey also co-wrote a classic book on edible plants with Merritt Lyndon Fernald published in 1943 called Edible Wild Plants of Eastern North America. This book is still regarded as an authoritative source in the area, but is not generally associated with Kinsey. The original draft of the book was written in 1919-1920, while Kinsey was still a doctoral student at the Bussey Institute and Fernald was working at the Arnold Arboretum.
Human sexual behavior and the Kinsey Reports[edit | edit source]
Kinsey is generally regarded as the father of sexology, the systematic, scientific study of human sexuality. He initially became interested in the different forms of sexual practices around 1933, after discussing the topic extensively with a colleague, Robert Kroc. It is likely that Kinsey's study of the variation of mating practices among gall wasps led him to wonder how widely varied sexual practices among humans were. During this work, he developed a scale measuring sexual orientation now known as the Kinsey Scale which ranks from 0 to 6, where 0 is exclusively heterosexual and 6 is exclusively homosexual.
In 1935, Kinsey delivered a lecture to a faculty discussion group at Indiana University, his first public discussion of the topic, wherein he attacked the "widespread ignorance of sexual structure and physiology" and promoted his view that "delayed marriage" (that is, delayed sexual experience) was psychologically harmful. Kinsey obtained research funding from the Rockefeller Foundation, which enabled him to inquire into human sexual behavior.
His Kinsey Reports - starting with the publication of Sexual Behavior in the Human Male in 1948 followed in 1953 by Sexual Behavior in the Human Female - reached the top of bestseller lists and turned Kinsey into an instant celebrity, and are still the bestselling scientific books of all time. Articles about him appeared in magazines such as Time, Life, Look, and McCall's. Kinsey's reports, which led to a storm of controversy, are regarded by many as a trigger for the sexual revolution of the 1960s. Indiana University's president Herman B Wells defended Kinsey's research in what became a well-known test of academic freedom.
Significant publications[edit | edit source]
- New Species and Synonymy of American Cynipidae, in Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History (1920)
- Life Histories of American Cynipidae, in Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History (1920)
- Phylogeny of Cynipid Genera and Biological Characteristics, in Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History (1920)
- An Introduction to Biology (1926)
- The Gall Wasp Genus Cynips: A Study in the Origin of Species (1930)
- New Introduction to Biology (1933, revised 1938)
- The Origin of Higher Categories in Cynips (1935)
- Edible Wild Plants of Eastern North America (1943)
- Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948, reprinted 1998)
- Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953, reprinted 1998)
Controversy[edit | edit source]
Kinsey's work, often associated with the Sexual revolution in the United States in the 1960s, has generated substantial controversy since its publication. Both Kinsey's work and private life have been the subject of an enduring controversy over the study of human sexuality (sometimes called sexology) and the impact of Kinsey's work on sexual morality.
Kinsey's research polarized a segment of society. Many in the Christian Right found their religious and socially conservative views in conflict with Kinsey's methods and underlying principles. They saw his supporters as dissolute libertines and his work as morally corrupting. Even today, Kinsey's name can elicit partisan rancor.
Kinsey's most prominent current detractor is Judith A. Reisman. Reisman alleges that Kinsey and his staff sexually abused children to produce some of the data in the Kinsey Reports. Kinsey Institute director John Bancroft claims that the subject of child/adult sexual interaction was deliberately chosen by Kinsey's opponents to discredit him because of the emotions surrounding it: "In recent years, when there has been anxiety bordering on hysteria about child sexual abuse, often resulting in circumstances where the accused is regarded as guilty until proved innocent, what better way to discredit someone?" The Kinsey Institute maintains that Kinsey never had any sexual interaction with children, nor did he employ others to do so, and that he always interviewed children in the presence of their parents.
The Family Research Council (FRC) has been another notable detractor. The FRC echoes Reisman's claims of child/adult sexual interaction in their video The Children of Table 34, but that issue is not their main focus. The FRC is primarily concerned with Kinsey's work on sexual orientation and homosexuality. Kinsey maintained that people do not clearly fall into the categories of exclusive heterosexuality or exclusive homosexuality, but that most can be placed somewhere between, in a continuum of sexual orientations with homo- and heterosexuality at the extremes and bisexuality at the midpoint.
The FRC sees Kinsey's work as a force that seeks to legitimize homosexuality, which the organization opposes.
As a result of the work done by Kinsey and others, the American Psychiatric Association, in 1973, removed homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses. However, Kinsey's research is still quite controversial in the APA and subject to a great deal of scrutiny.
Aside from criticism of the implications of his research, Kinsey had been rumored to participate in unusual sexual practices. In James H. Jones's biography, Alfred C. Kinsey: A Public/Private Life, Kinsey is described as a bisexual masochist. He is reported to have encouraged group sex involving his graduate students, wife and staff. It is also known that Kinsey filmed sexual acts in the attic of his home as part of his research. Biographer Jonathan Gathorne-Hardy explained that using Kinsey's home for the filming of sexual acts was done to ensure the films' secrecy, which would certainly have caused a scandal had the public become aware of them. Some have suggested that the films Kinsey made were not scientific, but pornographic in nature. Jones stated that Kinsey's wife had had sex with other men, but that the couple remained married for 35 years in a relationship that remained sexual until Kinsey became ill near the end of his life. Although some of the claims have been confirmed by independent sources, such as his being bisexual, others are disputed by the Kinsey Institute and others. 
Although the investigation into sexual behavior carried out by Kinsey resulted in an explosion of knowledge about topics previously considered taboo, there are continuing claims that the Kinsey Reports contain statistical and methodological errors. Nonetheless, his data are still widely cited despite questions by some about their validity.
Kinsey in the media[edit | edit source]
In 2004 T.C. Boyle published a novel about Kinsey, The Inner Circle.
PBS produced a documentary called Kinsey in 2005, made with the cooperation of The Kinsey Institute, which allowed access to many of its files.
There is also a musical on the life of Kinsey. Called Dr. Sex, it deals mainly with the relationship between Kinsey, his wife, and their shared lover Wally Matthews (based on Clyde Martin). The play premiered in Chicago in 2003 (winning seven Jeff Awards), and was produced off-Broadway in 2005. The score was by Larry Bortniker, the book by Bortniker with Sally Deering.
A radio play by Steve Coombes with the similar title Mr. Sex, focusing on Kinsey's arraignment at the McCarthy hearings, was broadcast by the BBC on August 11, 2006.
References[edit | edit source]
- Yudell, Michael. Kinsey's other report. Natural History, ISSN 0028-0712, July 1 1999, Vol. 108, Issue 6
- Pomeroy, W.B.. Dr. Kinsey and the Institute for Sex Research. Yale University Press.
- Del Tredici, Peter. The Other Kinsey Report, Natural History, ISSN 0028-0712, July 1, 2006, Vol. 115, Issue 6.
- Cornelia Christenson, Kinsey: A Biography, Indiana University Press, 1971
- Wardell Pomeroy, Dr. Kinsey and the Institute for Sex Research, Harper & Row, 1972
- James H. Jones, Alfred C. Kinsey: A Public/Private Life, Norton, 1997
- Jonathan Gathorne-Hardy, Alfred C. Kinsey: Sex the Measure of All Things, London: Chatto & Windus, 1998
- Judith Reisman, Kinsey's Attic: The Shocking Story of How One Man's Sexual Pathology Changed the World, WND Books, 2006
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