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About Alfred Charles Kinsey
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 Sex Research at Indiana University, now known as the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction, as well as producing the Kinsey Reports and the Kinsey scale. Kinsey's research on human sexuality, foundational to the modern field of sexology, provoked controversy in the 1940s and 1950s. His work has profoundly influenced social and cultural values in the United States and many other countries.
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.
Early life and education
Kinsey's parents were poor for most of his childhood, and the family often could not afford proper medical care. This may have led to a young Kinsey 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 led to a curvature of the spine, which resulted in a slight stoop that prevented Kinsey from being drafted in 1917 for World War I.
Kinsey's parents were extremely devout Christians; this left a powerful imprint on the man 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 similarly devout adults. Kinsey's father imposed strict rules on the household including mandating Sunday as a day of prayer (and little else).
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 was an organization heavily grounded on the principles of Christianity. Kinsey worked his way up through the Scouting ranks to earn Eagle Scout in 1913, making him one of the earliest Eagle Scouts. Despite earlier disease having weakened his heart, Kinsey followed an intense sequence of difficult hikes and camping expeditions throughout his early life.
In high school, Kinsey was a quiet but hard-working student. While attending Columbia High School, he was not interested in sports, but devoted his 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. He seemed not to have formed strong social relationships during high school, but 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. 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, 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.
In the fall of 1914, Kinsey entered Bowdoin College, where he became familiar with insect research under Manton Copeland, and was admitted to the Zeta Psi fraternity, in whose house he lived for much of his time at college. Two years later in 1916, 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.
Kinsey chose to do his doctoral thesis on gall wasps, and began collecting samples of the species with zeal. He traveled widely and took 26 detailed measurements on hundreds of thousands of gall wasps, and his methodology was itself an important contribution to entomology as a science. Kinsey was granted a Sc.D. degree in 1919 by Harvard University, and 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.
Kinsey wrote a widely used high-school textbook, An Introduction to Biology, which was published in October 1926. The book endorsed evolution and unified, at the introductory level, the previously separate fields of zoology and botany. 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.
Marriage and family
Kinsey married Clara Bracken McMillen, whom he called Mac, in 1921. They had four children. Their first-born, Donald, died from the acute complications of juvenile diabetes in 1927, just before his fifth birthday. Daughter Anne was born in 1924, daughter Joan in 1925, and son Bruce in 1928.
Kinsey designed his own house, which was built in the Vinegar Hill neighborhood of Bloomington, Indiana at 1320 First Street. Here, he practiced his deep interest in gardening.
Kinsey and sexology
The Kinsey Reports
Main article: Kinsey Reports
Kinsey is generally regarded as a the first major figure in American 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 variations in 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 ranges from 0 to 6, where 0 is exclusively heterosexual and 6 is exclusively homosexual; a rating of X, for asexual, was added later by Kinsey's associates.
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. 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 an enabler of the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s. Indiana University's president Herman B Wells defended Kinsey's research in what became a well-known test of academic freedom.
Controversial aspects of his work
Kinsey's sex research went beyond theory and interview to include observation of and participation in sexual activity, sometimes involving co-workers. He justified this as being necessary to gain the confidence of his research subjects. He encouraged his staff to do likewise, and engage in a wide range of sexual activity, to the extent they felt comfortable; he argued that this would help his interviewers understand the participant responses. Kinsey filmed sexual acts which included co-workers in the attic of his home as part of his research; Biographer Jonathan Gathorne-Hardy explained that this was done to ensure the films' secrecy, which would have caused a scandal had it become public knowledge. James H. Jones, author of Alfred C. Kinsey: A Public/Private Life, and British psychiatrist Theodore Dalrymple, amongst others, have speculated that Kinsey was driven by his own sexual needs.
Kinsey collected sexual material from around the world, which brought him to the attention of U.S. Customs when they seized some pornographic films in 1956; he died before this matter was resolved legally.
Kinsey wrote about pre-adolescent orgasms using data in tables 30 to 34 of the male volume, which report observations of orgasms in over three-hundred children between the ages of five months and fourteen years. This information was said to have come from adults' childhood memories, or from parent or teacher observation. Kinsey said he also interviewed nine men who had sexual experiences with children, and who told him about the children's responses and reactions. Little attention was paid to this part of Kinsey's research at the time, but where Kinsey had gained this information began to be questioned nearly 40 years later. It was later revealed that Kinsey used data from a single paedophile and presented it as being from various sources. Bullough suggests this was in order to avoid revealing it was from a single source. Kinsey had seen the need for participant confidentiality and anonymity as necessary to gain "honest answers on such taboo subjects", which was weighed against the likelihood that these crimes would continue. The Kinsey Institute wrote that the data on children in tables 31–34 came from one man's journal (started in 1917) and that the events concerned predated the Kinsey Reports.
Jones wrote that Kinsey's sexual activity influenced his work, that he over-represented prisoners and prostitutes, classified some single people as "married", and that he included a disproportionate number of homosexual men, particularly from Indiana, in his sample, which may have distorted his studies. It has also been pointed out he omitted African Americans in his research. Bullough explains that the data was later re-processed, excluding prisoners and data derived from an exclusively gay sample, and the results indicate that it does not appear to have skewed the data. Kinsey had over-represented people who were homosexual, but Bullough considers this may have been because this was stigmatized and needed to be understood. It was Paul Gebhard, in the 1970s, who removed all suspect data (e.g., pertaining to prisoners and similar respondents), and recalculated significant sets of figures against results given by "100 percent" groups. He found only slight differences between the original and updated figures.
Kinsey in the media
The popularity of Sexual Behavior in the Human Male prompted widespread media interest in 1948. Time magazine declared, "Not since Gone With the Wind had booksellers seen anything like it." The first pop culture references to Kinsey appeared not long after the book's publication: "[R]ubber-faced comic Martha Raye [sold] a half-million copies of 'Ooh, Dr. Kinsey!'" Cole Porter's song "Too Darn Hot", from the Tony Award–winning Broadway musical Kiss Me, Kate, devoted its bridge to an analysis of the Kinsey report and the "average man's favorite sport." In 1949, Mae West, reminiscing on the days when the word "sex" was rarely uttered, said of Kinsey, "That guy merely makes it easy for me. Now I don't have to draw 'em any blueprints...We are both in the same business...Except I saw it first."
The publication of Sexual Behavior in the Human Female prompted even more intensive news coverage: Kinsey appeared on the cover of the August 24, 1953, issue of Time. The national newsmagazine featured two articles on the scientist, one focusing on his research career and new book, the other on his background, personality, and lifestyle. In the magazine's cover portrait, "Flowers, birds, and a bee surround Kinsey; the mirror-of-Venus female symbol decorates his bow tie." The lead article concludes with the following observation: "'Kinsey...has done for sex what Columbus did for geography,' declared a pair of enthusiasts. Kinsey's work contains much that is valuable, but it must not be mistaken for the last word."
Kinsey died on August 25, 1956, at the age of 62. The cause of death was reported to be a heart ailment 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.
Legacy in popular culture
After the publication of Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, a character called "Dr. Kinsey" appeared on the September 15, 1953 television episode of The Jack Benny Program as a bow-tied man interviewing a young woman on board a cruise ship that has left Hawaii. When "Dr. Kinsey" identifies himself to Jack Benny, Benny steps away in embarrassment.
The 2000s (decade) have seen renewed interest in Kinsey. The musical Dr. Sex focuses on the relationship between Kinsey, his wife, and their shared lover Wally Matthews (based on Clyde Martin). The play—with score by Larry Bortniker, book by Bortniker and Sally Deering—premiered in Chicago in 2003, winning seven Jeff Awards. It was produced off-Broadway in 2005. The 2004 biographical film Kinsey, written and directed by Bill Condon, stars Liam Neeson as the scientist and Laura Linney as his wife. In 2004 as well, T. Coraghessan Boyle's novel about Kinsey, The Inner Circle, was published. The following year, PBS produced the documentary Kinsey in cooperation with the Kinsey Institute, which allowed access to many of its files. Mr. Sex, a BBC radio play by Steve Coombes concerning Kinsey and his work, won the 2005 Imison Award.