Alfred Kinsey

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Alfred Kinsey
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Males do not represent two discrete populations, heterosexual and homosexual. The world is not to be divided into sheep and goats. Not all things are black nor all things white. It is a fundamental of taxonomy that nature rarely deals with discrete categories. Only the human mind invents categories and tries to force facts into separated pigeon-holes. The living world is a continuum in each and every one of its aspects. The sooner we learn this concerning human sexual behavior, the sooner we shall reach a sound understanding of the realities of sex.
—Alfred Kinsey, Sexual Behaviour in the Human Male (1948)[1]
Why does Kinsey hold such a distinct place in conservative crosshairs? The answer is the same reason that his studies of American sexual behavior were so influential when they first appeared. Unlike Freud, whose theories were debated by the educated classes, Kinsey published books that everybody read – or read about. And unlike Henry Miller, Bob Guccione, or Xaviera "the Happy Hooker" Hollander, Kinsey didn't present himself as an advocate of sexual license, but as an objective scientist describing the sexual profligacy and heterogeneity that already existed in American culture. It was the apparent impartiality of his data that so shook America's settled notions of sexuality, as deeply as Darwin's theory of natural selection did the literalist biblical notions of creation.
—Christina Larson[2]

Alfred Charles Kinsey (1894–1956) was an American biologist and sexologist. He was brought up by strict conservative Christian parents, but rose above that limitation to use his mind anyway. In adult life he decided to study the realities of sexual practice and culture, with the aim of de-mystifying the whole shebang. He succeeded admirably and in doing so brought the wrath of the conservatives down upon himself, because conservative Christians do not like people who do their own thinking — and especially despise those who produce actual science that refutes long held, but completely unsupported traditions.

He is perhaps most famous for the Kinsey Reports. It was published in two volumes, the first being Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948) followed by Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953). James H. Jones writes in his Pulitzer Prize nominated biography of Kinsey[3] that some of the data in Kinsey's research came from “a predatory pedophile. Over the course of his long career as a child molester [a man known as Mr. X] masturbated infants, penetrated children, and performed a variety of other sexual acts on preadolescent boys and girls alike. Betraying a huge moral blind spot, Kinsey took the records of Mr. X’s criminal acts and transformed them into scientific data."[3]:1253 Data on child molestation was in fact included in the Kinsey report on men. Furthermore, Jones also reports Kinsey had a "benign view" of pedophilia, with a colleague reporting "[Kinsey] would always tell us [...]that pedophilia wasn’t as black as it was painted, that it could be, under proper circumstances, beneficial or something like that”.[3]:1257-1258

He also created the Kinsey scale, a broad measure for defining sexual orientation, and founded the Kinsey Institute (originally known as the Institute for Sex Research) at Indiana University. The Institute operated independently from 1947 until 2016 when it merged into the University of Indiana. Unsurprisingly, the Republican supermajority in Indiana attacked the Institute in 2023, withdrawing all state funding.[4] What is surprising is why it took long, Republicans have had a supermajority in Indiana since 2010.[5] Did they have their heads in the sand? Answer: Yes (the legislation was based on conspiracy theories).[4]

Perhaps unsurprisingly, he was also bisexual.

In 2011, then-U.S. Republican Presidential Nominee Candidate Michele Bachmann claimed that the Kinsey Reports were "myth" and had been for a long time,[6] unlike other books she mentioned being a big fan of.

Controversy over his research[edit]

One of the most commonly criticized aspects of Kinsey was how he gathered his data. A 2021 video from the YouTuber FreedomToons, for example, repeats the common criticism that Kinsey oversampled prisoners and prostitutes along with other people who were living outside of what was considered sexually normal at the time.[7] These criticisms were even made at the time Kinsey first got recognized, with John Tukey famously saying that a sample as small as three to five random people off the street would have made better data than Kinsey's book.[8]:657

Although this certainly could be a good criticism of Kinsey as a statistician, one thing that is commonly left out of this narrative is that Kinsey's close friend and co-author Paul Gebhard, along with the help of Alan Johnson, looked through Kinsey's original data and cleaned it up and found, to their own surprise, that the difference was hardly noticeable. While discussing this in The Nation, Martin Duberman specifically makes note of one statistic that Kinsey found to be ten percent, and which Gebhard and Johnson found to be 9.9%.[9]

Another controversial aspect of his data is what it included. While discussing Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, Matt Walsh specifically makes note of Table 34, which discussed the frequency of orgasms in pre-adolescent children. Walsh claims Kinsey got this data exclusively through interviewing child molesters, but this is far from the case.[10] In actuality, "the bulk of information about sexual response in childhood came from adults recalling their own childhoods. Some was also from parents who had observed their children, some from teachers who had observed children interacting or behaving sexually." Kinsey did interview one child molester (funnily enough, this was something Kinsey was dishonest about, given he originally claimed he had talked to nine), but that was far from his only source.[11]

Walsh goes on to claim that those on the left who embrace Kinsey are doing so as part of a plot to normalize pedophilia,[10] a claim which only makes sense if you haven't read what Kinsey wrote. As The Kinsey Institute themselves point out:

On the contrary, adverse reactions by children were noted in the research. For example, in Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953), the authors reported that 24% of the female participants said that as pre-adolescents they had received sexual advances from, or sexual contacts with adult males, and that 80% of these women who had such contacts as children reported having been emotionally upset or frightened by them.[11]

They also note another important reason for why Kinsey's research may not meet the standards of today, because many of the methods used had not been developed yet:

Kinsey’s method of obtaining a sample of Americans would not meet today’s standards of nationally representative survey sampling. Probability sampling, which is the common standard used today, was still a new practice and had not developed into the scientific method we know now.[11]

Controversy over him as a person[edit]

When attacking Alfred Kinsey, it is common for his critics to constantly attack his character as opposed to his ideas. Of course, exactly how good or bad a person is has nothing to do with if their ideas are correct. Pythagoras was a murderous cult leader who killed one of his followers for proposing the idea of irrational numbers,[12] but that doesn't mean The Pythagorean Theorem is wrong.

Going back to Walsh, he begins one segment on his podcast on the man by talking about his alleged sadomasochist desires.[10] However, Walsh leaves out a key part of the story, that being Kinsey originally did these actions not because he got sexual pleasure from them, but because he was punishing himself for having sexual feelings and engaging in sexual behaviors deemed inappropriate by society.[13]

If anything, Kinsey's crusade to normalize all sexual behaviors and orientations could be seen as him realizing his previously mentioned behavior was harmful and attempting to create a civilization where nobody would have the same urges. This seems like something Walsh half-understands, but totally twists. He calls Kinsey's research a quest "to justify his own degenerate lifestyle."[10] However, he then goes on to discuss a story which took place before Kinsey had engaged in the lifestyle Walsh called "degenerate" which sees him doing something specifically to prevent himself from going down the specific path he did later in life.

In 2022, Walsh repeated many of these attacks against Kinsey, while also adding that he was a groomer and a pedophile without the first piece of evidence.[14]

In popular culture[edit]

The Kinsey Sicks are a drag a capella troupe, named in his honor.[15]

He was portrayed by Liam Neeson in the 2004 biopic Kinsey.

See also[edit]