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External Articles | Posted: December 31, 1998

BBC Transcript: Biography, Alfred C. Kinsey

A&E, 1997-1998

In 1938, a little known zoologist from America's mid-West abandons his study of the gall wasp and took up sex research.  his work in this field was to make him one of the most controversial figures of his time.  His name, Dr. Alfred Kinsey. 

The Kinsey Report was a bombshell.  One newspaper calls it the Atom bomb.  He made people think about it, talk about it, and often do it. 

He was the most famous man in America, maybe the world for about a decade.  The Kinsey Report was every other joke in the theater and movies about the Kinsey Report.

It was extremely controversial and everyone seemed to take a rather polar position · they were either all for it or all against it. 

Dr. Reisman:  I would say that the Kinsey Report was the sexualized American version of the Communist Manifesto.

Hugh Hefner:  Kinsey came out with a book that says that sex is normal and that the boundaries or labels that we put on human sexuality are very arbitrary.

Kinsey students:  Everybody knew about Kinsey, everybody was buying the book, and everybody was furtively turning the pages.

Sexual Behavior in the Human Male was published in 1948, and caused a sensation.  When a successor, Sexual Behavior in the Human Female was released in 1953, it was even more explosive.  These two weighty volumes surveyed the sex lives of over 11,000 Americans, and for the first time revealed the true and often startling extent of the nations sexual habits.  Heterosexuality, sadomasochism, extra marital contact, pre-marital petting, pre-marital coitus·

Animal contact, cumulative incidents data, Protestant active, Protestant inactive·the figures in here are astonishing. 

Victor Cohn:  Here he tells us in 1948 we've got this prudish society and he tells us that more than 50% of women have had premarital intercourse.  Well wow, we didn't know that.

Throughout the length and breadth of America, in every city and town, every day of the week is somebody's wedding day · America's idea of itself as a sexually conservative society was shattered forever.  Things would never be the same again.  Sociologically, its had a tremendous impact in this country.  It was an event that just changed American social history, and I think world social history.  It effected the way people looked, thought, talked, an behaved about sex.  He spearheaded that particular revolution. 

Just how reliable was Kinsey's data, and was Kinsey himself just as attached of an objective scientist as he claimed at the time or something more?  A man with a mission to expose the hypocrisy that lay behind conventional sexual morality.

The story begins really in Indiana University in the heart of the American Midwest.  That's a strange place to begin, in fact, because it was very very very conservative.  I've only known of two people who _______________________, and sex researcher Alfred Kinsey.

Kinsey's early career gave no hints of the controversy to come, before he discovered sex, it was insects that fascinated him.  He was a taxonomist, he measures things.  He happened to choose the gall wasps, and he would measure the length of the feet and the antenna and the eyes and so fourth.  He had box after box after box of gall wasps in his home, so he was measuring variations.

His insect work really centered on discovering the diversity of species and how they differed in their behaviors, and that's exactly what he did with these human studies, studying the diversities of human sexual behavior, and h collected humans just like he collected the gall wasps.

Today we are going by film to the campus university in Bloomington.  Dr. Kinsey was originally trained as a biologist and a psychologist and for twenty-five years did research with insects.  Dr. Kinsey, how did you come to turn from research on insects to research on human sex behavior?  I've been interested in ___ biological problems all my life.  I've taught general biology at Indiana University for a good many years and in the course of those years, students came to me with problems concerning sex. 

Kinsey's informal role as sex advisor became official in 1938, when he organized a marriage course for students, and gave advise in all aspects of married life, including, of course, sex. 

We thought we were so lucky to get in his class, who would have wanted excitement.  It created a stir on the campus, I'll say that.  The auditorium was full.  It was a privilege to get into this course, you had to be either married or engaged·there had to be a good reason why a marriage course would be important for you.  We thought it would be something spectacular because we were all protected and really very ignorant.

I didn't even know the words he was using, and I remember talking to one of my friends, a married older friend later, who was very interested in learning what had been said here, and she had never heard of a clitoris, so I thought I was really carrying on the education that was begun in the marriage course.  Kinsey was amazed at his students ignorance, so his scientific curiosity was aroused.  He wanted to find out more about a variety of sexual experience and scoured the Indiana campus for volunteers to tell them their sexual history.  One of the first people to do so was 18-year-old freshman Evert Autrey.

Evert Autrey:  He greeted me and we sat down and then we started out and there was questions about masturbation and a lot of these things weren't talked about to anybody, and you think maybe you are the only one, and you think maybe your some kind of nut running over and its all questions about what women you visited and what women you didn't and what you were successful with and what not·

as word of Kinsey's inquiries spread around the campus, opposition to his sex research and to his marriage course erupted. 

It was a new feel and so it was shocking to maybe some of the people in the community because you didn't talk about those things.  Today people talk about all their personal sex life on television so its quite different than it was in those days.

It gradually became extremely controversial, ________a kind of Catholic and Baptist ministry and the Methodist caused a tremendous roar.  Until it got very very severe, half the faculty was against him.  A number of them found him maddening beyond control and very high handed. 

I've discovered through the years that the surest way to get something done is to go ahead and do it.  I asked no ones permission to start this research and had no one else working with me.

For a man who seemed cheerfully to deny conservative opinion, appeared himself to live a very conventional life, happily married, he didn't smoke, rarely drank and enjoyed some very traditional pleasures.

Here's this man who lives in a house in Bloomington, raises irises, who has musicales every weekend where people are invited to listen to classical music in his house.  Basically he was sort of a standard American biologist.

Daddy's background, was extremely strict.  The upbringing that his father imposed on the family was nothing on Sunday except going to church three times a day.

Well they didn't even take a newspaper because that meant that someone had to work on Sunday.  In some ways he was a product of the 19th century rather than the 20th century because he had a very strong work ethic.  I think he took cold showers in the morning or something like that.  He was quite old fashioned in that sense.  He wouldn't let his wife have a credit card or run any accounts in local stores.  They were very strange in that sense to be very conservative and yet when it came to sexuality to be very liberal indeed.

I always treat Kinsey like a great American of the century.  Like Thomas Edison or a whole series of Americans who were massively dedicated to doing something and with enormous work ethics. 

Armed with this pioneering zeal, Kinsey decided to strike out on his on.  Although the University made him give up his marriage course, Kinsey wouldn't give up on sex research.  Instead, he spread his net even wider, traveling further and further in search of new people to talk to. 

What happened was he began going out to the Indiana prison and whatnot and interviewing all these other classes of individuals.  He did it on his own time and his own money.  After his last class of Friday, he would drive to Indianapolis or Chicago and interview all weekend and then drive back Sunday night and practically fall asleep in his early morning class on Monday.  It was on his Midwestern journey, Kinsey's life's work took place.  He planned to tell nothing less than the true story of a nations sex life.  He was not interested in how people felt they should behave.  Instead he would ask them what they really did.  The key to the study would be a one on one interview in which people revealed the whole of their sexual history.  It was a beginning of the most influential sex survey ever. 

Within the past month, at the request of the clergymen, in a small town where I picked up Chicago and St. Louis connections were spreading like the branches of a tree.  We now have over 700 histories and our tabulations and our correlation's charts, etc., are beginning to be impressive.  Kinsey's voyage of discovery had begun.  The feeling you get is of someone who has come upon an unnamed compliment and is suddenly exploited.  I don't quite know ______ but he somehow stumbled in Chicago on the homosexual underworld.  The most extraordinary picture being of this huge Midwestern professor, very naive in a lot of ways, trying to pick men up in Chicago, and the first five days he got three men. I don't know what they thought that he came to want.  They thought he was wanting sex, and he said I don't want sex, I just want to know about your life.  He then very quickly, he was a quick adapter, found himself in this extraordinary world of subjects, toys and bars, which he described as dynamite. 

I've been to Halloween parties, taverns, clubs, etc., which would be unbelievable if realized by the rest of the world.  Always, they have been most considerate and cordial in their reception.  Why has no one cracked this before.  I now have a total from all sources from 120 H__ histories. 

I think in the 1930's no one wanted to believe that homosexuals existed.  I mean they were odd aberrant, and you saw them in jail.  Nobody ever knew one, and so the society which was in fact in transformation, was in some since never taking its own temperature, and what Kinsey really had done is take the temperature and everybody discovered what it was. 

In the early days the funding for Kinsey's work came from Indiana university, but in 1943, the Rockefeller Foundation gave him an initial grant of $23,000.  Kinsey could finally finance his dream.  He immediately hired a staff and began training his researchers in the art of the interview.

The basic interview consisted of perhaps about 300 questions, which would cover not only the demographic stuff like age height weight ___ occupational, as well as sexual activities, starting out with your masturbation, nocturnal emissions, petting, intercourse, homosexuality, you name it.

Well when you first went in for an interview, Dr. Kinsey would make a few casual remarks, and then he would offer you a cigarette and if you didn't take that he'd offer you gum, and then gradually talking about that he'd get into a question of the interview part itself.

The questions weren't written down, they were recorded in code.  The so called position code.  What it amount to is squares all over this thing.  Each square stood for one question, and Kinsey would not allow us to write down questions.  You had to memorize this thing, and then as we'd interview, we'd just be able to make our little marks and this was very reassuring to the people we were interviewing, we'd say look, were taking this down in a code that only we can read.

They were using IBM cards, the punch cards, back in those days and they would feed that data into there and he'd come home absolutely astounded at some of the results they were getting.  The realization they were getting was that there was a lot more sexual activity than our society in those years approved of or acknowledged publicly.

The businessmen are very wary about exposing themselves·extra-marital coitus is the worst.  They fear economic and social ruin if exposed.  I expect extra-marital coitus is in 80% of the really successful businessman's history.  They talk around for ¸ an hour with me asking questions, refused to sign up, called back the next day, only to finally come across.  God what a gap between social front and reality!

Before long Kinsey was traveling to schools, factories, farms and anywhere he could find volunteers.  He interviewed policemen, prostitutes, housewives and hold-up men.  In the early 1940's as America went to war, Kinsey journeyed to the capital of sexual excess, New York City.

Kinsey was coming to New York to interview, but he didn't know anybody here.  At that time I was a senior in college and I had a friend who was at Indiana University and told him I might be interested in cooperating and in fact I was.  My share of the work was simply in persuading people to be interviewed, and so I asked everybody I knew and a lot of people I didn't know, and I knew Sara.

I remember vividly Miriam encountering me in the cafeteria at Hunter and this was in the Christmas holiday of 1942.  I was twenty years old.  Just barely twenty.  I had been married for six months, my husband had just gone into the army, and there was Miriam saying, hey do you want to talk to this sex doctor from Indiana?  I said sure, why not?  I mean, school was over, and I was ready for adventures, but I must say, a very subdued kind of adventure. 

Sara was easy to persuade, but I also recruited anywhere I could.  I persuaded the owner of my local coffee shop to be interviewed, and his wife.  My parents were interviewed, and so was my sister, and my friends I had who were willing, and their parents if they were willing.  Kinsey was interested in meeting male homosexuals, and so I hung out in the appropriate places, and got some __________ interviewed. 

I met him on 46th Street and I was living off the largest of the public and I was a hustler, what is commonly know as a hustler.  He asked me number one had I ever had sex with another member of my own sex, you know, and I said definitely.  Did you like it, yes I liked it, do you think you are homosexual and I said not really.  He was kinda taken aback by that.  He said how could you have a homosexual relationship without thinking your homosexual.  I said well I think sex is sex. 

He was introduced to me by Herbert Heckne, who was acting for him, you might say, and that was in the late, I forget when, the 40's.  I just met him rather briefly.  He was trying to select a very population segments and he was interviewing a segment in which I was included.  Included sort of cheap thieves, male prostitutes, dope fiends·

I introduced Kinsey to anybody and everybody that came my way, good or bad.  I didn't question their background as long as I was sure that they weren't going to kill him or something like that.  I prepared most of them by saying, now look, the man is going to ask you some very impersonal questions.  If you are the sort that gets upset if someone asks you if you've been to bed with your mother, don't go.

Kinsey embraced New York, emerging himself in movies, ballets, and Broadway shows.  Collecting case histories as he went.  He saw the stage hit A Street Car Named Desire three times and took the sex histories of the entire cast.  He was fated by Americas writers and actors, including Tennessee Williams and Gore Vidal.

Everybody from Lenny Bernstein to me reported to give our sexual history to Kinsey.  So I arrived at the Astor Hotel, passing by the bar, there would be as many as 400-500 soldiers, sailors and marines, and they were interested in each other.  So it was well and nice that the kindly Dr. Kinsey, the benign recorder of what men were up to should be on the top of this curbed staircase·I remember it was sortof black leather going up, and there was nothing there but a couple of gold chairs, and Kinsey wearing a blue polka dot tie, crew cut, very tired looking, and he had a clip board, and he'd ask you questions and he'd make little tiny marks.

He was thrown out of a couple of hotels.  At first the provider said that he was afraid that some sort of prostitution was going on as these sort of dubious characters were traipsing in and out, and then when he found out what was actually going on, he was even more outraged.  He said, ãI will not have peoples minds undressed in my hotel.ä  So they had to leave that one.

On January 5, 1948, after ten years of relentlessly undressing the minds of thousands of American men, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male finally hit the streets.  It was an immediate bestseller.  The first report came out with no advanced notice whatsoever, was published by W. B. Sonders, a medical publisher.  To Sonders astonishment, it began to sell in general book stores.  They didn't know that it would.  It sold a couple hundred thousand copies within months.  It was a sensation on its own, without advanced hoopla, or advertising or anything of the kind.

Kinsey's findings were astonishing.  More that ² of the men interviewed had had sex before marriage.  Over 1/3 were having extra marital affairs and 37% had had at least one homosexual experience.  And in rule even sex with animals was not uncommon.

What he found was in fact, among married men, half of their orgasms came from sources that were morally disapproved of and often illegal.  That is that only half of male orgasms, their total lifetime orgasms, came from marital intercourse.

Sexual relations with animals surprised me, because living in the city there was no proximity to animals, I didn't know any animals, except my cat.  My feeling was my Lord, do people really do that?  But the answer to do people really do that I have found out is invariably, yes they do.

the startling information was contained in a book 804 pages long, crammed with tables and loaded with footnotes.  Readers in search of thrills had to look hard. 

The expectation of this book, because of its title, was that it was going to be something titillating in it, and it isn't titillating, in fact, its boring.

Did anybody read it all?  I didn't read it all but I certainly read a good portion of it, read everything about it, and wrote an editorial about it in a magazine I was editing at the time called Shaft at the University of Illinois.

I think it would scare the average person off.  It's not a book to be read just for kicks.

I read the one wit the male very carefully.  I was seeing where I was in there.

So were the other 200,000 people who bought the book in the first two months of its publication.  Their curiosity and the books notoriety soon captivated Kinsey to world fame, but behind the celebrity, he was still the regular down-home professor from the conservative Midwest. 

Kinsey is a much more interesting character than people realize and much more complex.  On one hand you have the Midwest ex-Methodist, very, very serious, very, very devoted scientist.  Inside that figure is something of a showman.  He loved to shock people.  He would get up in front of an audience and say 95% of you, under the laws of this country could go to prison for a number of things you do sexually.  He exaggerated in his talk.  You couldn't accuse him of inaccuracy, he wasn't like that, but he liked to push his case to the very furthest .  His team struggled ineffectively to stop him, but the people who looked at the reports, you could say sometimes or nearly and occasionally Kinsey would allow a nearly or a sometimes·

Kinsey's figures so shocked his readers that right from the beginning questions were raised of the statistical basis of the report.  In 1950 the American Statistical Association went to Indiana to evaluate his work.  He passed, just.  Critics still questioned just how representative Kinsey's sample was.  The had a KSR sample which was very good for college educated people.  For less than college educated people, the sample was about so-so.  We didn't get a decent, lower sample.  We went into prison, but then the prisons were not represented in the lower socio-economic level.  They were kind of a separate and specialized group.  So, our sample did not represent the United States as a whole.  Basically this is a study of white, middle class, better educated kind of folks