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External Articles | Posted: August 14, 2005

Sordid Science: The Sex Research of Alfred C. Kinsey (The Catholic Standard & Times - Part 1 of 7)


Exclusive Series: Alfred C. Kinsey and American Sex Ed
Part 1 of 7
by Susan Brinkmann
CS&T Correspondent

Alfred Charles Kinsey was born in Hoboken, New Jersey on June 23, 1894. Raised in a strict Methodist home where dancing, tobacco, alcohol and dating were forbidden, he would eventually sever all ties with his parents - and their religion - and live the rest of his life as an avid atheist.

He attended Bowdoin College as a zoology major with a primary interest in insects, graduating in 1916 and electing to continue these studies at Harvard's Bussy Institution. His atheistic beliefs found ample nourishment at Harvard where Darwinism and the "New Biology," which denied the existence of God, was enjoying immense popularity on campus.

Although early Kinsey biographers, such as Cornelia Christenson, portray Kinsey as being shy and disinterested in sex, later biographers discovered a much different picture from Kinsey's personal correspondence.

As Dr. Reisman documents in her book, "Kinsey: Crimes and Consequences," the reason he spent so little time around women was because he preferred his own sex, especially young boys. He joined the Boy Scouts as a Scout Leader at the late age of 17 and in a letter he wrote to a fellow Newark YMCA counselor in 1921, Kinsey brags about the "nature library" he kept in his tent that was used as a rendezvous for boys. This "nature library" consisted of nudist magazines that contained drawings and photographs of nude boys as well as adult men.

Kinsey's interest in young boys continued after college and into his professorship at Indiana University. By then, he had married Clara Bracken McMillen with whom he had four children, one of whom died in childhood. Clara was not only supportive of Kinsey's sexual deviance, she sometimes participated in it, such as in the wife-swapping and the making sex films with Kinsey staff members in the attic of their home.

She was also quite tolerant of his long camping trips away from home with young male students. During one of these excursions, Kinsey was actually photographed in the nude in the middle of camp. James H. Jones, the author of the biography, "Alfred C. Kinsey: A Public and Private Life," quotes a student who described Kinsey's habit of bathing with his students and ". . . striding about camp naked. You'd see him going to the bathroom . . . he'd just take a leak right in front of us."

The wife of one of these students was not at all pleased with this behavior and claimed that Kinsey took advantage of the young men during group masturbation sessions.

Commenting about this outrageous conduct in his biography, Jones, who was pro-Kinsey, remarked that "Professors did not engage in that sort of behavior with their graduate students, yet Kinsey seemed totally oblivious to sexual taboos . . . as though he was determined to flaunt them . . . Kinsey had become a sexual rebel . . . manipulative and aggressive, a man who abused his professional authority and betrayed his trust as a teacher. Only a compulsive man would have taken such risks."

This is especially true since the American public of the 1940's and 50's would never have sanctioned the work of a scientist who conducted himself in this manner. Jones writes: "Any disclosure of any feature of this private life . . . would have been catastrophic for his career. For Kinsey, life in the closet came complete with a wife and children . . . a public image that he preserved at all costs."

Even in these early days, Kinsey was aware of the necessity of presenting a clean image to the American public. After the death of one of his closest friends, Ralph Voris, he and Clara drove all the way from Indiana to Ohio to secretly remove correspondence from Voris' office that revealed incriminating details about Kinsey's homosexuality, such as his collection of "gorgeous" male homosexual photographs that he frequently bragged about to Voris.

In 1938, his career as a sex researcher officially began when the Association of Women Students at Indiana University asked him to create a "marriage course" on human sexuality for students who were either engaged or married. Indiana University still insists that Kinsey was chosen for the course because he was a well-respected professor of zoology who was a "disinterested scientist, a person with no ax to grind . . ." in spite of the substantial evidence to the contrary.

As Dr. Reisman points out, by the time Kinsey arrived in Indiana, he was an avowed atheist who embraced the science of eugenics, which called for the elimination of "lower level" Americans. That he had an "ax to grind" was evident in his life-long refusal to permit Blacks, Jews, and committed Christians on his staff.

Beneath his carefully crafted veneer of respectability, Kinsey's Marriage Course grew in popularity, especially the graphic "biology"sex segments, which caused so many complaints among the faculty. Nevertheless, the Board of Trustee's approved the course for a second year, along with a list of 350 intimate sexual questions that Kinsey intended to ask students in order to begin compiling data.

These 350 questions would become the basis for his infamous "interviews" or "sex histories" and the data acquired would be used in his two major publications, "Sexual Behavior in the Human Male," and "Sexual Behavior in the Human Female."

The questions asked in this questionnaire were so intimate they would be considered an invasion of privacy by today's standards. For instance, interviewees were asked when - not if - they had participated in any violent sadistic sex acts, experimented with members of the same sex, children, and animals.

The collection of these histories was of critical importance to Kinsey's "research" and he went to great lengths to obtain them, which wasn't easy during the 1940's. He was increasingly prone to badgering and even bullying people to get them. This did not exclude many university professors and administrators, whose histories contained details about adulterous and homosexual activity unknown to anyone but Kinsey.

"Kinsey's possession of such sex secrets amounted to a subtle form of coercion bordering on blackmail," Dr. Reisman writes, and the clever use of this control device explains how Kinsey managed to maintain such complete support from the University. His close friendship with Herman Wells, the President of the University and a bachelor who lived alone with his mother, also insured the continuation of his work.

The giving of sex histories was not the only lurid requirement of anyone hired by Kinsey. The
assistants who would later become his co-authors, Wardell Pomeroy, Clyde Martin, and Paul Gebhard, were also required to be filmed in intimate sexual situations. The filming took place on the Indiana campus or in the attic of the Kinsey home by professional cinematographers, Bill Dahlenback and Clarence Tripp.

This requirement was also imposed upon family members of the staff, whether they wanted to participate or not. The wife of one staff member describes the "sickening pressure" put on her to agree to have sex on film. Dr. Reisman cites a film in the Kinsey library that shows "a woman who, despite her visible distress, was bullied into a sexual performance by her husband."

In spite of the obvious risks involved, the practice continued because, as Jones wrote in his biography: "Kinsey wanted his staff to understand that as scientists, they are not bound by bourgeois morality."

Alfred Kinsey would exhibit this elitist's attitude throughout his career, demanding uncontrolled access to the most intimate aspects of people's lives while claiming it was in the interest of science.

For this reason, renowned scholar, Ashley Montagu, believed Kinsey suffered from "scientomania," a condition where the scientist loses control of his desire to know and produces a scientific character that is out of balance. The results of such characters in the field of science are, in Montagu's opinion, "too frightening to contemplate."

This series is based on the book by Dr. Judith Reisman, "Kinsey: Crimes and Consequences," available at