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Paul Gebhard Interview


Paul Gebhard was Alfred C. Kinsey’s colleague from 1946 to1956. After Kinsey’s death, Dr. Gebhard succeeded him as Director of the Kinsey Institute where he remained until his own retirement. 

He is the author of The Kinsey Data: Marginal Tabulations of the 1938-1963 Interviews Conducted by the Institute for Sex Research.

Paul Gebhard

Colleague of Alfred Kinsey 1946-1956 
Former Director of the Kinsey Institute

QUESTION: How did you come to be working with Dr. Kinsey? 

PAUL GEBHARD: My career with Kinsey was, frankly, happenstance. I had just finished up the work for my degree, and I was looking forward to a whole summer of simply goofing off, you know, relaxing after the grind of graduate school. But I had a professor who was a workaholic and he intercepted me one day and announced that just because I was getting a degree that I didn't know everything, there were enormous gaps in my knowledge. "What do you know about the work of Alfred Kinsey?" And I said, I never heard of him, what's he written? And [he] gave me really a sales pitch for Dr. Kinsey's work without mentioning sex at first. He simply said, he's studying human behavior in a very basic way. And every anthropologist should be aware of what he's doing, he's studying human sexual behavior. At that point I said, what was that again? 

I wrote to [Kinsey] and received a letter back saying, he'd like to talk to me in New York. And so, I went there one evening, spent I don't know how many hours interviewing him, and I was interviewed. I was much impressed by his interviewing technique. In about two weeks beyond that I received a letter from Kinsey suggesting I come to Indiana to be examined to see if I might be a member of his team. When Dr. Kinsey first talked to me in Bloomington, not only he talked to me and watched me, but Pomeroy and Martin, who were already on his staff, sort of lurked around in the background watching my reactions and talking. I was really given a very thorough investigation for about three days. And at the end of that time he offered me a position. I'd previously talked to my wife about this, and we had decided if he did make me an offer, I'd do it, because I would be getting in on the ground floor, you might, say of some very important research. And I considered it anthropology. The only difference is, we were studying our own people and culture rather than some foreign culture. 

QUESTION: How would you describe his research methodology, the "sexual history" interviewing? 

PAUL GEBHARD: What it amounted to is, there were about a little over 300 questions asked of every individual, which covered their life background and really demographic material, age, religion, et cetera. And then it got on to the sexual behavior. And that occupied the remaining, say, 200 questions or so. And, in addition to that basic interview, he had specialized interviews for people that had additional case histories, like homosexuality, or sadomasochism, or prostitution, something like that. And we had to memorize all of these, and he wouldn't allow us to keep a written aid, because he was afraid someone might get such a written key to the interview, and use it to try to decipher the case histories, which were anonymous of course. 

I had done a fair amount of interviewing before, but I had been trained to be very, let us say, considerate, even timid in my interaction with the interviewee. Whereas, Kinsey's approach was totally different. He just spoke very directly. There were no euphemisms. There was nothing, you might say, gentle about it, or he didn't try to trick people into answers. He was just very forthright. And I had trouble learning to do that sort of blunt approach. One of the things that amused me was, he not only taught us not to use euphemisms, but he instructed us to tell the interviewee not to use euphemisms, and we used to do that. If someone said, and then we slept together, we'd keep a straight face and say, and did you have intercourse? And people soon learned, they didn't have to use euphemisms. 

QUESTION: How cooperative were the interviewees? 

PAUL GEBHARD: It depended on the individual. Some individuals came in and wanted to talk. They were sort of the volunteer type, so there was no difficulty there. But many of them, of course, were not volunteers in the usual sense of the word. And with them we'd have to sort of make it clear to them what we were doing, that we were not making any value judgments, that whatever they told us would be completely confidential, and that this was an opportunity they wouldn't have at any other time. We said, if you talk about sex to your clergyman, he's going to know about it, and so is his wife probably, or something. If you talk to a friend, you know, then he knows, and his friends know. If you talk to us, and today I know your name and face, tomorrow I will have forgotten your name. Two days from now I'll ask you to be interviewed again because I will have forgotten all of it. So, when they realized it would really be confidential, people tended to relax. 

QUESTION: What was the logic behind using the personal interview? 

PAUL GEBHARD: Kinsey always believed that a direct face-to-face interview was the best possible way to get valid information. Questionnaires can be misunderstood, and you don't have a chance to correct the misunderstanding because you're not there. Also, you can't double check with a questionnaire. Whereas, in a verbal interview, if someone says something that we're not quite clear about or that we mistrust, we can ask additional questions or, if necessary, even interrupt the interview and assure the person that we want the straight of it, and we don't care what you've done, et cetera. 

Secondly, some of the questionnaire, they can't use the vocabulary that's most suited to the individual one is interviewing. For example, we didn't have a standard vocabulary. So, if I happened to be interviewing a college student, I spoke like I was talking to a college student. If I happened to be talking to a physician, then I would get polysyllabic and use technical terms. If I was talking to a drug addict, I would use the drug lingo and language. You can't do that with a questionnaire. 

QUESTION: What would the interview results look like? 

PAUL GEBHARD: The information we were able to get on one or at the most two pages. It was a position code. We had all these little lines and cells, and each little cell stood for one question. Like one cell might be age at first masturbation, or something. So we would just simply fill the cells in as we went along. And we had the advantage of being able to look at this thing and see if all the cells were filled, and in the right order, et cetera. So, it was very handy in that sense, and it also was very rapid, because we didn't have to write out some lengthy thing. We'd just make a numeral or a check mark, or something like that. It also had the advantage of reassuring the people as to the confidentiality, because we would sometimes see them straining to see what we were writing down. And I would say, look at it, you know, and then they realized they were secure. 

QUESTION: What was Kinsey like personally? 

PAUL GEBHARD: I could never quite figure him out, actually. He remained a bit of an enigma to me because while he was cordial and pleasant, you could never get - at least I could never get - close to him. And he always referred to me by my last name. And, so, as I say, he was rather, rather remote in that sense. But he worked us very hard, but we couldn't complain because he worked himself even harder. In fact, he worked himself to death. Under this sort of scientific rigid exterior, he reminds me a little bit of Bill Masters in that sense, being kind of very, very formal - but underneath that he was really - had quite a streak of emotion. For example, he had some particularly sad case he interviewed, he would be telling us about it later, you'd see his eyes get a little bit wet. 

Sometimes when we were interviewing in prisons, for example. And one case in point would be, here would be a Mexican man in San Quentin, doing quite a few years for statutory rape. And he would say, I don't understand why I'm locked up in here. He said, they came to me and he said, have you had intercourse with this girl, and I would say, yes, she's my fiancee, and they would say, your fiancee is only 17 years old, and he would say, yes, just the right age for marriage. My mother was 16 when she had me. He was a victim of culture. He was reared in this, Northern Chihuahua, I think he came from, where you had sexual intercourse shortly after puberty, and you married people, and he didn't see that he'd done anything wrong. And so he was puzzled as to why he was locked up. And Kinsey, you know, felt for the man. 

QUESTION: What were his work habits like at the Institute? 

PAUL GEBHARD: He was the classic workaholic. I could remember one day in particular, when he had had a series of heart attacks, and he had worked at the Institute, and it was after closing hours. He was thinking about going home when, as I recall correctly, a reporter appeared and insisted on seeing him. And he said, no, come back tomorrow. I don't have the time now, and I don't feel like it. This guy was very persistent. He said, I'm going to stay here until I see you. So, we had a little hassle and I had to sort of lock the reporter outside. But that had Kinsey get angry, and I could see his carotid artery sort of swelling a bit. And he started breathing a little harder. So finally the reporter went away. 

But by this time Kinsey was feeling quite badly. So I said, I think you ought to see your doctor. So, the doctor came, we telephoned him and he came out, and did Kinsey simply put himself in the hands of a doctor like any sensible person? No. He had to impress the doctor with the importance of keeping him, Kinsey, alive so he could finish his work. And in order to do that, he gave the doctor a tour of the Institute, which lasted the better part of an hour, walking around. And I asked the doctor later, why did you let him do that? And he said, if I tried to stop him, he said, that would make him angry. And he said, I could just see his blood pressure going up. So, he said, the smart thing to do was to go along. 

QUESTION: Did Kinsey have an agenda? 

PAUL GEBHARD: Kinsey always maintained in his speeches and in his personal lectures and in his books, he tried to remain a rigorous, completely objective, impartial scientist, which is, you know, the goal theoretically of science. But underneath, basically, he was a reformer. And he knew this, and he tried to edit it out of his writings and lectures but, of course, it showed through the cracks. He was trying to make the world a more tolerant and happier place, but you'd never get him to admit that. 

For example, he hoped that we would be able to break away from the Victorian morality, or from the more harsh aspects of Judeo-Christian culture. So, frankly, he didn't see anything wrong with premarital intercourse, providing it wasn't exploitive or something like that. And he was also quite tolerant of homosexuality, and felt that they were really one of the most abused groups of people in the country. He just felt anything that didn't involve violence or coercion was okay. And he hoped that he'd live to see that day. And he did have a great influence towards tolerance, because a number of important committees and organizations came to him for his opinions and advice. The American Law Institute, if you read their model penal code, Kinsey is quoted on practically every other page. 

It came from his childhood, from a very religious family where the father was really a very oppressive guy in the sense of religion. He wouldn't, for example, allow piano playing on Sunday, and that sort of thing. And, of course, sex was scarcely mentioned at all. And you got the impression that everything connected with sex was dangerous and sinful. So, he suffered a great deal as a child, you know. He thought his masturbation would drive him insane, or stunt his growth, or that he'd go to hell because of it, and that kind of business. And he often said, I would like to see that no child ever went through this nonsense that I have had to go through. And, that motivated him. 

I remember that he showed me that his first issue of the Boy Scout manual, and if that isn't something that would strike terror in the hearts of any young boy is to read that section on that. It said, in essence, that around puberty God bestows a special precious fluid in young men, and that's what makes them grow up and to be big, strong, manly men. And can you imagine what would happen if you didn't have this fluid. And anyone who wastes this precious fluid, you know, and so forth. That was the era in which he grew up. 

QUESTION: How did he feel he could address these problems? 

PAUL GEBHARD: Even as he was growing older and trying to learn more about sex from reading, he was horrified to discover we knew more about the sexual behavior of our domestic animals and laboratory animals than we knew about ourselves. And this motivated him, he said, this is intolerable. You know, we've got to do a study of human sex behavior. That was the whole dynamics behind him, that we would try to find out the facts about sex. We would gather the data, then we would present the data, after analyzing it, to the general public in the hopes that people would take this data and then be able to make rational choices, either personal choices for themselves, or make more rational and sensible laws and regulations. We were the data providers. The people took the data and hopefully did the right thing with it. 

QUESTION: Did his students' questions and problems motivate him to write about sex? 

PAUL GEBHARD: No, it was not quite that simple, because he was interested in sex, you might say, research even before the students came to him. But they came to him because he was a biologist, and biologists were supposed to know something about sex. And, at that time, also, he had been enlisted to help teach a course on sex education for college females who were anticipating marriage. The students would come to Kinsey, and he'd tell them what he knew, and if he didn't know, he'd say, I don't know, and what do you people think? He'd ask the students and get them discussing things. And then he began jotting down their responses. And about that time, a colleague of his was sort of interested in this and helping him. And he said, you're getting some really valuable data here. You ought to somehow systematize this and keep it. So, together, they worked out the interview schedule and it took off from there. 

QUESTION: Did he run into any objections or obstacles doing this research? 

PAUL GEBHARD: First of all, as the news spread that he was interviewing students on campus, as well as lecturing, some of his friends literally came to him and said, you shouldn't get mixed up with this, you've got an excellent reputation as a biologist and upstanding citizen of the community, if you get into this you'll just ruin yourself professionally. And he of course said, well, I'm going on anyhow. Then the dean of women said, I don't want you interviewing any women on this campus, I will not have my girls asked such questions. So he had to go to the president of the university, and he kind of overruled the dean of women, and they actually got into a kind of shouting match. There was an organization of Catholic women who sent a letter to the head of the university saying they hesitated to send their children to Indiana University where they might be subject to these sex fiends interviewing them. 

It happened that right in the midst of the McCarthy era [when] people were worried about Communism, professors were viewed as pinko professors, et cetera. And someone decided . . . a congressman had a congressional subcommittee convened to see if the big charitable organizations were fomenting Communism and other bad things. So they attacked Carnegie and the various ones. And when they got to the Rockefeller Foundation they used the Institute as their weapon saying, are you funding this vile, obviously ruthless program on sex research. And they said we were destroying the American nuclear family, destroying American morality, all to make it easier for a Communist take over. 

And after that attack, the congressional committee, Rockefeller grants suddenly ceased. And then Kinsey spent his last few years desperately trying to raise funds. And it was tragic, people would say, Dr. Kinsey, we're glad to see you've done wonderful research, and they'd have the arm on his shoulder. You've done great things, but unfortunately you don't quite fit in with our foundation's aim now, and meanwhile pushing him toward the door. So he died exhausted and embittered. I might add, this combination of politics in the attack has reared its head again. We've had a couple of congressman say the Institute ought to be closed, or at least investigated. 

QUESTION: What is the nature of the current attacks on the Institute? 

PAUL GEBHARD: In these more recent attacks, in the last ten years or so, they've been outright accusations that first of all, we did experiments with children . . . accused us of terrible acts, which of course did not occur. We did not experiment with children. Kinsey interviewed some children, but it was always in the presence of the parents. He was the only one that interviewed them, the rest of us didn't have the patience required. And so that accusation is without any foundation. Now they're saying, you hired people to do it. We never hired anyone to do it. We got our data from pedophiles, most of whom were in jail, especially in California, where they have a sexual psychopath statute, there were a fair number of pedophiles, and we interviewed them about their activity and the response of the children, according to what they said, you know. We took it with a grain of salt. 

Some of the more recent attacks have occurred since the biographies on Kinsey have been coming out. Now, these things did mention his own sexual behavior. And I can't talk about that, because one of the cardinal rules of the Institute is we do not talk about the sexual behavior of anyone we've interviewed. So all I can say is, Kinsey was an experimenter. He was interested in things, and so he did some experimentation. But it was rather infrequent. 

The books make it sound like every Saturday night. It was actually rather rare, and I was seldom aware of it. The fact that this experimentation involved both heterosexual and homosexual acts then people have said, it must have biased his sample in some fashion. To the best of my knowledge it didn't. Now he did collect a lot of homosexual histories, but that's because he was planning to do a book on homosexuality. But, that large quantity of homosexual case histories came pretty much after the male volume, which had already been analyzed. So those additional homosexual histories didn't bias the Male volume. It couldn't have biased without our knowing, because after all, [we] were the ones who were punching up the data, handling the case histories, drawing the graphs and all the rest. 

QUESTION: What is the nature of the attacks on Kinsey's personal life? 

PAUL GEBHARD: Some of the attacks on Kinsey's personal life, they overlook the fact that we were, as a group, scientists. They'd attack Kinsey, because what they don't realize is we were photographing people, as well. This was, you see, before Masters and Johnson. And nobody had documented human sexual behavior via photography before. And we felt it was necessary. It's like somebody said, could you understand a study of primates if you weren't allowed to photograph them? So we took our courage in our hands and had our own photographer, and we photographed human sexual behavior, both heterosexual and homosexual. And we tried to anticipate Masters and Johnson a little bit. 

For example, if we could have someone masturbating or in sexual intercourse, maybe one of us would be trying to hold a finger on their pulse to count the pulse, and somebody else might be trying to count the respiration. That was very primitive; it was all we could do. And so these weren't exactly orgies, some of these were pretty medically inclined. And then after Masters got in the act then we didn't have to do this anymore. Now, the subjects were ourselves, because we couldn't ask other people to do something that we ourselves weren't willing to do. So we were own guinea pigs. And if somebody didn't want to, as one of the wives didn't want to, then they weren't immortalized on film. 

Any scientist who is working, their own personality and whatnot is bound to be reflected to some degree in what they produce. With Kinsey, I think the only possible bias, if you want to call it that, was he'd let his sentimentality or his kindness get out of control. So he'd be a little too tender hearted, a little more liberal than most people would like. And this you'd find in his writing. But, it didn't affect his statistics, his figures. He never fudged them, or played with them. In the interpretation he'd try to give it something of a more positive spin. This has also been used to attack us. 

QUESTION: What about the critique of his sampling methods? 

PAUL GEBHARDT: This type of criticism about sampling methods is valid, because good science depends on valid sampling, et cetera. So we don't resent, you might say, the criticisms on that. But, we did about the only thing that was possible at that time. For example, random probability sample was just sort of being invented about then. And it would have been, frankly, in my opinion impossible on the subject of sex. So we tried to do the best we could by what we called 100 percent sampling. We knew that if you just relied on pure volunteers you'd get a biased sample. 

I'll give you a good example. We'd say we need some good upper middle class or middle class businessmen. All right, where could we find a group of them? A Rotary Club would be good. So we'd go to a Rotary Club and say, we'll give you a lecture, no charge, with the understanding that we get a list of all your members, and that we are allowed to approach them for their interviews, and we'd like to have you cooperate as best you can. They were always happy to get Kinsey, for free particularly. So we'd go there, give his lecture, then he'd give his pitch about the interview and the project itself at the end, kind of his sales talk. Then he'd ask people to sign up for interviews. Just to make it easy, let's say there were 100 people there, maybe 20 or so would come up to the lectern and sign up. 

Now if we'd just taken those 20 and nobody else, we would have had a volunteer bias. But, no, we'd just sign them up, but then the next day we would start telephoning the other people, I notice you didn't have a chance to come up and sign up, how about next Tuesday night? Is that bowling night? Well, how about Friday morning? So by the time about a week had gone by we'd have maybe 40, possibly even 50 of the group. Then there would be a magic moment there when suddenly we would become sort of a group cause. And generally we'd end up with about 95 percent of the 100. So we'd say, okay, that's as close to perfection as we can get. Of our total sample better than a quarter of it came from these 100 percent groups. 

Here's my opinion of the thing, our lower social level sample, that is the grade school educated, was bad, I'm sorry we even published on it. Our sort of middle high school level, it's an approximation, I wouldn't bet the farm on it, but it's a pretty fair approximation. Our upper middle, our sort of college level sample I'd say is excellent, I don't think it's ever been approached since. I think it's the best sex sample done on that particular level. 

In the first book Kinsey made an attempt to generalize, to extrapolate to the general population. And he realized later that was a mistake. Now, what he thought he could do is take these groups that I mentioned, and sort of mix them together in proportion to the census and come up with something. But, he changed his mind, he was willing to change his mind if you gave him a good argument, and he decided we will not do that. So in the Female book you'll discover he didn't make any generalizations to the U.S. as a whole. 

QUESTION: Have you re-checked any of the data in the light of the sampling criticisms? 

PAUL GEBHARD: One thing I did was I took all of the groups that had any, let's say, bias towards homosexuality, and I excluded them from the sample, and it didn't really make much difference. I thought, for example, that famous 37 percent figure, I thought maybe if I clean out all of the artists, and the writers, and friends of homosexuals maybe it will drop down to 28 or something. It didn't. It came out almost exactly 37 again, and I was surprised, pleasantly. 

This business of the 10 percent figure, this is the one thing we have published that I have bitterly regretted, because everybody misinterprets it. I wish to God we had never published it. He simply said that 10 percent of the males had been more homosexual than heterosexual for three years of their life. Now, that's a totally different thing than saying 10 percent of the adult males are homosexual. A lot of this, if we checked out the case histories, as I did, came about the in early post-puberty. For example, you'd get kids post-pubescent, 12, 13, 14, in terms of behavior they were more homosexual than heterosexual. You know, they were having Boy Scout circle jerks or something, but they weren't having sexual intercourse with girls. 

So, yes, for three years there they were much more homosexual than heterosexual. So Kinsey put that out to emphasize what he felt - to show the degree to which homosexuality was prevalent. You could have turned it around the other way and said, what percent of males were predominantly heterosexual for three years of their life and you could come up with a 99 percent figure. 

QUESTION: Did including younger age-groups in the data affect the findings? 

PAUL GEBHARD: We didn't hide this. I mean, if someone had wanted to skew it, we would have done it secretly. No, we published it. We simply said, okay, here's the incidence of homosexuality in people after puberty. That's our goal. So, here's the incidence at age 12 to 15, here it is 16 to 20. So we didn't hide it. And you can see the figures actually drop off later in life, and have a higher incidence in early puberty. So, it's all there in black and white. People just choose to interpret it as they wish. 

I'd say looking back at the Kinsey work, plus all the work that's been done since, the Kinsey sample for the college educated has held up remarkably well. It's still, I think, the gold standard by which to judge other surveys. One must realize that things have changed. For example, premarital intercourse is far more common now, and so forth. So, I'm very happy about the bulk of our research. It's just the less educated samples that I think are not valid, or less valid. But the bulk of the work for the college educated, I think it's fine. 

QUESTION: Looking back, was it a worthwhile endeavor for you? 

PAUL GEBHARDT: I'm happy to have been in on that. I consider it good work on its own merits, but I also consider it of extreme importance because it helped foment a lot more sex research. There were some sex researchers before Kinsey, but we were really kind of the cradle of sex research, and it's blossomed out from there. And so, if we did nothing else, that would have made it worthwhile. And I'm happy to have been a part of that. And it's also had its affect on law. The laws have become much more sensible, and a lot of that was based on Kinsey's work. If I had to evaluate Kinsey in terms of the social scientist, he would be up there in the upper dozen, and maybe even in the upper half-dozen. 

The great publicity, I might add, at this juncture, I should say, the publicity was not anticipated. I remember when the Male volume was ready to be printed, and Kinsey was asking everyone, you know, how many copies should be printed? And he said to me, "Gebhard, how many copies do you think ought to be printed?" And I said, well, I think every university will probably want a copy, and a good many doctors will want a copy. I would say you ought to print at least 5,000. And he said, "Nonsense, Gebhard, nonsense. They should print 20,000." I thought, 20,000! And, of course, it went to over 250,000. 

QUESTION: How did Kinsey react to the success of his books? 

PAUL GEBHARDT: Well, he was surprised, number one. That there was such a great publicity. Then, he sort of thought, well, that's fine. That's what I want. I want the word and the data to get out to as many people as possible. Then he began to get some splat from other scientists who said, oh, it's too popular, this can't be good science. It's entirely too popular. You must be a publicity hound. So, it was a two-edged sword. But basically he was glad that it received the attention it did. And also, of course, we weren't above being happy to know we were getting more book royalties, either, and it's a good thing we did. The book royalties, of course, all went back to the Institute. After the Rockefeller Foundation ceased its support those silly royalties kept us going, they were a life saver. 

QUESTION: Once again, can you comment on whether or not Kinsey's results were skewed? 

PAUL GEBHARD: People don't understand that Kinsey had an interesting idea about sampling. He realized the field of human sexuality was so vast that you'd have to spread a very wide net in order to get it. Originally, some people had said, why don't you just study married couples or something. And he said, well, there's more to sex than married couples. So, he wanted to embrace human sexuality in its totality. And so, he would get anything that was interesting that came along to begin with, and sort of put it in, you might say, his museum, his collection of people. And the idea was, we'd have to be opportunistic. You know, if we had a chance to get this group, we'd get it. So, basically, I think if there is any distortion, and I'm talking now about that upper social level sample, it had little or no effect. I stand by that college educated sample. The other sample, the lower social level samples, those are defective, and you shouldn't pay too much attention to them.


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