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  Questions and Answers: Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5
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Day 1:
February 14, 2005

Q: In T.C. Boyle's Inner Circle, two characters, John Milk and his wife Iris, are obviously based on Clyde and Alice Martin. How much of that is taken from real events? Did Alice actually stay with Gebhard for a while? Was she actually in love? Did Clyde and Alice reconcile and stay married? Are they both living?

Charles DiJorno
Harrisburg, PA

Answered by Barak Goodman:
John Milk and his wife Iris are described by Boyle as "composites..." The events are fictionalized, though they do have resemblance to real life. Alice was in love with Gebhard; we don't know if they lived together. Alice and Clyde did reconcile, stayed married and are both living.

Barak Goodman

Q: Why is there such reluctance to challenge [Kinsey's] unscientific gathering of "data" (accumulative incidence technique) -- for example, selective sampling with major distortions of representative subjects (and an unexplained exclusion of 1600 black males), his relaxed view on incestual relations between adults and children, and the methodolgy by which a "researcher" was able to discern the supposed sexual response, including orgasm, from infants and very young children without any scrutiny of pedophilic behavior, as well as the personal agenda and bias of Kinsey in conducting his "research"?

Duane Thomas
Indianapolis, IN

Answered by Dr. Julia Ericksen:
The question is not really one question but a number of questions and it contains an assumption that Kinsey's work has never been questioned. That of course is not correct. First Kinsey's data are not accepted as portraying an accurate picture of the sexual behavior of Americans at the time the data were collected. The most important reason for this is that he did not use probability sampling and therefore he could not generalize beyond those he interviewed.

However, to put this in historical perspective, Kinsey started data collection in 1938, just as the use of random or probability sampling was beginning. When Cochran, Mosteller, and Tukey, who were the three most prominent statisticians of their day, evaluated Kinsey's work, they noted this problem, but concluded that, given the newness of the methodology and the shortage of qualified statisticians during the Second World War, Kinsey could not have been expected to use probability sampling. For more information on this and related methodological topics, see my article on Kinsey's methodology in The Journal of Sex Research (May 1998).

Kinsey did not include the data on black men because he had very few interviews with middle and upper middle class black men. He intended to publish a volume on black Americans but died before he was able to. As to Kinsey's having a personal agenda and bias, we all have personal agendas, including the author of this letter. Kinsey, like many scientists, did not always recognize his. His agenda has been written about extensively by myself and others, including both of the historians who appear in the documentary.

Dr. Julia Ericksen

Q: I wonder about reliable information relative to misinformation from the billions of dollar porn industry, Hollywood -- what sells/popular themes, the media bias. Where are we to find sound information/education?

Don Noren
Zion, IL

Answered by Melissa Pardue and Robert E. Rector:
We agree that it is very important to keep the information that comes from Hollywood and the pornography industry in perspective. Particularly in the case of the porn industry, where there is a clear agenda to promote and profit from sex. With that in mind, the presentation of sexuality in our culture today from the media is not an accurate one. The media industry is in the business of making money, and as they have discovered, sex sells. Your question of where to go for more reliable and accurate information is therefore a challenging one, since many of our impressions are shaped from media and pop culture (movies, music, TV shows). This is particularly true where teens are concerned, as they are probably the largest consumers of America's pop culture. And according to what you see on TV and in movies, everyone is "doing it" and if you're not, something must be wrong with you. But in fact, data from the Centers for Disease Control finds that in fact everyone is NOT doing it. The CDC's Youth Risk Behavior survey finds that the number of 9th-12th graders who had ever had sexual intercourse has actually DECLINED between 1991 and 2003 (54% versus 46%, respectively). More than half of teens are NOT sexually active. (We encourage you to examine the CDC Youth Risk Behavior data, which is available online at the CDC website, where you'll find similar decreases in other areas such as the number of sexual partners and current sexual activity, as well as other risky behaviors such as smoking and alcohol use). So in terms of more reliable information, that's a start.

But we think another great source for information for teens is their peers and other role-models in their age group. That is one of the most impressive aspects of the character education that is behind the abstinence education movement. Many of these programs feature other teens who can testify to either their experience with sex (i.e., it's not what it looks like on TV or in movies) or can encourage them by saying that they are waiting until they're older and not rushing into sex. Peers have an enormous impact on teens, and it's important to provide them with an alternative message to what they are being bombarded with by the media and pop culture.

And finally, it cannot be emphasized enough how important families and parents are as a source of information. Values and expectations are perhaps the most important kind of information a young person can ever receive, and this is the responsibility of parents, not a sex-ed course in school.

Melissa Pardue

Robert E. Rector

Answered by Adrienne Verrilli:
A tremendous amount of misinformation does exist when it comes to sexual health. However, there are numerous resources available to people, particularly on the internet. The organization I work for, the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the U.S. (SIECUS), has an excellent website on sexual health information and resources. That address is

Additional resources include:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

American Social Health Association:

American Public Health Association:

Kaiser Family Foundation:

The Alan Guttmacher Institute:

There are also websites dedicated to sexual health questions for young people including:

Teen Wire:

Go Ask Alice:


MTV's Fight For Your Rights: Protect Yourself:

Adrienne Verrilli

Q: How much of Kinsey's research was applicable and useful? For example, were the endless shots of masturbating men helpful to science? Also, could a professor/researcher act like this today at a university? I'm thinking that they couldn't. But that is odd, because as a society we are so much more open... If not, why not?

Knoxville, TN

Answered by Dr. Gilbert Herdt:
Alfred Kinsey's work was extremely useful in helping ordinary people get information about sexuality that troubled them or made them curious. They had no other accurate, scientific place, to turn -- at that time. Kinsey discovered, for example, that masturbation was far more common than anyone said, though the culture denied that it existed at the time. Kinsey helped to shatter myths about sexuality, such as the fact the women also experienced masturbation.

When you ask, "Could a professor act like this today at a university?" -- It is not clear what you mean, but I am guessing that you are asking if researchers could investigate sexuality and perhaps film sexual acts under certain research conditions. The answer is not simple, since there are wide differences between researchers in big cities and small towns, and from region to region of the U.S., where the social and political climate changes. But yes, there are some of us who do study sexuality scientifically, and for example, Masters and Johnson famously studied and filmed sexual relations in their lab in St. Louis in the l960s. Unfortunately there is still a lot of ignorance, fear and shame in the public. We all need to support better sex education and better sexual health support from the government to keep the social progress going!

Dr. Gilbert Herdt

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