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Online Forum

  Questions and Answers: Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5
  Back to Introduction | Forum Participants

Day 5:
February 18, 2005

Q: The film suggested at several points that Kinsey's authoritarian father influenced his son's attitudes and behavior. No mention was made of his mother. Why?

Bradford, OH

Answered by Barak Goodman:
Kinsey's mother, Sarah Ann, was a Victorian house wife and mother who, like Kinsey himself, was beaten down emotionally by Alfred Sr. By all accounts he had a perfectly cordial relationship with his mother, but probably resented her for never standing up to her husband. Kinsey's father was a very domineering man, who, as a Methodist preacher, had the power of God behind him. I think he pretty much sucked up all the oxygen in the room. We chose to focus on Kinsey's relationship with his father because we felt he had the greatest role in shaping the man that Kinsey became. Alfred Sr. eventually abandoned Sarah Ann in 1930, filing for a quickie divorce in Las Vegas. From that point on Kinsey would have nothing to do with his father.

Barak Goodman

Q: It is clear from reading Kinsey's books, biographies, and viewing American Experience that Kinsey 's perspective on sexuality was influenced by his years working with gall wasps. While I have great respect for him as a pioneer, in what ways did his approach initially limit or negatively limit sexuality research?

Lisa Waldner
St. Paul, MN

Answered by Dr. Julia Ericksen:
This is a really good question and the answer is quite complex. Both the training Kinsey underwent as an entomologist and his experience working with gall wasps influenced him greatly. Kinsey's interest was in taxonomy which is concerned with the division of plants and animals into species. As a result he looked for and measured variation within species; hence his vast collection of gall wasps. In his collecting, he emphasized the finding that no two galls wasps were ever exactly alike. He argued that the amount of variation within species was greater than had been realized previously, and he published extensively on this topic. When he turned his attention to human sexual behavior, he brought his interest in variation with him. He looked to find the greatest variety of human sexual acts and constantly tried to learn about new variations. Furthermore, he argued that unless there was a physiological abnormality, all variation should be considered normal.

As a result of this training and experience he did not understand that what taxonomists do -- find and record variation -- is different than the task of survey researchers. The latter want to know how the range of human behavior can be generalized from a sample to the population from which it is drawn. Rare variations are likely to be overrepresented by a search for variety rather than for representation. Kinsey believed he could overcome this problem with enough cases, but of course this is not true unless one has so many cases, one's sample approaches the total population.

Dr. Julia Ericksen

Q: Did Dr. Kinsey do research on venereal disease in the Indiana or Chicago area before 1951? My mother was a registered nurse who lived in the Chicago and Terra Haute, IN area between 1944 and 1950. I have been told that my mother did research for someone in Chicago or Indiana concerning venereal disease. She was infected with syphillis when she was taking blood from a patient and accidentally stuck herself with the needle... much like our AIDS scares today. She was treated for syphillis, but was warned she may never have children. Well, obviously they were wrong. My brother was born in 1950 and I was born 17 months later in 1952. I want to know if this was part of Dr. Kinsey's research.

Webster, IA

Answered by Catherine Johnson-Roehr:
The marriage course at Indiana University was in large part a reaction to the VD epidemic in the United States at that time. Kinsey included a lecture on venereal diseases in the class. He handled the biology portion of the team-taught course from 1938 to 1940. However, Kinsey's research did not focus on sexually transmitted infections (as we now refer to VD). "Sexual Behavior in the Human Male," published in 1948, contains only a few brief references to venereal disease.

Catherine Johnson-Roehr

Q: I was wondering what the men who worked closely with Kinsey went on to do with their lives, and who took over for Kinsey after he died.

Bloomington, IN

Answered by James H. Jones:
Paul Gebhard succeeded Kinsey as the director of the Institute for Sex Research at Indiana University. Gebhard went on to have a distinguished career in his own right and published two landmark voumes: Pregnancy, Birth and Abortion, and Sex Offenders.

Wardell Pomeroy returned to clinical psychology and had a fine career as a sex therapist and counselor in New York City and later in the Bay Area in northern California.

Clyde Martin went to graduate school and got a Ph.D. in sociology. He spent his career as a researcher at The Johns Hopkins University.

James H. Jones

Q: Why are we allowed to marry only one partner?

Rancho Cucamonga, CA

Answered by Adrienne Verrilli:
The American legal system is based on both Judeo-Christian law and English common law. Polygamy, the practice of having more than one marriage partner, has been condemned for many centuries by the Christian church and has been considered a crime by English common law since at least the 1600s. Nancy Cott, a professor of history at Harvard University, explains that ever since the Enlightenment, Western political thinkers have associated polygamy with political governance by tyranny or despotism, as opposed to a governance of laws. In her book, Public Vows: A History of Marriage and the Nation, Cott explains that monogamy is a long-settled part of the American law and political viewpoint.

Adrienne Verrilli

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