Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948)
Over 200,000 Americans purchased copies of Sexual Behavior in the Human Male in the two months after its publication in January 1948. The Kinsey Report, as it was known, became a cultural phenomenon and the subject of conversations, jokes and songs. It was translated into a dozen languages.
Newspapers published generally favorable reviews, but critics questioned Kinsey's research methods -- and his scientific conclusions. The high incidence of reported behaviors, including premarital and extramarital sex, visits to prostitutes, and homosexual experiences, surprised many people.
Time, March 1, 1948
Manners & Morals
...The itch for the book was most notable among urban intellectuals and college students. (Wellesley girls were told they could not buy a copy unless they came back with a written O.K. from a professor. None came back). But there were plenty of other customers. In Kansas City, a grain merchant bought a copy for mistress, wistfully wrote on the flyleaf: "I hope this will help you understand me better." In Miami Beach, where no cabana was considered properly furnished without "the report," one playboy bought 50 copies and sent them to all the women he knew.
In Hollywood, mentioning Kinsey was one of the few ways to break up a gin rummy game. Radio comedians, ever on the alert against censorship, tested the water with such gags as: "He's at an awkward age -- you know, too old for the Bobbsey Twins and too young for the Kinsey report."
Hoosiers began to call Kinsey's base of operations at Indiana University "The Sex Center." "Hotter that the Kinsey report" became a common figure of speech. At Harvard, the chorus of a student song featured the lines:
I've looked you up in the Kinsey report
And you're just the man for me.
Sexologist Alfred Kinsey was not taken aback by the uproar. He had predicted three years ago that his book might sell a million copies... He appeared to have found that some 85% of U.S. men have premarital intercourse, nearly 70% have intercourse with prostitutes, between 30% and 45% have extra-marital intercourse and 37% have some kind of homosexual experience.
Last week the Gallup poll reported that the U.S. people were agreed (by a 5-to-1 majority) that it was a "good thing" rather than a "bad thing" to have this information available.
The New York Times, March 31, 1948
Speakers Assail Kinsey on Report
A psychoanalyst, an anthropologist, a sociologist, a statistician and a lawyer took a detailed look yesterday into the much discussed report on "Sexual Behavior in the Human Male." The speakers were permitted "to throw the book" at the Kinsey report at the opening session of a three-day conference sponsored by the American Social Hygiene Association...
Dr. [Jule] Eisenbud, who said he wanted to make it clear that he thought the first volume of the Kinsey report was a "magnificent job," said he had no quarrel with the statistical methods used, but with the fact that Dr. Kinsey indulged in "unjustifiable, illegitimate manipulation of the data" in drawing what he called "implicit inferences..."
Dr. [Margaret] Mead criticized Dr. Kinsey for handling the subject of sex "as an impersonal, meaningless act," and for perpetuating the Puritan attitude prevalent in this nation. She called this attitude "extraordinarily destructive of interpsychic and interpersonal relationships..."
Dr. George Corner, director of the Department of Embryology at Carnegie Institution of Washington and chairman of the committee for research in problems of sex of the National Research Council, said that the committee has continued conviction of the importance of Professor Kinsey's studies and would give it increasing financial support...
Time, April 12, 1948
In the 15 weeks since its publication... [the Male Report] has risen nearly to the top of the bestseller list... Its popularity shows that many a U.S. grownup is just as curious about sex as adolescents are...
The chief apologists for Kinsey... were medical men. Public health men, said Dr. J. R. Heller of the U.S. Public Health Service, have learned much from the book. The PHS will aim its anti-venereal disease campaigns at parts of the population which Kinsey believes to be most sexually active...
Demanding a change in laws regulating sex on the basis of Kinsey's findings is... senseless, [Father Harold Gardiner, S. J., an editor of America] said; moral laws are unchangeable... It would be far better, said he, if the Kinsey report were in the hands only of doctors, penal authorities, judges, social workers, the clergy.
The Rev. Otis Rice, professor of pastoral theology at Manhattan's General Theological Seminary (Episcopal), was more hopeful. The book will not change the basic tenets of moral theology, he said, but will help clergymen to see "the realities of sex..."
Time, June 7, 1948
Sex & the Church
Protestant Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr last week took cognizance of the Kinsey Report. Like many another churchman, he found Scientist Kinsey's point of view towards sex "distressing" -- even more so than the sad state of U.S. morals it indicated.
...Niebuhr attacked Kinsey on two main counts. First is the Report's assumption that the prevailing sexual license reflects the inadequacy of sex standards set up by the churches. Niebuhr admits that neither Catholic nor Protestant attitudes toward sex are all they might be. But with all its faults, maintains Niebuhr, Christian teaching comes much nearer than Dr. Kinsey to a true understanding of the place of sex in human relations. The Kinsey Report, he writes, "proposes to solve the problem simply by ignoring all deeper aspects of human existence. Sexual drives are analyzed as if they were merely biological impulses...
"Even more dangerous is the assumption that new norms can be created by a statistical study of the actual sex practices of the day. Here we have the modern sociological approach to the problem of norms reduced to its final absurdity... all we need in the future is an accurate Gallup poll. That would be the final triumph of a 'scientific' civilization.'
"Christians are... frequently guilty of a graceless and self-righteous legalism, lacking in charity toward those who have been worsted by the tumult of their own passions. There is nothing in the present situation to encourage complacency among those of us who call ourselves Christian. Yet we do have at least a tenuous hold upon a dimension of existence which is not touched in the Report..."