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Questions About Sex

  Reasons for the Research | Answering Questions | The Published Findings

% Reasons for the Research

Alfred Kinsey's work was motivated both by professional interest and personal concerns. Having established himself as a first-class taxonomist in his studies of gall wasps, the biologist was stunned to discover how little science knew about human sexual behavior -- and felt motivated to create new scholarship in the field.

Kinsey would also recall how he and his wife, Clara, had struggled to consummate their marriage, in the absence of adequate information about sex. First by offering a marriage course to married students at I.U., and then by dispensing advice and defining a scientific approach to collecting histories, Kinsey was determined to document and increase knowledge about the realities of Americans' sexual behavior.

'For [Kinsey], a good marriage was extremely important... And he felt that unless the sexual relationship is a good one, it can't be a good marriage, it won't survive... That was an important part of his motivation for doing this study, to find out what's really going on, and then helping people. He accomplished all of that, actually, because we have sex therapists today.' -- Alice Ginott Cohn, Kinsey interviewee

"Everybody thinks of sex in terms of their own experience, when actually it's a tremendous tapestry of experiences. It covers a vast territory. And I think to most people, that was a totally novel idea."
-- John Tebbel, Kinsey biographer

"The nature of his evolving understanding of research was to do an empirically based study of sexuality. To truly understand the variations across human beings, men and women, and age, and even to some degree by social circumstances, how did people approach this major feature of their lives? And he did this because he was responding to questions that people simply did not have any understanding of -- the biological, physiological aspects of this process."
-- Edward Laumann, sex researcher

'You've got this notion that the genders are opposite but they're mutually attracted -- each one needs the other to be complete -- and that really flowers in the 1920s into this new notion of companionate marriage and the idea that we're going to find out about how to have a blissful sexual life.' -- Julia Ericksen, sociologist

"[Kinsey] felt that there was a great under-reporting of the extent of homosexuality. There were laws in many states about homosexuality, and he felt that it was important to get to the bottom of all this and find out exactly how many of the population were exclusively homosexual. Many more, of course, had had one homosexual encounter, experimentally, and he tabulated that also."
-- Miriam Hecht, Kinsey interviewee

"The magazines and the information that was out there were all about pleasing your husband, and your sexuality was kind of confined with the marital role and the maternal role. [Kinsey] looked at one's narrative history of sexuality as a phenomenon of the individual."
-- Leonore Tiefert, sex researcher

"When he realized how sparse the information in that field was, so that's what really prompted him... when a scientist sees a field that is very inadequately studied, why, it's a challenge."
-- Ann Kinsey Call, Kinsey's daughter

'Nobody had ever... found out what was really going on with [women's] sexual activities, their sexual feelings. It's so funny, we're in a culture now where people let it all hang out to an extent that I actually find some of it offensive, some of the stuff that's on television, that I really don't think my grandchildren need to see. And I think it might not be shocking to people now that this guy interviewed all these people about [sex].' -- Barbara Seaman, journalist
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