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Online Forum

The Kinsey Institute

A panel of experts answered your questions on the events of Alfred Kinsey's life, the impact of the Kinsey Reports when they were released, Kinsey's legacy, historical and scientific views of Kinsey today, and more, in this online forum.

The forum was live from February 14 through 18, 2005, and is now over. The questions and replies are posted here permanently for you to read.

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.

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.

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.

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 www.siecus.org.

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

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!

Day 2
February 15, 2005

Q: I have heard that one part of Kinsey's dark side was that he became a pedophile. Do you have any info about this?

P. L.
Seattle, WA

Answered by James H. Jones:
For more than a decade rumors and accusations have circulated that Kinsey was a pedophile. I have not seen any credible evidence to support these rumors and accusations, and I do not believe that such evidence exists. Moreover, reliable people who knew Kinsey's sexual history have testified that he was not a pedophile. I believe them.

Q: Dr. Kinsey ultimately lost his funding. Who is funding sex research today and how is that research being used? It seems that in matters of public policy, politics trumps science.

Jeffrey Atwood
Larchmont, NY 

Answered by Melissa Pardue and Robert E. Rector:
If the basis of funding for sex research is scientific methodology, then Kinsey appears to us an obvious exception. Kinsey's research was not scientific at all since he did not use a representative sample, so should never have been funded in the first place. And while you will hear the defense that probability sampling was a new concept during Kinsey's days, there were in fact scientists during that time who expressed concern over Kinsey's sampling. Famed psychologist Abraham Maslow, for example, expressed interest in Kinsey's work but was very troubled by Kinsey's "volunteer" bias. When Maslow pointed it out to him, Kinsey ceased all collaboration him. Maslow described any subsequent contacts with Kinsey as "not cordial." So while Kinsey may have indeed been trained as a scientist, it is our view that, in the case of his sex research, he was a political activist pretending to conduct science. Sex research today is funded through a variety of different venues with the support of foundations and other funding streams. Much of today's sex research is done at university settings, which we believe is problematic because of the heavy ideological bias that pervades major universities. Sex researchers in general are also usually of the same ideological bent, so objective, unbiased research on sexuality is rare if it even exists at all. Consequently, the public policies that stem from this research are also affected by the lack of objectivity. Sexuality research should of course be valid and scientific, but it should also be performed by individuals of different and varying philosophical perspectives. Liberal homogeneity in academia that stifles inquiry and honest discourse affects both the research itself as well as the policies that emerge from it.

Answered by Adrienne Verrilli:
You are correct in your observation that in matters of public policy, politics can trump science. In SIECUS' view, the current administration has systematically undermined research by eschewing evaluation for pet projects, hiding research they do not like, and threatening researchers looking into controversial topics. For example, the Bush administration has dramatically increased federal funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, despite the fact that no programs have ever been proven effective. And, rather than conduct scientific research to determine if this billion-dollar investment is working, the administration has made the evaluation voluntary and almost meaningless. In 2000, under the Clinton administration, the Department of Health and Human Services (D.H.H.S.) developed scientific outcomes for these programs that would have measured behavioral change, including tracking sexual activity and teen pregnancy. The Bush administration has dropped these measures and is only evaluating for attitudinal change at the end of a program. This is not scientifically sound. Attitudes do not determine behavior. Additionally, the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (C.D.C.) have dropped an initiative on HIV/AIDS prevention. "Programs that Work" identified sexuality education programs that were scientifically proven to be effective in order to help communities provide the best prevention education possible. In spite of this, the C.D.C. has discontinued these services.  It is worth noting that none of these proven programs had a politically-favored abstinence-only-until-marriage focus (all of the programs included information about safer sex). Similarly, conservative political leaders did not like the conclusion of the National Cancer Institute (N.C.I.) that definitively determined there was no link between breast cancer and abortion. So, rather than stating this clearly as it once did, the N.C.I.'s Web site now confuses visitors and leaves them wondering if this disproven link might actually exist. And recently, National Institute of Health officials warned scientists who study HIV and AIDS to prepare for political interference with their research. A May 2003 New York Times article reported that the D.H.H.S. might begin to apply "unusual scrutiny" to grants to used key words such as "men who have sex with men," "gay," and 'homosexual." From SIECUS' perspective, all of this explains that politics is indeed trumping science in the reproductive health field, but does not answer your original question of who is funding sound research on sexual health topics. The truth is that without government money and support, research on sexuality, reproductive health, and HIV/AIDS research is left to private institutions and universities, and important research is simply not getting done.  

Q: Is homosexuality a matter of choice or not? That is, is it caused by genetics or physiology (like skin color), and a homosexual can either accept it or live in denial (heterosexuality or celibacy). Or, is it a matter of choice (like preferring vanilla ice cream, or Judaism over Christianity)?

Frank Nellis
Minneapolis, MN

Answered by Dr. Gilbert Herdt:
Sexual orientation is not a choice, whether homosexuality or heterosexuality. Scientific experts agree in general that homosexuality is caused by factors deep in the person, whether genetic, hormonal, psychological. Mental health research over the past 30 years has generally shown that people do better accepting and integrating their sexual orientation openly into their social life. Thanks for your question.

Q: As curator of the Kinsey Institute, would you consider documenting Dr. Kinsey's research methods by publishing his original correspondence with Dr. Fritz von Balluseck?

H.C. Walther, MD
Granite Bay, CA

Answered by Catherine Johnson-Roehr:
Thank you for your question about our collection of letters written to and by Alfred Kinsey. We have a large correspondence collection in our archives, as many people wrote to Dr. Kinsey following the publication of the two volumes on human sexual behavior. He took the time to reply to these letters, whether they came from other researchers or from individuals who simply wanted his advice about their own sexual problems. These materials are considered confidential, and although they may be viewed onsite by qualified researchers, it would be against our policy to publish a volume of Dr. Kinsey's personal correspondence.

Q: Is it known that there are happily married men who upon the death of their wives chose as their next life partner another man? Do you think that Dr. Kinsey might have made this choice if he had outlived his wife?

Charles Meyer 
Long Beach, CA

Answered by Dr. Julia Ericksen:
There are many people whose sexual identities change over time. This happens in all kinds of directions. What Kinsey would have done had his wife died is a matter of speculation but he maintained an extremely passionate and active sexual relationship with his wife during his marriage and he greatly believed in marriage as the basis of social stability. In addition, he was quite conservative in many ways — voting Republican, for example. My guess is that he would have married a woman again.

Day 3
February 16, 2005

Q: In the 1960s we heard "make love, not war." Is there an inverse relationship between sexual freedom and aggressive, warlike behavior? Are repressed cultures more violent than others, or are pro-sensual cultures more peaceful? What lessons can humanity learn from the bonobos?

Portland, OR

Answered by Dr. Gilbert Herdt:
Yes, there is a relationship between war, aggression, and the control of sexuality, as many observers since the time of Freud have noted. If you go to the American Sexuality magazine for March, 2003, you will find a major article I have authored on the topic. Scholars such as Kinsey and Foucault suspected that the more repressed a culture, the more violent and reactive. When sexuality is accepted as part of the arc of life, there is less of this, as Margaret Mead suggested. Bonobos teach us that when sexuality and affection are part of the group life, there is in general a better acceptance and adaptation.

Q: I've only recently began educating myself on feminist history and haven't come across any mention of Kinsey yet. Are there any decent books on Kinsey's influence on feminism?


Answered by Catherine Johnson-Roehr:
Many feminist scholars are looking at Alfred Kinsey's impact on society and on the lives of women, then and today. In November 2003 The Kinsey Institute and the Department of Gender Studies at Indiana University co sponsored a conference titled "Women's Sexualities: Historical, Interdisciplinary and International Perspectives." Invited scholars such as Estelle Freedman, Elizabeth Grosz, and Anne Fausto-Sterling presented papers on the critical contributions of Dr. Kinsey and the impact of his book, Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953). Many of the conference participants were working on Kinsey-related topics. Other scholars who are looking at Kinsey's influence include Jane Gerhard, whose book, Desiring Revolution: Second-wave Feminism and the Rewriting of American Sexual Thought, 1920 to 1982 is a feminist critique of Kinsey and other 'sexologists.' Lynn Gorchov has written a Ph.D. dissertation titled "Sexual science and sexual politics: American sex research, 1920-1956 (Alfred C. Kinsey)," The John Hopkins University, 2003. Judith Allen is currently working on a book that will examine the contributions of Alfred Kinsey's female colleagues to his research and publications. The Women's Sexualities conference marked the end of a year-long series of events organized by The Kinsey Institute to mark the 50th anniversary of the publication of "Sexual Behavior in the Human Female." The keynote speaker was Gloria Steinem. You may also wish to browse the list of events and speakers, who presented a variety of perspectives on Kinsey and on female sexuality:  http://www.indiana.edu/~kinsey/services/2003/list.html My thanks to our librarian Liana Zhou and to Jennifer Bass, head of information services, for their assistance with this response. 

Q: If Kinsey's reports were supposed to help change people's views, why is homosexuality still an issue today? It's not like people in same-sex relationships have changed any.

Cincinnati, OH

Answered by James H. Jones:
Kinsey hoped that his monumental research would normalize attitudes toward homosexuality. And certainly our society has made considerable progress in that area. Still, many people, whether from religious beliefs or their own values, continue to regard homosexuality as abnormal behavior. Such beliefs underscore the work that remains to be done to gain acceptance and equal rights for the gay and lesbian members of our society. 

Q: Growing up secluded from direct sexual education or family conversations, (when I became pregnant, unmarried, my father commented, "maybe we should have talked about it more") I have spent the middle part of my 30's trying to learn the biological reasons for my sexuality. I surpressed most of my passion into being a robot to my husband. Then one day I relaxed and experienced orgasm opening my eyes to a new world. Now I am asking questions of my friends about their sexuality and I can see how closed my generation is and the difference of those younger than me. Once a month I meet with 4 other women of varying ages; 1 the same age as I am and 3 varying ages in the 20's. The younger women all had such an open comfort level with conversing with us about their private practices as well as devices. In recent studies is the trend for generation Y and X'ers to be more open in sharing their sexuality in social conversations? Is the 'sexual peak' of women leaning towards late 20's rather than the mid 30's because of women feeling more comfortable about their sexuality earlier?

Jeanne Marie 
Milwaukee, WI

Answered by Dr. Julia Ericksen:
According to Paula Kamen, in Her Way, young women are indeed more comfortable having social conversations with friends about their sexual experiences. On a more anecdotal level, I would say this is true, from having taught generations of students abut sexuality. As to sexual peak, couples experience declines in sexual activity as they age, but with heterosexual couples, it seems to depend more on the man's age that the woman's. 

Q: I'm curious about Clara's life. Are any of her writings/diaries available? Did she remarry after her husband died?

Robin Onaclea 
Eugene, OR

Answered by Catherine Johnson-Roehr:
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to say a few words about Clara (McMillen) Kinsey. She was a truly remarkable woman, who is still famous around Bloomington for her many years with the local Girl Scouts. She loved the outdoors, and would stash dead birds and other interesting specimens in her freezer so that she could show them to the girls. She also taught many kids how to swim. There are no published writings by Clara Kinsey. Clara did not remarry after Alfred Kinsey's death in 1956. She died in Bloomington in 1982 at the age of 83.

Day 4
February 17, 2005

Q: Do I misunderstand or did Kinsey advocate acting on every sexual impulse? Coming of age in the sixties, I remember the complications that arose from the "if it feels good do it" attitude. Did Kinsey advise any constraints on sexual behavior?

Holliston, MA

Answered by James H. Jones:
Based upon his research and his own inclinations, Kinsey believed that sexual restraints did more harm than good to society. Consequently, he was very accepting of most forms of sexual behavior. Yet he did draw at least one line in the sand. He insisted that sexual acts between or among people had to be consensual. Kinsey believed that sexual acts that involved more than one human being should be agreeable to both parties, or to all parties if the number exceeded two. Consequently, he opposed and condemned rape or the use of force of any kind. 

Q: Do you believe that in today's society, such a profound study could again be conducted with such magnitude? It would be interesting to see how different the findings are considering the proliferation of the internet and expanded knowledge of sex and sexual behavior.

Granville, OH

Answered by Melissa Pardue and Robert Rector:
We do not believe that a study like Kinsey's could ever be published today because of the universally accepted scientific standards of research, which Kinsey's work does not meet. We believe Kinsey's study was a scientific fraud due to the sampling methods he used. The fact that he included "data" from a habitual pedophile regarding the abuse of hundreds of infants and children is of course also problematic, if not very disturbing. What still remains one the most troubling aspects of Kinsey's work is that we feel this sham was carefully concealed from the American public for so many years. In our view, Alfred Kinsey was an ideological activist with a radical sexual agenda. He conducted deliberately fraudulent research in order to promote this agenda. We also think he created a fraudulent public image as a straight-laced entomologist in order to deceive the public about his values and objectives. Other more recent studies (such as the Hite report) that have used the same type of biased and subjective sampling that Kinsey employed have been simply laughed out of the public arena. It is unlikely that we will ever see such a fraud of social science of this magnitude again. What we view as Kinsey's radical public agenda remains unacceptable to most Americans today. The majority of people agree that healthy sex should be linked with intimacy, love, and commitment, factors that are generally absent from the kind of casual sex that Kinsey advocated. Parents seem to strongly agree with this as the message we should be reinforcing to our teens. A December 2003 Zogby poll found that 91 percent of parents wanted schools to teach that "adolescents should be expected to abstain from sexual activity during the high school years." A similar poll by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy found 92 percent of adolescents themselves say society needs to send teens that strong message. You are right that we have much better and expanded knowledge of sex and sexual behavior than during Kinsey's era, which is a good thing. Specifically, there is a growing body of valid scientific research that measures the impact and effects of sexual behavior and sexual choices. What has emerged from this research are the manifold harmful consequences to the kind of casual and irresponsible sex that Kinsey advocated. Of specific interest to many researchers is how early sexual behavior affects the ability to form and maintain stable relationships and/or marriages in later years. These and other findings will undoubtedly become better understood in the future.

Answered by Adrienne Verrilli:
I absolutely agree that it would be interesting to see the findings of a modern-day, large-scale study on sexual behavior. There is so much that we still do not know about people's sexual behavior and relationships. Kinsey's ground-breaking work certainly provided us with a great deal of valuable information. However, you are right in your assessment that a lot has changed in the decades that followed. It likely that a study today would find different results as attitudes about sexuality have evolved and information has become more readily available. Such research is very important. Without a deep understanding of behavior, public health and education professionals are at a real disadvantage when it comes to helping people understand their sexuality, make healthy choices, and avoid negative consequences such as unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV. Unfortunately, in today's political environment, research on sexuality is rare and under attack. As I mentioned on Day 2, National Institute of Health officials recently warned scientists who study HIV and AIDS to prepare for political interference with their research. A May 2003 New York Times article reported that the HHS might begin to apply "unusual scrutiny" to grants that used key words such as "men who have sex with men," "gay," and "homosexual." And just yesterday the Washington Post reported that presenters at an upcoming suicide prevention conference were directed by H.H.S.' Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to change the title of their workshop. The presenters had originally called their workshop "Suicide Prevention Among Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Individuals," but were asked by SAMSHA officials to omit the four descriptive words. They were told that it would be "acceptable" to use the term "sexual orientation" instead. So, the short answer to your questions seems to be that regardless of how valuable such research would be, it is unlikely that we will see a new Kinsey-like study anytime soon. SIECUS believes that this lack of research comes at the expense of the health and well-being of all Americans.

Q: If a patient, client, of mine were to disclose that she'd never had an orgasm... and felt something was wrong with her... how would you recommend that I advise her? (This is a case I was given as an assignment to research with no boundaries ... Who better to ask than the Kinsey panel!!!)

Los Angeles, CA

Answered by Dr. Gilbert Herdt:
While unusual, the case you report is by no means unique. She should have the expectation of having a happy and fulfilling sexual life. In the case of a client, I would of course advise that you take a full sexual history, and ask her how she feels about the issue. It might be advisable as well to recommend that she see her personal physician and have a complete examination, specifically discussing the matter with the M.D. The results of the first and second step would help determine to you and her the next step. Good luck! 

Q: What does the Kinsey Institute focus on today, decades after Kinsey's initial work, and what is the general focus of sex research these days, decades after major social shifts in American sexuality?

Debra Hyde
Hartford, CT 

Answered by Catherine Johnson-Roehr:
Whereas Alfred Kinsey was interested in 'what' people were doing sexually, today at The Kinsey Institute we are more interested in 'why,' to help define answers to problems that individuals, couples, families and society face around sexuality. Some of our themes are: Understanding how people differ in their responses to sexual situations; Understanding the role of emotion in sexual decision-making and sexual well-being; Understanding the interaction between mind and body in sexual behavior and response; Exploring the role of hormones in sexual response and well-being; Understanding the factors that contribute to both health and distress in sex and sexual relations; Understanding the role of experience and environment in sexual and relationship problems, including the effects of sexual abuse and the Internet. In addition to the work being done by our own research staff, The Kinsey Institute makes its extensive collections available for use by a wide variety of scholars researching aspects of sex, gender, and reproduction. With more than 100,000 print materials, 10,000 films and videos, more than 80,000 art, artifacts and photographs, as well as an extensive archival collection, the Library and special collections provide both primary and secondary sources for researchers from many disciplines. The Kinsey Institute Library continues to collect, archive, organize, and preserve print and audiovisual materials that document sexual behaviors, sex attitudes, sex education and literature. We are building a strong archival program and provide a permanent home for the records and papers of sex research organizations and sexologists. These manuscripts and archival materials serve as important primary resources for students of sexuality. The Institute's collection of art, artifacts, and photographs provides unique visual resources for scholars and researchers. Founded by Alfred Kinsey in the 1940s, this collection of mostly donated material spans more than 2,000 years of human history and contains artworks, professional and amateur photographs, objects, and ephemera from a wide range of cultures and time periods. We have an active exhibition program, as we believe it is an important part of our educational mission to share aspects of our collection with the interested public. All together, these materials make The Kinsey Institute the premier sexuality research collection for scholars from across the United States and around the world. For more information on sex research today, please visit our website (www.kinseyinstitute.org).

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.

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. 

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. 

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

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.

Forum participants

Dr. Julia Ericksen
Julia Ericksen is a sociology professor and chair of the department at Temple University. Her research and teaching interests are on the topic of sexuality and gender. She is has written extensively about research methodology in sex research, and she is the author of a chapter on this in the forthcoming Encyclopedia of Sociology.  She is the author of Kiss and Tell: Surveying Sex in the Twentieth Century, which includes a section on Kinsey.  She has also written about Kinsey's controversial methodology. Currently she is working on a book about women's experience with breast cancer diagnosis, particularly their experiences around issues of body and sexuality.

Barak Goodman
In twelve years of producing documentaries, Barak Goodman has received every major industry award: the Peabody, duPont-Columbia, National Emmy, and an Academy Award nomination. Two of his films for PBS's American Experience were selected for the documentary competition by the Sundance Film Festival: Scottsboro: An American Tragedy (Sundance 2000), and The Fight (Sundance 2004).

Dr. Gilbert Herdt
Gilbert Herdt is a professor of sexuality and anthropology at San Francisco State University where he also directs the Human Sexuality Studies Program, the Institute on Sexuality, Inequality, and Health, and the National Sexuality Resource Center. He has served on the editorial boards of numerous professional journals, given scholarly presentations at conferences throughout the world, published over 50 scholarly articles and book chapters, authored or coauthored eight books, and edited 14 volumes. Among his more recent books are Secrecy and Cultural Reality (University of Michigan Press, 2001), Something to Tell You: The Road Families Travel When a Child Is Gay (Columbia University Press, 2000), and Sambia Sexual Cultures: Essays from the Field (University of Chicago Press, 1999).

Catherine Johnson-Roehr
Catherine Johnson-Roehr has been the Curator of Art, Artifacts, and Photographs at The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction since July 2000. She has master's degrees in art history (University of Oregon) and library science (Indiana University). As curator at The Kinsey Institute, Johnson-Roehr organizes public exhibitions, manages requests from researchers and the media, and works with donors to build the Institute's art collection. She has edited several Kinsey Institute exhibition catalogs, including ex and Humor: Selections from The Kinsey Institute and Feminine Persuasion: Art and Essays on Sexuality, both published by Indiana University Press.  

James H. Jones 
James H. Jones received his Ph.D. from Indiana University and has  taught at the University of Houston and the University of  Arkansas. He has held postdoctoral fellowships from Harvard University, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and The Rockefeller Foundation.  He is the award winning author  of Bad Blood: The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, A Tragedy of Race and Medicine (The Free Press), and Alfred C. Kinsey:  A Life (W. W. Norton).  An independent scholar, Jones lives in San Francisco, California.

Melissa Pardue
Melissa Pardue is a social welfare policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation, examining and developing recommendations to address poverty in the United States. She also specializes in a variety of family and cultural issues, with a particular interest in those that affect low-income families and communities. Pardue has published numerous papers and articles on poverty, marriage, abstinence education, and other social policy issues. With Robert Rector, she is a co-author of "What Do Parents Want Taught in Sex Education Programs?" (2004).

Robert E. Rector
Robert Rector is a policy analyst focusing on welfare and family issues at The Heritage Foundation. He focuses on a range of issues relating to welfare reform, family breakdown, and America's various social ills. He played a major role in crafting the federal welfare reform legislation passed in 1996, and he has conducted extensive research on the economic costs of welfare and its role in undermining families. He is the author of America's Failed $5.4 Trillion War on Poverty, a comprehensive examination of U.S. welfare programs, and co-editor of Steering the Elephant: How Washington Works. With Melissa Pardue, he is a co-author of "What Do Parents Want Taught in Sex Education Programs?" (2004).

Adrienne Verrilli 
Adrienne Verrilli is the director of communications at the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the U.S. (SIECUS). SIECUS advocates for the right of all people to accurate information, comprehensive education about sexuality and sexual health services. Her communications expertise is in the public policy arena at the local, state, federal, and international level as it relates to reproductive and sexual health and rights. Adrienne also works extensively on issues related to parent-child communication, youth development, child abuse and GLBTQ youth. Prior to joining SIECUS she was the senior communications and policy analyst of the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association, where she worked on reproductive health and rights issues as they related to both communications and legislative initiatives at the federal level.


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