Kinsey in the News
Few scientific publications have made the public splash of Alfred Kinsey's post-World War II volumes on human sexuality. Though issued by a medical publishing house and packaged in the sober style of research reports, both the male and the female volumes soared to the top of best seller lists and public consciousness.
Kinsey's published data showed that Americans were engaging in sexual behaviors more frequently and with more variety than conventional morality suggested. Though later research would correct some of the findings to a degree, the Reports were compared to "an atomic bomb" in their impact on American society.
Some critics felt human sexuality was not a suitable topic for public discourse; others took issue with Kinsey's research methods. Some stated that issues of sexuality could not be studied without also exploring morality. The Reports' champions, however, welcomed them as much-needed educational and diagnostic tools that would pave the way for better marital counseling, public health initiatives, and societal understanding.
Explore public reactions to the Kinsey Reports:
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 than 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..."
Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953)
In the five years between the releases of Kinsey's two reports, America completed its evolution from postwar victor to Cold War combatant. With the spectre of nuclear destruction hovering over the world, individuals like Senator Joseph McCarthy parlayed fears of Communism into political power and personal attacks on those in the opposition, who were smeared as un-American. A middle-class ideal of security and family life emerged in this domestic revival.
At a time when American society seemed under attack, Kinsey's report on women was received like another torch on the bonfire. Although some welcomed the report as a necessary tool for education and understanding, outrage crested over the report's implications for American womanhood. A congressional committee launched an investigation into Kinsey's and his funders' possible connections to the Communist Party, and the Indiana professor soon lost his research funding.
Time, August 17, 1953
Kinsey for Lutherans
With Dr. Alfred Kinsey's new book Sexual Behavior in the Human Female almost ready for publication, Missouri Synod Lutherans are preparing a kind of Kinsey report of their own. In 1950 the church's Triennial Convention appropriated $25,000 for a 25-man research team to investigate Biblical references and Christian teaching on marriage and family life and what Lutherans think and do about it... Among the preliminary findings:
Only 16% of young Lutheran bachelors (age 16-20) admit to sexual intercourse (whereas Kinsey found that, among non-churchgoing Protestants in the same age bracket, 90% of grade-school-level males, 80% at high-school-level and 45% at college level had premarital intercourse)...
64% of married Lutherans, but only 36% of the clergy, approve the use of contraceptive devices...
There was disagreement between laymen and clergy on what causes family dissension. Said the laity: finances, in-laws and disputes over child-training. Said the clergy: drink, sex, and religion.
Newsweek, August 24, 1953
...Kinsey's report on men was hailed with enthusiasm by some physiologists and philosophers and attacked with equal fervor by others. Any individual's attitude depended on whether he accepted Kinsey's basic notion that man's biological behavior is dictated by biological needs and subject to the same biological rules that govern lower animals...
...[In the Female Report], in concise and easy-to-read language, Kinsey batters at some contemporary ideas about the female's slower sex responsiveness, her earlier sex development, her greater extent of erogenous (sexually sensitive) zones, and her emotional reactions in sex relations... one thing strikes Dr. Kinsey as outstanding: "... the range of variation [of sex behavior] in the female far exceeds the range of variation in the male."
...The slow destruction of the double standard of sex behavior, Kinsey reasons, has resulted from freer consideration of sex matters in our times: the "emancipation" of the female, increased knowledge of contraception, anonymity of persons living in urban areas, control of venereal infection, draft armies which allow American men and women to observe foreign cultures, and drives against organized prostitution (which have drastically reduced the frequency of male contacts with prostitutes, and increased, correspondingly, the frequency of contacts with females not for direct hire.)
The female volume is bound to be a controversial book. Kinsey and his associates have made a contribution to man's limited scientific knowledge of human sex behavior. By presenting an immense mass of evidence, gathered by empirical investigation, they have given their concepts a certain statistical validity, but it is subject to limitations and possibly misinterpretations imposed by a purely materialistic approach.
Inevitably, the new book will bring protests from those who perceive the workings of morality as opposed to plain animal desire in sex and from scientists who may not approve of the doctor's method of collecting his case histories...
Time, August 31, 1953
In London last week, the world's biggest daily, the tabloid Mirror (circ. 4,432,700), got out its three-inch type for a single banner headline: WOMEN... K-day -- the prearranged release date for a summary of [Dr. Alfred Kinsey's] book on Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (Time, Aug. 24) -- set off the biggest and raciest commotion the world's press had seen in years...
Hearst papers generally gave the story maximum play, while simultaneously cluck-clucking on their editorial pages. Hearst's New York tabloid, the Daily Mirror, which seldom passes up any story with a sex angle, explained to its readers that it ran this "supposedly... scientific effort [because] we felt we could not become overpious and fail to publish it." Scripps-Howard editors had local option on how to handle the story, e.g., the San Francisco News ran only an explanation of why it was leaving Kinsey out ("This is adult reading"), while Denver's Rocky Mountain News cut out the data on the teenage petting. Other editors had more trouble figuring out euphemisms for Kinsey's clinical explanations...
Some editors did their best to keep the story going, with follow-ups on what women thought about Kinsey. Many readers were indignant. The Great Bend, Kans. Tribune got so many protests "from religious groups and... individual readers" that it stopped a five-installment series with the first and swore off: "No more Kinsey."
Collier's, September 18, 1953
How DR. KINSEY'S Report on Women May HELP YOUR MARRIAGE
by [marriage counselor] Dr. Emily Hartshorne Mudd with Bill Davidson
...For the first time, as a result of [Kinsey's] work we have facts based on they systematic observation of large numbers of people; previous pioneers in the field -- mainly Sigmund Freud and Havelock Ellis-- had instead given detailed reports on individual cases. With the publication this month of the new Kinsey Report on the sexual behavior of 5,940 women, we professionals are buttressed by even more scientific fact, by additional statistically valid averages and patterns...
Education is Urgently Needed
Besides using the Kinsey Report on women as a yardstick for the average (as we did with the first report) we will also use it more broadly -- to educate people. Such education is badly needed. We have actually had hundreds of cases where neither the husband nor the wife realized that women are capable of any sexual response. There are many wives who consider their husbands unfaithful because they are aroused by outside stimulation, such as pictures of other women. Dr. Kinsey's new report will show these brooding wives that nearly all men react strongly to nudity, thoughts of other experiences and so on -- and that their mental stimulations help the man respond to his wife as his immediate love object...
It's not surprising that Dr. Kinsey's Sexual Behavior in the Human Female is being described as one of the most controversial books of our age. Fundamentally, it is a magnificent piece of basic research which will be used by scholars for years to come as a jumping-off place for further studies. It and its companion volume give us the fullest set of facts we have at the moment on the subject of human sexual behavior. We still don't understand the implications of some of the facts; others may be disproved later on; and we may never find a practical application for much of the material. But the book should make us at least review some of the codes and mores that were set up before we knew the facts.
Certainly the new Kinsey Report should bring happiness to far more people than it may hurt, and it could even change important aspects of our culture. Several of my colleagues have commented, "Don't be surprised if in the next few years you see a quiet revolution in America, with more and more thinking parents encouraging their children to marry very young -- to spare them the frustration of having no permissible sex outlet during the peak years of their desires."
If this and other significant changes do take place in our culture, it will be difficult to believe that people once asked: "Why would an important scientist like Dr. Kinsey spend fifteen years of his life studying a distasteful subject like sex?"
Letters to the Editor
Time, September 7, 1953
Can't buy our Aug. 24 Time: our newsstands sold out. All holier-than-thous want to read your report on Kinsey's book. Be prepared for indignant letters to the editor.
Captain and Mrs. C. N. Beecham
Time, September 14, 1953
You are to be complimented on giving such a comprehensive account... Dr. Kinsey feels that the information he has gathered will help people to plan for happier marriages. I believe he is right...
Any man who could get that much straight forward information from one, let alone nearly 6,000 women, should be Time's Man of the Year.
R. C. Tomlinson
West Orange, New Jersey
Collier's, October 16, 1953
I want to commend you on your article... I have been married 19 years and my husband took at least half of those years to learn a few of the things that Kinsey sets down so clearly. Thank you for a fearless article and one which I am sure will help people.
De Kalb, Illinois
I am no prude or saint, and Alfred C. Kinsey can publish his report on Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, but why your magazine should stoop to the low level of publishing a summary of this report is beyond me.
Loren A. Bates
Look, October 20, 1953
I read the article on Dr. Kinsey's report with disgust. He takes a so-called survey of a few American women with bad morals and sets them up as an example of typical American womanhood...
Mrs. Chester Lyons
Cedar Lake, Indiana
Dr. Kinsey is to be congratulated for pioneering in the study of a perilous subject: woman. His work will serve as a kicking-off point for hundreds of scientific studies. Yet, I wonder if anyone will ever succeed in categorizing these unpredictable creatures.
Collier's, October 30, 1953
I think congratulations are in order to Dr. Emily Hartshorne Mudd and Bill Davidson for showing the proper relationship between the book and education. Instead of merely reviewing the findings, they have made them practical for education by showing the information workable.
Mrs. James Knowles