Let's Talk about Sex; in an Era When Talking about Sex Was Taboo, Alfred Kinsey's Research into Sexual Behaviour Sent Shockwaves across the World. Now a Film about Him Is Causing Controversy Once Again, Says Andrew Wilson

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), January 16, 2005 | Go to article overview

Let's Talk about Sex; in an Era When Talking about Sex Was Taboo, Alfred Kinsey's Research into Sexual Behaviour Sent Shockwaves across the World. Now a Film about Him Is Causing Controversy Once Again, Says Andrew Wilson


Byline: ANDREW WILSON

He was the architect of the sexual revolution, a man who changed the way all of us think, and talk, about sex. Alfred Kinsey - author of the explosive 1948 study Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, known as the Kinsey Report, and the follow-up volume, Sexual Behavior in the Human Female - shattered preconceived notions about lovemaking. His statistics, based on more than 18,000 case histories, highlighted the chasm between accepted ideas of human sexuality and the reality to such an extent that commentators compared his work to a cultural atom bomb. As his biographer, James H Jones, puts it, 'Kinsey correctly divined that Americans were awash with secrets.'

Months before the UK release of a new film, Kinsey - starring Liam Neeson as the famous sexologist and Laura Linney as his wife - a controversy has broken out over the reputation of the man known as the 'high priest of sexual liberation'. One noted opponent has suggested that some research included accounts of sex with children and even labelled Kinsey himself as both a paedophile and victim of child sex abuse. Others lobbied Neeson and the Kinsey cast in an attempt to stop them making the film.

'Sex, especially in the United States, is a bitterly contested terrain, one of the principal battlefields in the culture wars,' says Jones, author of the biography Alfred C Kinsey, A Public/Private Life.

'Kinsey stands at the epicentre of this divide. To people-on the right, those who want to control and restrict human sexuality, Kinsey is a deeply threatening, morally repugnant individual, a charlatan and a fraud. To them he is public enemy number one.

'However, to those on the left - and to those who believe that the state or church has no business telling people what to do in the bedroom - Kinsey is a much more congenial character, a man who helped people feel less guilty about sex. He is a champion of sexual freedoms, someone who wants to promote a society that is open and embracing of sexual diversity.' The film - written and directed by Bill Condon, who won an Oscar for best adapted screenplay for Gods and Monsters - tells the story of how Kinsey, a biology lecturer at Indiana University, becomes increasingly obsessed with other people's sex lives. Together with his research assistants, Wardell Pomeroy (Chris O'Donnell), Paul Gebhard (Timothy Hutton) and Clyde Martin (Peter Sarsgaard), Kinsey refines an interviewing technique designed to elicit the truth about human sexuality, encapsulating its variety and diversity. He marries an intelligent, witty chemistry graduate, Clara Bracken McMillen (Laura Linney), and proceeds to have four children, one who dies in infancy. But the scientist's interest in sex is not confined to the professional sphere and he embarks on a number of relationships, many of them with other men.

In one scene we see him sharing a hotel room with Clyde Martin. While Kinsey is on the phone to his wife, Martin strips and asks his boss to explain his theory of the sliding scale connecting heterosexuality and homosexuality - zero being totally straight and six exclusively gay. Martin, who was also married and had children, inquires about the truth of Kinsey's theory, at which point the sexologist breaks down in tears and confesses that his own sexuality is far from clear cut. 'Would you like to do something about it?'

asks Martin, and Kinsey then kisses him.

Although Condon invented this particular scene, the two men did have a relationship. Martin was, at first, the more reluctant partner - his inclinations were much more heterosexual - and later he suggested to Kinsey the possibility of having sex with his wife, Clara. It seemed an erotic free-for-all developed, in which members of Kinsey's inner circle regularly indulged in group sex and swapped partners. The scientist went on to have numerous liaisons - many of them anonymous - and developed a programme to photograph and film individuals and couples engaging in various sexual acts. …

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