Dr. Kinsey's Sex Revolution

By Knowles, Jon | Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality, Annual 2004 | Go to article overview

Dr. Kinsey's Sex Revolution


Knowles, Jon, Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality


The religious right and other conservatives are having a field day with the opening of the film, Kinsey, which was released nationwide on November 12 to resounding critical acclaim. Kinsey's critics take no notice of uncanny portrayals by Liam Neeson and Laura Linney as Alfred Kinsey and his wife, "Mac," nor the fascinating screenplay and direction by Bill Condon.

Instead, the anti-choice, anti-sex ed, abstinence-until-marriage crowd have seized upon this telling of a very powerful story as just another opportunity to shriek from op-ed pages across the country that Kinsey destroyed American values about sex and sexuality. That he did it with the connivance of organizations like ours, and that he was a criminal and a pervert to boot. This of course gives us the opportunity to say a few words about the facts.

Changing a World's Values

Kinsey's work certainly did change the world's values about human sexuality--but most would agree that the world was yearning for that change, and that we are all the better for it. Kinsey's scientific investigations resulted in two thunderously popular volumes of landmark sex research that tore through century-old veils of hypocrisy about all things sexual. By unveiling widespread sexual behaviors throughout the U.S., Kinsey and his team of researchers demonstrated unheard of truths:

[section] women and men masturbate

[section] women and men have sex before marriage and outside of marriage

[section] women and men enjoy oral and/or anal sex play

[section] women experience orgasm by clitoral stimulation

[section] many, many women and men have same-sex sexual fantasies and experiences.

Well, duh. But religious conservatives did not take the news so lightly.

From Stigma to Self-Acceptance

Kinsey's opponents take him to task for suggesting all these behaviors were normal. If normal means "typical" "conforming to a norm, standard, pattern, level, or type," then that is, of course, exactly what Kinsey did, and he did it definitively. The descriptions of sex and sexuality in both of Kinsey's best-sellers--Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948) and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953)--were based on spoken interviews with 18,000 women and men.

The survey instrument that Kinsey and his team memorized had from 350 to 521 questions--no sexual possibility was overlooked. In his books, he presents his team's findings in winding, and sometimes windy, narratives and more concise charts and graphs. All in all, it was easy for millions of his readers to recognize themselves in these pages. Finding that they were far from alone in their desires and preferences, millions of readers were able to free themselves of the stigma of abnormality that their more selfrighteous fellow citizens were all to willing to mark them with.

From Self-Acceptance to Law

Lawyers have sex, too. Like others from all walks of life, lawyers of the day also read Kinsey. They, too, found themselves, their friends, and members of their families in his pages. They asked themselves: If all these sexual behaviors are so apparently normal, isn't it wrong for us to throw people in jail for enjoying them? …

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