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Alfred Kinsey: Sexual Pioneer

Dr. Lisa Lawless

Dr. Lisa Lawless, CEO of Holistic Wisdom
Clinical Psychotherapist: Relationship & Sexual Health Expert

Alfred Kinsey & Sex

Sexologist Professor Alfred Kinsey was a zoologist turned sexpert who published two major studies: "Sexual Behavior in the Human Male" in 1948 and "Sexual Behavior in the Human Female" in 1953. To this day, they are still considered by some to be the foundation of human sexuality research.

A movie made about him called "Kinsey" (2004), which was somewhat controversial. What is shocking is to remember that it was not that long ago that we were relatively ignorant about sexual matters. The pioneering efforts of people like Kinsey and Masters & Johnson, whose work we base much of our research on today, has allowed us to better understand our bodies and sexuality.

Not to say that many people today aren't still misinformed about their sexuality from crazy notions of douching with Coca-Cola after sex as a birth control method to the sheer insanity of penis enlargement products that don't work and aren't typically safe. But to recall when people thought both male and female masturbation was unhealthy or that oral sex on a woman would cause infertility is humorous yet sad. If it weren't for sexual pioneers like Kinsey, we would probably still think these things.

Because Kinsey was originally trained as a zoologist, he made no moral judgments on those he interviewed, and that is why is study was profoundly accurate at the time. Kinsey based his work on interviews with 5,300 white men and 5,940 white women. These interviews serve as the foundation for his published works. Each interview comprised up to 521 questions that touched on anything and everything sexual, including bestiality, pedophilia, extramarital sexuality, homosexual tendencies, masturbation, and penis size.

As a result of these interviews, Kinsey promoted a seven-point scale of normal human sexuality, with bisexuality the most "balanced" state. Kinsey said that 37 percent of adult males had had at least one homosexual experience. Critics of Kinsey insist that Kinsey was the originator of the LGBT+ movement when, in reality, he simply brought attention to the truth about it.

The most controversy surrounding his research and his one greatest mistakes, in my opinion, was when he once incorrectly used data from prisoners, prostitutes, pedophiles, and other sexually promiscuous people to explain the behavior of all Americans. This is one of the main reasons that abstinence supporters protested the movie.

When his books were first published, many critics immediately ridiculed his methods. Many did not believe the people interviewed were telling the truth, or they called his work obscene.

Kinsey is by no means to be held high by people as the most extraordinary researcher of sexuality as he was human, and I believe, like all of us, had room for improvement. I will say that his pioneering efforts should be celebrated, and this movie does that well.

Kinsey did have a way about him that allowed people to be relaxed, and so perhaps it was not that people were dishonest in their replies but rather more honest than ever before. Perhaps the truth was disturbing to his critics rather than inaccurate.

The best message that the movie and the man makes is that knowledge is power. Dr. Ruth said of the film "I think we have to be grateful to Kinsey because 50 years ago, he was willing to talk about a subject matter that was really taboo."

Laura Berman, Ph.D., LCSW said this of Kinsey "He set the foundation for taking human sexuality out of the realm of morality." Before his work, "the only discussion was what sex should be or is supposed to be, not what actually happened." In a nutshell, Kinsey said there was a wide gap between what people thought was normal and what they actually did in the privacy of their own bedrooms.

So much sexuality research is going on now, she says. "One of the goals that I have that is similar to Kinsey is to demystify elements of sexuality as well as to remove taboos and misunderstandings around sexuality." According to Berman's own research, women who use sex toys report higher sexual function levels and overall quality of life. Ultimately, this is the meaning and legacy of Kinsey.

However, as the study of sexuality progressed, we now know some of his methods were problematic. His approach to relationships with participants was, at times, unethical. And the understanding of sexuality as being on a linear scale is now not considered accurate. I.e., being more attracted to men means you're less attracted to women, which isn't a useful concept. Also, his scale doesn't account for asexuality nor does it properly address trans people.

While understanding sexuality is a field that continues to expand, it does not diminish that Kinsey was groundbreaking for his time, and many advancements occurred because of his work.

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