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Summary Article: Kinsey, Alfred (Kinsey Institute)
from The Social History of the American Family: An Encyclopedia

Alfred Charles Kinsey was an accomplished biology professor at Indiana University and a pioneer in the study of human sexuality. Kinsey became known for his publication of The Kinsey Reports, two groundbreaking books on sexual behavior that challenged mainstream ideas and attitudes about sex and opened the lid, so to speak, on sexuality in American families. In addition to authoring The Kinsey Reports, he also founded the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction. The Kinsey Institute, as it is often called, supports continued scholarship and research in the field of human sexuality and promotes Kinsey's legacy.


Kinsey was born June 23, 1894, in Hoboken, New Jersey, and died on August 25, 1956, at the age of 62. He completed his undergraduate studies at Bowdoin College and earned a doctorate in biology at Harvard University. Although Kinsey became a household name because of his human sexuality research, he spent more than 20 years of his early academic career specializing in taxonomy. He classified and studied the individual variations of hundreds of thousands of gall wasps collected from widespread locations. Kinsey also improved existing research methodology in his field and published numerous articles and books that contributed to the study of evolutionary theory. By 1938, he was known for his extensive research on gall wasps and was recognized as a leader in his field by American Men in Science.

Serendipitously, while teaching at Indiana University, Kinsey was asked to offer a course on marriage and family. While preparing to teach the course he discovered the human sexuality literature was quite limited and that what did exist was dictated by morality and religion. Kinsey then committed to studying human sexuality and creating a sexual taxonomy using methodology as objective and scientific as what he had used to study gall wasps. Kinsey dedicated the remaining years of his career to conducting and overseeing an extensive program of sex research, which included collecting and studying participant sexual histories. Between 1938 and 1963, Kinsey's research team conducted more than 18,000 comprehensive, face-to-face interviews about participants’ sexual tendencies, acts, fantasies, responses, and performance. Kinsey hoped the objectively derived data would bring a more reasoned, scientific perspective to the subjects of human sexuality, sexual relations, and sex education.

In 1948, Kinsey and his colleagues, Clyde Martin and Wardell Pomeroy, published the first volume of results from their research titled Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, followed five years later by the second volume, Sexual Behavior in the Human Female. These reports, often referred to as The Kinsey Reports, presented the scientific study of human sexuality to academia as well as mainstream American society. The reports prompted widespread criticism and controversy for recounting people's sexual behaviors objectively, without acknowledging feelings and attitudes or deferring to the more conservative and conventional views of sex at the time.

One such view was that homosexuality was a threat to the stability of American families. Yet, as Kinsey's team conducted interviews, it was discovered that many people's sexual behaviors, thoughts, fantasies, and feelings were not always directed exclusively toward one sex and that homosexual experiences and thoughts were reported by some people who considered themselves heterosexual. To account for these findings, Kinsey's team developed the Heterosexual-Homosexual Rating Scale, also called the Kinsey Scale, which accounts for variations and degrees of homosexuality and heterosexuality. Data generated by the scale suggested that same-sex encounters could be a part of sexual exploration during adolescence and young adulthood as was reported by many participants. Kinsey's published research on homosexuality is cited as initiating a cultural shift in attitudes toward homosexuality and influencing the American Psychiatric Association's 1973 decision to remove homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Although Kinsey's research and publications have been generally recognized as major contributions to the academic study of human sexuality, his work has not only been controversial but also criticized for its lack of methodological rigor. The American Statistical Association questioned the validity of Kinsey's data because of sampling procedure limitations, and other academicians questioned the validity of his methodology, which relied solely on participant recollections of their sexual histories, possibly resulting in inaccuracies. Finally, some participants recounted sexual experiences with minors and were not reported to the authorities. Kinsey's data have been reanalyzed numerous times since his original publications were released and the data remain available for continued study through the Kinsey Institute.

Kinsey Institute

In 1947, Kinsey and his research team, with the support of Herman B. Wells, the president of Indiana University, obtained funding from the National Research Council and founded the Institute for Sex Research, which archived all of Kinsey's research interviews and records. Later, the institute expanded to become the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction. The Kinsey Institute strives to provide leadership in expanding sexual knowledge and health around the world and supports an ongoing interdisciplinary research program. The institute also offers tours of the Kinsey Collections, hosts exhibits at the Kinsey Institute Gallery, provides educational workshops and conferences for scholars, publishes the Kinsey Today Newsletter, and maintains Kinsey Confidential, a Web site and blog offered through the institute's Sexuality Information Service for Students. Additionally, the Kinsey Institute, in collaboration with Indiana University, seeks to enhance interdisciplinary sex education and research by offering a Ph.D. minor in human sexuality. Today, the Kinsey Institute continues to support Kinsey's mission to move society toward a healthy and informed approach to human sexuality by supporting those who desire to study and conduct research in the field of human sexuality.

See Also: Gay and Lesbian Marriage Laws; Hite Report; Masters and Johnson; Open Marriages; Polygamy; Same-Sex Marriage; Sex Information and Education Council of the United States

Further Readings
  • Kinsey, A. C.; W. B. Pomeroy; C. E. Martin. Sexual Behavior in the Human Male. W. B. Saunders Philadelphia, 1948.
  • Kinsey, A. C.; W. B. Pomeroy; C. E. Martin; P. H. Gebhar. Sexual Behavior in the Human Female. W. B. Saunders Philadelphia, 1953.
  • The Kinsey Institute. (Accessed December 2013).
  • Brenda Moretta Guerrero
    Ana G. Flores
    Amanda Rivas
    Our Lady of the Lake University
    © 2014 SAGE Publications, Inc

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