The Intellectual Response to the Kinsey Report

The February 2012 issue of History of the Human Sciences includes an article that may be of interest to AHP‘s readers. In “‘A most interesting chapter in the history of science’: Intellectual responses to Alfred Kinsey’s Sexual Behavior in the Human Male” Donna Drucker explores the various academic responses to Kinsey’s extensive mid-century study of male sexual behaviour. Drucker also touches upon the intellectual response to Kinsey’s later companion piece on female sexual behaviour, particularly how this study’s appearance during the Cold War era provoked specific kinds of fears. Title, author, and abstract follow below.

“‘A most interesting chapter in the history of science’: Intellectual responses to Alfred Kinsey’s Sexual Behavior in the Human Male,” by Donna J. Drucker. The abstract reads,

There were three broad categories of academic responses to Alfred Kinsey’s Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (Kinsey, Pomeroy and Martin, 1948): method; findings; and broader reflections on the book’s place in American social life and democracy. This article focuses primarily on archival academic responses to Kinsey’s work that appeared in the year following the book’s publication. Many academics agreed that some aspects of Kinsey’s method were flawed and that his interpretations sometimes overreached his raw data. Nonetheless, they also agreed that no one else had gathered such a diverse sampling of interviewees whose behaviors Kinsey could use to create new interpretive models of human sexuality. As Kinsey’s research was deliberately interdisciplinary, his research and statistical methodologies began to catch on in the human sciences and to encourage academics and intellectuals to rethink their human science practices. As academics reflected on the volume’s larger meaning in American life, several of them thought it exemplified the worst American values (emphases on money and size) while others saw the very existence of the Male volume as an excellent example of the ability of free citizens to pursue and to publish research on any topic. While members of the American intelligentsia championed the Male volume and its findings as democratic, the reception of Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (Kinsey, Pomeroy, Martin and Gebhard, 1953), published at an intense moment of the cold war, was viewed as a communist threat to American security for revealing the sexual secrets of the public.

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young recently completed a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Surrey in the UK. She earned her doctorate in the History and Theory of Psychology at York University in 2014.