Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
- For the 2004 movie about Alfred Kinsey see Kinsey .
Dr. Alfred Charles Kinsey (June 23, 1894 - August 25, 1956) was a professor of entomology and zoology who in 1947 founded the Institute for Sex Research at Indiana University – Bloomington, now called the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction. His research on human sexuality profoundly influenced social and cultural values in the United States especially in the 1960s and was an important cause of the sexual revolution.
Alfred Kinsey was born on June 23, 1894 in Hoboken, New Jersey to Alfred Seguine Kinsey and Sarah Ann Kinsey. Although his parents had received little formal education, his father was a professor at Stevens Institute of Technology. His parents were rather poor for most of Kinsey's childhood. As a result, the family could often not afford adequate medical care, which caused young Alfred Kinsey to contract a variety of diseases that are uncommon in the United States including rickets, rheumatic fever, and typhoid fever. These seem to indicate that Kinsey was both malnourished and living in unsanitary conditions for some of his childhood. Rickets, causing a curvature of the spine, caused Kinsey to have a slight stoop which was to prevent him from being drafted in 1917 for World War I.
Kinsey's parents were both extremely conservative Christians; this left a powerful imprint on Kinsey for the rest of his life. His father was known as one of the most devout and strict members of the local Methodist church and as a result most of Kinsey's social relationships were with other members of the church, often merely as a silent observer while his parents discussed religion with other similarly-devout adults. Kinsey's father imposed strict rules on the household including mandating Sunday as a day of prayer (and little else) outlawing social and sexual relationships with girls, and proscribing knowledge of anything remotely sexual including masturbation. Such a strict upbringing was not entirely uncommon at the time. Even most college freshmen then had little understanding of even the most basic facts about human sexuality. It is interesting to note that as a child, Kinsey was forbidden to know anything about the subject which was to make him famous.
At a young age, Kinsey became interested in the outdoors and camping. He worked and camped with the local YMCA often throughout his early years. He enjoyed this so much that he intended to work professionally for the YMCA after his education was completed. Even his senior undergraduate thesis for psychology, a dissertation on the group dynamics of young boys, echoed this interest. He subsequently joined the Boy Scouts when a troop was formed in his community. His parents strongly supported this (and joined as well) because at the time the Boy Scouts was an organization deeply based on the principles of Christianity. Kinsey diligently worked his way up through the scouting ranks to Eagle Scout in only two years, rather than in the five or six years it typically took most people. It seems likely that Kinsey's early exposure to nature is responsible for his interest in entomology which occupied him for the first half of his career. Despite earlier disease having somewhat weakened his heart, Kinsey followed an intense sequence of difficult hikes and camping expeditions throughout his early life.
At high school, Alfred was a quiet, but extremely hard-working student. He was not interested in sports, but rather focused almost all of his energy on academic work. It seems he developed an ability early on to spend immense amounts of time deeply focused on study, a trait which would serve him well in college and during his professional career. Kinsey seems not to have formed strong social relationships during high school, but at least earned respect for his academic ability.
During high school, Kinsey became interested more formally in the discipline of biology, botany, and zoology. Kinsey was later to claim that his high school biology teacher, Natalie Roeth , was the most important influence on his decision to become a scientist.
At the completion of high school, Alfred approached his father with plans to study botany at college. After a short dispute, however, his father commanded Kinsey to study at Stevens Institute of Technology. Alfred was largely unhappy at Stevens, and later remarked that his time there was one of the most wasteful periods of his life. Regardless, however, he continued his obsessive commitment to studying.
At Stevens he primarily studied topics relating to English and engineering, but was unable to satisfy his interest in biology. At the end of two years at Stevens, he finally gathered the courage to confront his father about his interest in biology and his intent to continue studying at Bowdoin College in Maine. His father vehemently opposed this, but eventually relented. Accompanying Kinsey's victory, however, came the effective loss of his relationship with his father which deeply bothered Kinsey for years to come.
In 1914 Kinsey began studying at Bowdoin. During his study there, Kinsey became familiar with insect research under Manton Copeland . Two years later, in 1916 Kinsey graduated magna cum laude with degrees in biology and psychology. He continued his study at the Bossey Institute at Harvard University which was one of the most well-respected biology schools in the United States. It was there that he studied applied biology under William Morton Wheeler, a scientist who made outstanding contributions to entomology through his study of insects. Under Wheeler, Kinsey worked almost completely autonomously which suited both Kinsey and Wheeler quite well. For his doctoral thesis, Kinsey began research on Gall Wasps . Kinsey began collecting samples of gall wasps with almost excessive zeal. He took 26 detailed measurements on hundreds of thousands of gall wasps and his methodology made an important contribution to entomology as a science. He was granted a Sc.D. degree in 1919 for his work on the gall wasps. He published several papers in 1920 under the auspices of the American Museum of Natural History introducing the gall wasp to the scientific community and laying out their phylogeny.
Upon the completion of his doctorate, he joined the department of zoology at the Indiana University as an assistant professor in 1920. At Indiana University, he continued his work on gall wasps and published a number of books discussing the gall wasps over the next 16 years. He was particularly interested in the evolutionary history of the gall wasps and published two books fully devoted to discussing the origin of the gall wasp species.
Human Sexual Behavior and the Kinsey Reports
Kinsey is credited with single-handedly creating the academic field of sexology. His Kinsey Reports led to a storm of controversy and turned Kinsey into an instant celebrity. Articles about him appeared in magazines such as Time, Life, Look, and McCall's. His reports were regarded by many as a trigger for the sexual revolution of the 1960s. Conservative groups, especially Christian and right-wing groups, attacked Kinsey for what they saw as his immoral and dangerous research. Indiana University's president Herman B Wells defended Kinsey's research in what became a well-known test of academic freedom.
Kinsey's work, although it was to help drive the Sexual Revolution in America in the 1960s, has generated substantial controversy since its publication. Since that time both Kinsey's work and private life have been the subject of an enduring controversy over the study of human sexuality (sometimes called sexology) and the impact of Kinsey's work on sexual morality. Groups which indict Kinsey's work and private life tend to identify with the American Christian Right, deriving their motivation from religious and conservative ideas.
Kinsey's most prominent detractor is currently Judith A. Reisman, head of RSVPAmerica. Reisman alleges that Kinsey and his staff sexually abused children to produce some of the data in the Kinsey Reports. Kinsey Institute director John Bancroft claims that the subject of child/adult sexual interaction was deliberately chosen by Kinsey's opponents to discredit him because of the emotions surrounding it: "In recent years, when there has been anxiety bordering on hysteria about child sexual abuse, often resulting in circumstances where the accused is regarded as guilty until proved innocent, what better way to discredit someone?" The Kinsey institute also maintains that Kinsey's information on child sexuality derives from the thousands of interviews conducted with adults through his work on the Kinsey Reports and denies having involved children.
The Family Research Council (FRC) is another notable detractor. The FRC is a religious organization which wields substantial political clout among conservatives in the United States. The FRC echoes Judith Reisman's claims of child/adult sexual interaction in their video The Children of Table 34, but that issue is not their primary focus. The FRC is primarily concerned with Kinsey's work on sexual orientation and homosexuality. Kinsey proposed that people do not fall into the catagories of exclusive heterosexuality or exclusive homosexuality, but that most are between these extremes in a continium of sexual orientations with homo- and heterosexuality at the extremes and bisexuality at the midpoint. The FRC sees Kinsey's work as a force that seeks to legitimize homosexuality, a sexual orientation the organization strongly opposes.
Aside from criticism of the implications of his research, Kinsey has been accused of partaking in unusual sexual practices. In James H. Jones 's biography Alfred C. Kinsey: A Public/Private Life, Kinsey is described as a bisexual masochist. He is also reported to have encouraged group sex with his graduate students, wife and staff. It is also known that Kinsey filmed sexual acts in the attic of his home during his research. Biographer Jonathan Gathorne-Hardy explains that this was to ensure the secrecy of these films which would certainly have been scandalous had the public become aware of them. Some conservatives have suggested that the films Kinsey made are fundamentally pornographic in nature. Jones stated that Kinsey's wife had sex with other men, but that the couple remained married for 35 years in a relationship that remained sexual until Kinsey became ill near the end of his life. None of these accounts of Kinsey's own sex life are supported by official statements from the Kinsey Institute. Although some of them have been confirmed by independent multiple sources (such as his being bisexual and a masochist), it is difficult to be certain of the veracity of all these claims.
Kinsey's work continues to cause controversy decades after his death especially in the area of children and sex since Kinsey gained his information from a man named "Rex King" who claimed he lost his virginity to his grandmother, slept with various members of his extended family and molested children. Although academic investigation into sex stimulated by Kinsey has resulted in an explosion of knowledge about topics previously considered taboo, there are continuing claims that the Kinsey reports have statistical and methodological errors. His data is still widely cited despite Kinsey's detractors questioning its reliability.
- Cornelia Christenson, Kinsey: A Biography, Indiana University Press, 1971
- Wardell Pomeroy, Dr. Kinsey and the Institute for Sex Research, Harper & Row, 1972
- James H. Jones, Alfred C. Kinsey: A Public/Private Life, Norton, 1997
- Jonathan Gathorne-Hardy, Alfred C. Kinsey: Sex the Measure of All Things, London: Chatto & Windus, 1998
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