The Kinsey Revolution (Part 3 of 3)

Continued from Part 2

Though Alfred Kinsey's findings were well accepted by the general public with both of his books being best-sellers, the backlash against his research was even more vicious than he had anticipated.   Along with legitimate criticisms about his sampling and statistical methods, he was also vilified by religious and moral authorities condemning him as a serious threat to public decency.    

Considering the far-reaching implications of his research and his own tendency to provide editorials about the harm that conventional morality could have, it seems surprising that Alfred Kinsey was so upset by the criticism he received.    While his funding was never jeopardized by the criticism (the Committee continued to support Kinsey's research despite political pressure),  Kinsey was never comfortable over the new notoriety his research brought him.

He was also uncomfortable with the media interest that his first book generated.    By the time his book on female sexuality was ready to come out in 1953, more than 150 magazines and newspapers asked for advance copies.  Of these, Kinsey and his colleagues picked thirty to receive advance galleys on the understanding that nothing would be published before the release date of August 20. 

If anything, the second book was met with even more outrage than the first book (women were seen as being held to a higher moral standard than men did).   Even some of Kinsey's earlier supporters, such as Karl 41wlDyq0%2B3L._SL500_AA300_[1]Menninger, abruptly switched sides and denounced the second book. 

At the same time that the book was released, other changes were happening as well.  Although the Rockefeller Foundation and the Committee had been supporting Kinsey and his researchers prior to the release of his second book, both organizations became new targets for Kinsey's opponents.   The Rockefeller Foundation had previously discouraged Kinsey from naming them as a financial supporter of his work but he insisted on mentioning them in his acknowledgements for the new book.  

Since the Rockefeller Foundation was a tax-exempt organization, this was enough for a cabal of Republican politicians to call for a formal Congressional investigation of the Foundation and its decision to fund Alfred Kinsey's research.   The House Committe to Investigate Tax-Exempt Foundations was chaired by Congressman B. Carroll Reece and carefully avoided any attempt at attacking the moral implications of Kinsey's research (which exceeded their formal mandate).  Instead, the Committe focused on the appropriateness of funding such research using a tax-exempt foundation.   

The outcome of the Committee was largely predetermined and the report that was eventually released did little more than repeat the original charges against Kinsey and the Rockefeller Foundation with little actual supporting evidence.   Two members of the committee opposing the report even went so far as to release a minority report saying that the  hearings were carefully staged and the witnesses who appeared had all been preselected by Congressman Reece to support his claims. 

In the end, the Committee hearings cost Alfred Kinsey his Rockefeller Foundation support.   Though he continued to receive funding through Indiana University and royalties from the two books,  his ambitious research project had to be whittled down to fit the reduced budget.  But the research continued despite the opposition.  

And Alfred Kinsey faced new challenges as well.   To expand his library and the range of his research materials, Kinsey collected materials from all over the world.  Or, at least he attempted to collect them.   Since anything that arrived overseas by mail needed to be inspected by the U.S. Postal Service, Kinsey learned firsthand how rigid postal inspectors could be.     In 1950, Indianopolis customs collector Alden H. Baker, seized some of the incoming materials which he declared to be "Damned dirty stuff" and refused to release them.  

While Kinsey protested the decision under a law that granted exemptions to scientists and medical researchers requesting potentially obscene materials for research purposes, the U.S. Postal Service supported  Baker's decision.   As far as they were concerned, the material was obscene and thus had no possible scientific value.    Ordinarily, the material would have been destroyed but Kinsey and his researchers took the U.S. government to court over the issue.   The case would drag on for years before finally being settled in Kinsey's favour.

Sadly, Alfred Kinsey never lived to see the outcome of this court decision.   Exhausted by years of fighting his opponents, his health declined but he managed to stay active with interviewing reserch subjects and media interviews.   He died on August 25, 1956 at the age of 62 of heart problems and medical complications related to pneumonia.     

Despite Kinsey's death, his Institute remained active and Dr. Paul Gebhart, one of his main researchers, took over as executive director.   Though the Institute continued to carry out sex research as it did during Alfred Kinsey's lifetime,  his dream of the Institute becoming a world centre for research into human sexuality largely ended with his death.  Sex research gradually became more decentralized with sex researchers at other universities carrying out their own studies although the Institute of Sex Research continued to be based at Indiana University.

In 1981,  the Institute of Sex Research was renamed the Kinsey Institute at a conference marking the 25th anniversary of Alfred Kinsey's death.   The name was later expanded to the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction.  Along with regular publication of research titles, the Institute also maintains an online public access catalogue and, in 1991, established medical clinics for sexual health problems.

While the controversy over Alfred Kinsey's research methods failed to end with his death, later research has tended to confirm many of his original findings and also extended the range of research questions studied by the Institute.   That includes many of the same issues that Alfred Kinsey shied away from during his lifetime, including STD, birth control, and abortion.

Alfred Kinsey's death also failed to end his being targeted by conservative groups maintaining that he corrupted the morals of an entire generation.   One prominent conservative critic, Judith Reisman, who is considered the "founder of the modern anti-Kinsey movement" has openly accused Alfred Kinsey of being a fraud and a child abuser who used pedophiles to collect sexual information from children in his research.   Along with a broader campaign against homosexuality and pornography, Reisman also attempted to sue the Kinsey Institute in 1991 over claims that they censored her work and "inflicted emotional distress".  Though the case was dismissed, that hardly ended her anti-Kinsey campaign.

While there have been later sex researchers including Albert Ellis and the redoubtable team of William Masters and Virginia Johnson, no single researcher has ever matched Alfred Kinsey for the impact that he had on the free and open discussion of sexuality.   Although critics are likely overstating Alfred Kinsey's role in launching the sexual revolution, Kinsey's books, as well as the later reports released by his Institute have captured the public attention more than any other sexologist.  

Alfred Kinsey also gave sexology new respectability and fostered the growth in sex research around the world.   Unfortunately, this also led to the rise of "pop" sexologists whose books on sex show little of the scientific rigour that Alfred Kinsey advocated.    Their popularity means that these "experts" will not be fading away any time soon and the more reputable sexologists tend to be overlooked as  result.     Still, despite  being the target of anti-Kinsey campaigners such as Reisman, the past two decades have seen a resurgence of interenst in Alfred Kinsey's controversial life.   Along with the publication of several new books,  there has also been a the film Kinsey was released in 2004 and starred Liam Neeson in the title role. 

Despite active opposition by conservatives and moral pundits, sexology continues to ask the same questions that Alfred Kinsey posed so long ago.   That might be the legacy that he wanted most. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Related Stories

  • The Kinsey Revolution (Part 2 of 3)
  • The Kinsey Revolution (Part 1 of 3)
  • Cognitive Training Across Adulthood

 
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