Rants, Feelings & Opinions

Happy Birthday Alfred Kinsey! 5 Legacies of the Father of Sex Research

June 23, 2016
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Kristen Cochrane celebrates the b-day of Alfred Kinsey—the creator of the Kinsey scale—by counting down 6 reasons why he’s baller.

Alfred Kinsey is a controversial historical figure. He wanted to research sex, but not just heteronormative, vanilla sex. He wanted to research what was previously (and still) seen as “perverted.” But he also researched people who are still considered to have pathological and exploitative desires and sexual conduct (e.g. pedophilia, bestiality, etc.).

Besides this, there are other criticisms associated with Alfred Kinsey; that he omitted people of color from his research, that his sampling techniques did not accurately represent people because they were focusing on those who are more sexually open and daring.

Still, the famous Kinsey Scale sought to break the binary of heterosexuality and homosexuality, a.k.a. Monosexuality. Below is the famous Kinsey scale:

Rating—Description

0—Exclusively heterosexual

1—Predominantly heterosexual, only incidentally homosexual

2—Predominantly heterosexual, but more than incidentally homosexual

3—Equally heterosexual and homosexual

4—Predominantly homosexual, but more than incidentally heterosexual

5—Predominantly homosexual, only incidentally homosexual

6—Exclusively homosexual

X—No socio-sexual contacts or or reactions

(Via The Kinsey Institute)

Feminist psychologist Lisa Diamond, the researcher who wrote the groundbreaking 2008 book Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women’s Love and Desire, writes that “homosexuality was an illness that you either had or did not have,” and argued that Alfred Kinsey problematized this dichotomy, or two-category model of sexual orientation where one is good and one is bad. Still, Diamond recognized the limitations of Kinsey’s scale, because it still uses a numeric, quantified logic, when sexuality has the possibility of changing and being flexible. In other words, it’s not necessary to categorize it, to categorize yourself, or to place yourself in a category so that your friends and family understand you, or know what you are. You are not a what, you are a person.

Since today is his b-day, here are five interesting ideas associated with Alfred Kinsey.

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1.He told us we weren’t perverts even when people were telling us we were.

OK, so if you’re reading Slutever, you’re likely a progressive who doesn’t think that anything beyond the missionary sex position is for heathens, but when Kinsey was alive, you were thought to be a freak if you masturbated or were gay, among other examples. Obviously, some cavepeople in our contemporary moment think that masturbation and homosexuality are bad, but we have made a lot of progress since then. Kinsey has been celebrated for acknowledging that these things are not bad or perverted, but are actually normal. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1447862/)

2. He was actually an insect scientist before becoming a sex science wizard (LOL).

Did you know that an entomologist is a scientist who studies insects? No? Good, because that would be embarrassing if you did know (just kidding, knowledge is power). His accreditation cites him as an entomologist, zoologist, and sexologist, which is actually very Millennial of him in the way that we take on so many different activities because we don’t know what to do with our lives in this time of precarity and existential confusion.

3. There are claims that he did some exploitative things to get his findings.

This is not a reason to celebrate Kinsey, but something to be made aware of us we should continuously revise historical figures and theories to understand how exploitative practices can be criticized and not repeated. That being said, Kinsey has been criticized for how he acquired data on pre-adolescent subjects and on findings of sexuality and orgasm in children and teenagers. It has been claimed that Kinsey’s findings were taken from adults who were recalling their memories from childhood and adolescence. However, Kinsey has also been criticized for not reporting subjects to the authorities who had had sexual relations with minors and animals.

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4. Let’s remember that he challenged sexual norms and values when oral sex was illegal between husband and wife in some states

Oral sex is really important as a political idea, because it was historically considered to be part of what constitutes “sodomy,” which is bizarre. Calling anything “sodomy” is bizarre, but Kinsey and his colleagues wanted to try and be “objective.” Admittedly, objectivity is a modernist, old school fallacy—how can we be objective when we are human beings (i.e. subjects?). Can a subject make objective decisions if we our own algorithms are always already subjective? Maybe Kinsey would have gone back on his claims of objectivity, but he did say this: “We are the recorders and reporters of facts — not the judges of behaviors we describe.” This is not an inconsequential or trivial statement — research in the social sciences that looked into human sexual behavior has historically clouded by moralistic and dangerous attitudes towards sexuality, such as the Canadian federal police who monitored queer men, thinking that gay men presented a national security threat, or McCarthyism in the United States, where queer people were persecuted because they were thought to be political subversives and affiliated with the “Soviet threat of communism.”

5. Kinsey was influential in the Women’s Liberation Movement because his findings showed us that women can be just as sexual as men (as if!)

Since the beginning of what we would now consider modern science, women were held to higher standards of whatever propriety meant at a given time and place. Kinsey’s research showed that women were not devoid of sexual libidos. His findings from his 1953 book Sexual Behaviour in the Human Female (the sister book of his 1948 book Sexual Behaviour in the Human Male) indicated that there are a lot of women who want to have sex just for pleasure, and not just to reproduce (lol). These “Kinsey Reports” also showed that half of the female study participants had engaged in premarital sex and that 25% of the female participants had affairs outside of their marriages. This arguably fostered a spirit of the 1960s where the Sexual Revolution and the Women’s Liberation Movement were able to thrive.

Kristen Cochrane is a writer and academic in Ontario, Canada, who’s researching some very interesting things, like queer Latin American cinema, and the fetishization of the female tennis body. Read her most recent essay for Slutever, about the Period Power Project, HERE :)

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