American History16 Oct 2008 09:18 am
Alfred Charles Kinsey (June 23, 1894 – August 25, 1956), was an American biologist and professor of entomology and zoology at Indiana University, famous for penning the highly controversial Kinsey Reports on human sexual behavior, published in two volumes entitled, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948) and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953). The publication of the taboo-shredding Sexual Behavior in the Human Male ignited a firestorm of controversy so heated that Kinsey’s findings still rankle conservatives more than half a century later. Kinsey’s results, which he gathered by conducting confidential interviews, challenged the prevailing sexual orthodoxy of the time: he bluntly told America that non-marital sex is a national pastime; that women could also achieve orgasm; and that homosexuality and masturbation do not lead to insanity.
Despite the controversy, the Kinsey Reports stormed the culture and attracted heavy media attention, with a Time magazine cover story even likening their impact to Margaret Mitchell’s beloved Gone with the Wind (1937). Kinsey’s influence was so pervasive, in fact, that Cole Porter immortalized Kinsey’s cultural impact in the pop classic Too Darn Hot (1948). Even though a Gallup poll taken at the time found that three-quarters of the public approved of Kinsey’s work, many conservatives were outraged by his study. Billy Graham ominously predicted that the Kinsey Reports were a death knell of “[t]he already deteriorating morals of America.” In fact, conservative opposition was so strong that even the liberal New York Times declined at first to advertise the book.
Despite its enduring influence on contemporary sexual mores, the Kinsey Reports are still vociferously criticized by many conservatives as moral scourge, encouraging deviant sexual behavior and promoting promiscuity. In 1999, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male found itself ranked #3, (and lumped under the category of “The Very Worst”) on the Intercollegiate Studies Institute’s (ISI) list of The 50 Worst Books of the Twentieth Century. Established in 1953 with the then-young William F. Buckley as its first president, ISI is a non-profit educational institution known for its distinctly conservative views. ISI witheringly described Kinsey’s findings as, “[a] pervert’s attempt to demonstrate that perversion is sexually ‘normal.’” In May 2005, conservative website Human Events ranked Sexual Behavior in the Human Male #4 on their Ten Most Harmful Books of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries list, asserting that the, “[r]eports were designed to give a scientific gloss to the normalization of promiscuity and deviancy.” However, despite the enduring conservative uproar over the Kinsey Reports, his research has made a profound and indelible impact on American attitudes towards sexuality. In fact, many cultural historians maintain that his findings were a key factor in sparking the sexual revolution of the 1960’s.
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