Sexual Behavior in the Human Female

Sexual Behavior in the Human Female


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Originally published in 1953, the material presented in Sexual Behavior in the Human Female was derived from personal interviews with nearly 6,000 women; from studies in sexual anatomy, physiology, psychology, and endocrinology. The study revealed the incidence and frequency with which women participate in various types of sexual activity and how such factors as age, decade of birth, and religious adherence are reflected in patterns of sexual behavior. The authors make comparisons of female and male sexual activities and investigate the factors which account for the similarities and differences between female and male patterns of behavior and provide some measure of the social significance of the various types of sexual behavior.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780253334114
Publisher: Indiana University Press
Publication date: 05/22/1998
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 896
Sales rank: 389,677
Product dimensions: 6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x (d)
Age Range: 18 Years

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Sexual Behavior in the Human Female

By Alfred C. Kinsey, Wardell B. Pomeroy, Clyde E. Martin, Paul H. Gebhard

Indiana University Press

Copyright © 1998 John Bancroft
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-253-33411-4



The present volume constitutes the second progress report from the study of human sex behavior which we have had under way here at Indiana University for some fifteen years. It has been a fact-finding survey in which an attempt has been made to discover what people do sexually, what factors may account for their patterns of sexual behavior, how their sexual experiences have affected their lives, and what social significance there may be in each type of behavior.

Our first report was based upon 5300 white males whose case histories provided most of the data which were statistically analyzed in our volume, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male. The case histories of 5940 white females have similarly provided most of the statistical data in the present volume, but this volume also rests on a considerable body of material which has come from sources other than case histories (see Chapter 2).

Throughout the fifteen years involved in this research, it has had the support of Indiana University, and during the past twelve years it has been supported in part by grants from the National Research Council's Committee for Research on Problems of Sex. This Committee has been responsible for the administration of funds provided by the Medical Division of the Rockefeller Foundation. The present project is incorporated as the Institute for Sex Research. The Institute is the legal entity which holds title to the case histories, the library, and the other materials accumulated in connection with the research, receives all royalties from its publications, incomes from private contributions and other sources, and is responsible for the planning and administration of the research program. The staff of the Institute has included persons trained in biology, clinical psychology, anthropology, law, statistics, various language fields, and still other specialties. Sixteen persons have served on the staff of the Institute during the preparation of the present volume, and each of these has had a specific part in the making of this report.

We have also had the cooperation of a considerable group of specialists in various fields of medicine, biology, physiology, psychology, psychiatry, statistics, animal behavior, neurophysiology, the social sciences, penology, marriage counseling, literature, the fine arts, and still other areas (see Chapter 2). Some of these consultants have contributed specific data which are included in the present volume, and a number of them have critically guided the interpretations of our findings in areas related to their specialties.

Our accumulation of female histories began with the inception of the research in July, 1938. Throughout the years, female histories have been added at approximately the same rate as the histories of males. It was possible, therefore, to utilize some female data in the preparation of our report on the male, and in the present volume we are now able to compare female and male data. In addition to the 5940 histories of the white females which are summarized in the present volume, we have the histories of 1849 additional females who, because they belong to special groups which we are not yet ready to analyze (pp. 22, 43), have not been included in the statistical analyses presented here. The records from these other females have, on the other hand, considerably extended our thinking, and provided bases for some of the more general statements in the present volume.

This is a study of sexual behavior in (within) certain groups of the human species, Homo sapiens. It is obviously not a study of the sexual behavior of all cultures and of all races of man. At its best, the present volume can pretend to report behavior which may be typical of no more than a portion, although probably not an inconsiderable portion, of the white females living within the boundaries of the United States. Neither the title of our first volume on the male, nor the title of this volume on the female, should be taken to imply that the authors are unaware of the diversity which exists in patterns of sexual behavior in other parts of the world.


The present study was undertaken because the senior author's students were bringing him, as a college teacher of biology, questions on matters of sex. They came to him because they hoped that he as a scientist would provide factual information which they might consider in working out their patterns of sexual behavior. Advice on the desirability or undesirability of particular patterns of sexual behavior was available to them from a great many sources; they had found it more difficult to obtain strictly factual information which was not biased by moral, philosophic, or social interpretations.

In attempting to answer some of the questions which these students brought, we drew upon our general understanding of animal biology; but for a larger number of the answers we had to turn to the medical, psychologic, psychiatric, sociologic, and other literatures where one might have expected to find the desired data. In the course of this search, however, we discovered that scientific understanding of human sexual behavior was more poorly established than the understanding of almost any other function of the human body.

There seemed to be no sufficient studies of the basic anatomy or the physiology of sexual response and of orgasm. Both the biologists and the philosophers had confused reproductive function with sexual behavior, and had taken it for granted that the reproductive organs, and particularly the external reproductive organs (the genitalia), were the only parts of the anatomy that were involved with either of these functions. This was little better than the ancient belief which some persons still hold that sexual responses originate in the heart. There are others who locate the function "in the head," and believe that one may control his sexual responses if he sufficiently "puts his mind to the matter." In actuality, we now know (Chapters 14–17) that none of these structures — not even the external genitalia — are the organs which are chiefly concerned. Heretofore, in attempting to interpret sexual behavior, we have been as handicapped as one might be if he attempted to understand the processes of digestion before he knew anything of the anatomy of the digestive organs, or attempted to understand respiratory functions without realizing that the lungs and the circulatory system were involved.

Because of the limitations which are usually imposed on any consideration of sex, the scientist has been hesitant to investigate in this area. The average individual's understanding of these matters has had to be drawn largely from his or her own experience, from the desultory bits of information that could be obtained from a limited number of acquaintances, or from the increasing but still limited amount of information available in medical manuals. Even the clinician's understanding of the nature of human sexual behavior has had to depend primarily upon his own clinical experience, and no one has been certain how far the behavior of clinical patients may represent the behavior of the population as a whole. Psychologic and psychiatric interpretations have been based on specialized types of patients, and clinicians have usually been more concerned with alleviating their patients' immediate difficulties, or with redirecting their behavior, than they have with the systematic accumulation of complete sexual histories. The monumental work of Havelock Ellis and of Freud and of still others among the European pioneers did not involve a general survey of persons who did not have sexual problems which would lead them to professional sources for help.

There had been attempts to survey the behavior of non-clinical groups, beginning with Russian studies in the first decade of the present century, and with the studies made in this country prior to 1920 (see pp. 94–96). Case history studies of samples more typical of the general population had been undertaken by Katharine Davis, by Hamilton, by Dickinson, by Terman, and by Landis in the 1920's and 1930's. Some of these were excellent studies to which we shall always be indebted because they demonstrated the possibility as well as the desirability of securing sexual data by case history and interviewing techniques. But fifteen years ago the total number of individuals on which our knowledge of human sexual behavior was based was considerably less than the biologist would have considered necessary for an understanding of variation in any other species of animal. The published human material and our own initial exploration made it apparent that variation in human sexual behavior was greater than the variation which was to be observed in human anatomy or physiology; and it seemed apparent that any ultimate appreciation of sexual variation, and an understanding of the factors responsible for that variation, would have to come from extensive series of case histories drawn from diverse segments of the population.

During the past twenty years, there has been a considerable development of sampling theory and of statistical methods of analyzing population data. In consequence, studies in various fields of biology, medicine, economics, and the psychologic and social sciences have increasingly utilized statistical approaches. Persons interested in public health, public opinion, and market surveys have developed practical methods of obtaining extensive human samples (see the footnotes in Chapter 2). We have been able to utilize some of their experience. On the other hand, on the present project we have faced problems which are unique to a sex study (Chapter 2).

Because of the limited opportunities to observe sexual behavior, and because of our need to secure records of events which have taken place over long periods of years, we have had to depend primarily upon case history material for our data. But the information which we have tried to secure has concerned aspects of human behavior which most persons consider confidential and ordinarily do not discuss with any except their most intimate friends. More than that, our openly expressed mores and the statute law (the overt culture) are so remote from the actual behavior (the covert culture) of the average citizen that there are few persons who can openly discuss their histories without risking social or legal difficulties. We have not, therefore, been able to utilize the statistically ideal techniques or the same procedures which have proved applicable in surveys dealing with material less intimate and less complex than human sexual behavior (see pp. 25–31, 58–64 for a discussion of the interviewing and sampling techniques which we have used).

But by guaranteeing the confidence of the record, and by abstaining from judgments or attempts to redirect the behavior of any of the subjects who have contributed to this study, we have so far been able to secure the histories of more than 16,000 persons who represent a diverse sample of many different groups. The sample has included both females and males, persons of all ages from the youngest to the oldest, persons with a variety of educational backgrounds, ranging from the illiterate and poorly educated to the best trained of the professional groups, persons belonging to a variety of occupational classes and rural and urban groups, persons belonging to various religious groups, persons representing various degrees of adherence and non-adherence to those religious groups, and persons who have lived in various parts of the United States. The sample is still, at many points, inadequate, but we have been able to secure a greater diversification of subjects than had been available in the previous studies.


It should be clearly understood that the original goal of our study was the extension of our knowledge in an area in which scientific information appeared to be limited. In the course of the years it has become apparent that the data we have acquired may prove of value in the consideration of some of our social problems, but that was not why we originally began this research.

It has been the history of science that any addition to our store of adequately established knowledge may ultimately contribute to man's mastery of the material universe. Not infrequently some of the most useful findings have come out of investigations that seemed to have no practical application when they were first begun.

On the other hand, when research has been confined to the solution of immediate problems, the investigator has not infrequently been so limited by the demands for immediate application that he has had no time to explore the basic elements of his problem. In the field of human sexual behavior, for instance, there have been direct attacks on the problems of sexual adjustment in marriage, but these have not proved as fruitful as they might have been because no one sufficiently understood the basic physiology of sexual response, or the basic psychologic differences between female and male responsiveness (Chapters 14–16). As another illustration, we have recently seen poorly established distinctions between normality and abnormality lead to the enactment of sexual psychopath laws which are unrealistic, unenforceable, and incapable of providing the protection which the social organization has been led to believe they can provide. There cannot be sound clinical practice, or sound planning of sex laws, until we understand more adequately the mammalian origins of human sexual behavior, the anatomy and physiology of response, the sexual patterns of human cultures outside of our own, and the factors which shape the behavioral patterns of children and of adolescent youth. We cannot reach ultimate solutions for our problems until legislators and public opinion allow the investigator sufficient time to discover the bases of those problems.

Some scientists hesitate to continue in a given field of research as soon as its application becomes apparent. This refusal to apply knowledge when it exists seems to us, however, to be as unrealistic as the attempt to apply knowledge before it exists. Consequently, as it became apparent that the data which we were accumulating in the present study might contribute to an understanding of some of our human problems, we have welcomed the opportunity to direct our survey into those areas. But such applications were not our original objectives, and we have not let the importance of any immediate application delimit the areas which we undertook to investigate.


With the right of the scientist to investigate most aspects of the material universe, most persons will agree; but there are some who have questioned the applicability of scientific methods to an investigation of human sexual behavior. Some persons, recognizing the importance of the psychologic aspects of that behavior, and the relation of the individual's sexual activity to the social organization as a whole, feel that this is an area which only psychologists or social philosophers should explore. In this insistence they seem to ignore the material origins of all behavior. It is as though the dietician and biochemist were denied the right to analyze foods and the processes of nutrition, because the cooking and proper serving of food may be rated a fine art, and because the eating of certain foods has been considered a matter for religious regulation.

Such protest at the scientific invasion of a field which has hitherto been considered the province of moral philosophers is nothing new in the history of science. There was a day when the organization of the universe, and the place of the earth, the sun, the moon, and the stars in it, were considered of such theologic import that the scientific investigation of those matters was bitterly opposed by the ruling forces of the day. The scientists who first attempted to explore the nature of matter, and the physical laws affecting the relationships of matter, were similarly condemned. The works of Kepler, Copernicus, Galileo, and Pascal were in the list of condemned books some two or three centuries ago. Within the past half century, biologists who attempted to investigate the processes by which offspring came to differ from their parents, and the processes by which whole populations of individuals or species came to differ from other species, were condemned because they had attempted to substitute scientific observation for the philosophic interpretations which had hitherto satisfied human vanity.


Excerpted from Sexual Behavior in the Human Female by Alfred C. Kinsey, Wardell B. Pomeroy, Clyde E. Martin, Paul H. Gebhard. Copyright © 1998 John Bancroft. Excerpted by permission of Indiana University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


Foreword by Robert M. Yerkes and George W. Corner,
1. Scope of the Study,
2. The Sample and Its Statistical Analysis,
3. Sources of Data,
4. Pre-Adolescent Sexual Development,
5. Masturbation,
6. Nocturnal Sex Dreams,
7. Pre-Marital Petting,
8. Pre-Marital Coitus,
9. Marital Coitus,
10. Extra-Marital Coitus,
11. Homosexual Responses and Contacts,
12. Animal Contacts,
13. Total Sexual Outlet,
14. Anatomy of Sexual Response and Orgasm,
15. Physiology of Sexual Response and Orgasm,
16. Psychologic Factors in Sexual Response,
17. Neural Mechanisms of Sexual Response,
18. Hormonal Factors in Sexual Response,

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