The Kinsey Institute: The First Seventy Years

The Kinsey Institute: The First Seventy Years


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Founded by Alfred C. Kinsey in 1947, the Kinsey Institute has been a leading organization in developing an understanding of human sexuality. In this new book with over 65 images of Kinsey and the Institute’s collections, Judith A. Allen and the coauthors look at the work Kinsey started over 70 years ago and how the Institute has continued to make an impact on understanding on our culture. Covering the early years of the Institute through the "Sexual Revolution," into the AIDS pandemic of the Reagan era, and on into the "internet hook-up" culture of today, the book illuminates the Institute’s work and its importance to society.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780253029768
Publisher: Well House Books
Publication date: 07/17/2017
Series: Well House Books Series
Pages: 296
Product dimensions: 8.20(w) x 10.10(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Judith A. Allen is Ralph Walter Professor of History at Indiana University, Associate Editor of the Journal of American History, and Senior Research Fellow of the Kinsey Institute.

Hallimeda E. Allinson is a doctoral candidate in the Department of History at Indiana University and currently serves as a historical consultant to the Kinsey Institute.

Andrew Clark-Huckstep is a doctoral candidate in the Department of History at Indiana University. He has served as a historical consultant to the Kinsey Institute.

Brandon J. Hill is Executive Director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Inquiry and Innovation in Sexual and Reproductive Health at the University of Chicago, and Research Fellow at the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University.

Stephanie A. Sanders is Peg Zeglin Brand Chair of Gender Studies, Provost Professor in the College of Arts and Sciences, and Senior Scientist at the Kinsey Institute, Indiana University.

Liana Zhou is Director of the Kinsey Institute Library and Special Collections.

Read an Excerpt

The Kinsey Institute

The First Seventy Years

By Judith A. Allen

Indiana University Press

Copyright © 2017 Indiana University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-253-03023-8


Overlapping Foundations (1916–1946)

Your group should be given status within the University of Indiana [sic] as a research Institute, probably in the Graduate School, much as our department of the Carnegie Institution works as a more or less independent research institute. You would thus have independent control of your staff, records, and library, with the advantages of University protection and accounting. ... I think you also want complete control of the ultimate disposition of your records, and that you do not (I believe) wish to leave this entirely to the University authorities. ... [T]his could be done by a recorded agreement between the University and yourself, setting up a special committee to care for this matter.

George W. Corner, National Research Council, to Alfred C. Kinsey, July 6, 1946, 1–2

By 1946 Alfred C. Kinsey realized he had a problem. In 1938 he had commenced undertaking interview-based individual sex histories and acquiring the data grounding previous pioneer studies by earlier peer researchers. Originally an entomological taxonomist responsible for the discovery and classification of hundreds of new species of North American gall wasps, Kinsey now had thousands of sex histories. He and two core searchers began assembling the results, the beginnings of the first Kinsey Report, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948). These highly confidential data were added to a formidable and ever-enlarging holding of salient publications and ephemera related to erotic expression and representation that had been procured worldwide. The collections now raised preservation, storage capacity, and security concerns. What agency would keep these materials in the event of Kinsey's death or the dissolution of the project? How could he best protect the collections from fire and flood damage? What funding would support them? How could he ensure that the library and collected data would not fall into the wrong hands? Much was at stake personally, politically, and professionally.

Kinsey knew he needed support. He turned to the Committee for Research in Problems of Sex. Based in Washington, DC, and one of the specialist committees of the National Research Council, it was funded through the Rockefeller Foundation. The committee had underwritten a golden age of sex research since World War I, much of it centered on the study of animals. Since 1941 the committee had provided substantial grants in support of Kinsey's study of human sexual behavior. This made it the obvious starting point in the quest for solutions. Initially, he hoped that the committee would finance the library's acquisitions, providing them with institutional stability and permanence at Indiana University. Hope gave way to dismay, however, with the news that such support would vest the committee with full disposition rights. Kinsey took his appeal directly to the Rockefeller Foundation members. In response, George W. Corner (1889–1981), pioneer embryological endocrinologist and committee member, suggested that Kinsey incorporate his project: it would remain tied to Indiana University, but Kinsey would be protected from opposing interests, whether at the university, local community, or state level, thus securing researcher control over the collections and research data. The Institute for Sex Research, then, was created at the strong urging of the Rockefeller Foundation — one of its committee members, Robert M. Yerkes (1876–1956), even coined its name.

The founding of the Institute for Sex Research had a longer genealogy. Some commentators see Kinsey's sex research project and the Institute as the continuation of large fieldwork research projects emanating from well-funded institutions associated with universities or professional bodies. Others portray them as the overdue inauguration of a research field valuable for understanding human behavior and solving social problems. Analysts position Kinsey and the Institute either as the end of a line of researchers dedicated to large-scale taxonomic field research data or as triggers for the "sexual revolution" then ahead, with its sweeping changes and frank sexual discourses. This chapter places Kinsey, the research, and the Institute into their own historical context. To understand the development and incorporation of the Institute, it is necessary to look back to sex researchers' methods, their financial support, and the institutions they worked in during the early twentieth century.

Prior to the 1910s, most sex researchers presented their data through the case study. Thereafter, though, first questionnaires and then interviews anchored data acquisition, which was concerned with statistical prevalence and representative samples. This shift connected with another. Progressive Era social organizations and social uplift movements, as well as new doctrines, including eugenics, proved critical for the field's development. Sex researchers derived considerable support for research projects from associations, particularly those funded by wealthy philanthropists such as Rockefeller. Though these organizations did not directly support universities, they funded individual university-affiliated researchers and centers. Theirs were the standard research methods for social and scientific research at the time; hence, they became the accepted standard for external grant support.

The further key and immediate element in the historical origins of the Institute was Kinsey himself and his interwar project. Kinsey and his backers quickly realized that his project, which had been devised in the waning years of the 1930s economic depression, differed in scope and scale from those of previous researchers. Integral to it was a vast collection — the "sex library" — unlike any other in existence and rivaled only by Magnus Hirschfeld's collection, ransacked and burned by the Nazi regime on May 6, 1933. With this recent and traumatic precedent, Kinsey sought to combine, sustain, and steward research data, and he acquired rare books and materials as the project developed. The innovation, then, was the creation of the Institute for Sex Research as its own incorporated entity associated with Indiana University as a research institute and under the impetus of the Rockefeller Foundation and the National Research Council's Committee for Research in Problems of Sex.

From Stories to Numbers

Thanks for your note of October 16th, concerning the clinicians. ["Clinician sees only the anomalies ... has no idea of the cross-section of the population. Have you tackled the cases in the big clinics?"] I am increasingly conscious of the way in which their opinions are warped by the quality of their sampling. Even on such a thing as names of contraceptives, clinicians have little information on what is used by the mass. They see only those cases who are already interested in contraceptives before they come to the clinics.

Alfred C. Kinsey to Carl G. Hartman, October 19, 1943

American sex research was, initially, a small and disparate field. Prior to the turn of the twentieth century, researchers in European contexts utilized the case study method and frequently focused on sexual deviance. By the interwar period, those working on human sexuality had turned to more sociological approaches. Meanwhile, American sex researchers responded to national anxieties — particularly over prostitution and venereal disease — and international influences, from Freud's theories of psychosexual development and psychoanalysis to psychoneurological and endocrinological approaches with animals and humans. Kinsey disdained previous studies, finding them impressionistic and gender, class, and race biased.

Instead, Kinsey sought reliable information about sexual behavior from non-clinical informants. He wanted a secular, value-free investigation of sexual behavior of targeted groups not located through the process of therapy or treatment of disorder. Religious stigma, shame, and secrecy about erotic expression obstructed absolutely random samples of sexual behavior. Moreover, existing case study research did not supply adequate typologies or predictive trends. Kinsey had spent the 1920s and early 1930s climbing remote mountains and combing desert habitats collecting as many different varieties and specimens of gall wasps as possible. His zoology was taxonomic, probing interactions between the anatomy, physiology, psychology, and culture of organisms within their habitats. Gall wasp research findings informed his human sexuality research: no two individual specimens of any species were identical; therefore, normative prescriptions foundered. With the ordinariness of massive diversity within any given species, he addressed frequency issues as "average," "many," or "rare" or in terms of degrees of similarity or difference. He studied human sexual behavior identically.

Kinsey departed from his sex research predecessors by representing reported sexual behavior in statistical terms. In the language of "means," "medians," "averages," "frequencies," "accumulations," and "coefficients," he recast sexual behavior. Instead of polarizing behaviors into normal/pathological, moral/immoral, heterosexual/homosexual, and other dualisms, he plotted human sexual options and behaviors as covalent points along a natural spectrum or continuum. His hypothesis of hugely varied human sexual behavior stood to dispel many sex-polarized generalizations.

Here a paradox emerged. On the one hand, he asserted sex differences in his critique of woman-oriented sex research that omitted or pathologized male sexual experience. On the other hand, he rejected the mire of gender stereotypes, alive to the possibility that the sexes might not be so erotically different. Alternatively, he allowed that variations within each sex may be more significant than average differences between the sexes.

Kinsey responded to the same context as peer researchers, both past and contemporary. He adopted newly developed sociological approaches while continuing to privilege the biological and taxonomical methods he cultivated during his work with gall wasps. In essence, he participated in the shift from individual narrative toward broader concerns with averages, patterns, and representational samples.

Late nineteenth-century sex researchers used the case study method to gather and present their evidence to their fellow researchers. They highlighted abnormal aspects of human sexual behavior and desire, capitalizing on the sensational to garner professional support while documenting, naming, and classifying sexual deviations and focusing on the psychological and biological origins of aberrant sexual behaviors and desires. Terms used to cast these behaviors often underscored sexual deviations as threats to modern society through racially coded terminology that, though applied broadly to Anglo-Saxons and Germans, nonetheless posed a threat to the white race. Richard von Krafft-Ebing, Viennese neuropsychologist, believed that he charted marks of degeneration and arbiters of the effects of modern society on the populations of Europe. While some researchers would have concurred with Krafft-Ebing, the debate surrounding the degeneration narrative would last well into the twentieth century. Britain's Havelock Ellis and, eventually, Sigmund Freud stated that same-sex desires (often the focus of early sex researchers) were often congenital and did not necessarily indicate the presence of degeneration or psychosis within an individual.

Prewar and interwar American sex researchers confronted a context of heightened pathologization of sexual behavior. Pervasive fears of venereal disease affecting national troop strength and the Jim Crow decades spurred eugenics, as well as various social uplift and reform movements. Most grounded themselves in gendered and racialized narratives privileging white middle-class marriages and families. As well, matters such as "the white slave trade," free love, and feminist challenges to traditional marriage connected American sex research with activists and reform associations.

In this context, Kinsey would advance his own project by very different methods. Sex researchers addressing psychological and social aspects of human sexuality developed only small data sets, often advancing moralistic approaches. At worst, they wallowed in prescription rather than recorded actual behavior. The move away from the preceding generation of sex researchers' narrative case studies toward quantifiable data sets, then, constituted a momentous methodological shift for the field.

Initially, earlier case study projects aimed to improve outreach methods of anti-prostitution and venereal disease campaigns. The International Division of the Young Men's Christian Association, for example, engaged New York doctors Paul Achilles and Max Exner to assess the current state of young men's knowledge about sex and marriage and the effectiveness of anti-venereal disease and anti-prostitution literature produced by the YMCA and the American Social Hygiene Association. Both used questionnaires, presenting readers with statistical reports alongside the older method of direct anecdotal quotations from respondents. This blended approach, they believed, provided the undeniable facts that only numbers could convey while also capturing the flavor of the respondents' responses.

There were, however, exceptions to the use of questionnaires and interviews in American sexology. Clelia Duel Mosher, a clinical psychologist from Stanford University who later earned her MD from Johns Hopkins University in 1900, interviewed and studied fin de siècle female college graduates. Although using a small sample, her study was one of the first instances of American sex research conducted with modern scientific standards. Examining health, menstrual cycles, and exercise, Mosher refuted claims of female workplace inferiority, rejecting also physician-prescribed inactivity during menstruation and disease-mongering approaches to female gynecology. Though Mosher and her work never attained the fame of men in the field, she influenced her successors in a new sex research trajectory that addressed distinctive populations of women.

For psychologists, psychiatrists, and psychoanalysts, however, the questionnaire presented problems. American psychological researchers in university and clinical settings extended or disputed Freud's psychoanalytic theories and methods. To this end, Gilbert Van Tassel Hamilton's project, A Research in Marriage (1929), used interviews. He asked: "Tell me all about your sex life: I wish to know as much as possible, not merely about your sexual acts, but about all the troublesome, shameful, painful difficulties which you may have had or may now have with sexual urges." Further, he admonished his interviewees: "You must be absolutely frank with me, else this examination cannot profitably be continued." The interview proved vastly more personal, requiring the interviewee to delve deeper. Words uttered became the data. Different topics were combined: age of first learning about sex, rate of premarital intercourse, and family experiences. Diverse informants were combined: responses comparable with others, data open to arithmetic manipulation. As Michel Foucault held, this method diversified the case study through the creation and study of the pathologized individual — a history, a past. Yet it was no longer the actual individual who mattered but rather imagining the individual as a data point in a set of infinite points. The individual only mattered insofar as he or she was positioned within a representational population.

Statistical procedures loomed large in interwar studies. Psychologists sought ways to measure human personality development and behavior. The biological approach to sex research centered on animal studies, while behavioral studies privileged psychological or sociological approaches. For example, Katharine Bement Davis's study of twenty-two hundred women's sex lives used sociological approaches deployed in a questionnaire mailed to Vassar graduates. While some individual narratives populate the text, it contains profuse tables and charts offering statistical analyses and comparisons of different groups of women (with regard to employment, age, and education, among others) with control groups.

Research psychologists like Lewis Terman sought rational and measurable paradigms for personality development. In Sex and Personality (1936), he called for a measure that "can be applied to the individual and scored so as to locate the subject, with a fair degree of approximation, in terms of deviation from the mean of either sex." He devised the Masculinity-Femininity, or M-F, Test. It featured several different subsections, including personal interests, word associations, and the Rorschach test, administered in person. He explored the extent of men's and women's alignment with a "mean" or average of masculinity and femininity. Finding unsustainable such categories as "normal" and "abnormal," Terman reported ranges of masculinity and femininity that overlapped each other, acutely so among those disclosing same-sex desire.


Excerpted from The Kinsey Institute by Judith A. Allen. Copyright © 2017 Indiana University Press. Excerpted by permission of Indiana University Press.
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Table of Contents

List of Abbreviations
Introduction: Looking Back
1. Overlapping Foundations (1916-1946)
2. Making "The Kinsey Reports" (1947-1956)
3. Finishing The Mission (1957-1965)
4. Navigating "Sexual Revolution" (1966-1981)
5. Bringing Paradigm Shifts (1982-1993)
6. Turning Outward (1994-2016)
Conclusion: Looking Forward
Appendix A: Selected Publications by Kinsey Institute Researchers and Affiliates – By Decade
Appendix B: Selected Books Drawing Upon Kinsey Institute Collections

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author of Impotence: A Cultural History - Angus McLaren

An important contribution to the history of sexuality. It has no rival.

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