What was the impetus which set the wheels in motion for Kinsey’s sex research? It all started when the Surgeon General, Thomas Parran, asked for nationwide testing due to a rise in syphilis rates. In response, Indiana University’s student paper, the Daily Student, published an article on February 15, 1938 calling for “compulsory Wasserman tests for all Indiana students” (Jones 318). Students started writing the paper with complaints about the sorry state of sex education at the university. Kinsey volunteered to develop a class on sex and marriage. He taught the non-credit marriage course to married couples and seniors and it was an instant success (Jones 327).
Kinsey offered advice to students who approached him with questions concerning sexuality. He started collecting the sexual histories of his students and found that human sexual behavior exhibited diverse variation, echoing the variation he observed in his studies of the physical characteristics of gall wasps. He continued collecting sexual histories, ranging from that of the faculty to the groundskeepers on campus (American Experience).
Kinsey’s work was not without detractors. Some of the faculty pressured the university president, Herman Wells, to remove Kinsey from the marriage course. Wells, who supported Kinsey’s work, decided to give Kinsey an ultimatum: choose between continuing the research and continuing to teach the course. In 1940, Kinsey chose the research (American Experience).
Sexual Behavior in the Human Male
Kinsey continued collecting sexual histories and in 1941, he acquired a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation to fund his sex research. Between 1941 and 1946, he assembled his research staff: Clyde Martin (1918 - ), Wardell Pomeroy (1913 – 2001), and Paul Gebhard (1917 - ). Kinsey and his team constructed a survey containing about 300 questions. The first set of questions were demographic (age, religious background, work, etc), and the remaining questions investigated a wide variety of sexual activity. In the questionnaire, sex was defined as to the point of ejaculation. First the team questioned locals, then they traveled the country and questioned over 5,300 males. They interviewed volunteers in prisons, factories, farms, gay bars, universities, etc. William Burroughs, Gore Vidal, Leonard Bernstein, Tennessee Williams and the entire cast of the theatre production of A Streetcar Named Desire were interviewed (Biography).
The book contains hand-drawn charts and tables, along with demographic breakdown of behaviors. The research team had devised a way of recording the answers from their interviewees in a code which only they could read. The result was the publication of the monumental work, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948). It sold about 500,000 copies and was an instant success (American Experience).
The resulting data shattered the way America perceived itself. Kinsey reported that more than 90% of American males masturbated, 85% have had premarital intercourse, 70% had patronized a prostitute at least once in their lives, almost 60% have had oral sex, and 30% to 45% had engaged in extramarital intercourse. What was most shocking, however, was that 37% of those interviewed reported to have engaged in homosexual activity at some point in their lives (Kinsey, Pomeroy, and Martin 650).
Sexual Behavior in the Human Female
Kinsey’s work collecting sexual histories continued and in 1947, he established the Institute for Sex Research at Indiana University. In 1953, Sexual Behavior in the Human Female was published, coincidentally; the first issue of Playboy came out that same year. 5,940 women were interviewed. It sold over 200,000 copies in the first two months and revealed that more than 90% of females had indulged in sexual petting, 66% had sexual dreams, 62% had masturbated, 50% have had premarital sex, 19% had engaged in homosexual activity, 14 % have had multiple orgasms, and 26% had had extramarital sexual encounters (Kinsey et al 299).
This data shocked the nation. The image of a wholesome, puritanical society was forever shattered. Churches and religious groups were up in arms. Billy Graham (1918 - ) published a pamphlet stating, "It is impossible to estimate the damage this book will do to the already deteriorating morals of America. Doctor Kinsey's report shows itself to be completely lopsided and unscientific when it says that seven out of ten women who had pre-marital affairs had no regrets. He certainly could not have interviewed any of the millions of born-again Christian women in this country who put the highest price on virtue, decency and modesty” (Billy Graham).