Kinsey’s Pseudo-Science

Commentary, Culture Wars, Essay, Lee Harding

TV personality Phil Donahue once said, “Kinsey was to sexuality what Freud was to psychiatry, what Madame Curie was to radiation, what Einstein was to physics.”[1] Alfred Kinsey was the primary person to turn western society from one that adhered to Christian sexual morals to an amoral one more in line with his tastes. This only reflected his own life journey. Biographer James H. Jones believes that when Kinsey refers in his journals to a friend that prayed for grace to stop masturbating, that Kinsey was talking about himself. When self-control eluded Kinsey, he abandoned Christianity and its restraints and tried to take his whole society with him.[2]

The European sexual freedom movement, complete with studies and surveys to forward public acceptance in the 1920s, waited for pioneers like Kinsey to bring this about in future decades. Kinsey was a zoologist by training who taught at the University of Indiana, but was inspired by Dr. Robert Dickinson to begin sexuality studies in 1938. Dickinson, a gynecologist and author of A Thousand Marriages (1931), taught a pedophile he met to record his sexual encounters in detail. Kinsey invited Dickinson to lecture at the University of Indiana and when visiting Kinsey in 1940 found the latter had a bookshelf “about half full of porn.”[3] In 1941, Kinsey published “Homosexuality: Criteria for a Hormonal Explanation of the Homosexual” where he advocated that homosexuality was normal and insisted that homosexuality and heterosexuality were not “mutually exclusive.”

For the landmark studies he would later conduct, he vetted out potential researchers with a traditional view. He chose, then groomed a team that practiced wife-swapping, had their sex acts filmed, and included homosexual contacts for both professional and private needs. (This was not out-of-character for Kinsey, since as early as 1934, Kinsey even had group masturbation sessions with graduate students under his supervision.) Vincent Nowlis resigned from the team after Kinsey and male members of his institute staff went to his room and invited him to disrobe, with the understanding that sexual activity would ensue.[4] Biographer James Jones confirmed that Kinsey enjoyed sadomasochism. He quotes Gebhard as saying, on one occasion Kinsey “put ropes around his testicles” [and once] “climbed into a bathtub, unfolded the blade of his pocketknife, and circumcised himself without the benefit of anesthesia.”[5]

The Rockefeller Foundation began its funding of Kinsey in 1941. They ensured the public knew him well, but only as a reputable researcher and married father with churchgoing children. Wardell Pomeroy, who co-authored his studies and later wrote a biography on Kinsey, repeatedly referred to their mutual work as a “grand scheme.”[6] Indeed, Kinsey’s “findings” echoed the assertions Karl Kertbeny had made in 1868—and for the same reasons. Both claimed that those in the mainstream of their society practiced many sexual taboos. Therefore, people needed to change their hypocritical attitudes and laws against such taboos.

In his landmark 1948 book, Sexual Behaviour of the Human Male (also known as the Male Report), Kinsey said 95 percent of American men did acts that violated sex-crimes laws. Here, 85 percent engaged in premarital sex, 69 percent had patronized prostitutes, 45 percent had committed adultery, 10 to 37 percent had experienced orgasm in a homosexual act, and 17 percent of boys raised on the farm had sex with animals.[7] Ten percent of males were homosexual.

Such findings were starkly different from America’s self-perception and reality. It took decades to fully expose the deep and systemic problems with the studies. Even if the data had been accurately collected, it still would have suffered the problem of volunteer bias. Abraham Maslow had already written in 1942 that “any [sex] study in which data are obtained from volunteers will always have a preponderance of high dominance people and therefore will show a falsely high percentage of non-virginity, masturbation, promiscuity, homosexuality, etc., in the population.”[8] Maslow’s wife Bertha later recounted to a colleague that she had told Kinsey of this “volunteer bias” and even proved it by a study conducted with him with using her own Brooklyn College students. Kinsey refused to publish the study and excluded all of Bertha Maslow’s works from his bibliography.[9]

The American Statistical Association was pressured to favorably review the Male Report, yet also expressed deep concerns.

In the case of homosexuality, we are chiefly concerned about possible bias in the sample…

Critics are justified in their objections that many of the most . . .provocative statements in the book are not based on the data presented therein, and it is not made clear to the reader on what evidence the statements are based . . . . [T]he conclusions drawn from data presented in the book are often stated by KPM [Kinsey, Pomeroy, and Martin] in much too bold and confident a manner. Taken cumulatively, these objections amount to saying that much of the writing in the book falls below the level of good scientific writing[10]

Statistician Paul Sheatsley and sociologist Herbert Hyman wrote in An Analysis of the Kinsey Reports (1954) that “no one could tell how good or bad his sample actually was because nowhere was there any systematic account of the distribution of the 5,300 males in terms of such factors as age, religion, etc.”[11] These were minor problems compared to what came to light later. Even so, early criticisms made the Kinsey team somewhat more careful and forthcoming in its 1953 sequel, The Sexual Behaviour of the Human Female. It was why social scientist Amram Scheinfeld could give its biased claims a more balanced treatment in a September 1953 article in Cosmopolitan.

So, when this Kinsey report says, “40 percent of our sample were non-virgins before marriage,” “adultery had been committed by 25 percent or more of the married women by the age of forty,” “homosexuality had been actively engaged in by 20 percent, masturbation by 62 percent,” it may be referring not to you, and people like you, but to a couple of other females somewhere.

Be equally wary when you read the sizzling Kinsey conclusions ”that what we’ve been teaching our daughters about sex is all wrong, that chastity may often do more harm than good, that premarital sex relations are likely to help toward adjustment in many ways (maritally, psychologically, socially), and that girls who don’t indulge in sex may be refraining less because their morals are strong than because their sex urges are weak. These and other Kinsey conclusions may he largely theories, without scientific proof as yet to back them up, particularly when they are applied to American women in general….

The book concedes at the outset that the Kinsey females are a rather special group. Fully 75 percent have attended college, and of these, 19.4 percent have done graduate work, though only 7.5 percent of American white women have gone to college. Unmarried women comprise 58 percent of the Kinsey females, which is three times their national representation. About 60 percent of them belong in the upper white-collar and professional ranks. Catholics are underrepresented (12 percent) and Jews are overrepresented (29 percent), and of the latter, less than 7 percent were devout (a significant fact since non-religious women were found to be far more sexually active and unconventional). Finally, almost 70 percent of the Kinsey females came from ten states (mainly New York. Pennsylvania. Illinois, and Indiana, and also California, New Jersey, Ohio, Florida, Massachusetts, and Maryland), and 90 percent lived in cities or smaller towns.[12]

The problems were actually far worse. Many women sampled for the study included “burlesque performers” and “taxi dancers.”[13] Its definition for “married” included any woman who lived with a man in a relationship for at least a year.  It suggested 10 percent of sexually active single white, pre-nuptial, or adulterous women got pregnant but did not even mention married mothers.[14]

The full level of the illegitimacy of such studies was veiled for decades until Dr. Judith Reisman of the University of Haifa began her own investigations. In 1981, she wrote Kinsey study co-author Dr. Paul Gebhard, and received written confirmation from him that the 317 infants listed in the Kinsey studies were orally and manually stimulated by men that Kinsey had trained. She followed with a published paper, titled, “The Scientist as A Contributing Agent To Child Sexual Abuse; A Preliminary Consideration of Possible Ethics Violations,” that earned her an audience at the Fifth World Congress of Sexology on July 23, 1981. In the discussion time following her address, a representative from the Kinsey Institute denied her allegations.[15]

Reisman encountered substantial professional resistance regarding her attacks on the legitimacy of the Kinsey studies. In her determination, she authored four books on Kinsey. The first of these was co-authored with Edward Eichel in 1990 and entitled, Kinsey, Sex, and Fraud. Its legitimacy was endorsed by The Lancet on March 2, 1991. “[T]he important allegations from the scientific viewpoint are imperfections in the (Kinsey) sample and unethical, possibly criminal, observations on children. … Dr. Judith A. Reisman and her colleagues demolish the foundations of the two (Kinsey) reports.”[16]

Reisman’s fourth and final book: Kinsey: Crimes and Consequences documents remarkable problems and inconsistencies with the Kinsey data. For example, the Male Report included a map of where the sex histories were collected (p. 5) that suggests a total of 21,350. But on page 10, he claims his research had the records for 12,214 male interview subjects. Beyond this, Kinsey claimed to have only used data on “about 6,300 males,” which excluded blacks, leaving “about 5,300” white males who “provided the data for the present publication” (p. 6). Even this is likely inflated, since no more than 4,120 males appear in the statistical tables.[17]

Who were these 4,120 males? Later writings by fellow researchers Wardell Pomeroy and Gebhard revealed that convicts interviewed in jail included about 200 sexual psychopath patients, 1,400 sex offenders and 329 convicts outside of either category. Information was also obtained for 317 children molested for the study by researchers, and 350 Peoria, Illinois students whose sexual histories were acquired by a high school teacher fired for deceiving parents and administrators to get the information. Kinsey also claimed to have interviewed 300 people from the “underworld” where people made “a significant portion of their income from illicit activities.”[18] Pomeroy recounted that at least 450 homosexuals had been interviewed by 1940. Although the Male Report on page 10 says that 1,692 homosexual histories had been recounted, but that included male or female. For the purpose of argument, Reisman proposes just 30 interviews with homosexual males in each of the years 1941-1946, adding 180 to the 450 total in 1940. Reisman concluded that prisoners, children, and homosexuals comprised 86 percent of the sample size.[19]

How could Kinsey be so far off? The difficulties in getting honest confessions on sexuality in that era is a partial, but not adequate explanation. According to Gershon Legman, erotic library bibliographer for the Kinsey Institute, such methodological problems were almost a necessary means to an end for Kinsey.

Kinsey’s real activity has been generally misunderstood, owing to the cloud of statistical hokum and tendentiously “weighted” population sampling in which the propagandist purpose of his [work was] disguised.… Kinsey’s not very secret intention was to “respectabalize” homosexuality and certain other perversions.[20]

Reisman noticed that Wardell Pomeroy, who co-authored the Kinsey studies, often used the term “grand scheme” in his 1972 biography of Kinsey. She summarized it this way.

Essentially, Kinsey initiated a two-part strategy. First, he advocated the establishment of bisexuality as the “balanced” sexual orientation for normal uninhibited people. In effect, this would encourage heterosexuals to have homosexual experiences. This was the basic step in obliterating the existing heterosexual norm of sexuality with its traditional protective family structure, values and conventional sexual behavior (spousal heterosexual intercourse implied). This would open the way for the second and more-difficult-to-implement step-creating a society in which children would be instructed in both early peer sex and “cross-generational” sex (adult sex with children).[21]

The Kinsey study was used to great effect in future years. Society’s sexual practices grew closer to those reflected in the studies. Legal penalties against sexual taboos were relaxed or rescinded. Homosexuality was removed from the American Psychiatric Association’s list of mental disorders in 1973. Sexual studies departments developed in universities, followed by sex education in high schools. Just how this happened is best covered in a separate essay. But by the time Reisman’s revelations came forward, many did not want to believe them. Like true Kinsey disciples, Reisman’s findings were an inconvenient truth. They preferred fraudulent evidence to back social change than scientific integrity that could stand in its way.

View the PDF version with footnotes here: EF46Pseudo-ScienceHarding