Alfred Kinsey’s findings (1948 and 1953)

Alfred Kinsey and his colleagues held private interviews with over 10,000 people. His team classified people according to sex, age and education level. They then produced tables to see if there were any correlations between sexual activities and personal characteristics. Kinsey used the frequency of orgasm (responsiveness) as a measure of sexuality. His work was unpopular for highlighting women’s much lower responsiveness. Kinsey’s work offended many people because he provided statistics for men and women’s total outlet including orgasms from masturbation, coitus, homosexual activity and (in rural areas) even sex with farm animals.

Sex research involves inviting people to reveal highly personal details. Kinsey’s project attracted publicity and his academic reputation was sound. His research covered a period of more than 10 years, which allowed time for some of the more reticent individuals to be persuaded to contribute and made the research more representative. Kinsey spoke to over 5,300 men and 5,940 women but he limited his research to the white population of the USA. He indicated that race and culture may influence sexuality.

Kinsey’s report on male sexuality was published in 1948 followed by the female report in 1953. The research for both reports was carried out during the 10 years from 1938 to 1948. The five year gap between the books was due to the controversial findings on female sexuality. The message that women are capable of orgasm was heavily promoted. Men had always wanted to assume women were enthusiastic and hence amenable to intercourse. Now female orgasm could be used to represent this pleasure. Men adopted female orgasm as a form of approval of their efforts during foreplay and intercourse, which could now be explained in terms of men’s desire to pleasure women (rather than themselves). It became required that every woman should orgasm every time she engaged in any sexual activity.

When a man is stimulated genitally, orgasm is usually a given. A woman only responds to the point of orgasm very sporadically: perhaps once every few weeks for as much as 3 or 4 times in one week but not every week. Kinsey found that men were on average up to 6 times more responsive than women. For men under 30, orgasm frequencies were 3 times per week on average. Women’s responsiveness changes little over their lifetimes. Women of all
ages orgasm on average once every two weeks.

Kinsey’s conclusion that women orgasm most readily when masturbating alone was ignored. It was assumed that women should orgasm from intercourse. Given very few women masturbate, the only time most women engage in genital stimulation is when they respond to men’s desire for intercourse. So it was assumed that intercourse could provide everything: male and female orgasm as well as the creation of a new life.

The fact that female orgasm is uncommon and infrequent was also ignored. Kinsey also found that only 20% of women masturbated regularly. Yet he concluded that masturbation was the most reliable means for a woman to orgasm. Kinsey acknowledged that he and his fellow researchers used female masturbation to understand the physiology of female orgasm. It was these accounts that provided the most convincing explanations for how women experience a similar phenomenon to men’s experience of orgasm.

Kinsey and his team held private interviews with 5,490 women over a period of 10 years or more. Around 10% of those women (549) acknowledged that they had never had an orgasm in their life. Many women (30% of Kinsey’s sample or about 1,800 women) openly acknowledged that they are never or rarely aroused. Only 70% of women orgasm with any kind of frequency that counts as responsive. Despite such a large proportion of the female population being unresponsive, women’s orgasm claims were accepted at face value. There are very few men who have a low responsiveness and essentially none who are unresponsive.

The reports were co-authored by four men. This was an indication of women’s much lower interest and authority in sexual matters. Kinsey’s team men built up a unique insight into human sexuality over the course of the 15-year project. They acquired an unprecedented knowledge base, which enabled them to objectively assess a person’s sexual experiences. Nevertheless, men are naturally inclined to accept all and every account of female orgasm. Even today women get away with claiming to orgasm from nipple stimulation, belly-button stimulation and even brushing their hair.

Kinsey’s work provides us with the most comprehensive data we currently have on sexuality. There has been no research since that has come anywhere close to the detail and thoroughness of their work. This is an indication of the emotional dilemma we face with accepting women’s sexuality. People will defend their beliefs against the threat of science.

The validity of extending generalizations derived from a study of any sample depends, fundamentally and unavoidably, upon the representativeness of that sample. (Alfred Kinsey 1948)