Kinsey was a botanist and had spent years classifying gall wasps according to their anatomical differences before he was asked to do research into human sexuality. His approach was naturally based on cataloguing physical characteristics for a population and then producing tables to deduce correlations between sexual activities and personal characteristics. For example, he classified people according to sex, age and education level. He differentiated between marital intercourse, masturbation, petting and homosexual activities. Alfred 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 sexuality may vary depending on race and culture.
Sex research involves inviting people to participate in research. They cannot be forced. Kinsey attempted to obtain 100% samples. This means that he tried to obtain all the individuals in a social set that is not selected for having any sexual characteristic. For example, we could select school groups. We could say we are going to document the sexual habits of a group of people who went to school together. They were in the same class at a certain point in time. For example, a class of 10 year olds in The High School in a US town in 1986. We would need to contact each of those individuals and ask them to participate. Let’s say, thirty years on they are now aged around forty.
Kinsey managed to get everyone to participate using a couple of strategies. Firstly, many of his groups were in universities and so they appreciated the value of scientific work. Kinsey’s project attracted publicity and his reputation as an academic was sound. He also found that doing research over a period of more than 10 years allowed time for some of the more reticent individuals to be persuaded to take part.
The benefit in getting 100% samples is that inevitably some of the more unusual individuals withhold their data. Those who come forward first often tend to be the more extrovert but not necessarily the most representative of the whole population. This is a crucial issue for any research of this type which aims to present data as being representative of the population as a whole.
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 lag of five years was due to the controversy over the findings on women’s sexuality, which were much more difficult to interpret.
Although his reports were bestsellers, few people read Kinsey’s work. Those who did ignored the negative messages (that women are less responsive than men and that female orgasm occurs most readily through masturbation). They focused on promoting the positive message that women are capable of orgasm, which was an easy sell. It’s evident from reading Kinsey’s work that he had doubts about women’s orgasm claims. But as a scientist he was compelled to report what they had said.
One outcome of his work was that female orgasm was blown out of all proportion and adopted by the general public and the media as the solution to women’s lower interest in sexual activity. Kinsey had inadvertently given the concept of orgasm, and the fact that women were capable of it, a very high visibility for the first time. The hype was focused in the US (probably the most influential culture in the world) and transmitted around the world by television.
No one wondered how female orgasm with a lover could be such a well-kept secret. It apparently needed a scientist, Kinsey, to tell the world that it existed. All of a sudden, women could promote themselves as the sexual equals of men. The misconception that women orgasm easily during intercourse has never been corrected. Some women are unwilling to relinquish the political advantage of claiming orgasm and others are too embarrassed to put men right. Men themselves are unlikely to give up on this age-old male fantasy without a fight.
Kinsey’s work provides us with the most comprehensive data we currently have on sexuality. Both reports were co-authored by four men. This in itself is an indication of women’s lower interest in sex. These four researchers, but foremost Alfred Kinsey himself, built up a unique insight into human sexuality over the course of the 15-year project. They talked to people from all walks of life and with very different sexual attitudes and habits. This gave them a tremendous knowledge base to assess any one individual’s sexual experiences. 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 strength of people’s emotional beliefs that they want to protect against the threat of scientific reasoning. Until humanity is brave enough to face this emotional dilemma, Kinsey’s work is likely to remain the best sex research that we have available.
Neither is it feasible to stand on a street corner, tap every tenth individual on the shoulder, and command him to contribute a full and frankly honest sexual history. (Alfred Kinsey 1948)