Home Intellectual aspects of sexuality Alfred Kinsey’s findings (1948 and 1953)

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 activity 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. The reports were co-authored by four men. This was a reflection of women’s much lower interest in sexuality and their lack of authority in sexual matters compared with men.

Kinsey’s team acquired an unprecedented knowledge base, which enabled them to objectively assess a person’s sexual experiences. Kinsey’s work was unpopular because people were offended by its explicitness. He provided statistics for men and women’s total outlet (defined by the incidence of orgasm) including masturbation, coitus, homosexual activity and (in rural areas) even sex with farm animals. Kinsey’s work provides us with the most comprehensive data we have on sexuality. There has been no research since that has come anywhere close to the detail and thoroughness of his work.

Kinsey’s report on male sexuality was published in 1948 followed by the female report in 1953. The five-year gap was due to the controversy over his conclusions on female sexuality. His research covered a period of more than 10 years (between 1938 and 1948), which allowed time for some of the more reticent individuals to be persuaded to contribute. This approach ensured the research samples were representative of the general population.

Kinsey spoke to over 5,300 men and 5,940 women but he limited his research to the white population of the US. He indicated that race and culture may affect sexuality. Around 10% of the women in Kinsey’s sample (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 admitted that they were never or rarely aroused. Only 70% of women orgasm at all. Despite such a large proportion of the female population being unresponsive, other women’s orgasm claims were accepted at face value.

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. He found that women orgasm around once every 2 to three weeks on average. Women’s orgasm frequencies through masturbation and lesbian sex were both sporadic and infrequent. It was only with a male lover, that women claimed to have orgasms in line with male orgasm frequencies.

As a scientist, Kinsey was obliged to document the orgasms that women reported with a lover. But he had doubts about such claims because the frequencies with which couples had intercourse correlated with the man’s responsiveness. If women had orgasms from intercourse, logically one would expect their responsiveness to impact on the regularity with which couples engage in intercourse. The clitoris is the anatomical equivalent of the penis. Women alone and with another woman stimulate the clitoris.

Kinsey’s report focused on orgasm in an attempt to draw objective conclusions. This approach provided interesting insights into male sexuality because when a man is stimulated genitally, orgasm is usually a given. Female orgasm is more subjective and relies on a woman’s testimony. Even including women’s claims of orgasm with a male lover, Kinsey concluded that very little of women’s overall sexual activity ever resulted in orgasm. To the public, it was a revelation that women were capable of orgasm at all.

Kinsey found that only 20% of women masturbated regularly. Yet he concluded that masturbation provided the most reliable means of achieving orgasm. When masturbating, women could achieve 95% of the time. These accounts of orgasm from masturbation provided the most convincing explanations for how women experience a phenomenon comparable to male orgasm. Kinsey and his fellow researchers used these masturbatory experiences as the basis for understanding the physiology of female orgasm.

Kinsey’s work was publicised on television and he sold many books. But few people are interested in academic non-fiction on a topic as sensational as sex. Today people justify ignoring the research because they imply that women’s sexuality changes from generation to generation. Sexual responses do not change over decades. Only women’s sexual behaviours change as fashion dictates. The idea that women have a sexuality of their own, that provides for their orgasm quite separate to what men want is alien to many people because of the way they experience sex. The vast majority of heterosexual activity focuses on intercourse as it always has because of men’s sex drive. Women accept men’s need for intercourse because it is a requirement if a couple wants children. Even though regular intercourse has no reproductive purpose, once a woman has accepted a man as her mate, she feels obliged to provide him with the regularity of release that he needs.

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)