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Kinsey, Alfred C. (1894-1956)  
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In the twentieth century, there was no more important sex researcher than Alfred C. Kinsey. Only Sigmund Freud surpassed Kinsey as the century's most influential thinker about sexuality.

Kinsey was the lead author of two path breaking volumes on human sexuality: Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948) and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953). Based on the most extensive empirical survey of sexual behavior ever undertaken--more than 18,000 sexual histories were collected--the "Kinsey Reports" and the public debate that resulted from their publication prefigured the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s.

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Early Life and Education

Alfred Kinsey was born on June 23, 1894 in Hoboken, New Jersey. A sickly and weak boy, he grew up in an extremely religious family that practiced a very strict form of Methodism. On Sundays the family attended three services and, in addition, the children were also required to go to Sunday school, taught by Kinsey's father.

Kinsey's father was not only strict, but he was also egotistical and a moralistic bully. Growing up in this harsh family environment deeply affected Kinsey's character and marked him for his whole life. In many ways, he later came to resemble his father, though the goal of his crusade was sexual freedom. To escape the oppressive atmosphere at home Kinsey turned to music and became an avid boy scout. There he learned outdoor crafts and studied nature.

Kinsey started his college education at the Stevens Institute of Technology, where his father was a professor, but after two years, he transferred to Bowdoin College in Maine. There he pursued his interest in biology.

At Bowdoin, Kinsey developed interest in the gall wasp--a tiny insect, approximately the size of an ant. Unlike most wasps, it does not have wings, nor does it sting. It usually lays its eggs in oak trees or rose bushes; the eggs emit a poison that forces the development of a lumpy growth on the tree or bush called a "gall." The gall protects the eggs until they hatch, whereupon a new cycle of reproduction and gall formation take place.

This insect fascinated Kinsey and he went on, after his graduate education at the Bussey Institute of Harvard University, to become a world renowned expert on it. Upon completion of his graduate work, Kinsey accepted a position at Indiana University in Bloomington as an assistant professor of zoology.


Kinsey once told a colleague that he had experienced three great loves in his life. The first was Clara Bracken MacMillen, whom he had married soon after arriving at Indiana University. They were to remain together until Kinsey's death in 1956. Mac, as she was known, shared in the vicissitudes of what turned out to be her husband's very unconventional life and career.

In 1924, Kinsey fell passionately in love with one of his graduate students, Ralph Voris. Their relationship continued into the 1930s--even after Voris's marriage, and it seemed to some degree to include both their wives.

Later, in 1939, Kinsey fell in love for a third time with Clyde Martin, with whom he had a complicated relationship over the course of the 1940s. Martin also had a sexual relationship with Kinsey's wife. These important romantic and sexual relationships--and the struggles he went through in order to engage in them--both inspired and were influenced by Kinsey's sex research.

Sex Research

Starting in 1938, in response to student demands for a sex education course, Kinsey began, almost casually, to teach a course at Indiana University on marriage, focusing primarily on its sexual aspects. These classes were enormously successful. Thus, at the age of 44, over the course of teaching this class on marriage, Alfred C. Kinsey, an eminent and respected entomologist, abandoned the specialty he had pursued for twenty years to devote himself completely and tirelessly to sex research.

It became apparent to Kinsey that, in fact, very little was known about people's sexual behavior. He decided at that point to rectify that problem. Very much the biologist, he began to explore the physiology of sex. He also started collecting information about the sex lives of the students taking his classes. These sex histories, refined and elaborated over the years, became the methodological foundation of Kinsey's life work.

Slowly, Kinsey assembled a research team at Indiana University that eventually became the nucleus of the Institute of Sex Research. He had started his research by collecting the sex histories of his students, then his colleagues at the university, and, finally, others through a network of personal referrals. Former students, interested physicians, and other researchers began to collect sex histories as well. These included Glenn Ramsey, a former student and Peoria high school teacher; Dr. Robert Latou Dickinson, the author of A Thousand Marriages, a study of marital sex life; and anthropologist Wardell Pomeroy, who was the first full-time staff member that Kinsey hired to work with him to collect sex histories.

Kinsey's research opened him up to his own repressed sexuality. He was quite surprised at the extent of homosexual experience in his Bloomington histories. That discovery encouraged him to explore further his own homosexual desires, both through interviewing homosexual networks in Chicago and New York City and through his own sexual explorations in the homosexual subcultures of those two cities.

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