Kinsey, Alfred

Kinsey, Alfred (Charles)

(1894–1956) entomologist, sexuality researcher; born in Hoboken, N.J. He joined the faculty of Indiana University (1920) where he remained throughout his career, making himself a reputation as the world's leading expert on the gall wasp (1919–36). In 1938, students at the university petitioned for a course on marriage, which he volunteered to help organize. Soon realizing that there was little sound biological information on the subject, he began conducting his own study; in 1942 he founded the Institute for Sex Research and with grants he began interviewing thousands of subjects from all over the country about their sexual conduct. Out of this came two best-sellers, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948) and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953)—books that in their day burst like nuclear devices on the American scene. True to his training in biology and taxonomy, he quantified and classified sexual variation in a nonjudgmental, value-neutral fashion. This approach incensed conservative critics, and they made it difficult for him to obtain grant money; meanwhile, some sociologists questioned his methods. Among the books' controversial findings were that certain so-called perversions were actually practiced quite widely, and that women have a much greater range of sexual response than had previously been accepted. He died prematurely before he was able to witness the "sexual revolution" that, it is generally conceded, he helped to bring about.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.