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Who is Alfred Kinsey?

By O. Wallace
Updated May 23, 2024
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Alfred Charles Kinsey (23 June 1894 to 25 August 1956) was a renowned biologist, zoology and entomology professor and “sexologist” who was a pioneer in his field of expertise. He is responsible for making the topic human sexuality into a legitimate field of scientific study as well as a less taboo subject. His legacy continues at Indiana University's Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction.

Born in Hoboken, New Jersey, and raised in an extremely strict and religious family, Alfred Kinsey was a hard working, reserved boy. Through high school and college, Kinsey proved himself to be a hard worker and a focused, driven student. After spending two years in an engineering program at the prompting of his father, Kinsey made the choice to pursue the subject he truly loved — biology. He graduated from Bowdoin College with biology and psychology degrees, magna cum laude. He went on to graduate from Harvard University’s Bussey Institute with a master’s degree.

Kinsey’s first book, An Introduction to Biology, was written in 1926 and is still referenced today. In 1943, Alfred Kinsey co-authored Edible Wild Plants of Eastern North American. In his biology studies, he conducted extensive field research of the gall wasp, which would later help to inspire his interest in studying human sexuality.

Sexology, which Kinsey’s field of study came to be known as, turned human sexuality into a subject that could be scientifically researched, just like any other subject. Alfred Kinsey devised the Kinsey Scale which measured sexual orientation on a scale of one to six. His studies would be compiled and published in the Kinsey Reports, beginning with Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948) and the subsequent Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953).

Alfred Kinsey was indeed a controversial figure of his era, particularly due to some of his views concerning human sexuality. One of his beliefs was that delaying marriage, and therefore, sex, was detrimental psychologically. His openness regarding taboo subjects such as homosexuality, pedophilia and group sex was most definitely contentious at the least, resulting in many criticizing not only his work but also his character. By and large, Kinsey was respected for his scientific, methodical approach to a subject wrought with controversy.

In 1921, Alfred Kinsey married Clara McMillen. They had four children, three of whom survived him. When he passed away at 62, both his critics and supporters agreed that he had forever changed the way scientists and the public viewed human sexuality.

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Discussion Comments
By PinkLady4 — On Sep 11, 2011

Some of the Alfred Kinsey studies and the conclusions he came up with probably had a detrimental effect on some people. I wonder how parents must have felt when they heard that if their children delayed marriage and sex, that they would have psychological problems.

His thoughts on homosexuality and pedophilia alarmed some parents, too. He was pretty blunt with his beliefs, but I don't think he could back them up with scientific studies, like he did in his field research with the more predictable behavior of the subjects in his animal studies.

By Misscoco — On Sep 11, 2011

@mutsy - I think you are right in stating that some of Kinsey's research methods and conclusions were unethical and erroneous. I think his charts and scales wrongly put the subject of human sexuality into an exact science.

However, he did make one beneficial contribution. He opened up the taboo subject of sexuality to acceptance, which has helped people discuss their problems and just made conversation about the subject easier for us all.

By allenJo — On Sep 10, 2011

@mutsy - I totally agree with you. Kinsey’s views on sexuality were extreme and even criminal when you consider his stance on pedophilia. I personally believe that he went too far.

Furthermore, there have been a number of studies that have debunked some of the Alfred Kinsey studies on on sexuality. One book in particular challenged Kinsey's assertion that 10% or more of the population was homosexual, which was proven to be false.

Like you, I think that Kinsey was motivated more by his personal belief than by any hard scientific data.

By mutsy — On Sep 10, 2011

@Icecream17 -There was a Kinsey movie that came out about the researcher’s life and I just have to say that it was not entirely flattering. If you look into his life you will see that some of his research was performed on minors.

He really did not seem to see boundaries when studying sex and that is what many people might find alarming. I often wonder if his research findings were a way to justify his beliefs. I was personally turned off to him when I saw how he went about his research.

By icecream17 — On Sep 09, 2011

I feel that anytime you talk about sex it will make some people uncomfortable, but it is a viable subject that is good to discuss. In what I read about the Alfred Kinsey report he really feels that some people are part of a continuum sexually and do not have a definitive sexual leaning.

The Alfred Kinsey scale really goes from zero to six with zero being strictly heterosexual and six being strictly homosexual. He added that a rating of a three is considered bisexual. I think that a lot of Alfred Kinsey’s research was to find out the motivation behind these choices.

There is some debate in which people wonder if sexual orientation is a genetic and biological component or if it an environmental phenomena in which a person grows towards that orientation because of experiences in their life. It is really an fascinating subject that people will never stop talking about.

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