Alfred Kinsey (1894-1956) transformed our understanding of human sexuality and, as a result, found himself in the late 1940s and early 1950s at the centre of the biggest scientific storm since Darwin.
Kinsey’s shocking contribution to the study of sex was to write about what people actually did, as opposed to what they ought to do. His two volumes on sexual behaviour in the human male (1948) and the human female (1953), drawing upon thousands of interviews, startled America with their revelations about the extent of aberrant sexualities such masturbation, pre-marital and extra-marital sex, and homosexuality.
It is to Kinsey that we owe the now-standard claim that 10% of the population is gay, though this not in fact what his research actually showed. Among men, he said, about a third had experienced same-sex contact to the point of orgasm; about 2% were exclusively homosexual; about 10% were primarily homosexual for three years or more. Among women, these figures were somewhat lower. He rejected rigid categories of sexuality, proposing instead a seven point scale from 6 (exclusively homosexual) to 0 (exclusively heterosexual).
Although he usually presented himself as merely a scientific observer who was as shocked by his findings as everyone else, recent biographies have argued that he was in fact a masterful publicist, who set out on his research project with the intention of challenging traditional sexual morality. His own sado-masochistic and homosexual experiences are now a matter of public record.
Brought to you by the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives