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Alfred Charles Kinsey (June 23, 1894 – August 25, 1956), was an American biologist and professor of entomology and zoology, who in 1947 founded the Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction at Indiana University, now called the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction. Kinsey's research on human sexuality profoundly influenced social and cultural values in the United States and many other countries.



Alfred Kinsey was born on June 23, 1894, in Hoboken, New Jersey, to Alfred Seguine Kinsey and Sarah Ann Charles. Kinsey was the eldest of three children. His mother had received little formal education; his father was a professor at Stevens Institute of Technology. His parents were rather poor for most of Kinsey's childhood. Consequently, the family often could not afford proper medical care, which may have led to young Kinsey's receiving inadequate treatment for a variety of diseases including rickets, rheumatic fever, and typhoid fever. This health record indicates that Kinsey received suboptimal exposure to sunlight (the cause of rickets in those days before milk and other foods were fortified with vitamin D) and lived in unsanitary conditions for at least part of his childhood. Rickets, leading to a curvature of the spine, resulted in a slight stoop that was to prevent Kinsey from being drafted in 1917 for World War I.

Early years[]

Kinsey's parents were extremely devout Christians; this left a powerful imprint on Kinsey for the rest of his life. His father was known as one of the most devout members of the local Methodist church[1] and as a result most of Kinsey's social interactions were with other members of the church, often merely as a silent observer while his parents discussed religion with other similarly devout adults. Kinsey's father imposed strict rules on the household including mandating Sunday as a day of prayer (and little else), outlawing social relationships with girls. Such a strict upbringing was not entirely uncommon at the time. As a child, Kinsey was forbidden to learn anything about the subject that was to later bring him such fame. Kinsey ultimately disavowed the Methodist religion of his parents and became an atheist.

Love of nature[]

At a young age, Kinsey showed great interest in nature and camping. He worked and camped with the local YMCA often throughout his early years. He enjoyed these activities to such an extent that he intended to work professionally for the YMCA after his education was completed. Even Kinsey's senior undergraduate thesis for psychology, a dissertation on the group dynamics of young boys, echoed this interest. He joined the Boy Scouts when a troop was formed in his community. His parents strongly supported this (and joined as well) because the Boy Scouts was an organization heavily grounded on the principles of Christianity. Kinsey diligently worked his way up through the Scouting ranks to Eagle Scout. Despite earlier disease having weakened his heart, Kinsey followed an intense sequence of difficult hikes and camping expeditions throughout his early life.

High school[]

In high school, Kinsey was a quiet but extremely hard-working student. While attending Columbia High School, he was not interested in sports, but rather devoted his energy to academic work and the piano. At one time, Kinsey had hoped to become a concert pianist, but decided to concentrate on his scientific pursuits instead. Kinsey's ability early on to spend immense amounts of time deeply focused on study was a trait that would serve him well in college and during his professional career. Kinsey seems not to have formed strong social relationships during high school, but he earned respect for his academic ability. While there, Kinsey became interested in biology, botany and zoology. Kinsey was later to claim that his high school biology teacher, Natalie Roeth, was the most important influence on his decision to become a scientist.


Kinsey approached his father with plans to study botany at college. His father demanded that he study engineering at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken. Kinsey was unhappy at Stevens, and later remarked that his time there was one of the most wasteful periods of his life. Regardless, he continued his obsessive commitment to studying. At Stevens, he primarily took courses related to English and engineering, but was unable to satisfy his interest in biology. At the end of two years at Stevens, Kinsey gathered the courage to confront his father about his interest in biology and his intent to continue studying at Bowdoin College in Maine. His father vehemently opposed this, but finally relented. This decision essentially destroyed his relationship with his father and deeply troubled him for years to come.

In 1914Template:Specify, Kinsey entered Bowdoin College, where he became familiar with insect research under Manton Copeland, and was admitted to the Zeta Psi fraternity, in whose house he lived for much of his time at college.[2] Two years laterTemplate:Specify, Kinsey was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and graduated magna cum laude with degrees in biology and psychology. He continued his graduate studies at Harvard University's Bussey Institute, which had one of the most highly regarded biology programs in the United States. It was there that Kinsey studied applied biology under William Morton Wheeler, a scientist who made outstanding contributions to entomology. Under Wheeler, Kinsey worked almost completely autonomously, which suited both men quite well. For his doctoral thesis, Kinsey chose to do research on gall wasps. Kinsey began collecting samples of gall wasps with obsessive zeal. He traveled widely and took 26 detailed measurements on hundreds of thousands of gall wasps. His methodology made an important contribution to entomology as a science. Kinsey was granted a Sc.D. degree in 1919 by Harvard University. He published several papers in 1920 under the auspices of the American Museum of Natural History in New York, introducing the gall wasp to the scientific community and laying out its phylogeny. Of the more than 18 million insects in the museum's collection, some 5 million are gall wasps collected by Kinsey.[3]

Marriage and family[]

Kinsey married Clara Bracken McMillen, whom he called Mac, in 1921. They had four children. Their first-born, Don, died from the acute complications of juvenile diabetes in 1927, just before his fifth birthday. Daughter Anne was born in 1924, daughter Joan in 1925, and son Bruce in 1928.


Kinsey died on August 25 1956, at the age of 62. The cause of death was reported to be heart disease and pneumonia. This passage was written about his work in The New York Times:

The untimely death of Dr. Alfred C. Kinsey takes from the American scene an important and valuable, as well as controversial, figure. Whatever may have been the reaction to his findings -- and to the unscrupulous use of some of them -- the fact remains that he was first, last, and always a scientist. In the long run it is probable that the values of his contribution to contemporary thought will lie much less in what he found out than in the method he used and his way of applying it. Any sort of scientific approach to the problems of sex is difficult because the field is so deeply overlaid with such things as moral precept, taboo, individual and group training, and long established behavior patterns. Some of these may be good in themselves, but they are no help to the scientific and empirical method of getting at the truth. Dr. Kinsey cut through this overlay with detachment and precision. His work was conscientious and comprehensive. Naturally, it will receive a serious setback with his death. Let us earnestly hope that the scientific spirit that inspired it will not be similarly impaired.[4]



Kinsey published a widely used high-school textbook, An Introduction to Biology, in October 1926. The book endorsed evolution and unified, at the introductory level, the previously separate fields of zoology and botany.

Edible plants[]

Kinsey also co-wrote a classic book on edible plants with Merritt Lyndon Fernald published in 1943 called Edible Wild Plants of Eastern North America. This book is still regarded as an authoritative source in the area, but is not generally associated with Kinsey. The original draft of the book was written in 1919-1920, while Kinsey was still a doctoral student at the Bussey Institute and Fernald was working at the Arnold Arboretum.[5]

Human sexual behavior and the Kinsey Reports[]

Kinsey is generally regarded as the father of sexology, the systematic, scientific study of human sexuality. He initially became interested in the different forms of sexual practices around 1933, after discussing the topic extensively with a colleague, Robert Kroc. It is likely that Kinsey's study of the variations in mating practices among gall wasps led him to wonder how widely varied sexual practices among humans were. During this work, he developed a scale measuring sexual orientation, now known as the Kinsey Scale which ranges from 0 to 6, where 0 is exclusively heterosexual and 6 is exclusively homosexual; a rating of 7, for asexual, was added later by Kinsey's associates.

In 1935, Kinsey delivered a lecture to a faculty discussion group at Indiana University, his first public discussion of the topic, wherein he attacked the "widespread ignorance of sexual structure and physiology" and promoted his view that "delayed marriage" (that is, delayed sexual experience) was psychologically harmful. Kinsey obtained research funding from the Rockefeller Foundation, which enabled him to inquire into human sexual behavior.

His Kinsey Reports—starting with the publication of Sexual Behavior in the Human Male in 1948, followed in 1953 by Sexual Behavior in the Human Female—reached the top of bestseller lists and turned Kinsey into an instant celebrity, and are still the best selling scientific books of all time. Articles about him appeared in magazines such as Time, Life, Look, and McCall's. Kinsey's reports, which led to a storm of controversy, are regarded by many as an enabler of the sexual revolution of the 1960s. Indiana University's president Herman B Wells defended Kinsey's research in what became a well-known test of academic freedom.

Significant publications[]

  • "New Species and Synonymy of American Cynipidae," in Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History (1920)
  • "Life Histories of American Cynipidae," in Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History (1920)
  • "Phylogeny of Cynipid Genera and Biological Characteristics," in Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History (1920)
  • An Introduction to Biology (1926)
  • The Gall Wasp Genus Cynips: A Study in the Origin of Species (1930)
  • New Introduction to Biology (1933, revised 1938)
  • The Origin of Higher Categories in Cynips (1935)
  • Edible Wild Plants of Eastern North America (1943)
  • The Kinsey Reports:
    • Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948, reprinted 1998)
    • Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953, reprinted 1998)


Template:See also Both Kinsey's work and private life have been the subject of an enduring controversy over the study of human sexuality (sometimes called sexology), Kinsey's ethical decisions, research methodology and the impact of Kinsey's work on sexual morality.

Interviews with pedophiles[]

In 1981 questions were raised of how Kinsey and his staff gathered the information to produce some of the data in the Kinsey Reports. Attention was directed to Tables 30-34 of Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, which report observations of orgasms in over three-hundred children between the ages of five months and fourteen years.[6] Former and current directors of The Kinsey Institute confirmed that some of the information was gathered from nine pedophiles and that Kinsey chose not to report the pedophiles to the authorities, balancing what Kinsey saw as the need for their anonymity against the likelihood that their crimes would continue.[7][8]

Sex life[]

Kinsey had been rumored to participate in unusual sexual practices. James H. Jones's biography, Alfred C. Kinsey: A Public/Private Life, describes Kinsey as bisexual and experimenting in masochism. He encouraged group sex involving his graduate students, wife and staff. Kinsey filmed sexual acts in the attic of his home as part of his research.[9] Biographer Jonathan Gathorne-Hardy explained that using Kinsey's home for the filming of sexual acts was done to ensure the films' secrecy, which would certainly have caused a scandal had the public become aware of them.[10][11]


James H. Jones wrote that Kinsey’s appetite for unconventional sex and his disdain for conventional sexual morality, drove Kinsey's agenda to strip sexuality of guilt and to undermine traditional sexual morality. Critics contend that Kinsey allowed his agenda to bias his work.[12] They point to Kinsey's over-representation of prisoners and prostitutes and his classification of couples who have lived together for at least a year as "married".[13][14]

Kinsey in the media[]


Detail of Time cover, August 24, 1953. Under Kinsey's name, the caption reads "Reflections in the mirror of Venus."

The popularity of Sexual Behavior in the Human Male prompted widespread media interest in 1948. Time magazine declared, "Not since Gone With the Wind had booksellers seen anything like it."[15] The first pop culture references to Kinsey appeared not long after the book's publication: "[R]ubber-faced comic Martha Raye [sold] a half-million copies of 'Ooh, Dr. Kinsey!'"[16] Cole Porter's song "Too Darn Hot," from the Tony Award–winning Broadway musical Kiss Me, Kate, devoted its bridge to an analysis of the Kinsey report and the "average man's" "favorite sport." In 1949, Mae West, reminiscing on the days when the word "sex" was rarely uttered, said of Kinsey, "That guy merely makes it easy for me. Now I don't have to draw 'em any blueprints...We are both in the same business...Except I saw it first."[17]

The publication of Sexual Behavior in the Human Female prompted even more intensive news coverage: Kinsey appeared on the cover of the August 24, 1953, issue of Time. The national newsmagazine featured two articles on the scientist, one focusing on his research career and new book,[18] the other on his background, personality, and lifestyle.[19] In the magazine's cover portrait, "Flowers, birds, and a bee surround Kinsey; the mirror-of-Venus female symbol decorates his bow tie."[20] The lead article concludes with the following observation: "'Kinsey...has done for sex what Columbus did for geography,' declared a pair of enthusiasts...forgetting that Columbus did not know where he was when he got there.... Kinsey's work contains much that is valuable, but it must not be mistaken for the last word."[18]

The 2000s have seen renewed interest in Kinsey. The musical Dr. Sex focuses on the relationship between Kinsey, his wife, and their shared lover Wally Matthews (based on Clyde Martin). The play—with score by Larry Bortniker, book by Bortniker and Sally Deering—premiered in Chicago in 2003, winning seven Jeff Awards. It was produced off-Broadway in 2005. The 2004 biographical film Kinsey, written and directed by Bill Condon, stars Liam Neeson as the scientist and Laura Linney as his wife. In 2004 as well, T. Coraghessan Boyle's novel about Kinsey, The Inner Circle, was published. The following year, PBS produced the documentary Kinsey in cooperation with the Kinsey Institute, which allowed access to many of its files. Mr. Sex, a BBC radio play by Steve Coombes concerning Kinsey and his work, won the 2005 Imison Award.[21]




  • Christenson, Cornelia (1971). Kinsey: A Biography. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
  • Gathorne-Hardy, Jonathan (1998). Alfred C. Kinsey: Sex the Measure of All Things. London: Chatto & Windus.
  • Jones, James H. (1997). Alfred C. Kinsey: A Public/Private Life. New York: Norton.
  • Pomeroy, Wardell (1972). Dr. Kinsey and the Institute for Sex Research. New York: Harper & Row.
  • Reinisch, June M. (1990). The Kinsey Institute New Report on Sex. New York: St. Martin's.
  • Reisman, Judith (2006). Kinsey's Attic: The Shocking Story of How One Man's Sexual Pathology Changed the World. WND Books.

External links[]


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  1. American Experience | Kinsey | People & Events | PBS
  2. Template:Citation
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  4. Quoted in Pomeroy (1972).
  5. Del Tredici, Peter. "The Other Kinsey Report." Natural History, ISSN 0028-0712, July 1 2006, vol. 115, issue 6.
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  10. The Kinsey Institute - [Publications]
  11. The Kinsey Institute - [Publications]
  12. Reisman, Judith (2006). Kinsey's Attic: The Shocking Story of How One Man's Sexual Pathology Changed the World. WND Books.
  13. Kinsey, Alfred. Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, p. 53.
  14. Jones, James H. (1997). Alfred C. Kinsey: A Public/Private Life. New York: Norton.
  15. Template:Citeweb
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  18. 18.0 18.1 Template:Citeweb
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  20. Reinisch (1990), p. xvii.
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