60th Anniversary of Sexual Behavior in the Human Female: The Impact of Research
Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, the first Kinsey Report, came out in 1948. In the years before, Kinsey and his team took sexual histories of about 12,000 people. Out of this mountain of data, the Male volume analyzed information from 5,300 interviews with men.
Sexual Behavior in the Human Male was 804 pages of statistical tables, appendices, and dry academic analysis, but it still became a bestseller, selling over 200,000 copies, and a cultural sensation. People were starved for factual information about sex in America, and Kinsey's research struck a nerve. The book was widely debated, and Dr. Kinsey was invited across America to lecture about his research.
And everyone wanted to know - what about the women?
Released in 1953, the women's version, Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, contained analysis of 5,940 interviews with women about their sexual histories, but also contained a section dedicated to comparisons between the male and female results. It was another huge tome, 830+ pages, and quickly reached bestseller status, and sparked new buzz and controversy.
K-Day and Media Frenzy
After five years of waiting for the release of the female volume, the press around the world was eager for details and juicy tidbits on what Dr. Kinsey and his team might have discovered about women's sexuality in America. In anticipation of the press attention, the Institute for Sex Research kept information tightly controlled, inviting over 60 print, TV, and radio news outlets to send reporters to private press briefings, and making the press agree not to publish any details until K-Day, August 20th, 1953.
Sexual Behavior in the Human Female was published on September 14 1953, and received another surge of news coverage. It became a topic of popular culture, with references in songs, cartoons, movies, jokes, and magazines. Listen to Archie Stomp sing "What is her Whimsey, Dr. Kinsey?"
Legacy of the Female Volume
Looking back from our 21st-century viewpoint, with open discussion of sexuality and gender in media and in daily life, it can be hard to understand how much of a difference the Kinsey Reports made in the American conversations about sexuality, bodies, and relationships of the 1950s and 60s.
So we asked a few researchers to share with us what they feel was so revolutionary about the research shared 60 years ago in the Sexual Behavior in the Human Female:
"Our major aim was to create a more rational and scientific view of human sexuality. We made it possible for additional sex research which sprang up after us.
I am proud that I was able to contribute an anthropological cast to the female volume, improving it (over the Male)."
~Dr. Paul Gebhard, Director, 1956-1982, and co-author of Sexual Behavior in the Human Female
"As the first woman and third Director of The Kinsey Institute I wanted to honor the Anniversaries of Dr Alfred Kinsey’s classic works which provided the foundation of the Institute with a statement that would reflect their tremendous impact on science and world culture.
The “Kinsey Reports” were in their own way akin to the discovery of the “New World” several centuries earlier. An entire realm of human existence remained cut off from the purview of scholars and scientists, particularly in the western world after the fall of the Roman Empire. As a result, when they first appeared, the Reports represented far more than just a monumental step in the progress of the social sciences, but, for the first time, firmly established the study of human sexuality within the halls of science. This pioneering undertaking helped to peel back many of the layers of obfuscation, denial and outright mistruths that had distorted or completely obscured humankind’s understanding of one of our fundamental features. Though many shadows still remain in the domain of sexuality, it was Kinsey’s work that first cast the light of modern science into the darkest of its corners for not just academics but the public as well.
As the Institute’s name implies, there are no questions of Sex, Gender or Reproduction whose understanding does not in some way stem from the emergence of Kinsey’s work six decades ago.
This anniversary is a time to celebrate and acknowledge the courage and foresight of Dr. Alfred Kinsey and the scientists, researchers and clinicians who worked with him and have followed him over the past 6 decades!"
~Dr. June M. Reinisch, former Director, The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction
"Sexual Behavior in the Human Female revealed that most women (such as 97% of married women) had experienced orgasm, just not by intercourse. This busted the myth of the ‘frigid’ wife, and showed the importance of the clitoris in female orgasm.These two books led millions of people to understand that variation in sexual expression is natural; thereby validating their sexuality and enriching their lives.“
~Richard Crosby, Senior Research Fellow. Professor, Department of Health Behavior, University of Kentucky
"My work on human reproductive functioning on 5 continents over the past 30 years has taught me the enormous value and power of Kinsey's maxim that we are here to record human variation, not to judge it. His groundbreaking work 6 decades ago made possible current scientific understanding of human sexuality, thereby increasing our collective empathy for, and joy in, human universals and differences."
~Virginia J. Vitzthum, Senior Scientist, The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction; Professor of Anthropology, Indiana University
"The 0-6 scale in the Male volume and the debunking of the myth of the vaginal orgasm in the Female volume are two of Kinsey's long-lasting achievements. The 0-6 scale is a non-hierarchical tool that an untold number of people have used to identify their sexuality.
Demonstrating that Sigmund Freud's idea of orgasmic transfer was not physiologically possible paved the way for present-day understandings of women's sexualities."
~Donna J. Drucker, MLS, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow, Technische Universität Darmstadt, Germany and author of the upcoming book, The Classification of Sex: Alfred Kinsey and the Organization of Knowledge (2014, U. of Pittsburgh Press).
"I think the most enduring legacy of Kinsey’s work, on a cultural level, is the concept of a continuum of sexual orientation – the 'Kinsey Scale.' Although the dominant paradigm is still categorical – “are you straight or gay?” - most folks born into the post-Kinsey world have some understanding that people who are nominally heterosexual may have occasional homosexual experiences or attractions (and vice versa).
Kinsey’s work highlighted how frequently homosexual attraction occurs in heterosexuals: almost half of men and a fifth of women in his samples had “reacted to” a member of the same gender. I find it remarkable how casually people my age accept the fluidity of sexual orientation (e.g., being “bicurious”) when just a few generations ago, sexual orientation was considered ironclad and absolute.”
~Tierney Lorenz, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Fellow, Common Themes of Reproductive Diversity, Kinsey Institute, and Center for the Integrative Study of Animal Behavior, Indiana University
"Sexual Behavior in the Human Male and Sexual Behavior in the HumanFemale are the bibles of sexology. Critics can carp about the sampling, elements of essentialism, etc., but when push comes to shove, there is no sex research that has informed us as much about human sexual behavior."
~Martin S. Weinberg, Senior Research Sociologist and Trustee, Kinsey Institute, 1968 – 1980, Professor of Sociology, Indiana University.