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Reprints Mark 50th Anniversary

Spring 1998

Reprints Mark Fiftieth Anniversary of Original Kinsey Study's Publication

In honor of the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Alfred Kinsey's landmark study, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, the Kinsey Institute and Indiana university are reprinting that renowned work along with its companion volume, Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, originally published in 1953. Also to be reprinted is The Kinsey Data: Marginal Tabulations of the 1938-1963 Interviews Conducted by the Institute for Sex Research, a reanalysis of Kinsey's original data by Paul Gebhard, a key member of Kinsey's research team who succeeded him as director of the institute.

All three volumes have been out of print for some time and their republication offers an opportunity to reexamine their legacy in light of current interest in Alfred Kinsey and his research. The fact that they are being reprinted as a set underscores the importance of examining both the totality of Kinsey's work and its continuing impact on American culture.

"It's valuable that the third volume, The Kinsey Data, is being republished at the same time as the others," says Kinsey Institute Director John Bancroft. "It received little attention when it was originally published -- and it hardly figures in the recent attacks against Kinsey -- yet it helps provide a much better perspective of the other two works. It cleans up some of the data and reanalyzes a lot of it.

While there is general agreement in the scientific community that Kinsey's methods did not meet today's standards of survey sampling, the enormity and originality of his undertaking, and his perserverance in the face of criticism, make it a truly historic endeavor. Although filled with scientific tables and technical data analysis, the original Kinsey volumes became best sellers because they provided the American public and scientific community with the first systematic description of Americans' sexual practices.

Despite their acknowledged scientific shortcomings, Kinsey's studies offered valuable insight into sexuality, insight that continues to be of interest today. "There are two enduring aspects to Kinsey's research that are imporant to understand," says Judith Allen, director of the Gender Studies Program and professor of history and of gender studies at Indiana University Bloomington. "First, he objected fundamentally to the dualism between normal and abnormal sexuality. He believe that if a behavior or a characteristic could appear in a species, then it was a natural part of that species."

"Second, he proposed that there was a continuum of sexual experiences," Allen explains. "This led him to argue fiercely against labeling people as homosexual or heterosexual, a practice he believed was fundamentally flawed, hugely problematic, and would not help anybody."

"I'd like to say that he was successful, but I don't think it's true," Allen notes. "I think we're more obsessed than ever with sexual identity and what is and isn't normal. All of it underlines for me as an historian, the incredible importance of much more detailed contextual study, because Kinsey is being mischaracterized, and what he believed is being obscured by sloganeering."

Bancroft agrees that making the books available to anyone who wants to read them will likely aid in clearing up misconceptions and allegations based on second- and third-hand information. But beyond that, he sees their republication as affirming Kinsey's place in the history of research into human sexual behavior.

"As far as I am concerned, he was a man of scientific integrity and great compassion who made a superhuman effort to do what he thought needed to be done, and for this he deserves our greatest respect," Bancroft says.

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