The Kinsey Report of 1953:
Media Reaction to Sexual Behavior in the Human Female
Alfred C. Kinsey and his staff
Releasing findings to the media
Newsworthy Events of 1953
Alfred C. Kinsey and his staff
Fifty years ago Dr. Alfred C. Kinsey and his research staff at Indiana
University published a book that focused the attention of the world on
Bloomington. By the time Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, popularly
known as the Kinsey Report on Women, appeared in print in September 1953,
the public had already read a great deal about it-in newspapers and in
popular magazines such as Collier's, Life, Time, Newsweek, Reader's Digest,
Modern Bride, Redbook, and even U.S. News & World Report. The anticipation
had been building for five years, from the time of the publication of
Sexual Behavior in the Human Male in 1948. August 20, 1953 was "K-Day,"
when magazines and newspapers were first allowed to run their stories
revealing the results of Kinsey's long-term study of female sexual behavior.
Through magazine covers, news clippings, cartoons, photographs, and other
materials, this exhibition will examine this pivotal moment in American
When Dr. Alfred C. Kinsey arrived in Bloomington in 1920, he had no idea
that he would become a world-famous authority on human sexual behavior.
As a professor at Indiana University, Kinsey taught biology courses and
collected specimens for his study of a small insect called the gall wasp.
In 1938, he was asked to coordinate a course on marriage-it was taught
by a half-dozen members of the IU faculty, but Kinsey's lectures on the
biological aspects of married life were by far the most popular with the
students. When students asked Dr. Kinsey for further information about
sexual behavior, he realized that there was "a gap in our knowledge"
of this most basic human activity. Convinced that sex research was an
important and long neglected field of study, Kinsey began to collect research
data through sexual history interviews.
The first publication to feature the results of Kinsey's research was
Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, which appeared in January 1948. Kinsey
and IU President Herman B Wells had agreed the previous year to create
the Institute for Sex Research as a private institution affiliated with
Indiana University (the institute was renamed The Kinsey Institute for
Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction in 1982). The male volume surprised
everyone when it quickly became a bestseller, and Dr. Kinsey's name suddenly
became synonymous with sex in the minds of many Americans.
Alfred Kinsey began his research on human sexuality alone, but he soon
realized that the project was too immense for one person to handle. By
1942, Kinsey had set a goal to collect 100,000 interviews, and as each
session lasted at least an hour, he clearly could not do it all himself.
However, only a few other people would ever be trained to conduct interviews,
partly because of the months of work required to learn Kinsey's method
of interviewing. Clyde Martin, Wardell Pomeroy, and Paul Gebhard were
the primary researchers hired by Kinsey to assist with the project.
Martin's first job with Dr. Kinsey was tending his garden, but by 1940
the Indiana University undergrad had become the professor's research assistant.
He was responsible for computing and statistical analysis of the data
produced by the sexual history interviews.
Pomeroy was an Indiana University graduate who was working as a clinical
psychologist in South Bend when Kinsey asked him to join the research
team in 1943. He was the first person trained by Kinsey to conduct sexual
history interviews. Following Kinsey's death in 1956, Pomeroy served as
director of field research until 1963.
Gebhard joined the research staff in 1946. A Harvard-trained anthropologist,
he conducted interviews and also devised the classification scheme for
the Institute's extensive collection of photographs. After Kinsey's death,
Gebhard became executive director of the Institute, a position he held
Although the four primary authors of the female volume were men, several
women on the Institute staff contributed to the book. Jean Brown, Cornelia
Christenson, Dorothy Collins, Hedwig Leser, and Eleanor Roehr were all
acknowledged as research assistants on the book's title page. Alice Field
was a sex researcher, criminologist, and social scientist in New York;
as a research associate for the female volume she provided assistance
with legal questions
Releasing findings to the media
Sexual Behavior in the Human Male sold more than 200,000 copies when it
was published in 1948. Kinsey and his publisher knew the new book on women
would likely create a sensation as well. Journalists frequently asked
Kinsey when his findings about American women would be revealed. It was
clear that the publication of this book would be widely covered in the
press, and Kinsey was concerned that misinformation about the research
would appear in print before the book was ready.
In the summer of 1953, several months before the release of the book,
Kinsey invited selected journalists to come to Bloomington for a preview
of the contents of the female volume. He decided that this would be the
best way to control the expected onslaught of media attention directed
at this scientific report on women's sexual behavior. Several four-day
sessions were held for about 60 magazine writers and newspaper reporters
from the United States, England, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, and Australia.
Participants were required to sign a contract in which they agreed to
write stories no longer than 5,000 words that would be submitted to Kinsey
prior to publication to be checked for factual errors. They also had to
agree that their stories would not appear in print until August 20, 1953,
a day that became known as "K-Day." No photographs could be
taken during the press briefings. Instead, the reporters could purchase
staff photographer Bill Dellenback's portraits of Kinsey and his Institute
colleagues to illustrate their articles.
When K-Day finally arrived on August 20, 1953, many people rushed to their
newsstands to find out what Dr. Kinsey and his colleagues had discovered
about the sexual activities of American women. It was undoubtedly a popular
topic of discussion at the workplace and at home-although many agreed
with Kinsey's scientific findings, there were also plenty of people who
argued that the statistics couldn't be accurate because "good"
women would not have engaged in such activities, and if they had, they
would not have revealed their experiences to Dr. Kinsey.
Five national magazines hit the stands on K-Day-Collier's, Time, Life,
Woman's Home Companion, and Newsweek. Redbook and McCall's appeared the
following day. Articles about the book as well as the media frenzy it
was creating were published in newspapers around the country and the world,
from the Bloomington Herald-Telephone, the Indiana Daily Student, and
the Indianapolis Star to the New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle,
and the London Sunday Dispatch.
On September 14, 1953 the wait was over, as copies of Sexual Behavior
in the Human Female went on sale at bookstores around the country. Published
by W.B. Saunders, a Philadelphia company that specialized in medical texts,
the hardcover book sold for $8.00. This was a high price, but the book
quickly made it to the bestseller list.
As expected, the public reaction ranged from admiration and gratitude
to horror and disgust. Letters to the editor praised and denounced the
book-even members of the clergy differed widely in their opinions, some
saying that Kinsey's work would benefit humanity because increased knowledge
of our sexual natures could only improve people's lives, while others
called the research ungodly and amoral.
Reverend Billy Graham declared
that Dr. Kinsey "certainly could not have interviewed any of the
millions of born-again Christian women in this country who put the highest
price on virtue, decency and modesty."
Both Kinsey and President Wells received numerous letters from former
IU students, parents, and the general public. Many people wrote to thank
Kinsey for his work and to commend Wells for supporting the research,
while others complained about the validity of the study and pledged to
withdraw all support for the university as long as Dr. Kinsey remained
on the faculty.
In 1948, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male was a bestseller in the U.S.
and quickly become an international sensation. The book was translated
and published in Germany, Sweden, France and elsewhere. Although both
the male and female volumes used data collected from interviews with American
men and women, the rest of the world was fascinated by the findings of
the Kinsey Reports.
Interest in Kinsey's statistics on female sexual behavior was widespread
by 1953. Journalists from Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Australia, and England
were among those who visited Bloomington that summer to be briefed on
the contents of the upcoming book. Numerous international papers covered
the story before and after the publication of the first American edition
of Sexual Behavior in the Human Female in September.
A London tabloid called The People conducted its own survey of more than
1,000 women between the ages of 18 and 50 and found "indications
that British women are much more moral, more conventional, and more faithful
to the marriage bond than the American women of the Kinsey Report."
The paper implied that its data, obtained via an anonymous questionnaire
given to randomly-selected women, was more reliable than Kinsey's, because
the latter's subjects were volunteers and "therefore the type who
were likely to boast about their sexual excesses or abnormalities."
Newsworthy Events of 1953
1953 was a remarkable year, with many stories competing for attention
in the local and national press. When people weren't talking about the
Kinsey Report, they were probably discussing some of these significant
- Indiana defeated Kansas 69-68 to win the NCAA men's basketball championship
- The Biblical epic The Robe and the World War II drama From Here to Eternity were the top films of the year
- Lucy Ricardo gave birth to Little Ricky on "I Love Lucy"
- Dag Hammarskjold became Secretary-General of United Nations
- The double-helical structure of DNA was discovered
- IBM entered the computer business with the first of its 700 series of
- Senator Joseph McCarthy conducted hearings on communist subversion in
the United States
- Josef Stalin, Premier of the Soviet Union, died
- Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were convicted of espionage and were executed
in Sing Sing Prison
- Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay climbed Mount Everest
- A ceasefire in the Korean War was signed
- New York Yankees defeated the Brooklyn Dodgers in the World Series
- TV Guide and Playboy began publication
- The first Soviet hydrogen bomb was developed
- President Eisenhower delivered his "Atoms for Peace" speech
at the United Nations
- Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex was published in the United States
More History of The Kinsey Institute