Learn our history

On April 8, 1947, Dr. Alfred Kinsey and his research team incorporated as the Institute for Sex Research (ISR).

The institute had two primary goals: to continue the team's research on human sexual behavior; and to administer research resources, including research materials, a library, case histories, and other related materials. 

In 1981, 25 years after Dr. Kinsey's death, the Institute for Sex Research was renamed The Kinsey Institute for Sex Research in his honor, and today is known as the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University.

Dr. Alfred C. Kinsey

Dr. Alfred Charles Kinsey was an American biologist, professor of entomology and zoology, and sexologist. Known as the father of the sexual revolution, Dr. Kinsey's work has influenced social and cultural values in the United States and around the world.

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Origins of the Institute

The beginnings of The Kinsey Institute can be traced to 1938 when the Association of Women Students petitioned Indiana University for a course for students who were married or contemplating marriage. Dr. Alfred C. Kinsey, a Harvard-trained professor of zoology, was asked to coordinate the course.

In preparing for the course, Dr. Kinsey discovered that few scientific data existed on human sexual behavior. What studies did exist were in general either extremely value-laden or based on very small numbers of clinical patients, so Dr. Kinsey began collecting his own data.  

In 1940, Herman B Wells asked Dr. Kinsey to choose between continuing to teach the marriage course, or pursuing his new sexuality research project. Kinsey chose the latter.  By 1941, Kinsey and his team and gathered almost 2,000 sex histories and his pioneering work had earned the financial support of the National Research Council’s Committee for Research on the Problems of Sex, at that time funded by the Rockefeller Foundation. By 1947, the committee had funded the Kinsey team with a $40,000 grant, and this support continued until 1954.

In 1947, in order to guarantee absolute confidentiality to individuals interviewed and to provide a secure, permanent location for the growing collection of interview data and other materials Dr. Kinsey was collecting on human sexuality, the institute was established as a not-for-profit corporation affiliated with Indiana University.

Several names for the fledgling institute were discussed ("Indiana Sex Research Institute," "Kinsey Research Institute," "Institute for the Study of Human Behavior," and "Sex Research Institute") before the "Institute for Sex Research" was decided upon. Dr. Kinsey transferred ownership of all his research materials to the new institute for $1.00. The first trustees of the Institute were Alfred Kinsey, Paul Gebhard, Clyde Martin, and Wardell Pomeroy.

The purposes of the Institute listed in the incorporation were:

...to continue research on human sexual behavior; to accept, hold, use, and administer research materials, a library, case histories, and other materials relating to the project.

Dr. Kinsey was at the helm of the Institute for Sex Research from its incorporation on April 8, 1947 until his death on August 25, 1956. After Kinsey's death in 1956, direction of the institute was split between two senior members of the ISR research team: Dr. Paul Gebhard as executive director and Dr. Wardell Pomeroy as director of field research.

Since its inception, the Kinsey Institute has had eight directors—each bringing new focus and vision to the study of sexuality, relationships, gender, and reproduction.

In 1981, 25 years after Dr. Kinsey's death, the ISR was renamed The Kinsey Institute for Sex Research in his honor.  The name was later expanded to The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction under director Dr. June Reinisch.

In 2016, the separate non-profit corporation was dissolved and the institute formally became the Kinsey Institute, Indiana University.

Academic Freedom at Indiana University

According to former Kinsey Institute Director June Reinisch, "There would be no Kinsey Institute without Herman B Wells." During his tenure as president of Indiana University, Wells doggedly took on Kinsey's detractors in one of the most heralded instances of the protection of academic freedom in the mid-20th century.

After the release of Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, Wells said: 

"Indiana University stands today, as it has for 15 years, firmly in support of the scientific research project that has been undertaken and is being carried out by one of its eminent biological scientists, Dr. Alfred C. Kinsey. The University believes that the human race has been able to make progress because individuals have been free to investigate all aspects of life. It further believes that only through scientific knowledge so gained can we find the cures for the emotional and social maladies in our society… I agree in saying that we have large faith in the values of knowledge, little faith in ignorance." 

For information on the role of Indiana University President Herman B Wells in the development of the Institute for Sex Research, and as a dogged protector of both Dr. Kinsey's research and of intellectual freedom at Indiana University, see Alma Pater: Herman B Wells and the Rise of Indiana University.

The 'Kinsey Reports'

In January of 1948, W. B. Saunders and Company published the first volume of the results of the ISR research team: Sexual Behavior in the Human Male. The wildly popular volume quickly reached number two on the New York Times Bestseller’s List with royalties going back to ISR for continued research. The complementary work, Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (W.B. Saunders), followed in 1953. The books became known in the media and popular culture as the 'Kinsey Reports'. Both volumes featured the Heterosexual-Homosexual Rating Scale—more commonly known as "The Kinsey Scale."

Sexual Behavior in the Human Male was an academic tome full of scientific analysis and data tables, but the novel topic of sex still propelled it to #2 on the New York Times bestseller list. Within two months, it sold more than 200,000 copies and was widely reviewed in newspapers and popular magazines as well as in clinical and scientific publications. As the primary author and director of the ISR, Dr. Kinsey became a celebrity and household name. He was a much‑sought‑after speaker across the U.S. and was asked by scientific colleagues and government officials to comment on proposed or current legislation related to sexual behavior in America and abroad. People wrote letters, often seeking advice or expressing opinions on his work. The valuable insights from the public into everyday experiences and the prevailing social conditions influenced his research.

Publication of Sexual Behavior in the Human Female in 1953 prompted even more intensive news coverage. TIME magazine featured Dr. Kinsey on its August 24, 1953 cover, one measure of the Female book’s national impact. Both Dr. Kinsey and the Kinsey Reports became the topics of cartoons, stage productions, and popular songs.

With over 18,000 sexual histories collected before Dr. Kinsey's death in 1956, the Institute for Sex Research project remains one of the largest sex research projects undertaken, and the influence of the two volumes of findings on our understanding of human sexual behavior cannot be overestimated.

For more information about the reception of the "Kinsey Reports," see our 75th Anniversary Historical Review pgs 11-17.

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Sexuality and intimate relationships are essential to our individual and collective well-being. Your support will help the Kinsey Institute advance research and education in the science of love, sexuality, gender, and sexual health, and give a diverse field of researchers the resources they need to make new discoveries.


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