The Kinsey Institute’s reputation for pioneering sex research extends back 75 years to the work of Alfred Kinsey and his research team at the Institute for Sex Research. We’re proud to continue that tradition as we explore the complexity and diversity of human sexual behavior.
Why study sex?
The Kinsey Institute has a fundamental responsibility to communicate unbiased research-based information about sex, intimacy, identity, and sexual health to help people make informed and healthy choices in their lives and relationships.
Sex research addresses a range of issues, including those related to overpopulation, reproductive health, sexually transmitted diseases (most notably, HIV and AIDS), teenage pregnancy, sexual abuse, assault and harassment, sexual dysfunction, and the growing role of technology. Research into relationship and dating includes issues of intimacy, courtship habits, the rise of video dating, trends in dating preferences, alternative relationship styles including polyamory, and relationship obstacles faced by sexual minorities.
The Kinsey Institute recognizes that these topics require an interdisciplinary approach. One of the unique strengths of the Kinsey Institute as a research center for the scientific study of sexuality and relationships is the diversity of backgrounds and disciplines it combines in its faculty. Rather than all the faculty concentrating on one issue or subject of exploration, Kinsey Institute researchers examine various topics of sexuality, gender, relationships, and reproduction from many different angles, and the research profile of the Institute shifts as the faculty grows and changes.
You can find more information on our current research topics here or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter for the latest research news.
How is sex and relationship research conducted?
Most of our contemporary research is conducted via survey and delivered through the internet. Participants are recruited in various ways. Some surveys collect volunteers through social media and online forum postings. Other surveys recruit through opt-in research panels managed by third-party research companies with recruitment targeting based on demographic distributions that reflect the US Current Population Survey and are therefore more widely representative. One example of this kind of survey is the annual Singles in America survey which is a collaboration between Match and Kinsey Institute researchers.
In their research into the physiological impact of trauma, researchers from the Kinsey Institute’s Traumatic Stress Research Consortium have conducted in-person studies measuring physiological markers like heart rate, hearing levels, and eye dilation.
No matter how participants are recruited, or what method is being used, any study conducted by Kinsey Institute researchers that involves human subjects must pass review by the Indiana University Institutional Review Board (IRB) and meet strict standards regarding safety, confidentiality, and potential impact on participants conducted according to social science research best practices, Indiana University policies, and federal guidelines. These are standard practice at research universities and academic institutions to protect the wellbeing of individuals who participate in research. You can read Indiana University’s Human Subjects & IRB policies and procedures here.
How did Alfred Kinsey and his research team gather data for the Kinsey Reports?
Dr. Kinsey believed that the evaluation of human behavior could not be based on scientific inquiry alone, and that evidence of how people behaved in real life situations should be taken into account. Dr. Kinsey strove for objectivity in his inquiries by ensuring his informants of confidentiality and by avoiding any value judgments of their behavior.
To that end, Dr. Kinsey and his research team collected their data through thousands of face-to-face in-depth confidential interviews with volunteers about their sex lives and relationships. These sex history interviews were based on a set of hundreds of possible questions about sexual behavior and experiences, and the research team had exhaustive training to be able to ask the questions from memory and without personal reactions interfering with the interview. Interviews were generally 1 to 1½ hours long, but could last as long as 6 hours. These interviews are the primary research tool used by Kinsey and his team to gather the data included in the ‘Kinsey Reports’: Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948) and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953).
Who was involved in the research for the Kinsey Reports?
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 were ever 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.
Although the primary authors of the books were men, there were several women on the Institute staff, and they made significant contributions to the research project. 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 Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, she provided assistance with legal questions.
Who were the participants interviewed by Kinsey and his research team?
Kinsey’s first sex history data were collected while he was teaching the marriage class at Indiana University in the late 1930s. It was his experience answering sex questions from his students that convinced him 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 questionnaires with the students in his class.
Once Dr. Kinsey had gathered a team of researchers in the early 1940s, they were able to interview students at Indiana University and members of the Bloomington Indiana community, and then began crossing the United States, interviewing people all over the country and in a variety of locations, including churches, bars, prisons, social clubs, and university campuses. As news about the research team got around, Kinsey’s team was also contacted by individuals and organizations volunteering to be interviewed. In some cases, celebrities travelled to Bloomington to be interviewed personally by Dr. Kinsey.
The large majority of the 18,000 interviews carried out by the research team involved ordinary men and women. The majority of the male sample was educated (more than high school education) and white.
How did the research team choose whom to interview?
The Institute placed ads in newspapers locally and across the country, much like researchers today may advertise to find study participants.
One of the traits of Kinsey’s research method was that he aspired to interview all the members of a group that contacted him – he preferred not to interview just a few members of an Elks’ lodge or a school PTA group. He believed that if the team could interview all the members, the size of the sample would average out any sources of bias.
Kinsey was also interested in researching less common types of sexual behavior, so he did many interviews of prisoners, and sought out homosexual communities to interview. After his death, a book was published based on the interviews with sex offenders. He had intended to publish a book on homosexuality but that was never done, although later important studies on homosexuality were carried out by the Institute.
Where did Kinsey's information about children's sexual responses come from?
Sexual Behavior in the Human Male clearly stated the bulk of information about sexual response in childhood was obtained from adults recalling their own childhoods. Some was from parents who had observed their children, some from teachers who had observed children interacting or behaving sexually, and Kinsey stated that there were nine men he had interviewed who had had sexual experiences with children and had told him about how the children had responded and reacted. In 1995, former Kinsey Institute director Dr. John Bancroft discovered that it was only one man, not nine, who was the source of that data listed in table 34 of the book. Dr. Bancroft suggested that possibly Dr. Kinsey had changed the number to protect the confidentiality of this source, just as he took other measures to protect the confidentiality of all his interviewees.
Read more about the history of the Kinsey Institute and Dr. Kinsey:
Unproven allegations about Dr. Kinsey and the Institute’s research were first made by Dr. Judith Reisman and have been investigated and refuted many times by the Institute and Indiana University. Similar unfounded claims continue to circulate on social media and video sites as people pass on wrong information, either through well-meaning but misinformed concern or through deliberate disinformation campaigns using techniques like clickbait that manipulate the public for monetary and/or political gain or fame.
Dr. Kinsey and the field of sex research in general are unfortunately easy targets for people who use shocking and outrageous headlines to generate clicks and revenue for the publishers of the information. We encourage everyone who encounters one of these social media posts, blog articles, or videos to examine closely the context where they find this information and the motives of the agents who publish it.
FALSE: The Kinsey Institute has hidden its files and has threatened to destroy them for fear of being sued.
No files from Dr. Kinsey’s era have been destroyed. As a research collection, the Kinsey Institute Library & Special Collections are available to students and scholars to assist in research into human sexuality. This includes the archives of the Institute and of Dr. Kinsey. Users of the collection must register with the Kinsey Institute to use materials. You can find our use policies on our website here.
Some donations to our collection, in particular personal items such as diaries or photo collections, may have time restrictions that stipulate they can only be accessed after the death of the donor or after a certain length of time has passed, in order to protect the privacy of the donor and their family. Once these conditions are satisfied, these items are also available for research.
FALSE: Data in Sexual Behavior in the Human Male show results of torture or experiments on children conducted by Dr. Kinsey.
Kinsey did not carry out any experiments on children. He did not falsify research findings, and he in no way condoned any sexual abuse.
FALSE: The ISR research team were coordinating with nursery school directors and operators, and parents and grandparents of kids as they molested children and were making use of the data in Kinsey's research.
Kinsey interviewed teachers and parents about children, but in no way encouraged nor tolerated sexual violence, abuse, or assault. Kinsey and his colleagues did not hire, collaborate, or persuade people to carry out experiments on children.
TRUE/FALSE: Dr. Kinsey and the research team used unscientific methods to gather data that make their results invalid.
Kinsey’s method of obtaining a sample of Americans would not meet today’s standards of nationally representative survey sampling. Probability sampling, which is the common standard used today, was still a new practice and had not developed into the scientific method we know now. After Sexual Behavior in the Human Male was published, some critics felt it was skewed by the inclusion of high rates of prison population and homosexual respondents. However, after Kinsey’s death, new analyses were run on the data used in both Sexual Behavior in the Human Male and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female. Examiners concluded that when the results from the Male volume were adjusted to account for the higher response rates of smaller populations, the data were still valid. While we no longer collect data using Kinsey’s methods, his commitment to a more honest appraisal of the sexual aspects of the human condition remains.
FALSE: Kinsey approved of child-adult sexual contact.
Dr. Judith Reisman claimed without proof that Dr. Kinsey said adult-child sexual contacts were harmless. Dr. Kinsey did not make this statement.
On the contrary, adverse reactions by children were noted in the research. For example, in Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953), the authors reported that 24% of the female participants said that as pre-adolescents they had received sexual advances from, or sexual contacts with adult males, and that 80% of these women who had such contacts as children reported having been emotionally upset or frightened by them.
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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