Kinsey Publishes Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Alfred Kinsey continued his controversial sex research and found that about 2 percent of unmarried Anglo-American women and between 2 percent and 6 percent of all women between ages twenty and thirty-five—married or unmarried—were lesbians exclusively.

Summary of Event

Alfred Kinsey’s Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953) was released to a wondering reading public several years after his unprecedented study of the sexuality of males, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948). Research for the men’s and women’s studies began and ended simultaneously, and Kinsey’s findings in the area of female sexuality largely corresponded with what he had learned about men’s sexuality. The findings on women’s sexuality were shocking to the American public, who generally assumed that women were less sexual than men. The findings were used by feminists to promote women’s sexual equality and to encourage further research into female sexual behavior. [kw]Kinsey Publishes Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953) [kw]Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, Kinsey Publishes (1953) [kw]Publishes Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, Kinsey (1953) Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (Kinsey) Sexology Homosexuality;Kinsey studies of Sexuality;Kinsey studies of Kinsey Reports;female sexuality [c]Science;1953: Kinsey Publishes Sexual Behavior in the Human Female[0450] [c]Publications;1953: Kinsey Publishes Sexual Behavior in the Human Female[0450] [c]Organizations and institutions;1953: Kinsey Publishes Sexual Behavior in the Human Female[0450] Kinsey, Alfred

Alfred Kinsey and the “birds and bees” on the cover of Time magazine, August 24, 1953.

(Courtesy, Time, Inc.)

Kinsey began his research after teaching a course involving the biological elements of sex as it related to marriage. He found a dearth of information about human sexuality, so he conducted a study himself beginning in 1938.

Kinsey collected interviews with a large number of women of all races, but most of his data for Sexual Behavior in the Human Female came from 5,940 Anglo-American women. As with the men’s study, interviewers could ask questions about as many as 521 items focused on scientifically measurable sexual experiences. It is noteworthy that Kinsey stated that it was impossible to determine how many people were homosexual; only behavior at a given time could be evaluated. Kinsey asked questions about topics ranging from premarital sex to masturbation to orgasm and to homosexual behavior.

Kinsey applied the same seven-point homosexual-heterosexual rating scale, now called the Kinsey Scale, to the women as he had for the men. The scale indicated how much the participant engaged in homosexual activity. Someone ranked with a zero was considered exclusively heterosexual, and someone ranked seven was considered exclusively homosexual.

Kinsey’s work showed that between 1 and 3 percent of the unmarried white women between the ages of twenty and thirty-five in his study were completely homosexual. It also said that between 2 and 6 percent of all of the women in this age range were exclusively homosexual. This reinforced the notion created in the male study that homosexuality was not a perversion. The female report also contained the notion of bisexuality, and it found that 13 percent of the women in the sample had experienced an orgasm with another woman. Also, once Sexual Behavior in the Human Female had been released, its results were compared with the results of the study of men’s sexuality.

Significance

Kinsey’s findings had a huge and immediate impact on the perception of women’s sexuality. Along with Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, this study was at the forefront of the sexual revolution. Until the study was released, it was generally believed, and accepted, that women took little physical pleasure in sex and that they engaged in it largely in order to procreate.

Kinsey’s findings about premarital sex demonstrated that young women did not, as was popularly believed and encouraged, exclusively abstain from sex before they were married. Roughly 50 percent engaged in premarital sex. Kinsey’s research also challenged the notion that women who masturbated before marriage did not enjoy sex after marriage. Before the study, a woman was considered mostly disinterested in things sexual, but after the study, women were considered to be not only interested in sex but also interested in sex with other women.

At the outset, however, Kinsey’s findings were more helpful to heterosexual than to homosexual women. The study was released during the second red scare, at the height of McCarthyism, McCarthyism[Maccarthyism];and Kinsey Reports[Kinsey Reports] and it was dangerous to be or to be assumed lesbian. A woman could lose her children in a divorce for the mere suggestion that she was lesbian, and there were few organized groups to support her. Indeed, homophile groups in the 1950’s were generally secretive. The Mattachine Society (founded 1950) and the Daughters of Bilitis (founded 1955) promised members complete privacy. These same groups looked to studies such as those of Kinsey to demonstrate that homosexuality was normal and to change public attitudes toward lesbians and gays and bisexuals.

Gays and lesbians as a group were unable to find support for their position even in the radical activist groups of the 1950’s and 1960’s. The gays and lesbians who participated in the civil rights movement, the movement against the Vietnam War, and the women’s movement all felt constrained on the topic of sexuality. Not until 1971, did one such group—the National Organization for Women (NOW)—admit that lesbian concerns were part of the greater women’s movement. To begin the process of social change, political activism earmarked toward GLBT rights specifically would have to be in place before influential studies such as the Kinsey Reports could have positive social and cultural effects. Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (Kinsey) Sexology Homosexuality;Kinsey studies of Sexuality;Kinsey studies of Kinsey Reports;female sexuality

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gathorne-Hardy, Jonathan. Sex the Measure of All Things: A Life of Alfred C. Kinsey. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Jones, James H. Alfred Kinsey: A Public/Private Life. New York: W. W. Norton, 1997.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kinsey, Alfred. Sexual Behavior in the Human Female. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. Sexual Behavior in the Human Male. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Martin, Del, and Phyllis Lyon. Lesbian/Woman. Volcano, Calif.: Volcano Press, 1991.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Miller, Diane Helene. Freedom to Differ: The Shaping of the Gay and Lesbian Struggle for Civil Rights. New York: New York University Press, 1998.

May 6, 1868: Kertbeny Coins the Terms “Homosexual” and “Heterosexual”

1869: Westphal Advocates Medical Treatment for Sexual Inversion

1897: Ellis Publishes Sexual Inversion

May 14, 1897: Hirschfeld Founds the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee

1905: Freud Rejects Third-Sex Theory

1929: Davis’s Research Identifies Lesbian Sexuality as Common and Normal

1948: Kinsey Publishes Sexual Behavior in the Human Male

1952: APA Classifies Homosexuality as a Mental Disorder

1953-1957: Evelyn Hooker Debunks Beliefs That Homosexuality is a “Sickness”

December 15, 1973: Homosexuality Is Delisted by the APA

April 20, 2001: Chinese Psychiatric Association Removes Homosexuality from List of Mental Disorders

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