The Kinsey Whitewash


The Kinsey Whitewash

Feb 9, 2005 3 min read

Parents who feel embattled by the envelope-pushing entertainment industry and "non-judgmental" sex education in the schools may not realize it, but the source of their frustration has a name: Alfred Kinsey.

He's the subject of "Kinsey," a movie from Fox-Searchlight Films that profiles the man who set the sexual revolution in motion.

In the film, actor Liam Neeson portrays Dr. Kinsey as an embattled and troubled hero who sought only to help educate America on matters of human sexuality. But, several graphic scenes aside, the film largely glosses over some of the most troubling and damaging aspects of his life and his legacy.

Fox-Searchlight, of course, has every right to produce whatever movie it wants. And yes, docu-dramas don't pretend to be straightforward accounts; producers are generally upfront about the need to dramatize for the sake of an interesting story. The problem, though, is that too many Americans treat these movies as though they are reality.

A documentary on the History Channel noted, for example, that many Americans believe Oliver Stone's conspiracy-minded "JFK" is established fact, not the dramatization of a theory. "Kinsey" falls into this category. Although it's not a documentary, it may be treated as such.

A more accurate depiction of the man can be found among several books written about Dr. Kinsey. While not for the faint-of-heart, biographer James Jones' book, "Alfred C. Kinsey: A Public/Private Life," provides a troubling expose of a man who labored to prove, among other things, that no "latency" period in childhood exists - that young boys and girls are fully capable of experiencing sexual pleasure.

Jones' book, as well as other research on Kinsey, tells the story the film misses.

Kinsey, trained as a scientist in the field of zoology, is often credited as the first researcher to use science to address sexual behavior. But Kinsey's goal was to radically redefine what was considered normal and abnormal behavior. He succeeded in many respects - in large measure, ironically enough, because of his blatant disregard for scientific principles.

You won't learn about this in "Kinsey." For instance, as any researcher knows, a scientific study must use a "random selection" model to be considered scientifically accurate and representative of the population. Kinsey used volunteers.

Kinsey's volunteers were disproportionately comprised of homosexuals, bisexuals, prostitutes and convicts - more in his sample than in society as a whole. So unreliable were his sampling methods that famed psychologist Abraham Maslow, who expressed early interest in Kinsey's sexuality research, refused to work with him because of his methods.

Predictably, the lack of a true random sample distorted his findings. For instance, Kinsey famously claimed that 10 percent of the general populace is "more or less exclusively" homosexual - 5 percent exclusively gay and 5 percent bisexual. The most recent National Health and Social Life Survey, by contrast, estimates that the actual figure is about 1 percent to 3 percent.

Then there are the questions about Kinsey's data-collection methods. In his books "Sexual Behavior in the Human Male" (1948) and "Sexual Behavior in the Human Female" (1953), Kinsey cites "technically trained experts" as the source for his data on childhood sexual behavior. In particular, the infamous Tables 30 through 34 in his "Male book" - which charted how long it took to (brace yourself) induce orgasms in children as young as two months old - featured the research of these "experts."

Today, many knowledgeable experts agree that the source for this information was a habitual pedophile who kept detailed records on the hundreds of young boys and girls he had abused over many years. This character is included in a disturbing-yet-inaccurate scene in the movie that depicts his link to Kinsey as fleeting and inconsequential. In reality, Kinsey had a longstanding professional relationship with this man and included an untold amount of his records and notes in his "research."

Kinsey's influence also extends far beyond what the film projects. The organizations that make up today's "safe sex" education movement can trace their roots to Kinsey. In fact, one "researcher" who worked alongside Kinsey at his institute at Indiana University, Wardell Pomeroy, later went on to establish the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS). Another Kinsey associate, Mary Calderone, founded the organization that eventually evolved into Planned Parenthood. The abhorrent theory that sex at any age is appropriate as long as it is "safe" is also part of Kinsey's legacy.

Those who are unfamiliar with Alfred Kinsey's work could come away from "Kinsey" with the impression that he was a self-sacrificing scientist who helped people become comfortable with their sexuality. But like much of what comes out of Hollywood, that's simply fantasy. Too bad the same can't be said of his legacy.

Melissa Pardue is the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Fellow in Social Welfare Policy at The Heritage Foundation.

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