My partner was recently at a conference at Indiana University and took a tour of the awesome Kinsey Institute. Alfred C. Kinsey (1894-1956), a professor of biology at the university, initiated the now legendary Kinsey Report because is students were inundating him with questions about sex and sexuality. “They came to him,” the official report explained, “because they hoped that he as a scientist would provide factual information which they might consider in working out their patterns of sexual behavior.”
With the support of the university, the staff of the Institute for Sex Research (the Kinsey Institute) undertook a massive study of human sexual behavior, beginning in 1938. Their initial report, “Sexual Behavior in the Human Male,” was published in 1948, and followed in 1953 by “Sexual Behavior in the Human Female.” Kinsey researchers established a simple numerical scale from 1 to 6 to classify sexual behavior, with “1” indicating exclusive heterosexuality and “6” exclusive homosexuality.
Based on a survey of approximately 8,000 men, the Kinsey Report knocked everyone’s socks off with its finding that one in 10 identified as exclusively homosexual, a percentage that continues to be debated and contested. Even more shocking was Kinsey’s assertion that over one-third of the men surveyed had had at least one adult same-sex experience and that fully half admitted having erotic responses to other men. The figures for women were slightly lower but carried the same wallop.
Though not intended as such, the Kinsey Report — both studies were instant best-sellers — was a milestone in gay and lesbian history. For gay people, it gave scientific credence to the idea that “we are everywhere,” and for Americans in general, it paved the way for a more open discussion about human sexual desire.