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The Kinsey Report | The Nation

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The Kinsey Report

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The publication of the Kinsey report means for the for the first time that frank talk about sex is no longer the sole domain of the church and psychoanalysts. Now, everyone could be master of that domain. Martin Gumpet says that the frank talk of the newly published Kinsey Report makes it "an important, useful and honest book."

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The Kinsey report is an important, useful, and honest book. It contains many debatable statements, and there are probably a number of statistical and technical errors--which this reader can only suspect but which other critics have cited with vehement disapproval. It is fortunately not, as it purports to be, an entirely objective report of "what people do." There is frequent evidence of social and moral interpretation, which needless to say has given rise to violent criticism by opponents of the whole project. Obviously the statement that, under our present laws, 95 percent of our total male population could be convicted of sex crimes becomes social dynamite when it is offered as a statement of authoritative scientific fact. Most of us were aware of it all along, but proof was lacking. The same is true of such findings as these: that 85 percent of American males have pre-marital intercourse; that 59 percent have some experience in oral-genital contacts, a criminal offense in a number of states--and by criminal I mean a felony, not a misdemeanor; that from 30 to 45 percent have extra-marital intercourse; that 37 percent have had some homosexual experience; and that 17 percent of farm boys have intercourse with animals. These figures may be slightly changed by further studies, but on the whole they would appear to be accurate--and they come as no surprise to anyone who has intimate and undistorted knowledge of human relations.

The reception and the effects of the Kinsey report have been quite as interesting as its contents. It has stimulated a frank discussion of sex that has had the character of an explosion and has provided a wholesome release. Indeed, the healthy, intelligent attitude displayed by the general public has been very remarkable. There are, of course, some angry and malicious detractors, and perhaps no one would be surprised to find Dr. Kinsey and the whole Zoology Department of the University of Indiana hailed before a Congressional committee investigating un-American sex activities. On the other hand, the recent comment by Albert Deutsch that Kinsey stands as a martyr along with Socrates and Copernicus is an embarrassing overstatement. After all, this author of a bestseller is today a public figure acclaimed by many respected citizens.

The success of the book is an encouraging sign of the genuine interest of American readers in solid knowledge--which may be a shock to our educators and to condescending editors who think they know "what the people want." Until now only two organized groups have been entitled to talk about sex--the churches and the psychoanalysts. Today sex seems to have become a matter for more or less mature discussion by the people who are primarily involved in its problems. It is no wonder, then, that clergymen and psychoanalysts are among the most militant enemies of the report. One important and highly gratifying effect of the book is that it appears to have lifted the feeling of guilt from hundreds of thousands of readers. This mass psychotherapeutic function is one secret of its success. People work with touching eagerness through the appalling mass of boring charts and statistics in order to discover with relief that they are not outcasts, not psychopaths, not criminals, when they masturbate or enjoy other "abnormal" sexual outlets. They learn that they are as "normal" or as "vicious" as anybody they meet on the streets of their home town. If this relief from tension and guilt can be bought for $6.50, it is a most happy social accomplishment. But everybody in the guilt business is bound to feel at least a little angry.

The large number of deficiencies in the Kinsey report are undoubtedly due in part to its fragmentary character--it is only one of a series of planned volumes--and to its dominantly statistical methods. This preliminary nature of the book should be stressed again and again in order to protect the unscientific and untrained reader from unwarranted conclusions.

The most obvious error of the book, conscious or unconscious, is the identification of much sexuality with good sexuality. Kinsey and his collaborators--being biologists--obviously like sex and seem to think, the more of it the better. Lionel Trilling stressed this point in his article in Partisan Review for April, 1948, which is the best criticism of the book I have read so far. As a matter of fact, there is almost no relationship between sexual frequency and sexual satisfaction. On the contrary, an unusually high frequency may be a symptom of deep sexual disturbance. Another unfortunate feature of the Kinsey findings, it seems to me, is the integration of human sexual behavior into the zoological picture. Having justly repudiated the controversial term "normal" on many occasions, the report goes on to state that what is "natural"--because it is practiced by animals--must also be "normal" for human beings. Such dangerous misjudgment of specific human situations and values--for example, "love"--appears in the defense of premature ejaculation in human males on the ground that the chimpanzee needs only ten to twenty seconds for his performance. Man, who has lost or overcome sexual periodicity, is a strange animal, and his sexual satisfaction depends on emotional tension and release at least to the same degree that it depends on purely physical outlets. Several reviewers, furthermore, have rightly objected that the report says nothing about the connection between sex and reproduction, but later volumes may repair this omission.

Of great interest but requiring further study are the findings about the differences in sex behavior between religiously devout persons and religiously inactive persons, about the social level as the most powerful factor affecting the pattern of the nine established categories of sexual outlet, about the statistical evidence for infantile (and senile) sexuality and the climax of sex activity in the male of teenager. Important is the discovery that prostitution, that widely overemphasized vice, plays an exceedingly small part in heterosexual activity even among single males in this country. However, I would greatly question a sentence like this: "The average female is not aroused by nearly so many stimuli as is the male, and finds much less sexual excitement in psychic associations or in any sensory stimulation outside of the purely tactile." I would almost be inclined to say that the exact reverse is true. And some remarks about the different attitudes toward masturbation held by psychiatrists raised in Europe and psychiatrists with an American background are undoubtedly based on chance impressions.

All of which goes to show that the main value of the Kinsey report lies in its provocative conclusions. There are, needless to say, many well-founded statements, and in general its conclusions are based on an amazing body of sound facts. Nevertheless, the conclusions are subject to discussion.

We have every reason to be grateful for the book. An immense amount of scientific effort and energy has been invested in it, with the result that the most distorted and maltreated of sciences, the study of sex, has been largely freed from intolerance, superstition, frivolity, and morbidity. Perhaps after reading it, more people will realize that the only practical criterion for judging human sexual behavior is the criterion of potential harmfulness to the community or the individual involved. Forceful interference with the lives of others must be prevented. The individual should be warned against monomanic and neurotic fixations; otherwise everything would seem to be permissible: Man should be entitled to the widest possible variety of sexual outlets as long as they do no harm and lead to satisfaction. A happy and harmonious sexual life is the greatest asset an individual can have, and the best guaranty of a powerful and benign social structure.

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