Kinsey -...

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The Kinsey effectThe pioneering researcher's sexual revelations enlightened and shocked a nation. His legacy is controversial yet powerful.By Rosie MestelTimes Staff WriterNovember 15, 2004On a January day in 1948, a hefty book filled with turgid scientific prose, and scores of tables and charts, landed amid an unsuspecting American public. The tome reported, matter-of-factly and without judgment, that American men were up to all manner of sexual exploits behind closed doors, and that the minds of huge numbers of them were churning with taboo desires.The book, "Sexual Behavior in the Human Male," by biologist Alfred Kinsey of Indiana University, was an utter revelation for a populace living in a time when masturbation was frowned upon, oral sex (even between husband and wife) was illegal in some states, and homosexuality was considered an extremely rare, criminal deviance.Kinsey's work set off "a true media explosion," says writer-director Bill Condon, whose movie, "Kinsey," on the pioneering sex researcher's life, premiered in Los Angeles and New York last Friday. Publications such as Collier's, Time and the New York Times ran cover articles about Kinsey's book. Church leaders, among others, denounced it.Overnight, millions of American men realized that they were not lone freaks for doing what they did.Based on thousands of exhaustive, confidential interviews with churchgoers, college students, prison inmates and more, Kinsey reported, for example, that 92% of men had masturbated and half of married men had had extramarital affairs. A full 37% of men said they had had some form of homosexual experience at some point in their lives.Five years later, Kinsey's second volume — "Sexual Behavior in the Human Female" — came through with more revelations. A full 62% of women, for instance, reported they had masturbated, about half of the women said that they had engaged in premarital sex, and two-thirds of participants said that they had experienced overtly sexual dreams. The book was widely attacked as an affront to the dignity of womanhood.Americans flocked to buy both volumes, turning them into bestsellers.Those dry books are now gathering dust on academic bookshelves but Kinsey's legacy lives on. By bringing the sexual lives of regular American
men and women out of the shadows — by cataloging their actions and proclivities more completely than anyone before him or since — he opened the doors on a public discussion of sex and set a foundation for the scholarly investigation of this most intimate arena of human life.Social scientists and sex researchers describe his contribution as one of the most significant achievements in the annals of sex research.

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