Kinsey and Children
by John Bancroft
(Excerpt. "Alfred Kinsey's Work 50 Years Later." In Sexual
Behavior in the Human Female, by Alfred Kinsey, et al. 1998 Reprint
Edition. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, pp. j-n)
Although controversy hounded Kinsey and his work from the start, little
attention was paid to the data he presented about children until the late
1980s, when a Judith Reisman started the allegation that Kinsey, to obtain
his evidence, was criminally involved in the sexual abuse of children.
This allegation, in slightly modified forms, has persisted as the main
plank in the case of those on the Religious Right who seek to discredit
Kinsey. In recent years, when there has been anxiety bordering on hysteria
about child sexual abuse, often resulting in circumstances where the accused
is regarded as guilty until proved innocent, what better way to discredit
someone? What are the relevant facts as far as Kinsey as concerned?
From my first day as Director of the Kinsey Institute in 1995, I was
confronted by such allegations and the need to rebut them. Kinsey never
carried out experiments on the sexual responses of children; neither did
he employ or train anyone else to do so for him. However, some reasonable
people were being troubled by repeated allegations that he did, particularly
because some of the details seemed hard to account for. The focus of the
attacks was data presented in Tables 31 through 34 in the Male
volume, reporting various aspects of orgasm observed in pre-adolescent
boys ranging in age from 2 months to 15 years.
Having commented on the extent to which adults had recalled orgasmic
experiences from their own childhoods, Kinsey pointed out that such recall
might well be vague or inaccurate, particularly of an experience which
the child may not have understood at the time. He was, therefore, especially
interested in information obtained from those of his interviewees who
had observed orgasms occurring in children.
Whereas he had some information of this kind from parents and teachers
simply observing children, he obtained more from men who had been sexually
involved with young boys and who had in the process observed their orgasms.
Having therefore made it clear that he was referring to adults who had
been involved in illegal sexual interactions with children, he went on
to say, "nine of our adult male subjects have observed such orgasm. Some
of these adults are technically trained persons who have kept diaries
or other records which they have put at our disposal; and from them we
have secured information on 317 pre-adolescents who were either observed
in self-masturbation, or were observed in contacts with other boys or
older adults." 50
Tables 31-34 are based on these 317 boys; Table 32 gives details of the
speed of orgasm (timed with a second hand or stopwatch), whereas Tables
33 and 34 give details about multiple orgasms. Thus, an understandable
concern was raised: How could such information be obtained in a sufficiently
systematic manner to allow tabulation of the findings? Hence the allegations
that either Kinsey or members of the Institute staff made these observations,
or that they trained child molesters to make observations for them.
I decided to check on the sources of this information and found that,
without any doubt, all of the information reported in Tables 31-34 came
from the carefully documented records of one man. From 1917 until the
time that Kinsey interviewed him in the mid-1940s, this man had kept notes
on a vast array of sexual experiences, involving not only children but
adults of both sexes.
Kinsey was clearly impressed by the systematic way he kept his records,
and regarded them as of considerable scientific interest. Clearly, his
description in the book of the source of this data was misleading, in
that he implied that it had come from several men rather than one, although
it is likely that information elsewhere in this chapter, on the descriptions
of different types of orgasm, was obtained in part from some of these
other nine men.
I do not know why Kinsey was unclear on this point; it was obviously
not to conceal the origin of the information from criminal sexual involvement
with children, because that was already quite clear. Maybe it was to conceal
the single source, which otherwise might have attracted attention to this
one man with possible demands for his identification (demands which have
now occurred even though he is long dead). It would be typical of Kinsey
to be more concerned about protecting the anonymity of his research subjects
(and convincing the reader of the scientific value of the information)
than protecting himself from the allegations that eventually followed.
Kinsey, with his primary interest in variability, was also intrigued
by the various ways in which orgasm was experienced. In the Male
volume, 51 he combines
evidence provided from the above source on 196 pre-adolescent boys with
descriptions obtained from adults or their partners to produce a list
of six different types of orgasm.
Two of these types involve signs which in other circumstances would be
regarded as distress, such as sobbing or crying or hypersensitivity around
orgasm which results in "violent attempts to avoid climax, although they
derive pleasure from the situation...[and] quickly return to complete
the experience, or have a second experience." 52
As these descriptions were applied to pre-adolescent boys as well as
adults, they have been taken by some to indicate that these children were
being tortured. It would never have occurred to Kinsey that responses
associated with orgasm, whether in a child or an adult would be interpreted
in that way, as he clearly saw the orgasm as the culmination of pleasurable
In retrospect Kinsey's judgment in not anticipating such misinterpretations,
and in placing so much emphasis on this one man's evidence, can be questioned.
This extremely active 'omniphile,' who may have self-justified his sexual
career as 'a contribution to knowledge' by keeping such detailed records,
can be likened to two other individuals in the literature: the anonymous
author of My Secret Life, who, toward the end of the nineteenth
century, gave detailed descriptions of numerous sexual encounters, many
involving young girls; and an Australian man who kept detailed records
of his sexual encounters with many hundreds of boys around the age of
puberty. He was the subject of a book called The Man They Called a
Monster. 53 The
author, Paul Wilson, interviewed many of the men who, as boys, had previously
been involved with "the Monster," and to a remarkable extent they corroborated
the man's original accounts.
Nevertheless, such sources of information should properly be treated
with great caution. Ironically, the evidence presented in Tables 31-34
leaves us with some fundamental scientific questions and, not surprisingly,
there has been virtually no further evidence to answer them. We know,
from the accounts of adults about their own childhoods, that a proportion
of pre-adolescent children experience orgasm, though we do not know what
proportion, or whether most or all children have the physiological capacity
for orgasm pre-pubertally. That in itself is of considerable interest.
It is questions such as these which interested Kinsey so much in these particular
findings, and encouraged him to share the information with the scientific
community. However much Kinsey's scientific curiosity may have misled him,
he did nothing wrong, 'criminal,' or 'fraudulent.' Some have criticized
him for not reporting this man to the police. Any tendency to do such a
thing, with this research subject or any other, would have been contrary
to the whole ethical basis of his project, in which he persuaded people
to share their sexual secrets in return for a guarantee of confidentiality.
- If only a proportion of children are capable of orgasm, what relevance
has that to later sexual development?
- Do children who are capable or orgasm show a different pattern of
sexual development than those who are not?
- And if, in some pre-adolescent boys, multiple orgasm is possible,
what is the mechanism at puberty that largely eliminates this capacity?
What conclusions did Kinsey reach about childhood sexual development?
Physiological responses, which at a later age would be experienced as
sexual, appeared to occur in a proportion of very young children. Kinsey
didn't know what proportion of children were capable of such physiological
responses, and we still don't know. Kinsey qualified the evidence he presented
on the 317 pre-pubertal boys by emphasizing that this was a select group
of "more or less uninhibited boys" and not representative of boys in general.
Kinsey 'interviewed' a number of small children from 2 to 5 years old
in the presence of a parent. His method of doing this is described 55
and involved techniques widely used today by child psychologists. Kinsey
never analyzed and reported the data he obtained in this way (this was
to be the topic of a separate study and book), though he commented on
certain observations. He concluded that "attitudes in respect to nudity,
to anatomic differences between the sexes, ... to verbal references to
sex ... are developed at very early ages." 56.
Social class differences in sexual attitudes were already apparent at
these early ages, 57
and parents clearly played an important role in shaping these early attitudes,
which influenced the child's later reactions to sexually relevant experiences.
Sexual play between children, which was reported by a substantial proportion
of his subjects, mostly occurred between the ages of 8 and 13, 58
and at those ages "children are the most frequent agents for the transmission
of sexual mores." 59
Kinsey saw the changes in sexual mores and behaviors that occur in society
as mainly dependent of "departures made by pre-adolescent and adolescent
children from the patterns of their parents."60
As far as sexual contacts between children and adults are concerned,
Kinsey states, "There are as yet insufficient data ... for reaching general
conclusions on the significance of such contacts." 61
Questions about such experiences were not routinely asked of males; of
the females, 24% of the women reported such experiences, with a little
less than half of them involving sexual touching of some kind. 62.
This can be compared to the 17% of the women reporting "sexual touching"
experiences during childhood in a recent US survey. 63
Kinsey, however, played down the consequences of such experiences. Whereas
80% of his females subjects who had reported some form of sexual encounter
with adults "had been emotionally upset or frightened by their contact,"
only a "small portion had been seriously disturbed." 64
In the recent US survey, 65
70% of the women who had been sexually touched reported that the experience
had affected their lives.
Kinsey was inclined to the view that more harm resulted form the societal
reaction to the adult-child experiences, than the sexual contact per
se. 66 Before commenting on
these conclusions of Kinsey, my own views should be made clear. Hopefully,
doing so will reduce the likelihood of my being accused of favoring child-adult
sexual contacts. In the current climate of opinion, any statement that
does not condemn all forms of child-adult sex with unqualified horror,
is liable to be interpreted as being in favor of child-adult sex. I believe
that all children should be protected from sexual exploitation by adults
or adolescents, and any such exploitation should be against the law. The
damage caused to a child by such activity varies considerably, however.
I would agree with Kinsey that in many cases, the reaction of the family,
the social services, and police to -- and the legal consequences of --
such an event can cause the child more psychological harm than the sexual
episode itself. It is therefore important that the potential for such
harm is borne in mind by those reacting to such episodes. There is, however,
an important distinction between episodes which involve relative strangers
and those involving close family members, particularly parents. In the
latter cases there are major additional factors involving betrayal of
trust, threat to the family structure, and overwhelming feelings of responsibility
in the child that can cause considerable psychological havoc. Kinsey did
not attempt to make such a distinction in the cases he encountered. According
to Table 147 in the Kinsey Data, 67
10% of the first pre-pubertal experiences with an adult involved parent,
grandparent, uncle, or inlaws. The term 'incest' seems to have been used
by Kinsey and his colleagues, in its literal sense, to refer to sexual
intercourse involving family members. The data presented with the term
'incest' involve only post-pubertal family members, 68
apart from a passing reference to incestuous contacts between pre-adolescent
children. 69 The term 'incest' does
not appear in the Female volume. It is however, important to
acknowledge, as Kinsey does, that at least some children experience sexual
interest and pleasure during these contacts. The widespread tendency to
assume that children are asexual can have two unfortunate consequences:
children who do exhibit any form of sexual expression are assumed to have
been sexually abused; and any child victim of sexual abuse who actually
experienced sexual pleasure at some stage of the abuse experience may
believe, when confronted with the assumed asexuality of childhood, that
she or he was abnormal and perhaps therefore responsible for the abuse.
This is one important mechanism leading to sexual problems later in life
in childhood sexual-abuse victims.
It is reasonable to conclude that Kinsey's concerns about the sexual
welfare of children had more to do with the effects that negative, inhibitory,
guilt-provoking influences might have on sexual well-being and happiness
during adulthood than on the consequences of childhood sexual experiences
per se, whether autoerotic, involving other children, or involving
adults. How he would have reacted to the more recent evidence of long-term
adverse sequelae of childhood sexual abuse we obviously cannot say, except
to conclude, with some confidence, that if the evidence indicated that
any particular type of sexual activity in childhood caused problems either
at the time or later in adult sexual life, he would have been opposed
- 50. Kinsey, A.C, Pomeroy, W.B., & Martin,
C.E. (1948). Sexual Behavior in the Human Male. Philadelphia:
W.B. Saunders, p. 177.
- 51. Male volume, pp. 160-161.
- 52. Male volume, p. 161.
53. Wilson, P. (1981). The Man They Called
a Monster. North Ryde, New South Wales: Cassell Australia.
54. Male volume, p. 177.
55. Male volume, p. 58.
56. Kinsey, A.C., Pomeroy, W.B., Martin, C.E.,
& Gebhard, P.H. (1953). Sexual Beahvior in the Human Female.
Philadephia: W.B. Saunders, p. 16.
- 57. Male volume, p. 441.
- 58. Male volume, p. 167.
- 59. Male volume, p. 445.
- 60. Male volume, p. 447.
- 61. Female volume, p. 120.
- 62. Gebhard, P.H., & Johnson, A.B. (1979).
The Kinsey Data: Marginal Tabulations of the 1938-1963 Interviews
Conducted by the Institute for Sex Research. Philadelphia: W.B.
- 63. Laumann, E.O., Gagnon, J.H., Michael,
R.T., & Michaels, S. (1994). The Social Organization of Sexuality.
Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
- 64. Female volume, p. 121.
Laumann et al. (1994).
- 66. Female volume, p. 121.
- 67. The Kinsey Data, Table 147.
- 68. The Kinsey Data, table 279.
- 69. Male volume, p. 558.
Copyright © 1998, The Kinsey Institute for Research
in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Over Alfred Kinsey's Research].