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Kinsey’s ‘talk of the town’ turns 50 years old

By Susan Williams




Sexual Behavior in the Human Female was the talk of the town and nation when it was published in 1953. It was written by Alfred Kinsey, who founded the Kinsey Institute in 1947 on the Bloomington campus of Indiana University. While it created an uproar, there certainly were plenty of people willing to read it, and just as Sexual Behavior in the Human Male had five years before, the book became a best seller.

In recognition of the “female volume’s” 50th anniversary, along with the enduring relevance of the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction, a year-long series of events will unfold in Bloomington and elsewhere throughout 2003.

“This second of Kinsey’s great books was undoubtedly a milestone in the fascinating, but often troubling, history of the sexuality of women,” said John Bancroft, director of the Kinsey Institute. “Today, 50 years on, we are in the midst of another vigorous debate about women’s sexuality. To what extent should it be conceptualized in the same way as men’s sexuality? Is it likely to benefit from drugs, leading to another Viagra-like bonanza for the pharmaceutical industry? How much is a woman’s sexuality still contained and shaped by society, limiting its full expression?”

Indeed, earlier this month, USA TODAY featured new Kinsey research on its front page. The study suggested that only about one in four women were “distressed about sexual problems” rather than the 43 percent identified as “dysfunctional” in another widely reported study.

According to Bancroft, the Kinsey study may simply indicate that researchers should listen to subjects more carefully instead of making assumptions and, also, that a redefinition of “dysfunctional” is in order.

“Dysfunctional for whom?’ he noted in the article, while saying that a woman may be putting sex on hold due to being stressed or having kids and a job. “It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with her response system or that she’s dysfunctional.”

Several other studies regarding the sexual health of men and women are ongoing at the Kinsey Institute.

Listening to women without making assumptions is something the anniversary commemoration’s keynote speaker would support. Activist and writer Gloria Steinem will speak in Bloomington on Thursday (Feb. 6), at 7 p.m. at the IU Auditorium. She will also participate in a roundtable discussion, “Women, Sex and the Media,” which will be moderated by Kathy Krendl, dean of Ohio University’s College of Communication and a former dean of IU’s School of Continuing Studies. Steinem’s visit is being sponsored by the IUB Chancellor’s Office, the College of Arts and Sciences, the Kinsey Institute and Union Board.

A concerted effort, the 50th year commemoration is scheduled to feature an interdisciplinary conference on female sexuality; an invitational art exhibition, a new book on female sexuality, edited by John Bancroft; events around campus sponsored by different departments and centers; a film festival and other entertainment reflecting the theme of female sexuality.

Kinsey was famous for his collections, and the Kinsey Institute’s art holdings are widely recognized and visited by scholars throughout the world. The History Channel and HBO recently used Kinsey material in documentaries.

From Feb. 9 until March 9, part of the collection is open to the public at the SoFA Gallery in the School of Fine Arts. The exhibit is titled “Sex and Humor: Selections from the Kinsey Institute.”

More of the collection can be seen at the SoFA Gallery, Feb. 14-March 14. Titled “Feminine Persuasion,” this exhibit includes works by Henri Matisse and Marc Chagall, and a new acquisition by Judy Chicago, from the Kinsey Institute, as well as works by other contemporary female artists.

Also scheduled at the SoFA Gallery on March 4 is “Women in Erotic Art,” an illustrated lecture by June Reinisch, director of the Kinsey Institute from 1982-1993. Reinisch, now living in New York City, is president of R2 ---Science Communications, Inc. and director of the Muse Foundation of the Museum of Sex.

For a full schedule of events during this anniversary year, visit the following Web site:

Indiana University
IU Home Pages
400 E. 7th Street. Bloomington, IN 47405
Phone: (812) 855-6494

Publication date: January 31, 2003
Copyright 2000, The Trustees of Indiana University