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Kinsey, the media and public reaction

By Susan Williams
Photo by William Dellenback, courtesy of The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction
Alfred Kinsey (far left) founded the institute that still bears his name on the IUB campus in 1947. In this photo, taken in the early 1950s, he is pictured with his research colleagues and co-authors of the book on female sexuality published in 1953. They are Clyde Martin (standing), Paul Gebhard and Wardell Pomeroy.
Say what you will about the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction. From amusement to outrage to admiration, the institute has inspired all sorts of public reaction since Alfred Kinsey founded it on Indiana University's Bloomington campus in 1947.

It became a target of federal and state governments during the early 1950s. The late Herman B Wells, then president of IU, defended Kinsey's right to conduct objective scientific research even if it was unpopular with particular individuals and groups.

In 1953, Kinsey's Sexual Behavior in the Human Female was released. Even by today's standards, the release became a huge media event. The book was of particular note because, as current Kinsey director John Bancroft said, “The lid was taken off, so to speak. Women were more sexual than conventional wisdom and morality would want us to believe.”

Kinsey, an avid collector, immediately began to save copies of publications featuring his book. One well-known cover shows a young woman looking terribly shocked, her hand to her cheek. Its headline reads, “Oh! Dr. Kinsey!” Time, Newsweek, Cosmopolitan, Reader's Digest, U.S. News and World Report and Modern Bride all had something to say about Kinsey and his new book.

The covers and articles have became a sort of reflection of the times and public reaction to openness regarding sexuality. As part of the 50th anniversary of the publication of Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, Kinsey's magazine collection can be seen, along with a first edition of “the female volume,” cartoons and other materials at the Monroe County Historical Society Museum, beginning tomorrow (Feb. 1) and running through April 30.

Flash forward nearly 50 years. Kinsey and his work are still generating strong reactions.

During the fall of 1997, an exhibition titled The Art of Desire: Erotic Treasures from the Kinsey Institute opened in IUB's SoFA Gallery in the School of Fine Arts. The display was the first comprehensive survey of the institute's extensive collection of art and photography. It was met mostly with enthusiasm, but on the courthouse square in Bloomington, Concerned Women for America protested, as did several other groups across the country, and called for the closing of the Kinsey Institute.

By the next spring, further protests were fueled by concerns relating to research methods used by Kinsey 50 years before, and Herman B Wells, IU's university chancellor, once again did battle with the state legislature.

“I am not shocked to still be fighting the battles Dr. Kinsey faced, but I am surprised at the amount of disinformation that exists about the man and his research,” he wrote in a letter to one state representative.

There is no end to the fascination Kinsey generates in the public and media. A new movie, with a working title of Kinsey's Report, currently is scheduled for production sometime this spring. The biographical screenplay was written by Oscar winner Bill Condon, who also will direct the film. Liam Neeson will star as Kinsey with Laura Linney, Ian McKellen and Chris O'Donnell also in the cast.

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Publication date: January 31, 2003
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