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Kinsey Reports on
Human Sexuality
TRAVIS D. SPEICE
University of Cincinnati, USA
In 1948 Alfred Kinsey, along with colleagues
Wardell Pomeroy and Clyde Martin, published Sexual Behavior in the Human Male
([1948] 1998). This report on sexuality was
considered groundbreaking for its time and
called into question many of the previously
held beliefs surrounding sexual behavior
in the United States. Kinsey et al. ([1953)
1998) later published a parallel report, Sexual
Behavior in the Human Female five years
later in 1953. Some authors have described
Kinsey’s work as having completely changed
the attitudes of Americans regarding sex simply because it brought conversations about
sex and sexuality out into the open (Bullough
2004). Topics such as masturbation, homosexuality, and premarital and extramarital sex
were discussed at length in both reports.
Before his reports on human sexuality,
Alfred Kinsey studied the gall wasp extensively. In totality, he measured in detail more
than 35,000 individual wasps (Bullough
2004). His work of measuring and cataloging
gall wasps made him the most knowledgeable
individual in this area. Kinsey’s taxonomic
skills prove to be valuable in his new inquiries
into human sexual behavior. While he could
not collect and examine humans the same
way he did gall wasps, Kinsey was able to
construct a study that documented the sexual
histories of thousands of individuals.
Kinsey’s reports were based on some
18,000 interviews. Kinsey conducted well
over half of the interviews himself. The central focus of his work was to understand the
sexual activities and behaviors that led to or
contributed to the experience of orgasm. He
kept his emphasis on biology and removed
moral or social descriptions or explanations,
in order not to bias his writing. In his own
words, “the present study, then, represents an
attempt to accumulate an objectively determined body of fact about sex which strictly
avoids social or moral interpretations of the
fact” (Kinsey, Pomeroy, and Martin [1948]
1998). What follows is a summary of the
major findings.
SEXUAL BEHAVIOR IN THE HUMAN
MALE
This volume uses a sample size of 5300 white
American males of various ages, education
levels, social levels, marital statuses, geographies, occupational classes, religions, and
so on (Kinsey, Pomeroy, and Martin [1948]
1998). The bulk of the writing describes variations between and within nine sources of
sexual outlets. Some of their major findings
are summarized here.
Masturbation
Approximately 92 percent of males are involved in masturbation leading to orgasm.
Among their findings on masturbation
frequencies, Kinsey, Pomeroy, and Martin
reported the following.
•
•
•
Married men masturbate considerably
less than unmarried men.
Men of lower education levels masturbate
less frequently.
Although males in rural areas masturbate
less often than males raised in cities or
towns, masturbation constitutes a higher
percentage of rural males’ total sexual
The Wiley Blackwell Encyclopedia of Family Studies, First Edition. Edited by Constance L. Shehan.
© 2016 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Published 2016 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
DOI: 10.1002/9781119085621.wbefs140
2
•
•
•
K I N SEY R E P ORT S ON HUM A N SEX UA L I T Y
outlet compared to that of males in cities
(i.e., males in cities rely on other sexual outlets more than rural males but
masturbate in higher frequencies).
In regard to religion, men identifying as
Jewish Orthodox or devout Catholic have
the lowest frequencies, while religiously
inactive Protestants have the highest
frequencies.
Age is a strong predictor of frequency of
masturbation – adolescents masturbate
more frequently and rates decrease into
old age.
It is not uncommon for some young boys
to masturbate. Nearly all boys who experience erotic arousal masturbate.
compared to males living in rural areas, and
that frequencies are also lower for men who
are devoutly religious.
Kinsey noted, first and foremost, that
“marital intercourse is the one type of sexual
activity which is approved by our AngloAmerican mores and legal codes” (Kinsey,
Pomeroy, and Martin [1948] 1998, 563).
Kinsey described many findings concerning
marital sex, including the following.
•
•
Given these findings, Kinsey concluded
that, contrary to popular belief that masturbation causes ailments such as blindness,
insanity, infertility, and so on, masturbation
does not cause any harm at any age.
Nocturnal emissions
Experiencing ejaculation/orgasm in one’s
sleep is referred to as a nocturnal emission.
Kinsey’s work found that roughly 83 percent
of males experience nocturnal emissions at
some time in their lives, while 17 percent of
men seem to never experience this. Collegeaged boys have the most frequent rates of
nocturnal emissions and frequencies tend to
drop off after marriage.
Premarital, marital, and extramarital
intercourse
While Kinsey recognized that generally there
are social norms in the United States that
discourage premarital sex, he suggested that
the reasons for these attitudes be investigated, considering that his study found that
most males engage in premarital sex. He
found that frequencies for premarital sex are
higher for males living in cities and towns
•
•
Nearly 100 percent of married men in the
sample experience orgasm resulting from
marital intercourse.
Marital intercourse accounts for the
majority of a man’s sexual outlet. This
majority, however, is not more than 85 per
cent. The remainder of the married male’s
sexual outlet consists of masturbation,
nocturnal emissions, petting, extramarital relations, homosexual contact, and
animal contact.
Within the population with lower education levels, men attempt to reach orgasm
as quickly as possible in intercourse.
Kinsey reported that this happens within
two minutes for nearly 75 percent of
these men. “Upper level” males more
often attempt to delay orgasm.
Men prefer to engage in marital intercourse with the lights on, while women
prefer the lights to be off.
Among married men, nearly half have
intercourse with women other than their
wives at some point while they are married.
These frequencies depend on certain social
variables. For instance, extramarital relations
are less frequent for males living in rural
areas compared to those living in cities/
towns. Men who self-identify as nonreligious
report higher frequencies of extramarital
intercourse. Among the lower social levels,
frequencies of extramarital intercourse are
K I N SEY R E P ORT S ON HUM A N SEX UA L I T Y
highest when males are younger, then decline
with age.
Intercourse with prostitutes
A surprising 69 percent of the total white
male sample reported having some experience with prostitutes, although many are
limited to just one or two experiences. Intercourse with prostitutes accounts for only
4 percent (at most) of the total sexual outlet
experienced by men (only petting to climax
and animal contact account for less).
Homosexual outlet
In terms of males’ total sexual outlet, homosexual contact accounts for 6.3 percent of
orgasms. Kinsey’s findings on homosexual
experiences are perhaps some of his most
noteworthy findings from these reports.
More than one in three males experience
some homosexual contact resulting in orgasm
between the beginning of adolescence and old
age. Nearly 50 percent of men who are unmarried by 35 have had homosexual experiences.
In documenting the homosexual experiences of males, Kinsey developed a scale
that he called the “heterosexual–homosexual
balance.” This tool places sexual experiences
(regardless of sexual identity) on a scale of 0 to
6 with individuals having “exclusively heterosexual contacts” at 0, and individuals having
“exclusively homosexual contacts” at 6. This
is significant because Kinsey suggests that
homosexuality and bisexuality are other
forms of sexual activity that are common and
that sexuality is not a binary as was previously
thought. These findings were cited at length
in the discussion to remove homosexuality
as a disease in the Diagnostic and Statistical
Manual of Mental Disorders in 1973.
Animal contacts
Approximately 8 percent of males in Kinsey’s
study had experience with animals. In sum,
3
less than 1 percent of total orgasms were
derived from animal intercourse. While frequencies were very low overall, they were
higher among rural farm boys.
SEXUAL BEHAVIOR IN THE HUMAN
FEMALE
Kinsey’s report on female sexual behavior
extends from his work on men. For this
report, the sexual histories of 5940 white
females were included. He wrote extensively
on various types of sexual activity among
females. Also included in this volume is a
lengthy discussion of the anatomy of sexual
response – detailing the function and contribution of male and female anatomy, as well as
a discussion of the physiology of the human
orgasm in both men and women. It is important to note that Kinsey did not find quite as
much variation between different groups of
women (i.e., varying by age, education level,
geographies, etc.) as he did in his sample of
males. The report on female sexual behavior
is important because it brought to light the
fact that women not only are sexual but that
women experience and participate in a wide
range of sexual activities. His findings are
summarized as follows (Kinsey, Pomeroy,
and Martin [1953] 1998).
Masturbation
Kinsey reported on a number of his findings
regarding techniques used by women while
masturbating and the frequencies of masturbation. His findings included the following.
•
•
•
Masturbation is the sexual activity in
which women most frequently reach
orgasm.
Women do not masturbate as often as men.
Most women discover masturbation by
self-discovery, as opposed to learning by
means of printed materials, observation,
or discussion with others.
4
K I N SEY R E P ORT S ON HUM A N SEX UA L I T Y
Premarital, marital, and extramarital
intercourse
Kinsey reported that 64 percent of the
married females in his sample had experienced orgasm prior to marriage. Just
17 percent of these orgasms were from
heterosexual intercourse. Premarital sex was
more common among women who were less
actively religious.
Kinsey concluded from his studies that, for
both men and women, marital sex provides
the largest proportion of their total sexual
outlet compared to any other type of activity.
While women engage in this sexual activity
more than any other sexual activity, they do
not always achieve orgasm with intercourse,
though men nearly always do.
Among the married women in the study’s
sample, 26 percent had had extramarital sex
by the age of 40. These frequencies were lowest
among the devoutly religious. Women tended
to engage in this activity with other married
males who were near the age of the women.
Homosexual contacts
Consistent with his reports on male homosexuality, Kinsey reminded readers that sexual
contacts between individuals of the same
sex are known to occur in nearly all species
of mammals. Frequencies of homosexual
contact were considerably lower compared to
those for men. By the age of 40, 19 percent of
women in the total sample had experienced
homosexual contact. Among never married
women, however, this figure was 24 percent.
Of the women who had had homosexual
experiences, 50–60 percent reached orgasm
on at least one occasion.
of men in the sample had been erotically
aroused, while only 16 percent of women had
been aroused.
CRITICISMS
Kinsey’s work came under attack many times
during the 15 years he spent collecting sexual
histories. Indeed, there were groups that pressured Indiana University (which sponsored
much of his research) to shut down the study.
Still others criticized him for not collecting
a completely random sample. Additionally,
Kinsey was criticized for not turning in sexual
deviants (e.g., pedophiles) to the authorities
when participants divulged such information
in their histories.
Kinsey’s work shattered several presumed
assumptions concerning sexual behavior
among both men and women. Many feared
that, with this new knowledge, the institutions
of marriage and family would deteriorate.
Kinsey addressed this criticism, arguing:
“there appear to be more persons who believe
that an extension of our knowledge may
contribute to the establishment of better
marriages” (Kinsey, Pomeroy, and Martin
[1948] 1998, 13). The support for Kinsey’s
work greatly surpassed any potential negative
outcomes. Indeed, Kinsey and his colleagues
provided not only a better understanding
of sexual behavior more generally, but their
research contributed specifically to the feminist and LGBT liberation movements which
would gain momentum in the decades after
their work was published (Bullough 1998).
SEE ALSO: Gender and Sexuality; Sexuality
REFERENCES
Animal contacts
Frequencies of animal contacts among women
were also considerably lower compared to
men. Kinsey also reported that, while watching animals having intercourse, 32 percent
Bullough, Vern L. 2004. “Sex Will Never Be the
Same: The Contributions of Alfred C. Kinsey.”
Archives of Sexual Behavior, 33(3): 277–86.
DOI:10.1023/b:aseb.0000026627.24993.03.
Bullough, Vern L. 1998. “Alfred Kinsey and the
Kinsey Report: Historical Overview and Lasting
K I N SEY R E P ORT S ON HUM A N SEX UA L I T Y
Contributions.” Journal of Sex Research, 35(2):
127–31. DOI:10.1080/00224499809551925.
Kinsey, Alfred C., Wardell B. Pomeroy, and Clyde
E. Martin. (1948) 1998. Sexual Behavior in the
Human Male. Bloomington: Indiana University
Press.
5
Kinsey, Alfred C., Wardell B. Pomeroy, Clyde E.
Martin, and Paul H. Gebhard. (1953) 1998. Sexual Behavior in the Human Female. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
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