Tales of a sexual adventurer

The publishers of Sexual Behaviour in the Human Male did not expect much when the study was published in 1948. The author, Alfred C Kinsey, was a scientist highly esteemed among entomologists for his work on the gall wasp — an unsexy little bug.

The Kinsey Report, as it became known, turned out to be the biggest scientific bestseller since Darwin and, like The Origin of Species, took a wrecking ball to the established moral order. On the evidence of some 12 000 “sex histories”, Kinsey’s team confirmed that: all young males (not just filthy degenerates) masturbated; young men working on farms routinely had sex with their cattle; homosexuality was not an aberration but a statistical constant, running at 10% of the population; and 40% of males had sex to climax with another male at least once.

Furthermore, women were only slightly less adventurous. Adultery was a fact of American marital life. Half of all husbands and a quarter of all wives “cheated”. Bondage, troilism, bisexuality, bestiality and all the varieties of sodomy were as widespread as baseball or ballroom dancing.

The impact was immense. Subsequent decriminalisation of gay sex, the introduction of no-fault divorce, liberalisation of abortion law and the current campaign for same-sex marriage can all, plausibly, be traced back to Kinsey’s report. Taboos melted before his irrefutable “scientific” evidence.

Kinsey cultivated the public image of a clean-cut scientist. His square-jawed, crew-cut, bow-tied appearance could have been designed by a Hollywood casting agency. No moral or religious prejudice was allowed to contaminate his research. The image of Kinsey as the Albert Einstein of sexology is still burnished by the institute that bears his name at Indiana University. A very different image emerged from James H Jones’s 1997 biography. Jones’s Kinsey was a tyrant who enforced group sex among his “inner circle”. If you worked on Kinsey’s project, you slept with his wife and he with yours — in the interest of “science”, of course.

In fact, Kinsey wasn’t running a science project but a cult, with himself as its L Ron Hubbard. He wasn’t a happy Hubbard. Tormented by sexual guilt, he routinely inserted a toothbrush (bristle-end) deep into his urethra and scrubbed vigorously to excruciating climax. His genitals were an area of never-ending fascination and mutilation.

On one occasion, he performed a self-circumcision in the bathtub, without anaesthetic. On another, as Jones records, “he tied a strong, tight knot around his scrotum with one end of the rope dangling from the pipe overhead. The other end he wrapped around his hand. Then, he climbed up on a chair, and jumped off, suspending himself in mid-air.” He survived this unusual bungee jump, thanks to the wonderful elasticity of the human testicle.

Kinsey was probably homosexual and possibly a pederast. For him, there was only one sexual abnormality: abstinence. When he died, prematurely, in 1956, the cause of death was given as heart failure: it was more likely failure of his long-suffering gonads.

The contradiction between Kinsey-sexologist and Kinsey-sex maniac is explored in T Coraghessan Boyle’s novel, The Inner Circle, currently a United States bestseller. It’s scheduled for release in the United Kingdom next February and will coincide with the film Kinsey: Let’s Talk About Sex. It was written and directed by Bill Condon, who did Gods and Monsters — the biopic based on the sexually “deviant” film director, James Whale. Liam Neeson has (on the evidence of the web-based trailer) achieved a remarkably accurate impersonation of Kinsey. Apparently the toothbrush features prominently.

Boyle’s novel and Condon’s film treat Kinsey as a theme of high American comedy. There are less laugh-worthy aspects to his work. A eugenicist, he advocated mass sterilisation of the “unfit”. Fellow scientists have queried and discredited his methods. Despite his manic “orgasm counting”, Kinsey was statistically illiterate and skewed his results outrageously. He did much of his fieldwork among prison populations and with prostitutes — many of whom he reclassified as “married women”.

It’s certain that middle-class Americans are duller than Kinsey’s report claimed they were. If you want really wild sex, it would seem, you must go to the sexologists. — Â

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