Kinsey’s Study of Female Sex Behavior (Sep, 1953)
I love the phrase “petted to climax”. “Yeah, Sally and I went behind old Mr. Millers barn and we… well.. we petted to climax. It was hot!”
This is a pretty fair and thorough review of the Kinsey Study published just before the actual book became available.
A Social Scientist’s Evaluation of Kinsey’s Study of Female Sex Behavior
Amram Scheinfeld takes issue with the startling conclusions in the most widely heralded sex study of modern times
Well. the Kinsey report on female sex lifeâ€”the most feverishly awaited, most wildly speculated on, most sensationally publicized book in historyâ€”is open for inspection at long last. And we can all breathe easier.
True, it makes many interesting disclosuresâ€”and some disturbing and surprising onesâ€”about the girls and women interviewed by the Kinsey team. Also, it boldly attacks many of our existing sex standards with blistering arguments plainly slanted against chastity and in favor of what used to be called free love. But for the most part, it is a technical treatise offering little that is startlingly new and much that is doubtful. It definitely does not measure up to the expectations of a shattering blast that was to upset all our sex thinking and change the whole pattern of our lives.
The Report Is Disappointing
Those who anticipated a lurid, all-revealing peek into the boudoirs of American women will be greatly disappointed. So, too, will be the scientists and other serious thinkers who had hoped that now, finally, we would get the full, frank, scientifically accurate facts to guide us toward a saner handling of women’s sex problems. For instead of emphatically proclaiming, “This is the sexual behavior of American women,” the report haltingly asks, “Is this the sexual behavior of American women?” and reluctantly answers, in effect, “Well … no … not exactly of all women.
Only of those who are like those we interviewed, and they, we admit, are not quite typical.”
So, when this Kinsey report says, “40 per cent of our sample were nonvirgins before marriage,” “adultery had been committed by 25 per cent or more of the married women by the age of forty,” “homosexuality had been actively engaged in by 20 per cent, masturbation by 62 per cent,” it may be referring not to you, and people like you, but to a couple of other females somewhere.
Be equally wary when you read the sizzling Kinsey conclusionsâ€”that what we’ve been teaching our daughters about sex is all wrong, that chastity may often do more harm than good, that premarital sex relations are likely to help toward adjustment in many ways (maritally, psychologically, socially), and that girls who don’t indulge in sex may be refraining less because their morals are strong than because their sex urges are weak. These and other Kinsey conclusions may he largely theories, without scientific proof as yet to back them up, particularly when they are applied to American women in general.
Before going on, let’s explain that we’re discussing the big sex-study project directed by Dr. Alfred C. Kinsey of the University of Indiana. To date, sex histories have been gathered from over 16,000 males and females who volunteered for questioning by Dr. Kinsey or his chief aides, Dr. Wardell B. Pomeroy, Clyde E. Martin, and Dr. Paul Gebhard. The first Kinsey report, published in 1948, was a study of the sex behavior of 5,300 white males. The forthcoming report, Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, discloses what was told by 5,940 white females.
The Supersecret Sex Institute
Although at this writing the book still awaits formal publication (it will be published later this month), we were privileged an advance look at it at the university. There, in the soundproofed chambers of the Institute for Sexual Research, where the sex records are kept in secret code amid all- the precautions of an atom-bomb project, proofs of the book were shown to a small group of writers representing leading magazines and press services.
There was an Alice in Wonderland quality about the whole thingâ€”the awesome atmosphere, the solemn signing of contracts binding us and our editors to certain stipulations, the briefing, the pledges of secrecy, the injunctions about guarding the proofs and our notes, the disclosure that a half dozen quickie book publishers were set to rush into print on the Kinsey report the minute they could get the facts and that Dr. Kinsey had turned down a $100,000 offer for a scoop on his findings. In the memory of the oldest reporter, there’d never been anything like this.
Then, behind bolted doors, we read the book. The letdown was as big as the build-up.
It isn’t only that the new findings aren’t very startling (the estimates for nonvirginity, adultery, and homosexuality, for instance, are almost the same as those reported years ago in sex studies of similarly selected females), or that the conclusions echo long-familiar arguments of proponents of greater sex freedom. But the new report not only confesses its own shortcomings but backtracks or hedges on much of what was considered most important in the previous Kinsey report, on males. In fact, recognizing that its findings are uncertain and too limited for general application, the new Kinsey book greatly cuts down on the tables and statistics that seemed so impressive in the previous volume, and devotes much more space to discussing other sex studies.
But if the new Kinsey report lacks much of the sensationalism and dogmatism of its predecessor, it is by the same token a much sounder workâ€”perhaps, from the professional standpoint, the best treatise on the biological and functional aspects of sex yet produced. However, it has so many ifs and buts that for the average reader it should be labeled, “Handle with care.”
Kinsey’s Females Aren’t Typical
Now to details. The book concedes at the outset that the Kinsey females are a rather special group. Fully 75 per cent have attended college, and of these 19.4 per cent have done graduate work, though only 7.5 per cent of American white women have gone to college. Unmarried women comprise 58 per cent of the Kinsey females, which is three times their national representation. About 60 per cent of them belong in the upper white-collar and professional ranks. Catholics are underrepresented (12 per cent) and Jews are overrepresented (29 per cent), and of the latter, less than 7 per cent were devout (a significant fact since non-religious women were found to be far more sexually active and unconventional). Finally, almost 70 per cent of the Kinsey females came from ten states (mainly New York. Pennsylvania. Illinois, and Indiana, and also California, New Jersey, Ohio, Florida, Massachusetts, and Maryland), and 90 per cent lived in cities or smaller towns.
Thus the females dealt with are least apt to be like you sexually if you are a woman who didn’t go to college, or are not in the white-collar or professional group, or are Catholic, or live on a farm, or were reared in the Southeast, Pacific Northwest, or the high-plain and Rocky Mountain areas. And since, in the first place, it is likely that a woman who volunteers to be interviewed on her sex life is not typical, that leaves the Kinsey females in a pretty small minority.
Why the Report Is Important
What point, then, is there in talking about them at such length? First, the sexual behavior of these females may not be too different from that of millions of others. Second, since Dr. Kinsey is regarded as our No. 1 sex expert, what he reports merits our earnest attention. Third, because the new Kinsey findings, right or wrong, are going to be talked about for years to come, it is important that you know the facts.
Here, then, is the story of the Kinsey females:
Sexual arousal began for many in early childhood. By the age of ten. 8 per cent, and by thirteen. 14 per cent, already had experienced climax, chiefly from masturbation and petting. With the teens, petting increased, and by eighteen, a big majority had petted, many to climax. However, other sexual activity by girls ran far behind that of adolescent boys. Masturbation was reported by 20 per cent of the girls, compared with 80 per cent of the boys, and climactic sex dreams were infrequent among the girls. Further, the incidence of sex dreams and masturbation increased among women as they matured, whereas in males it greatly declined. Two women in five had at some time experienced a climax as a result of a sex dream.
Half the Kinsey females were non-virgins, if single, or had been nonvirgins before marriage, though many of the nonvirgins had had relations with only their future husbands. By fifteen, 3 per cent of the Kinsey females had had intercourse; by twenty, one in five; by twenty-four, one in three. Dr. Pomeroy estimates that by thirty-five, one unmarried American woman in two is not a virgin. However, to parents worried about their coed daughters away at school, Dr. Kinsey says, “It is in the home where most premarital intercourse takes place. What is more, . . . coeds have a smaller proportion of their sex relations with men in the college town and a larger proportion while at home during vacations.”
For the married Kinsey females, a significant point is the withdrawal of the first report’s finding that intercourse is more frequent and more satisfying among less educated couples. The new report finds that frequency of intercourse is about the same on all educational levels and that sexual satisfaction may be even greater for the more educated women. The biggest factor is age, which most affects the husband’s desires and capacities. Among wives in their late teens, intercourse averaged about three times weekly; by thirty, it was somewhat over twice a week: by forty, about three times in two weeks; by fifty, once a week, and decreasing thereafter. After fifty-five, 80 per cent were still having intercourse.
Married women experienced a climax in about three out of four sex acts. Climax was reached less often in the first years of marriage, more often later. About one in seven wives said they responded during each sex act with two or three climaxes. The report says that too much sophistication in sex technique may hinder rather than aid achievement of a climax. Though Dr. Kinsey still estimates that about 30 per cent of the American women are sexually unresponsive, he no longer claims that many of these women were born that way. He now believes that “probably all females are physiologically capable of response if properly conditioned.”
Adultery figures for the Kinsey females may or may not be shocking, depending on what is expected. Of the married women up to the age of forty, one in four admitted to having cheated at one time or another. However, we’re told that in view of the tendency to conceal unfaithfulness, the actual figures may be even higher. Half the Kinsey males had extramarital relations. Many women said their husbands had encouraged them to have affairs, and others were unfaithful to get even for their husbands’ cheating or other abuses. The majority claimed they got away with it, even (in about half the cases) if the husband knew or suspected. A number felt their marital adjustment was improved by the outside experience.
The woman who isn’t a virgin at marriage is twice as likely to commit adultery. Also, adultery is held to increase as a marriage lengthens, because both marital ties and moral restraints grow weaker and motivations and temptations grow greater.
Morals Unchanged Since 1920’s
Are American women becoming sexually looser? No, says Dr. Kinsey. There hasn’t been much change in the past thirty years. The big change he dates back to the Roaring Twenties, just after World War I, when increasing numbers of young women began to flout sexual restraints. Thus, more premarital petting and intercourse were reported by the Kinsey females of forty or younger than among the women fifty and older. In the forty-or-younger group, we’re told, intercourse is about 20 per cent less frequent than that reported by the fifty-and-older group when they were at the age of the younger group. However, among the younger wives, there is greater sexual satisfaction. In fact, failure to respond to climax occurred less than half as often among the younger women as among the older women. This is attributed to a better understanding of sex, more premarital sex experience by women, and more .considerate efforts by the more modern husbands to evoke their wives’ responses. (A note on lessened inhibitions: The report says more than half . the wives interviewed slept in the raw and that sleeping in the nude is found oftener among the younger women, “much to the consternation of manufacturers of night clothing.”)
Some of the most interesting, though still speculative. Kinsey observations are about male-female sex differences:
â€”The sex organs of males and females, the report maintains, are anatomically much more alike than generally assumed, and they differ little in their sensations. The climax itself, as well as its aftereffects, are essentially the same in both sexes. (This assumption, to which we’ll refer again, is open to serious doubt, as was pointed out in last month’s Cosmopolitan.)
â€”If women don’t respond sexually as quickly or easily as men, it’s not because they can’t. It may be because of something in the techniques of intercourse or because of the fact that women are more easily distracted during the sex act (this is also true of females among the lower animals).
â€”A woman’s breasts are much less a source of sexual stimulation to her than men suppose. In fact, they may contribute more to the male’s sexual arousal than to her own.
â€”Though most males can get sexually excited by just thinking or talking about sex, two-thirds of the females experience little or no arousal. Sex jokes leave 86 per cent of the Kinsey females cold, although they may enjoy the humor.
â€”Seeing nude males or pictures of them is no thrill for 88 per cent of the women, and it is even revolting to many. Two thirds of the males admitted to having peeped at a disrobing female, but women rarely bothered to peep at disrobing men. â€”At movies, women seem more sexually stimulated by love scenes, but the men are probably trying to suppress their emotions. Reading sexy fiction arouses just as many women (60 per cent of them) as men, though 40 per cent in each sex say they aren’t affected. â€”Strip-teasers say that no matter how they may wiggle and oo-la-la, they themselves get no erotic kick out of their performances and have contempt for men who are so easily misled as to think they do.
In general, the Kinsey theory continues to be that women are by nature much less sexually responsive to psychological factors than are men and that it is this, rather than any greater morality of women, that makes them indifferent or antagonistic to sex exhibitions, lovemak-ing in the light, or anything that has to do with the portrayal of sex. Also confirmed is the first report’s conclu-sion that the female’s sexual development lags far behind the male’s and takes an entirely different course throughout the individual’s life. The male peak of sexual performance and potency is placed at about the age of seventeen, and it is thought to decline steadily and sharply thereafter. In females, the sexual peak is not reached until about the age of thirty, and thereafter it remains at almost the same levelâ€”or declines very graduallyâ€”until the fifties and perhaps later. The latest age at which any woman in the Kinsey study reported having a climax was seventy-five, but in some of the Kinsey cases not dealt with in this book, climaxes were reported by women as old as ninety.
Differences in Premarital Sex
The most important difference between the average man and woman, it is claimed, is in the amount of sex experience each has had before marriage. Taking all the Kinsey statistics on wives and husbands, we find that at marriage, 80 per cent of the males had had intercourse, compared with 50 per cent of the females; and whereas virtually 100 per cent of the men had previously experienced climax through one means or anotherâ€”the average bridegroom more than 1,500 timesâ€”a third of the brides had never had this experience.
This difference in premarital sex experience, in Dr. Kinsey’s view, accounts for many cases of marital incompatibility. The great extremes of sex experience among womenâ€”with one woman having had thousands of climaxes, another going through life with noneâ€”is considered by Dr. Kinsey a major reason why there are many more women incapable of understanding other women than there are men who don’t understand other men.
The Findings Favor Looser Morals
The real impact of the new Kinsey report, as we noted at the outset, will come if its findings and conclusions are used to support demands for widespread changes in our codes and standards governing women’s sexual behavior. The report itself, although professing to be scientifically objective, leaves little doubt as to where it stands. It briefly sets up the arguments against premarital sex activity for girlsâ€”the dangers of pregnancy, abortion, venereal disease, guilt, loss of male respect, weakening of will powerâ€” and then proceeds to counter each of these arguments by citing the experiences of the Kinsey females.
First, there is a vigorous defense of petting during adolescence. In addition to providing a sexual outlet, the report maintains, petting introduces girls to the “physical, psychological, and social problems involved in making emotional adjustments to individuals,” helps to acquaint them with various types of males and to “acquire wisdom in choosing their future husbands,” and gives them needed sexual experience at an age when they are “biologically best equipped” to acquire it and when trial and error will be less disastrous to them than after they are married.
Next is the clear implication that once a girl pets, she should carry it to the climax, which, the report claims, will bring her “comfort and peace” (unless “contaminated with guilt reactions”). Among those who stopped before the climax, a quarter suffered nervous upsets, physical pains, and disturbed thinking.
Third, I find it plainly implied that a girl might well go beyond petting. The Kinsey contention is that premarital intercourse, in addition to satisfying a physiological need, “may enable individuals to learn to adjust . . . [and] come to understand each other … in a way not possible in any other type of social relationship” and will “contribute to the effectiveness of nonsexual relationships as well.”
The dangers of premarital intercourse, on the other hand, are held to have grown less and less. Among the Kinsey non-virgins, the risk of pregnancy from a single act of intercourse was reported as one in a thousand (a total of 476 pregnancies resulted from 460.000 acts by 2.094 single women), and it is argued that with more attention to modern means of contraception there would be practically no reason for even this pregnancy rate. Also, though venereal disease was acquired by about one in forty of the Kinsey nonvirgins, new preventive methods and cures make this threat relatively unimportant.
But of even more significance than these arguments is Kinsey’s denial that loss of virginity brings psychic disturbances and lasting regrets. Of the non-virgins interviewed, three out of four expressed no regrets. The least regretful were those who’d been most promiscuous, and the most regretful were those who’d had the least sex activity. But even Dr. Kinsey was surprised that among the unmarried women who’d become pregnant, four out of five “registered little or no regret.”
An Approving Nod for Nonvirgins
While giving the nonvirgins an approving nod, the Kinsey report indicates that if a girl doesn’t engage in sex activity before marriage, it may be less because she’s overrighteous than because she’s undersexed. Noting that almost half the Kinsey virgins admitted lack of sexual responsiveness as a factor, the report quotes the saying, “It’s easier to abstain from sin when one is not physically or physiologically endowed with the capacity to sin.” It adds that fear of what others would think was a major factor in keeping many girls virgins, while 22 per cent frankly conceded lack of opportunity as among the reasons, and 14 per cent of them cited fear of venereal disease.
Expressing pity for the “sexually frustrated” and “inhibited” females, the report blames “the church, the home, and the school” as “the chief sources of the sexual inhibitions, the distaste for all aspects of sex, the fears of physical difficulties that may be involved [and], the feelings of guilt . . . which many females carry with them into marriage.” Citing its finding that among wives who had not experienced climax before marriage, failure to respond to their husbands was three times as often as among those who had, the report observes that “the chances of working out sexual adjustments seem to have been materially reduced for the girl who hadn’t previously learned what it means to let herself go and respond uninhibitedly.” Also: “When there are long years of abstinence and restraint . . . the acquired inhibitions may do such damage to the capacity to respond that it may take some years to get rid of them after marriage, if indeed they are ever dissipated.”
A Dig at Frigid Spinsters
Kinsey’s most biting comments are reserved for the “frigid spinsters” who, not understanding what sex is, attempt to restrict the sex behavior of others. Referring to the more than a quarter of the unmarried older Kinsey femalesâ€” including many teachers, directors of youth organizations, club leaders, physicians, and political figuresâ€”who never had climax,- the report warns of the damage that may be done by such “sexually unresponsive, frustrated females” in the “guidance of our youth” and the dictation of public policies and legislation governing sex. An implication is that the better mentors of sex might be “the other half to two-thirds” of the unmarried Kinsey females “who did understand the significance of sex and were not living the blank or sexually frustrated lives which our culture, paradoxically, had expected them to live.”
How should we take these sweeping conclusions? Whatever one’s own attitude, it should be absolutely clear that the Kinsey arguments are based chiefly on the reported experiences of a highly selected, limited, and atypical group of females. And furthermore, the whole Kinsey system of rating the sexual adjustment or lack of it in women appears to be governed primarily by a single criterion: the number of climaxes and their frequency in relation to the sex acts performed, regardless of how the climaxes are experienced. The impression is given that women with high scores are well-adjusted sexually, and probably in other respects, too, whereas women with low scores are not. None of this is supported by any real scientific proof.
With respect to the married women, no evidence is offered to show that those with the highest number of sexual responses were indeed the happiest with, their husbands, or that there is a direct relationship between climax-frequency and the lasting quality of marriages. No check was made by the Kinsey team on whether divorced women actually did have the lowest climax scores. This should be so if the theory is correct. Nor is any evidence offered that the unmarried Kinsey females who had the greatest amount of sex experience are the happiest and best-adjusted of all.
In many other ways, the criticisms of the first Kinsey book, and those predicted for the new book, are now amply justified. It remains extremely doubtful whether the sexual behavior of girls and women can be reduced to and measured in ‘terms of “biological performance” without full attention to the social and psychological factors in individual lives. The Kinsey studies have not yet considered these factors. It is even more questionable whether from the shaky springboard of uncertain statistics about limited and special groups of females, it is possible to jump straightway to drastic conclusions concerning American women in general.
When the professional critics have had a chance to analyze the new Kinsey report, we will be better able to judge its scientific validity and importance. Meanwhile, one may venture the belief that many more representative sex histories will have to be gathered and much more research will have to be done on the psychological and socialâ€”and on the moral â€”aspects of sex before the American public can be told, “This is the full truth about your sex lives, and this is what Science prescribes that you do about the sex lives of your children.”
What Kinsey’s Report Overlooks
Just one more thing. Flying back from Indiana, high above the clouds, I kept wondering why this new Kinsey report seemed so unreal as well as unconvincing. Then I happened to glance across the aisle at a young GI and his wife, with their baby. The soldier was fast asleep. So was the baby, nestled in its mother’s arms. But the young woman was dreamily awake, her head snuggled against her husband’s shoulder, and I watched her eyes look up at him adoringly, then move down to her baby, then back to her husband again. It came to me, suddenly, what was lacking in the Kinsey treatise. Among all the hundreds of pages of statistics, tables, and text, dealing in such detail with “premarital and marital coitus,” “petting,” “masturbation,” “homosexuality,” “adultery,” and so on, I could recall seeing nothing about two experiences which, one would certainly suppose, have a great deal to do with a woman’s sexual behavior: motherhoodâ€”and love.