• U.S.

Medicine: 5,940 Women

22 minute read

(See Cover) Four men collected the information, traveling across the U.S. for 15 years with the patient persistence of secret agents. They tried to be inconspicuous; they knew that they might be misunderstood.

They sought recruits in homes and prisons, saloons and parish houses, burlesque theaters and offices, then interrogated them in private. They took notes in a code which was nowhere written down, and preserved only in the memories of the four. They never traveled together, lest an accident wipe out their secret with them. Coded and catalogued, the facts were locked away, and the book written from them printed in utmost secrecy. Last week presses clattered, turning out pages that were scrupulously counted to make sure that none got away before publication date (Sept. 14).

The subject of this vast inquiry has been a major activity of the human race since Adam & Eve, and yet a lot of people still consider it highly classified. The book: Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, by Alfred C. Kinsey and the staff of the Institute for Sex Research at Indiana University. Its chief author calls it simply “the female volume,” and writes this “♂vol.,” using the scientist’s universal symbol, the mirror of Venus, for the female. For the male he uses &# 9792;, the arrow of Mars.

Some of the hush-hush surrounding the book seemed justified. Dr. Kinsey knew, he said, of five other books trying to beat his to the bookstalls; one had been in type for months, with blanks to be filled in with Kinsey’s figures as soon as they could be obtained. Besides, the suspenseful buildup was excellent publicity. The publishers (Philadelphia’s W. B. Saunders Co.) were counting on a sure bestseller: they had ordered a first printing of 250,000 for the 842-page, $8 tome, were certain that the public was breathless to learn what Kinsey had discovered about the American Woman.

How Sound Are the Figures? Less than six years ago, Kinsey & Co. had brought out Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, first of a projected nine-or ten-volume series of sex studies. It was cluttered with statistical furniture and dull, technical writing; Saunders, a staid old medical publishing house, thought it would be doing well to sell 5,000 copies. By now, the first Kinsey report has sold 250,000 copies in the U.S. and Canada, plus thousands in six translations. It outraged many moralists, infuriated not a few scientists who questioned its reliability, and was a boon to radio comedians, who found that Kinsey’s name had become an acceptable synonym for sex. One spinster snapped back at Kinsey that his elaborate study only confirmed what she had known all along—that “the male population is a herd of prancing, leering goats.”

More serious critics took issue with the Kinsey method itself, and many of the faults found with the male report also apply to the female. Kinsey’s findings are based on small samples which do not represent a fair cross section of the U.S. They are made up of 5.300 white males and of 5,940 white females. Since all of them volunteered their information, and Kinsey takes his volunteers where he can find them, the subjects are not evenly distributed geographically—most come from the northeastern states, Illinois, Florida and California. They are more highly educated than the U.S. as a whole—63% of Kinsey’s male subjects went to college (national average: 15%) and 75% of the women (national average: 13%). The 37% of U.S. women who do not go be yond grade school are represented by only 3% in Kinsey’s sample.* Some religious groups, notably devout Roman Catholics and orthodox Jews, are underrepresented.

Furthermore, critics point out, the statistical yardstick may be technically accurate but misleading: if 50% of U.S. husbands commit adultery at some time in their lives, this does not mean that 50% of them are habitual adulterers — many may slip only once, or only during a long absence from home (e.g., on military service overseas).

Kinsey has admitted many of the limitations of his sampling, has labeled his reports preliminary: he hopes to improve on them later. In this volume he no longer tries to apply his findings to the whole U.S. And in the fine print of his statistical tables he separates the one-time errant from the long-term philanderer. But the first-glance effect of many Kinsey figures remains misleading.

The Key Findings. From what he has learned, within these limitations, Kinsey is convinced that a sexual revolution has taken place in the U.S. in the last 30 years, with women’s behavior changed even more sharply than men’s. His key findings about U.S. women:

¶They are by no means as frigid as they have been made out, and their sex lives often become more satisfactory with age.

¶ Almost exactly 50% have sexual intercourse before marriage (compared to 83% of U.S. men, as reported in Kinsey’s first volume).

¶ About 26% have extramarital relations (compared to 50% of the males).

¶ Ancient and modern myths which have pictured women as practicing fantastic secret perversions have little basis in fact. These aberrations are far commoner among the men, and the myths represent “the male’s wishful thinking, a projection of his own desire . . .”

The Big Change. The Gibson Girl of half a century ago, whaleboned into an hourglass shape, almost never heard the word “sex.” It was a relatively new scientific term, to be distinguished from “love,” which was too idealized, and “lust,” which was too blunt.

Probably the Gibson Girl never heard of “petting” either, but if she was a late model (born in the 1890s and therefore included in Kinsey’s sample), the chances are four out of five that she indulged in it under another name. Says Kinsey: “Many consider petting an invention of modern American youth—the byproduct of an effete and morally degenerate . . . culture. It is taken by some to reflect the sort of moral bankruptcy which must lead to the collapse of any civilization. Older generations did, however, engage in flirting, flirtage, courting, bundling, spooning, mugging, smooching, larking, sparking . . .” But the late Gibson Girls rarely went further. If their testimony to Kinsey held back nothing, only one out of seven unmarried women born in the ‘905 had sexual intercourse by age 25, though the proportion jumped to two out of five by age 40.

Once married, there was a four-to-one chance that the girl who had been raised under Queen Victoria’s long shadow would remain faithful to her husband, no matter how often he might be unfaithful to her. The double standard was still secure.

Then came the big change.

It happened, according to Kinsey’s figures. around the end of World War I. The causes were various. Kinsey cites the writings of Havelock Ellis, one of the first scientists to combine psychology and biology, and Sigmund Freud, who put the spotlight on sex as a cause of human behavior. Of more immediate effect on the U.S. was the draft Army, which threw together men from all walks of life and exposed 2,000,000 of them, overseas, to standards more sophisticated than their own. When they came home, they found U.S. women largely emancipated and close to winning the vote. There were other causes to which Kinsey pays little or no heed. One was Prohibition, which helped destroy respect for law and. indirectly, for all authority (and which also taught women to drink). Another was the widespread breakdown of formal religion. Perhaps at the root of all the causes was the inevitable reaction against the prim Victorian era, which itself was not nearly so safe & sound as it appeared. For beneath its placid surface, a social and intellectual revolution had long been rumbling, which enshrined science and progress as twin gods and established a view of man as a creature governed more by “environment” than by preordained morality.

By the mid-1920s. the new century seemed to be talking (and worrying) more about sex than previous ages. “Frankness” became a respectable pose for cocktail parties, parent-teachers’ meetings and literature. The novelists—Hemingway, D. H. Lawrence, and later Erskine Caldwell and Faulkner—were blatantly detailed, and behind them stood the anthropologists and psychoanalysts with their case histories. But the generation still had no Kinsey. It was left to him to clothe the subject in the sober, convincing, guaranteed-to-be-scientific garb of statistics.

Frigidity. When the Gibson Girls’ daughters arrived on the scene, cloche-hatted flappers, short-skirted and prattling about repressions, this is what happened to the sex lives of U.S. women, according to Kinsey:

The number of women who went in for petting jumped to 91% among those born in the first decade of the century, and to 99% among their kid sisters and their daughters. The proportion of those who would carry petting, as Kinsey puts it. “to the point of orgasm” rose from one-fourth to more than half.

Among women born in the early 1900s intercourse before marriage was twice as frequent as among those born in the ’90s. More than one out of three lost their virginity by age 25. and three out of five, if they were still unmarried at 40.

These more daring women of the restless generation enjoyed marriage more. Kinsey takes sharp issue with psychiatrists and a few gynecologists who have estimated that anywhere from one-third to two-thirds of U.S. women are frigid. Even during the first year of marriage, when the most drastic adjustments have to be made, three wives out of four reach complete fulfillment at least once. Between the ages of 21 and 40 they attain it from 84% to 90% of the time. In sum. says Kinsey, about three-quarters of all sexual relations within marriage end in a satisfactory climax for the wife. However, he reports no case of a woman who attained climax 100% of the time.

Most women born before 1900 had enjoyed no such fulfillment. Many of them, according to Kinsey. did not know that it was possible for a woman to have an orgasm, and if they did know they thought it was “not nice.” Now. says Kinsey. who puts great stock in quantitative analysis: “To have frigidity so reduced in the course of four decades is … a considerable achievement which may be credited, in part, to the franker attitudes and the freer discussion of sex which we have had in the U.S. during the past 20 years. and to the increasing scientific and clinical understanding . . .”

Fidelity. Among Kinsey’s sample of women who had premarital intercourse, one-third had relations with from two to five men, more than half with only one man—and 46% only with the fiancé in the year or so before marriage. Are these women sorry? No. Whether they had later married or not, about three-fourths said they had no regrets, and 12-13% had only “minor” qualms. Among those who avoided intercourse before marriage, nine out of ten said they had done so primarily for moral reasons.

There have been other changes. A full third of the women born before 1900 told Kinsey that they wore night clothes during sexual intercourse. Now, more & more U.S. couples are having intercourse without covers or clothes (all but 8% of today’s newlyweds), and sleep “in the raw.”

Most societies, remarks Kinsey in an anthropological aside, have a double standard about marital fidelity. A few, though they take a dim view of a woman who strays openly, covertly condone her actions if she is discreet and her husband does not become, particularly disturbed. That, suggests Kinsey, is “the direction toward which American attitudes may be moving.”

Among the 2,480 married women in his sample, one-fourth eventually had relations outside marriage by age 40. The rate rose from 6% in the late teens and 9% in the 203, to 26% in the 303 and early 403. Women with different family and social backgrounds behave about the same, but the infidelity rate goes up with education: 31% among those who have been to college, against 24% of high-school graduates.

As for what Kinsey calls “other sexual outlets”: 62% of the women in his sample had masturbated at some time in their lives, but the activity was, for most, not continuous. (At some time, 92% of men masturbate, and for most the activity is more continuous than for women.) Homosexual relationships are far less frequent among women than among men. The activity is virtually confined to unmarried women or those no longer married; a fifth of all Kinsey’s subjects had had some such experience by age 40; one-fourth of the unmarried, only 3% while married. (Among unmarried men, half; of the married, 4.6%.)

But unlike homosexual males, many of whom change partners frequently, half of these women had had only one partner, and one-fifth had had only two.

Age & Sex. Many who profess not to be shocked by Kinsey’s findings dispute them on the coldly factual basis that Kinsey has only his subjects’ word that they are telling the truth. To this, Kinsey can only reply that he does the best he can to insure accuracy by a kind of cross-reference questioning, so that a subject who tias lied at the beginning of the interview will expose himself near the end. Beyond this, he has reinterviewed hundreds of subjects after lapses of two to ten years and they have told substantially the same story; this rules out carefree, offhand lying. However, Kinsey has found that males who have not gone beyond grade school are less reliable informants than the more highly educated, and probably they have exaggerated their juvenile conquests. Similarly, he concedes, women are likely to cover up, so that some of their indiscretions before or after marriage might not show up in his figures.

More important to Kinsey than mere tables of incidence are the underlying biological, physiological and psychological factors which determine sexual behavior. Kinsey believes that he has found out a lot about what men & women must know and do if they are to make a success of marriage.

The answers go back to puberty, and the popular fallacy that girls mature faster than boys. Kinsey notes that girls reach puberty a year earlier than boys, but this is only the beginning of adolescence and is no index to sexual maturity. Boys reach maturity (the height of their physical power for sexual activity) by their late teens, and are already on the downgrade in their early 203. But the curve of a girl’s growing need for sex (or the breaking down of her inhibitions) rises only slowly in her teens,* keeps on rising slowly until she is 29 or 30. Even then there is no sharp peak: the curve levels off, leaving a smooth plateau until age 50 or 60. But the man’s curve keeps on dropping, i.e., his need for sexual activity generally declines while the woman’s stays fairly high. This, says Kinsey, is one of the difficulties he has found in many marriages. It is heightened by the fact that in the early peak years of a man’s activity he resents his wife’s seeming coldness. When her coldness has passed, so has his interest—”especially [if she] has previously objected to the frequency of his requests.”

What Every Woman Wants. Another common fallacy, says Kinsey, is the idea that the female is slower to respond sexually than the male. Not proved, he says. “Females appear to be capable of responding to the point of orgasm as quickly as males, and there are some females who respond more rapidly than any male.” But there is a difference in responsiveness which may explain the common fallacy. It lies in women’s psychology.

They are not as easily stimulated to sexual response as are men. Most of them get no reaction from seeing the male form in the nude, from “beefcake” pictures of undraped athletes, or from erotic stories. What every woman wants, Kinsey has gathered from long hours of listening, is “a considerable amount of generalized emotional stimulation before there is any specific sexual contact.” This is an ancient truth, known to scientists in the field and every successful husband, now confirmed by Kinsey’s massive statistics.

The Workshop. Kinsey’s statistical laboratory is an unlikely spot: the basement of an old, ivy-clad brick building (which also houses the department of home economics) on the tree-shaded campus of Indiana University. The door is marked “Institute for Sex Research—Walk In.” A summer visitor is met by a wave of well-chilled air, and the whole atmosphere is one of scientific frigor. There is nothing in sight as provocative as a Petty calendar; only ultra-modern steel desks, work tables, filing cabinets and posture chairs.

Though Kinsey now lists all 14 members of the institute staff as co-authors of “the female volume,” the key men around him are three: Psychologist Wardell B. Pomeroy, 39, and Statistician Clyde E. Martin, 35 (who were credited as co-authors of the male volume), and Anthropologist Paul H. Gebhard, 36. These three, along with Kinsey, are the only men who know the hieroglyphic code used for taking down case histories (on 8½ by 11 in. sheets). From the code-marked sheets, one of Kinsey’s three chief lieutenants transfers the data to 3¼ by 7⅜ in. punch cards. A single history may take 20 or more cards: each woman’s history has to be recorded under different key headings. Then, by running a given batch of cards through a machine, the statistician can tell, for instance, what proportion of Protestant women were virgins at marriage, or what proportion of all women who were virgins at marriage (regardless of religion) have been divorced. The possible combinations are almost endless.

To buttress the information gathered from interviews and to supply background for it, the institute has a library of 16,000 volumes ranging from ancient Japanese marriage manuals and Brantome’s Les Vies des Dames Galantes, to Joyce’s Ulysses and Kathleen Winsors Forever Amber. By no means all are spicy: the catalogue covers anthropology and bibliography, biology and medicine, law. psychology and religion.

The Eager Helpers. Kinsey’s real laboratory is the whole U.S. He will go to any amount of trouble to collect case histories from a region, a cultural group, an occupational class or a religious sect which may not be adequately represented in his samples. Stray individuals figure less and less in his work. Kinsey commonly accepts an invitation to address (without fee) an organization such as a conference of Y.W.C.A. secretaries: After he has described the nature and purpose of his study, he calls for volunteers to sign up for interviews. He often gets a response as high as 80% even from a prim, spinsterish group.

Some groups are tougher. It took him three years, Kinsey likes to recall, to win the confidence of “the Times Square underworld.” Once the goons and dope peddlers learned that he was a straight-shooter who would not betray them to the cops, they began to take pride in helping a man of science. Now, if he loiters on the steps of Manhattan’s Astor Hotel, he needs a bodyguard to fend off the too-willing contributors.

Funds have been offered as willingly as information. Kinsey’s backers: Indiana U., which pays his salary ($9,600) as professor of zoology, and provides space and physical facilities without, so far the slightest objection from Hoosier state legislators; and the Rockefeller Foundation which sends Kinsey $40,000 each year through the National Research Council In addition, about an equal sum comes from royalties on the male volume which go to the institute (Kinsey takes only his professorial salary).

The Consequences. What is the effect of Kinsey’s work on the U.S.? It may take another Kinsey report, 20 years hence, to find out. But certain effects are already visible.

Perhaps the biggest of them is conversational. Despite the tremendous increase of talk about sex after World War I, public and printed discussion was accepted only gradually. As late as the ’30s the New York Times refused ads for Ideal Marriage, by a highly respectable Dutch physician, Theodoor H. Van de Velde, who spoke of sex with great candor but also with an almost romantic reverence No single event did more for open discussion of sex than the Kinsey report, which got such matters as homosexuality, masturbation, coitus and orgasm into most papers and family magazines.

Another effect has been on legislation concerning sex offenders. Current laws charges Kinsey, are antiquated and unrealistic, bear no relation to the facts of sexual behavior. Many of their punitive provisions, even if rigorously enforced, could not possibly produce the results expected of them. In this field, change so far has been slow but distinct, e.g., largely on the basis of Kinsey’s testimony, California’s legislature has dropped a plan for compulsory castration of sex offenders.

When Kinsey’s first volume appeared sermons, editorials and dinner conversation warned that it might encourage the practices which it described as widespread, e.g., a husband hesitating on the brink of adultery might be encouraged by hearing that 50% of all U.S. men do commit adultery. How well-grounded this fear may be is still far from clear. So far, there is concrete evidence that the Kinsey book has had any such effect, and studies at colleges have shown post-Kinsey youth to be no different from the pre-Kinsey group. Court records show no increase in sex offenses. Many psychologists doubt that anyone intelligent enough to follow Kinsey’s complicated statistical report would be impressionable enough to be. in the phrase of New York’s late Mayor Walker, “ruined by a book.”

This argument is countered by the fact that the gist of the book became known to millions who never read it. Kinsey’s work expresses and strengthens an attitude that can be dangerous: the idea that there is morality in numbers.

What Is Normal? An old pollster has suggested the formula: Freud + Gallup x Kinsey. The formula is correct to the extent that Kinsey combines the 20th century’s preoccupation with sex, symbolized by Sigmund Freud, with a weakness for piling up facts & figures, symbolized by George Gallup. In earlier ages of Western civilization, the dominant question about opinion was never how many people held it, but whether it was right or wrong.

Kinsey argues that right and wrong are not his business : he is simply a scientific reporter who is trying to find out what goes on. But he carries to great lengths the syllogism that 1) man is an animal; 2) some animals do all the things that are condemned in modern society as abnormal or perverted; 3) since animals are natural 5 behavior is natural. To Kinsey, anything is “biologically normal” that a lot of people— or animals— do. And Kinsey’s tolerance goes to extremes: “The male who reacts sexually . . . upon seeing a streetcar may merely reflect some early experience in which a streetcar was associated with a desirable sexual partner; and his behavior may be no more difficult to explain than the behavior of the male who reacts at the sight of his wife undressing for bed.”

The Columbus of Sex? For years Biologist Kinsey used to investigate the habits of the gall wasp. Since he has switched to humans, he has lost much of his scientific detachment. In his passionate lefense of the taxonomic method (the scientific classification of living things) he ignored or attacked the findings of anthropologists, sociologists and psychoanalysts. Says a friend and fellow sci-“There is too much emotion there He should have been a revivalist.”

Kinsey’s own emotion about science may blind him to one of science’s shortcomings: the great difficulty it has in dealing precisely with the emotions of human beings (as distinct from the motions of gall wasps). Kinsey can record only overt acts, or the memories of them plus a few mental attitudes of which his subjects are sufficiently aware to tell him In the female volume, which he calls a far more human document than its predecessor, he does his best to explore the psychological factors in sex. But he can only check off emotions; he cannot measure them. He cannot detect (and this is where his kinship to Freud ends) emotional factors buried deep in the unconscious, or religious and ethical concepts which are none the less real and forceful for being “unscientific.” Human beings who need ideals and emotions as well as the physical comforts of marriage have values which no punch card or computer can capture.

“Kinsey … has done for sex what Columbus did for geography,” declared a a pair of enthusiasts (Lawyer Morris Ernst and Biographer David Loth) forgetting that Columbus did not know where he was when he got there. Perhaps inspired by the accolade, Kinsey opens his second volume with the words : “There is no ocean of greater magnitude than the sexual function.” Kinsey a dedicated explorer, has sailed a long way over that vast and deep ocean, but he has only fled the surface currents. His interviews are echo-soundings. Kinsey’s work contains much that is valuable, but it must not be mistaken for the last word.

* The female sample excludes Negroes because Kinsey had too few of their histories; it excludes women in prison because their stories differed too widely from women in ordinary life Included are females aged 2 to 90 (little girls’ apparent sexual responses were reported by adults), from a wide variety of social, economy, and cultural backgrounds. Sample occupations-acrobat, archeologist, auditor, barmaid, chemist, dentist, dice girl, governess, laundress lawyer, missionary, politician, puppeteer, probation officer, prostitute, riveter, robber, social worker soda jerker, teacher, typist, U.N. delegate, WAC. *Less inhibited were some noted teenagers of the past. Says Kinsey: “Helen was twelve years old when Paris carried her off from Sparta Daphnis was 15 and Chloe was 13. Heloi’se was 18 when she fell in love with Abelard. Tristram was 19 when he first met Isolde. Juliet was 1’ess than 14 when Romeo made love to her. All of these youths, the great lovers of history, would be looked upon as immature adolescents and identified as juvenile delinquents if they were living today.”

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