SEX-THE MEASURE OF ALL THINGS
A life of Alfred C.Kinsey by Jonathan Gathorne-Hardy
(Chatto 514 pp. £20)
reviewed by Roz Kaveney
There has always got to be someone to blame.
For a long time, Rightwing Republicans in the US blamed Doctor Spock for the Sixties; his advice about gentle permissive parenting had produced a generation who refused to fight their wars, listened to loud music and probably inhaled. More recently, their allegedly Christian allies, being even more interested in stopping people making love than in encouraging them to make war, have persuaded them to turn their fire onto the man whom they blame for encouraging adultery, fornication and sodomy. When considering Alfred Kinsey, it is always important to remember who his enemies are and were.
The case against Kinsey and his surveys of sexual behaviour has grown up over the years. His previous biographer Jones, whom Gathorne-Hardy stitches up at length, argued that his scientific objectivity was hopelessly compromised by his fascinated exploration of his own sexuality - that, in particular, he deliberately over-estimated the number of male homosexuals because he was one. Subsequent surveys have ritually criticised his methodology; some feminists have claimed that he was a misogynist. Most importantly, and increasingly, he has been accused of being the accomplice of his paedophile informants.
There is a sense in which no-one ever ceases to be religious; when Kinsey left organized religion behind, he retained a sense of ministry and a hatred of hypocrites. He looked around him at a culture of sexual ignorance in which seventeen year olds could receive life sentences for consensual sex with women their own age and in which everyone lied about how much and what kinds of sex were going on, and what its consequences were. The demand that he be objective about what he saw as monstrous, that his work not be in some sense a crusade, is absurd; the human intellect does not work that way.
The question is, was his work scientific? Kinsey argued that interviews about sex leave interviewees open to damage, interviewers open to misinformation. Accordingly, he selected and trained, and sometimes seduced, his researchers as if they were priests or therapists; other surveys have recruited their researchers without much thought and trained them in three days.
Jones alleged that he overused his interviews with homosexual men and loaded his sample; Gathorne-Hardy demonstrates that this is simply untrue - Kinsey planned a book on homosexuality, but carefully adjusted his figures for the prevalence of homosexual acts downwards in order to avoid such loading. If other surveys have come up with a somewhat lower figure, this is in part because they have failed to understand that a random sampling across a whole country will inevitably underestimate a population that congregates in particular cities, districts and households. This argument is not about statistical rigour; it is about voting blocs and political clout.
The accusation of misogyny is not sustainable. Kinsey and his wife Mac sustained a loving working partnership long after they had started their careers of conscientious sexual adventure; he may have suggested swinging with his researchers to her, but the evidence implies no reluctance on her, or their, part, indicates considerable enthusiasm. More importantly, and providing some context, Kinsey's advice to the ever-increasing body of correspondents and callers indicates his vast sympathy for, and empathy with, women. His work on male sexual incompetence and the multiple focuses of female sexual pleasure prefigures that of feminists like Shere Hite. It is only if one believes that no man should try to understand female sexuality that the charge of misogyny can rationally stand.
The one charge in which there is any real merit is that he was naive about his paedophile informants. Kinsey had had to decide where he drew the line of universal tolerance and had drawn it at violent compulsion. Offered the sexual records of Rex King, who had been having and observing sex with a myriad partners, some of them very young, Kinsey allowed himself to be persuaded out of his original abhorrence of the idea of adult-child relations because of King's evidence about children's physiological response to sexual stimulation. Where possible, he sought confirmation about that response from non-paedophile sources, and seems to have found it. Ironically, the perspective from which we abhor his use of King's records, the testimony of abuse survivors, derives from the culture of sexual openness which Kinsey helped create.
The attack on Kinsey over this undoubtedly indefensible decision is in part, let us not delude ourselves, motivated by a determination to attack the idea that children have any sexuality at all. It has been claimed, most recently by Tim Tate in his Channel 4 documentary on August 10th, that Kinsey went on receiving current records of child abuse from King until 1954. This appears to be a lie; indeed, when Tate appears to show Gathorne-Hardy confirming its truth, he does so by misleading cutting from Gathorne-Hardy's response to a question about the date of King's death.
The attack on Kinsey has focussed on this issue in part because it offers an opportunity to compromise fatally the confidentiality of the Kinsey Institute's records. If it can be claimed, in suits for damages, that Kinsey actively commissioned child abuse as opposed to using diaries of what had already happened, the files of the Institute can be subpoenaed. The Institute's workers are prepared to destroy the index and to go to jail to protect not their few paedophile informants , but the thousands of others. Haters of Kinsey's social legacy regard this as a win-win situation.
Jones's often mendacious scandal-mongering and his intense homophobia found echoes in most of his reviewers. As the class of 68 reaches 50, those of us who were intemperately enthusiastic about radicalism and liberation then are all too prepared intemperately to believe the worst now. If those of us who were then soggy liberals and, without changing, have been left by the tides of history as last defenders of the faith, are a bit smug in our contempt for this, who can blame us?
Gathorne-Hardy's excellent, far from adulatory, biography of Kinsey has to spend much time refuting the more bizarre charges, charges that Jones's reviewers swallowed uncritically. With all Kinsey's faults, it is indisputable that the results of his survey and crusade were a vast increase in human possibility and happiness. Those who want to destroy his reputation are those who want to turn back that clock. When considering Kinsey, one has in the end, and however critically, to decide which side one is on.
Golly, I hadn't reread that. It pitches it hot and strong; I sometimes forget that I have always had a capacity for anger.
Otherwise, contemplating all the Jesus stuff in Xena with appalled fascination...How did they get away with the one in which Eli/Jesus gets rescued by Xena/Krishna? And all the threesome chemistry?
And Callisto got to be an angel before Darla? And tips off Jesus that he should resurrect Xena and Gabrielle before their war in heaven gets out of hand?
That's worth tipping when I write my Cordy/Darla buddy angelcops story.
(Plus, the actor who later played Braca in Farscape as Brutus? Sidekicks to bad charismatic leaders with slash chemistry are clearly his thing.)