Today in History: Kinsey’s “Sexual Behavior in the Human Male”

Jim Burroway

January 3rd, 2008

Sexual Behavior In the Human MaleSixty years ago on January 5, 1948, the first installment of what would become known as “The Kinsey Reports” was released. (Correction: The actual release date was January 5th, 1948.) The dry, scientific Sexual Behavior in the Human Male was published by a little-known publisher of medical textbooks and journals, who had no idea what they were getting into when they agreed to publish the book. Their experience was with a limited customer base where a run of 5,000 copies was considered a huge success. They ended up publishing a quarter of a million during that first year instead.

The only one who wasn’t surprised by the runaway success of Sexual Behavior in the Human Male was Alfred Kinsey himself. He and his colleagues had spent the previous nine years interviewing nearly 12,000 people across the country, asking them questions covering more than five hundred details of their intimate, sexual lives. And the book came out just as America was emerging from the frugality that marked the Great Depression and World War II, full of economic and cultural vitality and itching to make thousands of babies at the start of the Baby Boom.

Ooh!The Kinsey Reports quickly entered popular culture along with Tiki-chic, bachelor pads, and a huge post-war baby boom. Sex was breaking out all over, and “Kinsey” became a popular code-word for anything risque. Now, sixty years later, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (and its companion volume Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, which appeared in 1953) are still the books that everyone loves — especially those who never read them. They are also the books that social conservatives love to hate, blaming them for sparking the sexual revolution of the 1960’s.

To commemorate the 60th anniversary of Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, we look at the controversies, the statistics, the methodological problems, and the revolutionary role these two book played in American culture in our latest report, “According To The Kinsey Reports: A Noisy Revolution In Social Science and Popular Culture”

Emily K

January 3rd, 2008

Jim, do you have any rebuttal to the social conservatives’ declaration that Kinsey’s studies are flawed, and that his “10% gay” result is incorrect?

Jim Burroway

January 3rd, 2008

I don’t know if you read According to the Kinsey Report, but I detail some of the Kinsey Reports flaws there. In fact, most social conservatives are correct when they say the Kinsey Reports are flawed from a statistical representative standpoint. They are not statistically representative of the US population.

As for the 10% figure, I don’t have anything online that rebuts or supports that figure. That will have to wait for a future report.

Randi Schimnosky

January 3rd, 2008

Jim, surely with 12000 interviews one can select 1000 or so to have a statistically significant and representative sample for use in drawing generalizations – it should be relatively easy to exclude prison interviews and so on that skew the all inclusive data set.

a. mcewen

January 3rd, 2008

if i can throw something out here –

isn’t it contradictory for anti-gay industry groups to accuse Alfred Kinsey of faulty research but then use books produced by the Kinsey Institute to demonize gays.

The Family Research Council has a “study” that lists the Kinsey Institute’s book Homosexualities as one of its sources.

Suricou Raven

January 3rd, 2008

Emily: Thats easy. The claim is incorrect. And Kinsey never made it. Its commonly attributed to him, but he never said it, and none of his research claims it.

More modern surveys put the figure at various lower points, ranging from 3% to 6%.

Speaking of survey flaws, I saw a good one today… a website poll on ONN asking people how much of their income they give to charity. Response optional. Anyone else see the bias in this one?

Ron Suresha

January 4th, 2008

Re “According to the Kinsey Reports…”,024.htm

Glad to see that you have taken note of Kinsey’s Male Report anniversary.

I’m the editor of an anthology commemorating the 60th anniversary of Kinsey’s Male Report, planned for publication as a double issue of the Journal of Bisexuality this October and a possible trade edition.

I regret to inform you that the date in your article is incorrect. SBHM was released on January 5, 1948, according to the Jonathan Gathorne-Hardy, James Jones, and Wardell Pomeroy biographies of Kinsey.

In any case, thanks for noticing the significance of the date, and please keep up the good work.

Jim Burroway

January 4th, 2008


I’ve dug around, and it looks like you’re correct. I’ve updated the post accordingly.


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