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'50s Sexuality Research Still Causing a Stir

The new movie on controversial sex researcher Alfred Kinsey has sex experts and protesters talking about what he did for human sexuality -- and morality -- in the U.S.
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Human Sexuality Legacy Looms Large continued...

When his books were first published, many critics immediately assailed his methods. Were these people telling the truth? Says who? Are they a random sample? Others saved their venom for his subject matter -- calling it obscene. In fact, a scene from the new movie depicts government agents seizing and then impounding a box of study materials en route to Kinsey.

"All of the criticisms about his methodology and personal life and if he was sleeping with men or not is of no interest to me," Dr. Ruth says. "What is interesting is that he gave us data that Masters and Johnson can now use in their studies."

William Howell Masters, MD, a gynecologist, and Virginia Eshelman Johnson, a psychology researcher, teamed up in 1957 to build, rather fruitfully, on Kinsey's initial work.

As a result of Kinsey's work, "there are less unintended pregnancies and more women do know how to have an orgasm," she says. But more work is still needed. "We do need a new study as this study is 50 years old and things have changed," she says.

What has changed most is not what Kinsey found, but how he found it, explains Laura Berman, PhD, LCSW, clinical assistant professor of obstetrics-gynecology and psychiatry at the Feinberg School of Medicine of Northwestern University in Chicago, and director of the Berman Center in Chicago.

"The methodology has changed the most," she says, "I don't know that what he found is that different but now we have the technology and the scientific ability and we know how to do things in a more scientifically rigorous way," says Berman, who has yet to see the movie. "Instead of interviewing people, we have access to random samples, phone numbers, addresses, and we can do surveys by mail, in person, or online."

Kinsey "set the foundation for taking human sexuality out of the realm of morality," she says. Before his work, "the only discussion was what sex should be or is supposed to be, not what actually happened." In a nutshell, Kinsey said there was a wide gap between what people thought was normal and what they actually did in the privacy of their own bedrooms.

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