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Alfred Kinsey: Biography & Quotes

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov
This lesson goes over the life of a man often credited with helping to start the sexual revolution. Learn about Alfred Kinsey's interesting life and work.

Alfred Kinsey

What does a rebel do? Help start a revolution, that's what! In many ways, that is exactly what many credit American biologist Alfred Kinsey with doing. His work is believed to have helped jumpstart the so-called sexual revolution that began in the 1960s.

Early Life & Education

The oldest of three children, Alfred Charles Kinsey was born on June 23, 1894 in Hoboken, New Jersey. His dad was Alfred Seguine Kinsey and his mom was Sarah Ann Charles. His dad was an overbearing and extremely religious man. Instead of encouraging Kinsey's early preference for biology, his dad actually bullied him to study engineering after he graduated valedictorian of his high school class. Kinsey tried to please his dad for a couple of years but couldn't take it anymore. The fact that he attended the same institute, Stevens Institute of Technology, where his dad was a professor probably didn't help.

So, Kinsey left for Bowdoin College in Maine and rebelled against his dad by enrolling in biology instead. Dad wasn't pleased. In fact, that's an understatement. When Kinsey graduated with high honors, their relationship was at such a permanent low that his father didn't attend the commencement.

Kinsey continued his education, this time in applied biology, at Harvard. In direct contrast to his dad's strict religious views, Kinsey found himself a mentor in William Morton Wheeler. Wheeler was a very well-known biologist who was as extremely enthusiastic about Darwinism. This mentorship allowed Kinsey to finally spread his intellectual wings once and for all by shedding his religious upbringing and ideas.

Work

After graduating in 1919, Kinsey went to teach at Indiana University. Here, at a picnic, he met a chemistry student by the name of Clara Bracken McMiller. They fell in love, married in 1924, and had 4 children.

By 1929, Kinsey was a professor who had published numerous works on wasps, his primary research focus up until that time. Interestingly enough, this rebellious man also rebelled against his own specialty by 1938 even though he was a leader in it.

See, of all things, Kinsey agreed to teach a course on family and marriage that students had petitioned for. As you can only imagine, the most interesting topics of conversation had to do with sexual stimulation, the act of sex in general, as well as his railings against the very repressive ideas about sexuality at the time. It shouldn't surprise you to learn that his course was very popular with his young students.

Kinsey did things that were unconventional in other ways too. For example, if you wanted to become a student of his, you'd have to have private meetings with him where he'd ask you about your sexual history. A little weird, right? But he was collecting this data because there was a general lack of it and because he was now more interested in researching the human sexual experience instead of wasps. Kinsey continued his research outside of the campus, though. He collected it in communities across the U.S. with support from the Rockefeller Foundation and the National Research Council. All of this work and funding helped found the Institute of Sex and Research, now called the Kinsey Institute, at Indiana University.

By 1948, Kinsey was ready to publish his findings. He did so in a book called Sexual Behavior in the Human Male. This was no Dan Brown novel guys. It was a long and dry, relatively scientific, work. Despite this, it was a hit and a best seller in almost no time at all. People seemed to want to know what the book offered. It bridged the gap between the societal conceptions of sexuality vs. the reality of it based on Kinsey's findings.

This book was not a hit with everyone, though. Guess who didn't like it? The religious community. But he had his scientific critics as well. Nonetheless, Kinsey wasn't going to stop his revolutionary ways because of that. He published Sexual Behavior in the Human Female in 1953. The book was pretty popular as well.

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