Alfred Kinsey Scale of Facts: Movie vs. Reality

Alfred Kinsey Scale creatorAlfred Kinsey ca. 1950: Kinsey Scale creator.

Alfred Kinsey sex researcher vs. 'Kinsey' movie biopic

Alfred Kinsey (1894-1956), played by Liam Neeson in writer-director Bill Condon's 2004 movie Kinsey, and his wife Clara – Laura Linney in the biopic – had four children. Only three are shown in Kinsey. Their firstborn, Don, died from diabetes shortly before his fifth birthday. Clara Kinsey died at age 83 in 1982.

Alfred Kinsey never saw his father (John Lithgow in the movie) after his parents were divorced. In the film, Kinsey is shown at his father's home after the death of his mother.

Gay seduction scene

In Kinsey, a crucial scene features Alfred Kinsey's assistant and co-researcher Clyde Martin (Peter Sarsgaard) seducing the sexologist. But according to Kinsey's biographers, Kinsey was the one pursuing Martin, who became the researcher's somewhat reluctant sex partner.

Martin and Kinsey eventually co-authored the epoch-making Sexual Behavior in the Human Male.

Alfred Kinsey and censorship

Indiana University came up with the money necessary to fund Alfred Kinsey's research after the Rockefeller Foundation withdrew its support due to pressure from right-wing and religious leaders.

Following the confiscation of sexually related materials by the Indianapolis customs collector in 1950, the Kinsey Institute sued U.S. Customs. Although not mentioned in the film, the Institute won the legal battle in Federal District Court in 1957. By that time, Kinsey had been dead for a year.

Accusations of pedophilia

According to Kinsey Institute Senior Research Fellow and former director John Bancroft, politically motivated anti-Kinsey factions have focused on the subject of child-adult sexual contact to discredit the researcher because “in recent years, when there has been anxiety bordering on hysteria about child sexual abuse, often resulting in circumstances where the accused is regarded as guilty until proved innocent, what better way to discredit someone?”

The Kinsey Institute has publicly denied accusations that Alfred Kinsey conducted experiments with children. Bill Condon's film only touches on the subject once, when we see Kinsey explaining to a pedophile that he doesn't condone forced sex.

Liam Neeson Alfred KinseyLiam Neeson as Alfred Kinsey.

The Kinsey Scale: Accurate despite criticisms?

Although barely mentioned in the movie, the Alfred Kinsey scale and methodology have been much criticized because of the samples used in his studies. One key problem is that the survey group – which eventually led to the results found in the Kinsey Scale – was mostly composed of volunteer subjects (as opposed to random samples): about 25 percent of them were or had been prison inmates, and 5 percent were prostitutes.

Prominent psychologists warned Kinsey about the unreliability of data based on information originating mainly from volunteers, but the researcher refused to consider the criticism. In addition, Kinsey's statistical methodologies and incomplete demographic data have been put into question.

Yet, despite these flaws, Kinsey's studies may ultimately be no more inaccurate or tendentious than modern studies on human sexuality. In his review of James H. Jones' Alfred Kinsey biography Alfred C. Kinsey: A Public/Private Life, Dr. Martin Duberman, Distinguished Professor of History at CUNY, wrote in The Nation:

“Paul Gebhard (one of Kinsey's co-authors and his successor as director of the Kinsey Institute for Sex Research – he retired in 1982), himself reacting to criticism leveled against the two volumes [Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948) and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953)], spent years 'cleaning' the Kinsey data of its purported contaminants – removing, for example, all material derived from prison populations in the basic sample. In 1979, Gebhard, with Alan Johnson, published The Kinsey Data, and – to his own surprise – found that Kinsey's original estimates held: Instead of Kinsey's 37 percent, Gebhard and Johnson came up with 36.4 percent; the 10 percent figure [for homosexual behavior / orientation] (with prison inmates excluded) came to 9.9 percent for white, college-educated males and 12.7 percent for those with less education. And as for the call for a 'random sample,' a team of independent statisticians studying Kinsey's procedures had concluded as far back as 1953 that the unique problems inherent in sex research precluded the possibility of obtaining a true random sample, and that Kinsey's interviewing technique had been 'extraordinarily skillful.' They characterized Kinsey's work overall as 'a monumental endeavor.'”


Liam Neeson as Alfred Kinsey in Bill Condon's Kinsey movie: Fox Searchlight Pictures.

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