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The movie “Kinsey,” starring Liam Neeson, vividly portrays the idiosyncrasies and sexual amorality of the famed sex researcher, Alfred Kinsey. What it misses, however, are the damaging repercussions of Kinsey’s work on sexual attitudes throughout the Western world and the corrosive effect his research had on male-female relationships.
I cannot claim to know the motivation for Alfred Kinsey’s obsessive interest in sex. Indeed, rather than unfairly accuse him of prurience (even though there is plenty of evidence for this), I prefer to accept Kinsey’s own explanation: that he changed direction from studying wasps to studying human sexual behavior out of a genuine desire to “improve the married lives” of his students.
But that does not alter my strong conviction that the net effect of Kinsey’s work was much more destructive than constructive. Before Kinsey, sex may indeed have been taboo and poorly understood. But after Kinsey had published his voluminous research in the 1950s, sex had lost its sanctity and moral dimension. The wide dissemination of both “Sexual Behavior In The Human Male” (1948) and “Sexual Behavior in the Human Female” (1953) ushered in the age of pornography, free love, open marriage, wife-swapping (all of which Kinsey endorsed) and, perhaps the most pervasive social ill of all, the 50 percent divorce rate. Given the fact that polling data show that one-third of modern married couples admit to having no sex at all, one wonders whether all this work on the part of Kinsey and his successors to demystify sex has served us well.
My book, “Kosher Sex,” was an attempt to try to undo some of the damage Kinsey had done. Whereas Kinsey sought to strip away Judeo-Christian morals and ethics which he considered repressive, from sex, I tried to show how moral and ethical behavior actually restore the sacredness of sexuality. Whereas Kinsey reduced sex to soulless animal coupling, I strongly advocated the recognition that human sexuality must embrace the soul as much as the body.
I find it astonishing that some reviewers of the movie have remarked that Kinsey viewed sex as a spiritually transcendent experience. I have found no evidence of this in his research or in the film. The fact is that Kinsey utterly rejected the existence of the spiritual. In his view, sex had no magic or mystery. It was a physical as opposed to a metaphysical act, driven by the desire for sensual pleasure, much like eating.
His view was that people have sex because they become aroused, just as people eat because they get hungry and sleep because they get tired. Kinsey’s idea of sexual morality was likewise governed by this reductionist-empiricist view, in which desire alone justified sexual behavior. If your wife craved sex with the pool man, then her lust alone was enough to justify the act. Marriage be damned! Jealous husbands would just have to stop being so insecure and possessive.
For Kinsey, no sexual behavior was bizarre, deviant or antisocial. The ends justified the means. Adultery could be considered no more immoral than having dessert after dinner. Thus, Kinsey opened Pandora’s box to the coarsening, degradation and abuse of sexuality that have become the hallmarks of the modern world.
By contrast, the Judeo-Christian religious morality Kinsey so disdained served to elevate sexual behavior from a base animal instinct to a uniquely human pursuit of togetherness and intimacy. Religion’s emphatic emphasis on sex within marriage directed the male libido away from rampant promiscuity and focused sexual desire on a lifelong partner. Kinsey’s dismissal of Judeo-Christian sexual norms led directly to a contemporary culture in which men treat women not as their partners but as nothing more than the walking fulfillment of their hormone-driven lust.
Hence, Kinsey saw no reason to treat group sex or wife-swapping as aberrant or wrong, even though they involve the degradation and subordination of women. The same was true of child sexuality. Kinsey collected extensive data on the molestation of children, most of them boys, and shockingly encouraged child molesters to send detailed accounts of what were described as children’s “orgasms.” Yet it is clear that these are instances of child rape. They make sickening reading.
In “Sexual Behavior in the Human Male,” he describes boys who experienced “excruciating pain and may scream if movement is continued” and “will fight away from the partner and may make violent attempts to avoid climax, although they derive definite pleasure from the situation.” (p. 161)
Such descriptions obviously shock anyone with a shred of decency. My point in quoting from these hideous passages is not to prove that Kinsey was a fiend (although some certainly believe he was), but to show the utter amoral detachment of the research that he so prided himself on, a moral bracketing so complete that it allowed him to regard abused children as lab rats for his “scientific” study. For Kinsey, the mechanics of human sexuality was no different from, say, the mechanics of an internal combustion engine. But such a shallow and mechanist view of sex misses the point entirely.
The taboos surrounding sex in many religious traditions imbue it with the aura it merits. To treat sex with cold, scientific detachment removes its beauty and mystery. This is something that pornographers can never understand. Sure, they can get bodies to writhe in front of a camera. But no viewer can watch such scenes more than once or twice without getting bored because it is all so utterly unerotic. Restrictions and ritualized behavior serve to heighten sexual desire. Kinsey may have increased our knowledge of such things as the frequency of sex and the varieties of positions. But such information is like listing a cake’s ingredients without describing its taste.
In essence, Kinsey made sex boring, uninviting, cold, heartless, soulless and mechanical. He removed the protective erotic field that once surrounded the subject and made it magnetic and electric. Sex, like a film negative, loses its color through overexposure.
In equating human and animal sexuality, Kinsey completely ignored the human need for intimacy. When physical satisfaction is unaccompanied by emotional oneness, there is a permanent feeling of emptiness and distance.
A bull can impregnate 30 cows over a couple of days in a pen and never complain that such mechanistic coupling leaves it feeling lonely and not understood. But promiscuous humans feel such alienation. Participants in loveless, promiscuous sex know that something essential is absent.
In viewing humans as intelligent but soulless animals, Kinsey missed the deeper sense of connectedness that humans can attain through sexuality. The one aspect of human sexuality that is exclusive to homo sapiens is the quest to share our deepest and most intimate selves even as we expose our skin and share our bodies. The Bible captured it best, using the word “knowledge” to describe the sexual act.
Kinsey may have invented sex research. But he created only the packaging and missed the contents entirely. Sadly, he sent the study of human sexuality in the wrong direction, aimed at the wrong objectives, where it remains today. The movie does convey some of the catastrophic results of Kinsey’s work – for example, the marriages of his students that were ultimately destroyed by his insistence that husband and wife need not be faithful to each other. How tragic that such an intelligent man could be so utterly blind and foolish. But then, the lure of sex has pulled the wool over the eyes of men much greater than this strange, flawed scientist.