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Jennifer Bass
The Kinsey Institute

Alfred Kinsey and the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University

NOTE: The movie Kinsey, written and directed by Bill Condon, has been shown at the Telluride Film Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival. The film is the director's interpretation of the life and work of Alfred C. Kinsey, a distinguished zoologist at Indiana University Bloomington who conducted groundbreaking research on human sexuality in the mid-1900s.

The Kinsey film team visited the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction in the summer of 2003. The movie's writer and director, Bill Condon, along with Liam Neeson, who stars as Alfred Kinsey, set designer Richard Sherman and producer Gail Mutrux visited the institute prior to filming and spent a day using the archival collections in the library. The group also walked around the Bloomington campus and met with people who knew Kinsey in the 1950's. "The production team followed the same policies and procedures for the use of materials as anyone wishing to use the collections owned by the Kinsey Institute," said Jennifer Bass, head of information services for the Kinsey Institute. The extensive library, archive and art collections are used throughout the year by scholars from around the world who are researching human sexuality from various perspectives. Bass said the Kinsey Institute does not endorse any movies, including this one, but it does welcome the opportunity to talk about such an important public health issue as human sexuality. The Kinsey Institute does not receive any profits from this film, Bass said. The filmmakers have, however, stated a deep respect for the work of the Kinsey Institute and have been very supportive in helping get the word out about the Kinsey Institute today. For answers to frequently asked questions about the Kinsey Institute and the movie, visit

Nearly overnight, "Kinsey" became a household name across America. This was due in large part to media coverage of what became known as "the Kinsey Reports." Alfred C. Kinsey was an acclaimed zoologist at Indiana University Bloomington when in 1938 he began turning his research interest from gall wasps to human sexuality. The findings of Kinsey and his small team of researchers first appeared in the 1948 publication Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, which became a best-seller after selling 200,000 copies. Media interest in the findings about women, which would appear in the 1953 volume Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, was so intense that Kinsey invited reporters from 60 newspapers and magazines across the United States and in several other countries to come to Bloomington. There he conducted informational sessions about the findings and required reporters to sign contracts detailing when they could print the material and how long the pieces, which had to be approved beforehand by Kinsey, could be. What became known as "K-Day" arrived, and the public flocked to newsstands to read about Kinsey's findings about female sexuality. The magazine coverage included reports from Collier's, Time, Life, Woman's Home Companion, Newsweek, Redbook and McCall's. Newspapers from coast to coast wrote about the research, creating a media frenzy that continued to grow until the actual release of the book almost a month later. Despite its textbook format and $8 price, which was expensive at the time, Sexual Behavior in the Human Female flew off the shelves and, like its companion volume, was translated into several other languages and sold abroad. The response to the findings in the United States was passionate, whether in support of the findings or in outrage. Catherine Johnson, curator at the Kinsey Institute, said letters-to-the-editor at the time either praised or denounced the book. Even members of the clergy differed widely in their opinions, she said, with some saying Kinsey's work would benefit humanity because increased knowledge of our sexual natures could only improve people's lives, while others called the research ungodly and amoral. One prominent evangelist even declared that Kinsey "certainly could not have interviewed any of the millions of born-again Christian women in this country who put the highest price on virtue, decency and modesty."

Alfred Kinsey and his research team meticulously interviewed 18,000 people, including "bootleggers, clergymen, clerks, housewives, lawyers, marriage counselors, persons in the social register, prison inmates, teachers" (Male, p. 39) to collect the information that went into the Kinsey Reports. Kinsey's original interview data, while more than 50 years old, is requested to this day by researchers wishing to analyze it and compare it to current research findings. After Kinsey's death in 1956 at the age of 62, sex research at Indiana University continued and expanded. Julia Heiman, director of the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction, is a leading expert in female sexuality. Ongoing research at the institute focuses on contemporary issues such as understanding high-risk sexual behaviors, sexual disorders, hormonal effects on sexuality, and other issues that affect millions of people in the United States and worldwide. Here are some examples of ongoing research:

  • Research on sexual risk-taking in men shows that individuals vary in their propensity to become sexually aroused and in their tendency to inhibit, or lose sexual arousal in threatening situations. The majority of men have some degree of inhibition of sexual response -- this is normal and adaptive, a built-in method for slowing down or stopping sexual responses to avoid trouble or to enable them to focus on other more pressing needs. But a significant number of people are likely to take risks, both to their health and to their relationships. Further study shows that emotional states, namely anxiety and depression, may also affect some people's tendency to arousal and their tendency to take risks.
  • In a study on distress about sex, released in 2003, one in four women reported marked distress about their sexual relationship, their own sexuality or both. The most important factors contributing to this distress about sex were a woman's general emotional well-being and her emotional relationship with her partner during sexual activity, not physical aspects of sexual response. Research at the Kinsey Institute on women's sexuality is attempting to understand the factors that contribute to well-being as well as to distress about sex. In a study on factors that affect sexual arousal in women, women in focus groups discussed "cues" to sexual arousal and factors that inhibit sexual interest.
  • In collaboration with the IU Department of Applied Health Science, researchers at the Kinsey Institute are investigating errors and problems in condom use and are making recommendations to improve the effectiveness of condoms.

To learn more about the Kinsey Institute, visit This Web site contains information about Alfred Kinsey and the Kinsey Institute, including: history,; sex research today,; the current research program; and the institute's unique and extensive art and library collections.

For more information, contact Jennifer Bass at or 812-855-7686.