Series: Finding Our Place: LGBTQ Heritage in the United States

Expressions as Diverse as the Landscape: Kinsey Institute, Bloomington, IN

A group of people posed on steps for a photo. From Collections of the Smithsonian Institution Archives
Project staff of the Kinsey Institute for Sex Research, Aug. 1953. Front row (l to r): Cornelia V. Christenson; Mrs. Leser; Clyde E. Martin. On steps (l to r): Mrs. Brown; Paul H. Gebhard; William Dellenback; Alfred E. Kinsey; Wardell B. Pomeroy; Dr. Dr. Davis; Eleanor Roehr; Dorothy Collins.

Acc. 90-105 - Science Service, Records, 1920s-1970s, Smithsonian Institution Archives (No known restrictions; https://www.flickr.com/photos/smithsonian/5493916199/)

Indiana University zoologist and sex researcher Alfred Kinsey conducted pioneering research to challenge ideas of normativity and discriminatory laws regarding sexual behavior. Kinsey collected as broad and complete a sample of individual American sexual histories as possible through a rigorous interviewing process, sampling the sexual histories of university students, patrons of gay bars, schools, prisons, private clubs, professional associations, prostitutes, artists and others. The resulting research is arguably the most comprehensive, detailed, and sophisticated sex study ever conducted. These findings were published in two reports on Male and Female sexual behavior in 1948 and 1953 respectively.

In previous sex research, moral or religious prescriptions ensured that even obvious truths regarding aspects of human variation would be denied or dismissed as rare perversions. What Kinsey revealed to the public was that many behaviors, which were illegal or termed indecent, were in fact quite common within every sector of American society. A key contribution of the reports was the introduction of a heterosexual-homosexual rating scale, placing the sexual behavior of individuals along a continuum. He determined that 37 percent of American men had engaged in homosexual behavior and as many as 10 percent of the population has been homosexual for a period of at least three years of their lives.