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Wednesday, December 08, 2004

More on Kinsey

This article/defense of Alfred Kinsey by Christina Larson is a must-read, especially by those of us who are following the conservative crusade against sex itself. Kinsey is a particular enemy of the wingnuts because he committed their two biggest sins--spoke unflattering truths and introduced science where superstition used to reign.

Larson does a great job in just a few paragraphs of quelling the doubts raised about Kinsey's methodology by those on the right, who for understandable reasons aren't really that good about telling the difference between good and bad investigations into methodology. Influenced by fundamentalism, wingnut critics of science tend to hold it to the same standard that they hold the Bible--if but one word of it isn't absolute perfection, an entire body of research or scientific theory must be thrown out. But science isn't received wisdom from god, it's a slow, winding journey to a better understanding. Kinsey invented an entire research methodology and everyone who has gone into the study of human sexual behavior since then, at least legitimate study, has built on his work.

The amusing thing is that those who complain about Kinsey's methodology then will turn around and demand that his sample should have been less representative of the diversity of American life than it was.

Conservatives complain that Kinsey's interviews included prisoners and gay-bar swingers in New York, who gave stories from America's wilder side. That's true, but those interviews comprise a small fraction of the overall sample. In fact, one of his research assistants, Paul Gerhard, subsequently removed the prison samples and reanalyzed the data, finding relatively little difference in the overall results.

Gay bar denizens, prisoners, and prostitutes are Americans, just as surely as a Mormon grandmother in Salt Lake City is. I think what's going on here is that a lot of wingnuts, on top of the general fear of sex, don't like hearing that the American Male is James Dobson and he is Dan Savage. By highlighting the very real diversity in American sex lives, Kinsey also brought up the uncomfortable fact that conformity is not a requirement to be American.

Of course, there's gay sex in Salt Lake City, too, which is just more unflattering truth. (From the conservative perspective, of course.) I am reminded of that stupid joke that the Bush twins made at the Republican Convention about how "Sex in the City" is something you do, but don't talk about. This is beyond just simple good manners and is veering deep into hypocrite territory. Just because sex makes some people queasy doesn't mean that the facts have to be hidden. The damage from complete silence clearly outstrips the mere discomfort some people have knowing that their neighbors might be having the S-E-X. Kinsey's own story about his and his wife's inability to consumate their relationship on their honeymoon is a good example of this--if he had not had the initiative to dig up the information necessary, their relationship could have been severely damaged. Most people need to have good information to be happy--how many gays and lesbians have happy lives they wouldn't have had if we all still thought it was a good idea to pretend that homosexuality didn't exist?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Last night I caught the end of "Pleasantville" on TV. I'd forgotten this movie. It's amazingly relevant--and amazingly nuanced. Conformity and silence keep out the bad and good, regardless of how you define those terms; they stifle the uncomfortable and the pleasurable. If Kinsey's studies were still being repressed, it wouldn't affect only people's sex lives--it'd affect their relationships and interactions with the entire world; and it would affect everybody, not just the supposedly promiscuous. I don't think right-wingers understand that their lives would degrade, too, if they got what they wanted.



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I'm not sure what causes the waxing and waning of these group's power, but I suppose it has to do with what kind of alliances the group is able to make. The main recent shift of alliance in America, the one that has defined politics during my lifetime, has been the shift of the South away from the Democrats and towards the Republicans during the 40 years since the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The Christian nut cases, once marginalized, became powerful again, as soon as they became willing to abandon the Democrats and shift over to the Republicans. And the Republicans, tired of 36 years mostly out of power, were willing to do anything to court that demographic.


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