for National Geographic News
When Alfred Kinsey's studies Sexual Behavior in the Human Male and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female were published more than half a century ago, their findings shattered any Victorian misconceptions of sex in the United States.
According to the researchcompiled from some 18,000 testimonials37 percent of U.S. men (and 13 percent of women) had had at least one homosexual experience, while 62 percent of women (and 92 percent of men) masturbated. Premarital sex was common. Half of married men and a quarter of married women had cheated on their spouses.
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No wonder the statistics shocked the public. At the time virtually all forms of non marital sex were illegal in the United States. Some forms of sexual behavior within a marriage, such as oral sex, were forbidden in certain states.
A lot has changed since then. Today U.S. culture and media are awash in sex imagery. Surely the scientific study of sexual behavior has come a long way too.
Or has it?
"I'm not sure Kinsey could do now what he did then," said Bill Yarber, a professor in applied health science and gender studies at Indiana University in Bloomington. "Many people still have a high level of discomfort about sexuality and are very suspicious about people doing sex research."
In fact, Kinsey, who died in 1956 at 62, remains the preeminent sexual scientist today. But while Kinsey only collected data on sexual behavior, researchers today are increasingly trying to assess the emotional aspects of sex.
Many of the great questions that grew out of Kinsey's researchhow does sexual desire affect judgment? how do people develop sexual identities?are yet to be answered.
"Kinsey mainly looked at what people did," said Vern Bullough, a former professor at New York State University at Buffalo who also founded the Center for Sex Research at California State University at Northridge. "Now we're looking at the why."
The life of the famed sex researcher has once again been pushed into the limelight with the new movie Kinsey, which opened in New York and Los Angeles last Friday.
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