"American Experience" Kinsey (TV Episode 2005) Poster

(TV Series)


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Fascinating and much more balanced than I'd expected.
MartinHafer9 May 2012
Warning: Spoilers
I was a bit apprehensive before I saw this documentary. No, it isn't because I didn't want to hear about sex but because Kinsey has often been praised lavishly in recent years instead of giving him and his work a more critical analysis. In many ways, it was brilliant and ground-breaking--but it others, it was very sloppy and a bit unscientific. And I did NOT want to hear nothing but lavish praise or harsh criticism--but both the good and the bad. Fortunately, "The American Experience" did a great job of providing balance--giving a rather thorough portrait.

I did not know that originally Kinsey was NOT a sex researcher but a biologist who was fascinated by bugs. However, after he began teaching sex ed in addition to doing his entomological research, he noticed just how incredibly ignorant undergraduates were about sex. For opening up frank discussions about sexuality and what was 'normal', Kinsey was an exceptional man. Not surprisingly, this led to Kinsey beginning to do research into sexuality--and he and his growing team of researchers began interviewing thousands and thousands of folks to learn about sexual practices. And, not surprisingly, he learned that the public view of sexuality and the reality were VERY different--again, an important contribution to the field. However, the show rightfully pointed out that there were many problems with the work as well despite its MANY advances. First, because Kinsey was bisexual or gay (it isn't really clear which he really was), the viewer may be left wondering how much this influenced his work. In other words, did his own expectations and values influence what he eventually found? Second, his research was NOT at all random--though I must admit, I am not sure how you can randomly interview people! Only people who are comfortable talking about their sex lives would agree to talk--and common sense would say that these folks probably are NOT a true norm (though Kinsey thought they were). As the show pointed out, you probably had few Pentecostals among his respondents!! Third, he often interviewed folks in prison and in the gay underground culture of the time and the groups were probably overrepresented in the studies. Fourth, he and his team, over time, lost their objectivity--and began exploring sexual boundaries within their group (i.e., everyone started sleeping with everybody and Kinsey actively encouraged this). Kinsey also filmed various researchers having sex, he himself explored sadomasochism in great depth and he even asked his own daughters about their own sexual history--showing a very odd lack of personal boundaries. It was as if the work so consumed him that it clouded his scientific objectivity.

Now my criticisms are covered or strongly implied by the show BUT it isn't to say that his work was necessarily bad. There was a woeful ignorance and sense of shame about sex and no one knew what was 'normal' (if there really is such a thing). And, he was groundbreaking because he had the temerity to say that women DID enjoy sex and have sexual appetites (a discovery which added to BOTH partners' enjoyment of sex). I am thrilled that this documentary did a complete exploration of the man and his work--a very thorough job!
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