Before Dr. Alfred Kinsey and his associates of the Institute for Sex Research, at Indiana University, published their first two volumes, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948) and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953), social scientists had at least a general knowledge of the extent of human sexual activity, but the public knew very little of the matter. There had been sex surveys published before, but never so extensive or so scientifically accurate. The first "Kinsey Report" hit the American people like a bombshell. Here was indisputable scientific evidence (though a great many tried to dispute it) that our entire society was living a lie. We were professing one set of standards and living quite another. In a moment, it became clear that all manner of sexual behavior previously considered abnormal by most was not only normal, but commonplace. Hidden guilts over secret sexual indiscretions were now relieved through the knowledge that much of the rest of the chastity-loving American public was practicing the same indiscretions quite wantonly, while preaching a completely different set of standards. We had come to grips, at last, with the true sexual nature of man.
Sexual Behavior in the Human Male became an immediate best seller at $6.50 a copy and the small scientific-book publisher that had produced the hefty 820-page volume was unable to keep up with the demand. Every major magazine in America reprinted, paraphrased or commented on it. Ordinary people, on buses, in offices, and over cocktails, were discussing frequency of sexual outlet, premarital, extramarital and homosexual activity, using words like orgasm and masturbation that were previously seldom used in polite company and fellatio, cunnilingus and pederasty, with which they had not even been acquainted before.
In a moment, it became clear that our commonly accepted sexual mores were woefully unrealistic and our sex laws totally unrelated to the facts of human behavior. Quite reasonably, one might have expected this revelation to have precipitated a complete re-evaluation of our sex standards and a thorough overhauling of out absurd sex statutes. No such thing occurred.
There is always a time lag between the acquisition of knowledge and the social and personal changes which might be expected to ensue; where deep-seated traditional beliefs and ingrained behavior are involved, the cultural lag is considerably prolonged. To be sure, a sexual revolution is taking place in the U.S., but 15 years after the publication of Kinsey's first book, we still suffer under much of the same social pressure and suppression as before.
What did Kinsey's two volumes on American sexual behavior reveal? Eighty-five percent of the total male population had had premarital intercourse. With extramarital intercourse, Kinsey's researchers found a greater tendency for cover-up or outright refusal to answer questions than in any other part of the study, especially among the older married males of better-than-average educational and social levels. Kinsey considered the social consequences attendant on the revelation of adultery to be the primary reason for the reluctance of many to contribute to his research and believed that this reservation also affected the statistics that were gathered, by perhaps as much as "10 to 20 percent." He wrote: "...allowing for the cover-up that has been involved, it is probably sage to suggest that about half [50 percent] of all married males have intercourse with women other than their wives, at some time while they are married."
Fifty-nine percent had had some heterosexual mouth-genital experience; 70 percent had had relations with prostitutes; 50 percent had had some homosexual contact and 37 percent had had homosexual contact to orgasm; 17 percent of all men raised on farms had had animal intercourse (the percentage of animal intercourse for the entire male population is much lower, because of the lack of opportunity for such contact among men raised in the city); 92 percent of the total male population had masturbated to orgasm and this figure jumped to 96 percent for male college graduates, when considered separately (Kinsey felt that if the tendency for cover-up were eliminated from the statistics, the percentage would have been closer to 98 for the total male population).
As to the sexual activities of American women, Kinsey and his staff found that 64 percent had "responded to orgasm" by one means or another prior to marriage. Forty-eight percent had had premarital intercourse; and among college graduates, this figure increased to 60 percent. Twenty-six percent admitted to extramarital intercourse; among college graduates, the number of wives who admitted to having intercourse with a man other than their husband, while married, was 29 percent. Forty-three percent had had heterosexual mouth-genital experience; when the better educated of the youngest generation included in the female sample were considered by themselves, the figure was 62 percent. Twenty-eight percent had had homosexual contact to orgasm. Twenty-eight percent of the female sample, with only a grade-school education, had masturbated to orgasm; 59 percent of the females with a high-school education had reached orgasm through masturbation; the percentage is 57 for those females who graduated from college and 63 percent for those with a postgraduate education.
Kinsey found that educational background had a marked effect upon the sex lives of both men and women, with the lower educated male being less inhibited about ordinary coitus than his upper educated brother (98 percent of the lower educated men had had premarital intercourse) and the upper educated female being much freer than her less educated sister; the better educated of both sexes proved less inhibited in all sex behavior other than ordinary coitus, however (including variety of positions, mouth-genital contact and homosexual experience).
A Nation of Hypocrites
If the vast majority of all American men and nearly half of all women engage in premarital intercourse and one half of the married males and one quarter of the females of extramarital intercourse, one might rightly wonder who the California State Subcommittee on Pornographic Literature had in mind, when they stated that Americans still find such activity objectionable. Who's objecting? Or are we really such a nation of hypocrites that we take exception to such behavior for anyone else, while engaging in it ourselves? In many ways, it appears that we are just such a nation of hypocrites. The sexual activity that we pompously preach about and protest against in public, we enthusiastically practice in private. We lie to one another about sex; and many of us undoubtedly lie to ourselves about sex. But we cannot forever escape the reality that a sexually hypocritical society is an unhealthy society that produces more than its share of perversion, neurosis, psychosis, unsuccessful marriage, divorce and suicide.
Now we can accept the argument that it is some flaw in the nature of man, some weakness or devil in the flesh, that produces our sexual yearnings and behavior; we reject as totally without foundation the promise of the prude, who would have us believe that man would be healthier and happier if he were somehow able to curb these natural desires. Nor is it true, as some suggest, that those who indulge in early and frequent sexual experiences dull their capacity to enjoy and gain satisfaction from such experiences or invariably live to regret them.
Kinsey found that, contrary to popular prejudice, relatively few of the men and women in his study who had had premarital or extramarital intercourse reported regretting the experience. Nor is there any evidence that it harmed them. To the contrary, there is every indication that in most cases the experiences were beneficial. Kinsey reported that those who engaged in sexual experiences before marriage were more apt to indulge in extramarital activity after marriage, but he also found that premarital sex statistically increased a woman's chances of getting married and of making a success of her marriage. Kinsey wrote, in his Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, "...premarital socio-sexual experience, whether in petting or in coitus, should contribute to [the] development of emotional capacities. In this, as in other areas, learning at an early age may be more effective than learning at any later age after marriage." He also observed, "The record on our sample of married females shows that there was a marked, positive correlation between experience in orgasm obtained from premarital coitus and the capacity to reach orgasm after marriage."
On the relationship of sex to a successful marriage, Kinsey wrote, "Sexual adjustments are not the only problems involved in marriage, and often they are not even the most important factors in marital adjustment.... Nevertheless, sexual maladjustments contribute in perhaps three quarters of the upper level marriages that end in separation or divorce, and in some smaller percentage of the lower level marriages that break up...." Kinsey found "considerable evidence" that sexual experience prior to marriage contributed "to the effectiveness of the sexual relations after marriage."
The simple act of sex performed prior to marriage does not, per se, increase the chances of a successful marriage, of course. It is the attitudes that lead to the act that will determine how well a person adjusts both to sex and to marriage. There is a good deal more to sex than just the learned physical techniques (although the techniques themselves are largely underrated in our society and a majority of adults live out their lives with only the most rudimentary knowledge of the most vital of all human activities). Sex is often a profound emotional experience. No dearer, more intimate, more personal act is possible between two human beings. Sex is, at its best, an expression of love and adoration. But this is not to say that sex is, or should be, limited to love alone. Love and sex are certainly not synonymous, and while they may often be closely interrelated, the one is not necessarily dependent upon the other. Sex can be one of the most profound and rewarding elements in the adventure of living; if we recognize it as not necessarily limited to procreation, then we should also acknowledge openly that it is not necessarily limited to love either. Sex exists—with and without love—and in both forms it does far more good than harm. The attempts at its suppression, however, are almost universally harmful, both to the individual involved and to society as a whole.
This is not an endorsement of promiscuity or an argument favoring loveless sex—being a rather romantic fellow, ourself, we favor our sex mixed with emotion. But we recognize that sex without love exists; that it is not, in itself, evil; and that it may sometimes serve a definitely worthwhile end.
We are opposed to wholly selfish sex, but we are opposed to any human relationship that is entirely self-oriented—that takes all and gives nothing in return. We also believe that any such totally self-serving association is self-destructive. Only by remaining open, and vulnerable, can a person experience the full joy and satisfaction of human existence. That he must also, thereby, know some of the sorrow and pain of this world is without question, but that, too, is a part of the adventure of living. The alternative—closing oneself off from experience and sensation and knowledge—is to be only half alive. The ultimate invulnerability is death itself.
This is not at odds with what we have previously expressed about the need for a greater enlightened self-interest in society. Too many people today live out their entire existence in a group, of a group and for a group—never attempting to explore their own individuality, never discovering who or what they are, or might be. Searching out one's own identity and purpose, taking real pleasure in being a person, establishing a basis for true self-respect—these are the essence of living.