Let’s talk about sex

November 17, 2004

I saw Kinsey last night. It’s the true story of Alfred and Clara Kinsey who, along with a team of researchers, did scientific studies of human sexual behavior in the United States. I thought it was well done, thought provoking and disturbing, and I recommend it. It was sexually graphic, so I wouldn’t recommend taking your kids, although you might want to talk to them about the ideas in it.

Concerned Women for America are planning to protest the movie. I find this interesting since there are so many lascivious movies out. Why did they decide to protest the Kinsey report? It can’t be the sexuality shown, even though this movie was very graphic by my standards, there are much more sexually graphic movies. [The 82 year old woman next to me said she liked the pictures.] Is it the story? Are they protesting telling the true story of the people who studied human sexual behavior in America? Is it because they think he shouldn’t have done the study or because they are upset by what he found? Do they dislike his lifestyle and disagree with his views?

I highly disliked several aspects of his lifestyle and disagree with part of his philosophy about sex. Splitting sexual debate into two simplified camps; there are the prescribers and the describers. Kinsey was a describer. He falls into the camp of anything goes. This group prides itself on being open minded and sexually free. They avoid prescriptions at all costs saying that anything is alright as long as no one gets hurt. They won’t tell the truth about how sex affects them. I know many people who say sex can just be for pleasure, we are animals and it is only societal convention that makes sex emotional. Of course, we are animals, we are animals that bond through touch, and when sexual bonds are broken, it hurts. In the movie, Clara gets it right when she says, “Did you ever think that societal norms are there for a reason?”

The other group prescribes sexual behavior. They have a set idea of what is ok sexually and what isn’t ok. Of course, there is variety in the prescriptions. They don’t want to hear about the actual sexual behavior that people are engaged in and they are often hypocrites, spouting theory that their behavior doesn’t match up with. This group doesn’t want sex ed taught or condoms handed out because teenagers SHOULDN’T be having sex, ignoring the fact that they ARE.

I find either type of viewpoint equally repugnant for the exact same reason. Maybe it’s the scientist in me; I’m annoyed when people ignore reality for theory. I consider both groups to be publicly dishonest, even when they are honest people at home. This is often the trouble when people start getting off into theory, ignoring their own and other people’s experiences. My anecdotal evidence of people I know who prescribe certain sexual behavior is that none of them live up to their ideals, me included. My personal experience of the people who say that anything goes sexually is that they are all, I mean ALL, affected emotionally by their sexual relationships, just like everyone else.

Why deny reality publicly? Maybe it is the adversarial way we debate issues in this country. Perhaps both sides fear that if they give a more nuanced view, the other side will use it as a weakness to promote their agenda. Boy, have people used Kinsey’s research to promote agendas. The most disturbing agenda I found while researching the anti-Kinsey articles, is that a group of pedophiles have used the report to justify molesting children. It made my skin crawl just reading this article. Labeling something common or rare doesn’t take away how good or bad it may be for you. Even something common may be very unhealthy.

So, why do I still recommend the movie? Food is often equated with sex these days and I’ll continue the analogy here to make my point. If you were in favor of a very particular nutritional plan, would you therefore be against finding out what people currently eat? What if the people who did the study had a different nutritional ideal in mind? Would you then be against the study? What if the people who did the accurate study ate very unhealthy meals? If the study was done well and accurately, to my mind it benefits anyone interested in nutrition to know what people are currently eating. From an organizational standpoint, you can’t change if you don’t know where you are starting from. If you are really for sexual reform, it benefits you to know what people are currently doing, so accurate sex studies will only be a benefit to you. The only agenda sex studies threaten is secrecy. (If you are a great big hypocrite, then that might be the way to go.)

Alfred Kinsey was of the non-prescription, only description camp. I think the movie accurately portrays that he got it wrong. And, I still think it’s a good movie. The movie may make you uncomfortable. Being honest with yourself while you watch it may make you even more uncomfortable.

Here’s Paul Clinton’s review of the movie. (His review has some spoilers.)

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