Swans Commentary » swans.com September 23, 2013  



Kinsey-Sex And The Rockefeller Foundation
(Part II of II)


by Michael Barker



(Swans - September 23, 2013)   Alfred Kinsey was able to utilize his excellent interpersonal skills to influence the Rockefeller staff, but he hardly had to manipulate them to gain their support. The Foundation clearly recognized the vital importance of Kinsey's work to their social engineering efforts; and in many ways, Gregg and Yerkes simply viewed Kinsey "as an instrument, a collecting machine who would compile the data others would use to develop social policies and programs designed to control human sexual behavior." Contrary to Jones's conclusion that the Rockefeller staff had been "co-opted by a genuine revolutionary" who "intended to use science to attack Victorian morality and to promote an ethic of tolerance," I would argue that it was for exactly this purpose that led them to fund his research. Indeed, Kinsey went on to serve the Rockefeller Foundation interests admirably, helping provide the raw materials that would allow them to adapt to changes in human sexuality that would enable them to bolster male supremacy and heterosexuality. "The irony," is not that the Rockefeller Foundation staff "were not able to see beneath the surface" of Kinsey's research (as Jones intones), but that Jones was unable to see beneath the surface of the foundation's willingness to support research that would help resolve a dawning crisis of patriarchy. (1) Seen in this light, it is fitting that upon the publication of Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948):

Kinsey's strongest supporters... came from the new class of highly educated, white-collar professionals whose business it was to analyze, explain and mediate between conflicting human values. This class included sexologists, sociologists, anthropologists, physicians, psychologists, educators, marriage counselors, journalists, and lawyers who wanted to reform sex laws. Although they were direct descendants of the moral reformers and "uplifters" of the Progressive Era, Kinsey's advocates displayed certain differences. They were less doctrinaire, less devoted to the "genteel tradition" and its moral absolutes. While older reformers had appealed to the public primarily through moral imperatives, nationalism, efficiency, and racial solidarity, the new social professionals began a shift toward appeals based on personal fulfillment. Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, with its emphasis on individual variation, proved congenial to this group. (p.575)

Of course, given the controversial nature of Kinsey's work, in addition to the glowing accolades he received in the mainstream media, criticisms were forthcoming. Such critics read like a "Who's Who of American intellectual life," and Jones observes that they highlighted the following assorted shortcoming of Kinsey's work: (1) a poor understanding of statistics, (2) an entirely unrepresentative sampling of the male population, (3) a faulty interview technique, (4) the fact that "Kinsey approached human beings as animals," (5) his being a "crude empiricist" and "rank biological reductionist," (6) the issue of his ignoring the "emotional or social context of sex," (7) his failure to appreciate how culture works, and lastly (8) that he "was a cypto-reformer who promoted permissiveness under the guise of science." (2)

Well-founded criticisms such as these only served to magnify already existing tensions between the staff and trustees at the Rockefeller Foundation, with several prominent trustees including Harold Dodds, the president of Princeton University, and Henry P. Van Dusen, the president of Union Theological Seminary, openly voicing their concerns with Kinsey's work. Dodds even went so far as to publish a "sweeping denunciation of sex researchers" in the September 1948 issue of the Reader's Digest -- an article that Van Dusen considered "first-rate." (3) Yet Kinsey still had firm supporters within the foundation, and even though Alan Gregg had apparently been "leaning toward cutting Kinsey loose," he was soon won back to Kinsey's cause. All the same, in order to appease Kinsey's detractors, in May 1949 Gregg proposed to the foundation's executive committee that they return to their earlier policy of funding Kinsey through the Committee for Research in Problems of Sex (CRPS). They agreed, and chose to make an annual commitment of $80,000 to the CRPS, "with the understanding that the committee intended to award $40,000 annually to Kinsey." (4)

This was not the end of the issue, and early in 1950 "a powerful figure within the Rockefeller Foundation joined the opposition" to Kinsey; this figure was Warren Weaver, the head of the foundation's natural sciences division, and in a "lengthy memorandum" to Chester I. Barnard, who became president of the foundation in the summer of 1948 (following Raymond Fosdick's retirement), Weaver...

...announced that he was "extremely worried" that Kinsey had no apparent plans to hire a statistician [as previously requested by the foundation]. Weaver also stated that anyone who knew anything about sampling theory had to be very disturbed by Kinsey's deficiencies, charging "that substantially more than one-third of all of Doctor Kinsey's histories have been obtained on the basis of what a statistician calls 'cluster' sampling," a flaw that all but destroyed Kinsey's claims that his data were representative. (p.636)

To assuage such doubts about his work, in August 1950 Kinsey began preparations to work with a statistical advisory committee from the American Statistical Association. By April 1951, the team of three statistical interrogators assigned to his scrutinizing Kinsey's research had still not completed their evaluation, but based on their preliminary findings they made the following statement: "Without pre-judging our final conclusions, we see no factor at this stage which would make us wish to recommend against a continuation of financial support of the work of the Institute for Sex Research." With this glowing commendation in hand, and with the additional support of the foundation's president, Gregg stood before the board of trustees in April and proposed that that the CRPS be allocated $80,000 for the next two years, with half of these funds being set aside for Kinsey. (5)

Despite this apparent success, Kinsey was still in troubled waters, and three Rockefeller Foundation trustees (Harold Dodds, Henry P. Van Dusen, and Arthur Hays Sulzberger) still remained vehemently opposed, on moral grounds, to providing further support for Kinsey's research. Furthermore, they were now joined in their disgust by the foundation's newly appointed chairman, John Foster Dulles (1950-52). But after much heated discussion, the vote was concluded nine to seven in favor of Gregg's recommendation. The Kinsey debate had "divided the foundation as few issues ever had," so in trying to resolve this issue amicably, Barnard had "advised Warren to inform Kinsey, Indiana University, and the NRC that the foundation's most recent grant did not imply a commitment for future funding." That, however, was not to say that Barnard did not fully approve of Kinsey's pioneering work, as: "In [Barnard's] judgment, the social applications of the research were potentially enormous, particularly at a time when there was so much anxiety about homosexuality and sex crimes." This is because Kinsey's sexual advocacy efforts were able to help shore up the heterosexual status quo given his enduring advice to homosexuals to act as accommodationists. Moreover, with respect to his work on sex crimes against women, Kinsey had adopted a typical male supremacist approach in that he placed the blame for these crimes securely on the shoulders of the female victims. Taking this approach further, in Kinsey's 1953 book Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, Jones points out that: "Hoping to counter the public's image of pedophiles as predatory monsters, [Kinsey] attempted to put child molesters in a benign light. Blaming the victims." Andrea Dworkin, in her book Pornography: Men Possessing Women (Women's Press, 1981), heaps further contempt upon Kinsey, who she says... (6)

...could not begin to comprehend the varieties of sexual abuse directed against female children because he had no notion of meaningful consent for any female of any age. The male was always the victim of female refusal or antagonism. The refusal or antagonism was never justified. (p.187)

When Dean Rusk replaced Chester Barnard as head of the Rockefeller Foundation in July 1952, "Kinsey no longer had a friend in the president's office" as Rusk "owed his appointment" to John Foster Dulles and "he sided with Kinsey's critics." There is no doubt that Kinsey was one of the Rockefeller Foundation's most controversial and high-profile grantees, and so it makes sense that Rusk chose to "drop Kinsey" within a few days of media reports that had "identified Kinsey as a possible target" of the Reece Committee's planned investigation of the activities of tax-exempt foundations in the United States, the Reece Committee being a high-profile red-baiting project whose formation was announced in the summer of 1953, led by former chairman of the Republican National Committee, Carroll Reece. Here one should note that despite Rusk's apparent discontent with Kinsey, just "a few months earlier" (before making this negative decision), Rusk had conceded to his staff that the CRPS "could make some provision for Kinsey in its budget." Furthermore, despite Rusk's refusal to support Kinsey, in 1955 Kinsey still received a final grant from the CRPS for $3,000. (7)

By this stage it was quite apparent that the Rockefeller Foundation felt obliged to cut Kinsey loose. Sex historian Vern Bullough observed that the hullabaloo surrounding his success "sounded the death knell of sponsored sex research as it had come to be, since the political pressure on tax-free foundations supporting any kind of research, let alone sex research, grew as Kinsey's name became a household word." But by the 1950s such sex research had now gained a certain degree of legitimacy that it had never had in the past, and so government funding agencies quickly stepped in to take the place of the Rockefeller Foundation. On this matter, Kinsey's colleague and the later director of research at the Kinsey Institute, Wardell Pomeroy, recalled that following Kinsey's death in 1956, grants from the National Institute of Mental Health facilitated the continuing growth of the Kinsey Institute; and while their annual budget had stood at about $80,000 in the fifties, by the early 1970s it had climbed to between one-quarter and one-third of a million dollars. (8) Clearly the McCarthyite attacks of the Reece Committee on the Rockefeller Foundation did little to deter the government's support for Kinsey's supremely "useful" sex research.

Here one should recognize that the funding of the Kinsey Institute's work makes sense when one acknowledges the key role that Kinsey's sex research played in containing the threat posed to the status quo by females in the postwar period -- a significant feature of his work that has come under radical scrutiny by feminists in recent decades. Margaret Jackson thus argues that Kinsey "regarded women as a threat to the uninhibited expression of male sexual 'needs'" and "believed that the greater submissiveness of the female and the greater aggressiveness of the male were ultimately biological 'facts'" that ended up providing the "scientific legitimization of a form of heterosexuality and sexual pleasure through which women could be controlled and male power maintained." For example, "Two of the most fundamental assumptions of sexology are that heterosexuality is natural and that the most natural form of heterosexual activity is coitus, i.e. penetration of the vagina by the penis." "Even Kinsey," Jackson says, "who delighted in shocking and exposing the hypocrisy of the conventional moral code by augmenting the importance of 'taboo activities' relative to 'normal' heterosexual sex, betrayed a bias towards coitus." (9) Continuing her lucid assault upon Kinsey, she goes on to point out that:

Kinsey's account of the nature of the sex drive is ambiguous: at times it seems to be clearly biological in origin, but elsewhere he treats it as a result of conditioning, i.e. as a learned response to external stimuli. If male sexual response were only the result of conditioning, the implications would be quite radical, since the conditioned response could easily be extinguished by means of behaviour therapy. In Kinsey's model, however, the conditioning is underpinned by a more fundamental biological drive, which is incapable of extinction. The male's "conditionability" merely makes him that much more incapable of controlling his sexual urges, since he is the victim, not only of his biology, but of "ever-present" erotic stimuli in the world around him, i.e., women -- their bodies, their clothing, their images in films, magazines, advertising (Kinsey, 1948, p.217). Women, on the other hand, are less "conditionable" then men; thus Kinsey was able to legitimize the sexual double standard by grounding it in "real psychological differences" between the sexes. As the final turn in the anti-feminist screw he speculated that these differences might ultimately reflect differences in the cerebral cortex: in other words, there might be a distinct, female brain -- which would make the psychological differences biological after all! (Kinsey, 1953; p.712) (pp.75-6)

Even Kinsey's sympathetic biographer acknowledged that "Kinsey had always been deeply ambivalent about women," writing how:

Despite his formidable learning and scholarly devotion to objectivity, he had developed some definite opinions about female sexuality over the years, most of which were judgmental and critical. In the male volume, Kinsey had made a number of digs that betrayed his attitude. Essentially, he had characterized women as undersexed moralists who served as willing agents of social control. Indeed, he had repeatedly discounted both their interest in sex and their capacity for high rates of sexual outlets. In many respects, then, Kinsey's attitudes toward women reflected the cultural values of his youth. He saw women as largely uninterested in sex, morally pure, and devoted to reforming men. (10)

Kinsey "never had the same emotional investment in their sexual problems that he felt for men's," Jones continues, "in part because he tended to regard women as agents rather than as victims of sexual repression but also because his vision of a sexual utopia rested on a decidedly male homoerotic model." So for instance, rape, as Andrea Dworkin points out, "does not have an authentic existence in Kinsey's system, except as a repressive social construct with which women haunt and punish and restrict the male." (11) Kinsey was hardly a sexual liberator for all!

Little wonder that the response of the male-dominated professionals -- in media and scientific circles -- to the publication of Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953) "was milder than the reaction that had greeted the male volume." Yet contrary to critical feminist interpretations of Kinsey's work, Jones asserts that "despite the confusion, contradictions, and occasional misogyny that marked the female volume, Kinsey was generally supportive of female sexuality." He then adds that the fact that Kinsey "had accorded women the same treatment as men was extraordinary, since it implied that female sexuality should be given parity with male sexuality." (12) But arguably it was exactly this faux parity within a patriarchal world order that was the most significant problem identified by feminist critics. This is because the revolution in human sexuality that was defined by Kinsey (the longstanding misogynist), was set out in such a limited way that females could only attain "parity" with men if they tenderly embraced a male supremacist form of heterosexuality. This was hardly progressive, and neither was Kinsey, or the results of the so-called sexual revolution that he is given credit for catalyzing.


To e-mail this article


· · · · · ·


If you find Michael Barker's work valuable, please consider helping us

· · · · · ·



Feel free to insert a link to this work on your Web site or to disseminate its URL on your favorite lists, quoting the first paragraph or providing a summary. However, DO NOT steal, scavenge, or repost this work on the Web or any electronic media. Inlining, mirroring, and framing are expressly prohibited. Pulp re-publishing is welcome -- please contact the publisher. This material is copyrighted, © Michael Barker 2013. All rights reserved.


Have your say

Do you wish to share your opinion? We invite your comments. E-mail the Editor. Please include your full name, address and phone number (the city, state/country where you reside is paramount information). When/if we publish your opinion we will only include your name, city, state, and country.


About the Author

Michael Barker is an independent researcher who currently resides in the UK. In addition to his work for Swans, which can be found in the 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013 archives, his other articles can be accessed at michaeljamesbarker.wordpress.com. Please help fund his work.   (back)


· · · · · ·



1.  Jones, Alfred C. Kinsey, p.464. Certainly Kinsey was able to deceive the Rockefeller Foundation to the extent that they did not see (or perhaps did not care to see) beyond his pretense of being a heterosexual family man, but ultimately this did not matter to the foundation so long as this mask of normalcy was maintained in public (which it was). Indeed, in many ways Kinsey was the perfect match for the Rockefeller's interests, as after completing his Ph.D. at Harvard he "left Boston believing that biologists should become social engineers, shaping public policy and altering private attitudes on a variety of issues, ranging from eugenics to private morality." (p.154)  (back)

2.  Jones, Alfred C. Kinsey, p.577. "Had these objections been made by minor people in obscure journals and magazines, Kinsey could have sat comfortably in his chair, but his critics read like a Who's Who of American intellectual life. They included the theologians Reinhold Niebuhr and Norman Vincent Peale; the anthropologists Margaret Mead, Ruth Benedict, and Geoffrey Gorer; the historian Bernard De Voto; the psychologist Lewis M. Terman; the psychiatrists Eric Fromm and Lawrence Kubie; and the cultural critic Lionel Trilling -- to name only a few." (p577)  (back)

3.  Jones, Alfred C. Kinsey, p.595. Another influential foundation trustee, Arthur Hays Sulzberger, who also served as the publisher of the New York Times, was likewise irritated by the lack of distance between the Foundation and Kinsey. (p.558)  (back)

4.  Jones, Alfred C. Kinsey, p.596, p.599. Kinsey received strong support from Lewis H. Weed, who was the director of the NRC's medical division, and George W. Corner, who "proved to be Kinsey's staunchest ally." (p.597)  (back)

5.  Jones, Alfred C. Kinsey, p.638, pp.647-8, pp.648-9. In September 1950, the American Statistical Association announced that the committee to review Kinsey's work "would be composed of William G. Cochran, professor of biostatistics, School of Hygiene, the Johns Hopkins University, who agreed to chair the committee; Frederick Mosteller, associate professor of statistics, Department of Social Relations, Harvard University; and John W. Tukey, professor of mathematical statistics, Princeton University." (p.641) In December 1951, a preliminary draft of the statisticians' report on Kinsey's work was finally ready, and toward the end of February 1952 a two-day conference was convened to allow Kinsey to defend his work before the statisticians. Throughout this process and the following years -- when various related statistical reports were published (and for the most part ignored by the media) -- Kinsey "emerged largely unscathed." (p.664)  (back)

6.  Jones, Alfred C. Kinsey, p.649, p.650, p.651, p.652, pp.688-9. "Kinsey's deep-seated animosity to traditional morality led him to take a benign view of child molestation and incest." (p.620)

"Publicly, then, Kinsey advised homosexuals to be accommodationists, much as Booker T. Washington offered similar advice to turn-of-the-century blacks regarding race relations. But just as Washington abhorred segregation in private, Kinsey's letters reveal a pattern of fierce opposition to his culture's homophobia." (p.626)  (back)

7.  Jones, Alfred C. Kinsey, p.715, p.716, p.725, p.748.  (back)

8.  Vern Bullough, "The Rockefellers and Sex Research," The Journal of Sex Research, 21 (2), 1985, p.122; Wardell Pomeroy, Dr. Kinsey and the Institute for Sex Research (Harper and Row, 1972), p.456. The Kinsey Institute received their first grant from the National Institute of Mental Health in 1957 -- a government agency whose founding director, Robert H. Felix (1946-64), was given a Rockefeller Public Service Award in 1961.

At the same time that the Rockefeller Foundation was forced to stop funding Kinsey's research, the Foundation "gave one of the largest grants it had ever made, $525,000, to Harry Emerson Fosdick's Union Theological Seminary, one of the primary critics of Kinsey's research." (p.379) For further details on the history of the Union Theological Seminary, see Heather Warren, Theologians of a New World Order: Rheinhold Niebuhr and the Christian Realists, 1920-1948 (Oxford University Press, 1997).  (back)

9.  Margaret Jackson, "Sexology and the Universalisation of Male Sexuality (from Ellis to Kinsey, and Masters and Johnson)," In: Lal Coveney et al. (eds.), The Sexuality Papers: Male Sexuality and the Social Control of Women (Hutchinson, 1984), p.75, p.77, p.71. For further criticisms of Kinsey, see Andrea Dworkin, Pornography: Men Possessing Women (Women's Press, 1981); and Sheila Jeffreys, Anticlimax: A Feminist Perspective on the Sexual Revolution (Women's Press, 1990).  (back)

10.  Jones, Alfred C. Kinsey, p.677.  (back)

11.  Jones, Alfred C. Kinsey, p.678; Dworkin, Pornography, p.186.  (back)

12.  Jones, Alfred C. Kinsey, p.707, p.707. Given the patriarchal environment in which it was conceived Jones argues that "Kinsey's approach to women can only be described as progressive." (p.707)  (back)


· · · · · ·


Internal Resources

Patterns which Connect

America the 'beautiful'

Activism under the Radar Screen

· · · · · ·


This edition's other articles

Check the front page, where all current articles are listed.



Check our past editions, where the past remains very present.

· · · · · ·


[About]-[Past Issues]-[Archives]-[Resources]-[Copyright]



Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
URL for this work: http://www.swans.com/library/art19/barker140.html
Published September 23, 2013