Monday, May 12, 2014

Considering Kinsey

Reading the Kinsey Reports can be a chore at times - as they are sociological texts with in-depth statistical analyses. But I would argue that they are, nevertheless, the most interesting text books I've ever read (and ones, it is worth noting, that I am reading fully voluntarily). But just as fascinating as the revelations Kinsey's statistics uncover (and probably more interesting to read), are the almost philosophical treatments he gives the subjects he encounters in his analyses of the statistics, often related to the conflicts that arise due to the vast differences between people's actual sexual behaviors, and the social, moral, and legal codes people are expected to follow.

On a related note, I find reading Kinsey to be uniquely refreshing because he takes a truly scientifically neutral - even anthropological - approach to human sexuality, free from the typical moral biases that most people take for granted when discussing sex (even most scientists, to the tragic detriment of mankind's factual knowledge about sex). I imagine, however, that that's also the reason that people who are threatened by Kinsey's findings (and his application of the scientific method to the traditionally "moral" realm of human sexual behavior) are so hostile toward his contribution to our knowledge of human sexuality. Moralism is frequently an obstacle to the truth, and in return, uncovering the truth often threatens traditional morals.

Really, I wish I could quote a whole bunch of passages at length from the Kinsey Reports, because they are insightful and well written and deserve to be read, and I fear that they may be lost among all the (what most people would call) boring statistics; in addition to the fact that the age of the reports - are they even still in print anymore? - may prevent some people from giving them proper consideration, despite how surprisingly relevant much of it still is today. Some of the details may have changed in the last half century or more - thanks to feminism, the sexual revolution, and increasing acceptance of homosexuality. But a lot of the issues as regards social expectations, moral treatments of sex, and the legal code are still applicable, certainly at least in a general sense.

Take, for instance, the following example. Though laws (and social restrictions) today are thankfully more permissive of non-procreative, extra-marital sexual behaviors, you can still find examples of the out-of-date and ultra-conservative sexual morals that have influenced some of the social and legal codes of today we have yet to abolish. At one point in his volume on the male (specifically at the beginning of the chapter on Marital Status and Sexual Outlet), as a kind of thought experiment, Kinsey discusses legal restrictions (at the time) against masturbation, due to the classical ascetic approach to sex (instead of the more fun hedonistic approach) inspiring modern sex codes. Note that laws criminalizing masturbation do so on entirely moral grounds.

Now imagine an educator who does not hold the same moral view of masturbation (and who is entitled thusly, as protected by the U.S. Constitution), and who, studying the science, comes to the conclusion that masturbation is healthy, and subsequently decides to start teaching people to masturbate. Well, because the law restricts speech that could be considered an incitement to commit a crime (in this case, masturbation), then the educator is committing a crime and can be prosecuted. This is a perfect example of how science can be impeded, and telling the truth can become a crime, when laws are written based on moral beliefs. Time has, thankfully, eroded opposition to the idea of masturbation being a potentially healthy sexual outlet, but are there not other cases, even within the realm of human sexuality (a subject that is rife with moralism) where the law reflects moral views that may run contrary to the natural facts?

If you are doubtful, try thinking about encouraging children, specifically (which in modern legal jargon includes adolescents), to masturbate, and see where that leads you (probably to a charge of contributing to the delinquency of minors). Among other things, Kinsey's data suggests that males reach their peak sexual potential just before the onset of adolescence. He also found that girls who have reached orgasm at least once through pre-marital contacts are much better at making sexual adjustments later in marriage. Try preaching that opposite your school's next church-sponsored "abstinence is rad" lecture. It's obvious that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a pervasive aspect of human life, and - for many - driven by a powerful, biological impetus that even strict moral codes and social prohibitions can only do so much to quell. What's not obvious, to me, is why so many people push so hard against that fact, and insist on viewing sexuality with so much suspicion, disdain...and moral revulsion.

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