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A Renewed Attack on Sexuality Research Is an Attack on Us All


It is not news that we are in a time of renewed attacks on the LGBTQ+ community, particularly from the theocratic far right. Visibly happy, productive, and proud LGBTQ+ individuals are one of the biggest threats to theocratic power, and therefore cannot be allowed. Indeed, their attempts to strip away not just our rights but our very existence are almost numbing in their quantity, requiring us and our allies to be extra vigilant and to actively respond on many different fronts. 


One such attempt underway is an attack on the integrity of scientific inquiry, especially the science aimed at studying human sexuality in all of its variety. In fact, one the most celebrated and legendary centers for the scientific study of human sexuality – The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction at Indiana University – is under serious threat from far-right politicians. Though attacked many times before (Indiana is, after all, the home state of Mike Pence and the KKK), the Kinsey Institute now faces a fundamental crisis in how its science will continue to be done and archived.


Those of us of a certain age are likely indirectly aware of the Institute because of the “Kinsey Scale,” a tool based on the work of its namesake. Alfred Kinsey, who founded the institute at IU in Bloomington IN in 1947, was a professor of entomology who eventually became interested in sexual behavior in animals, studies he expanded to include the human animal. His extensive research, which consisted largely of surveying a large population to understand their sexual desires and fantasies in relation to their sexual behavior, was published in the so-called “Kinsey Reports”: The 1948 book Sexual Behavior in the Human Male and the 1953 book Sexual Behavior in the Human Female. In these reports Kinsey first described a “scale of 0 to 6,” where 0 is exclusively heterosexual and 6 is exclusively homosexual. Kinsey and his collaborators demonstrated that the vast majority of humans fall somewhere between the extremes (and their score can change over time). 


Although they were originally based on binary endpoints and hardly inclusive of all human sexual experience (a fact Kinsey himself admitted and tried to correct later in his work), the societal impact of the Kinsey Reports cannot be overstated. First, they used the scientific method to push back against prevailing views of the “abnormal psychology” of homosexuality. Second, they moved discussion of sexual behavior from back rooms and confessionals into scientific and public discourse. Third, they helped empower many individuals to do what would become known as “coming out,” raising visibility and giving further lie to the negative descriptions of queer people favored by the extreme right. And perhaps most important, they opened the doors to pursuing sexuality studies as a legitimate field of science: Indeed, it is hard to imagine that the recent genetic studies discussed previously in this blog would ever have been done without the pioneering work of Kinsey and his collaborators.


Another, unsurprising, impact of the reports is the rage they elicited from the religious far-right, largely because the Kinsey findings challenged their moral teachings and claimed moral authority directly. The theocrats have been attacking both the studies and the Institute that is continuing to perform such studies ever since. The latest and most venomous iteration of these attacks has taken the form of the far-right majority Indiana Congress voting to remove funding and force the Institute into separate non-profit status from the University (compromising its academic status and thus the status of the professors and students at the Institute). If you can’t stop the inverts, stop the science that empowers them. The University is struggling with a response, but it is gratifying to see that the Kinsey Institute and its increasingly sophisticated research is still supported by Indiana University leadership and faculty, along with many donors and collaborators.


There is, for sure, an anti-science bias that has grown exponentially over the past decade on the right AND the left. But science, like that done by Kinsey, is ultimately one of our community’s greatest allies, and we need to be sure that we embrace, support, and defend it in our efforts to confront and dispel the growing threats against us.


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