Credulous Creatures

"If the world will be gulled, let it be gulled."
—Robert Burton

Who now reads Alfred Kinsey? Almost no one. Who now remembers the great media event set off in 1948 by the publication of his "monumental" book of 804 pages on Sexual Behavior in the Human Male? Most Americans over 40 probably do, while most under 40 probably do not. Few college students today recognize the name, unless they have just had to pass a multiple-choice exam in Sex and Society 101.

Kinsey was not one of the conquistadores of sexology, among a pantheon of modernist cultural heroes who led the conquest of two eons of Christian tradition; he seems to have seen himself as a humble statistician documenting the thunderous truths of the Marquis de Sade, Krafft-Ebing, Freud, Ellis, Sanger, Malinowski, Mead, and others. By trade, Kinsey was an entomologist whose forte was the meticulous counting of specimens and items of behavior. His calling was the use of this trade to "mop up" the lingering traces of Victorian hypocrisy by burying them in an avalanche of statistics about the sexual behavior of twelve thousand men, boys, and babies.

Kinsey was well aware that his statistics were only the ne plus ultra of many decades of interviews, questionnaires, compilations, and analyses by many sexologists. But he also knew that, in an age of bureaucratic...

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