Much Ado About Monogamy—
The Kinsey Report

Who has not heard of Dr. Kinsey? The question brings to mind one of those Bateman cartoons in which the unfortunate ignoramus or faux-passant trembles before a collection of gazes incredulous, horrified, contemptuous and pitying. Of course, everyone has heard of Dr. Kinsey. He is the Indiana professor who has heard 5,940 true confessions; the man with a load of light, the saviour of the Sunday press in a wet summer.

Sexual Behaviour in the Human Female” has not yet been published in Britain, but the papers have run riot over its American publication, taking attitudes of unctuous righteousness or playing the thing for all it is worth in order, as Dr. Comfort would say, to startle the Citizens. Either way, the Kinsey Report has had more publicity than any other book in a generation. Kinsey himself is said to be making nothing financially from it; the profits will go to the Research Committee with which he is concerned. Some commentators have given this as exclusive evidence to free Kinsey from the charge of “cashing-in on sex.” It is not so certain. The first American printing has been a quarter of a million copies—a figure to make the bestselling novelists envious and to suggest that the sponsors are well aware of the market value of their work. Whoever the beneficiaries may be, the Report obviously is providing—and was meant to provide—an outsize jackpot prize.

Enough has been related, quoted and discussed (mostly under huge, spicy headlines) to make some evaluation of Kinsey’s findings possible. The information in the Report relates principally to the incidence of departures from the orthodox monogamous pattern. Dr. Marie Stopes is, of course, quite right when she says: “All the different types of sex behaviour and abnormality were fully described, with numerous long detailed cases, by Dr. Havelock Ellis in his six-volumed work forty years ago.” That is not Kinsey’s point; the aim of his Report is to establish, on a statistical basis, what are the sexual behaviour-patterns of women in present-day society. The information was gathered from thousands of interviews with members of women’s societies who volunteered, and the statistics take in 5,940 case-histories. The danger of drawing conclusions from sample investigations is obvious, but it must be said that their technique has been highly developed in America, where sample polls are taken about anything and everything. In this case, however, there are factors which cast additional doubts on the value of the sample.

The greater number of the women interviewed were of better-than-average education and income, Presumably, therefore, they could express themselves more fluently and were more likely to have come in contact with the possibilities of sexual variation than most working-class women. And they were volunteers—in other words, they were willing to recount their sexual experience. One does not have to agree with the Sunday Express that such volunteers must be “a collection of oddities and exhibitionists” to make reservations about them. It is clear enough that the women with respectable histories of chaste courtship and faithful marriage are the least likely to offer their reminiscences. They wouldn’t have much to tell, for one thing.

Kinsey’s 5,940 cannot be considered as a cross-section or anything like one, and certainly not as a basis for conclusions about the “human female.” But if that were not so, the major issues would be unaffected. What makes such a survey necessary and gives it so compelling an interest? The Kinsey Report is an attempt to establish the communality of habits and attitudes which in urban society are “private,” i.e., highly individualized. In healthier, less complex social groups the pattern of sexual behaviour is part of the general social pattern. The accounts by Malinowski and Margaret Mead of sexual life among the Melanesians and Polynesians are not based on card-indexed interviews with anonymous “guinea-pigs,” but describe the observed behaviour-patterns of communities. In Kinsey’s world (which is our world) sexual life is observed by peeping into bedrooms. That is why so many people are so avidly interested in the Kinsey Report; it offers a peephole and gives a basis for comparison, which is the foundation of approval (or otherwise). And it is probably true that the Report will help sexual unorthodoxy to spread, or “make immorality rife,” as they say. The assurance that “everybody’s doing it” is usually enough encouragement for the others.
The monogamous family system has always needed the support of complex legal and moral codes. Kinsey’s most shocking “revelation” is that a great many people do not adhere to those. He says that America’s sex laws are “unrealistic, unenforceable and incapable of providing the protection needed.” He finds—if it needed finding—that for a lot of women the white wedding dress is only conventional and not representative of the true state of affairs. He hears that American wives do not always fall in with the requirements of the Hays Office. Plenty of other investigators have confirmed that chastity and fidelity are not prized as they used to be. (It is doubtful, though, if they were ever prized as much as that. One is reminded of the classic conversation between villagers: “Old George bain’t the man ‘e used to be.”—“ No. and never was.”)
The truth is that morally and legally compulsive monogamy has never really worked. It would be rather surprising if it had, considering its demands; for example, that a woman can discipline herself to be restrained and chaste before marriage and automatically become yielding and responsive after it. Whether or not monogamy is natural is beside the point, which is that the property-based (and therefore compulsive) monogamy of our society imposes conditions which have never been fully accepted and are less and less accepted to-day. Nevertheless, the property basis is there, and almost the whole vocabulary and imagery of sex and marriage carries the property implication. Outside medical text-books, a man never enters a sex relationship with a woman: he “takes her” or “possesses her,” she “becomes his” or “gives herself” to him. (If anyone doubts, by the way, that society still regards women as inferior chattels, listen to “Housewives’ Choice” in the mornings, the announcers address their audience in the tone which most of us would use to speak to an imbecile child.)
Kinsey claims, in effect, to find that the principle of exclusive possessiveness does not always apply in modem sexual behaviour, and that is what has made his book “shocking.” He advances several propositions to account for what he finds, but—as reported, at any rate—they all are deduced from assumed physiological and psychological incompatibilities between men and women: for example, his claim that their highest sexual capacities occur at irreconcilably different stages in adult life. Women, he says, do not reach their sexual zenith until the thirties and then retain it until quite late in life; men attain it in adolescence and thereafter decline (though most sexologists have recorded noteworthy cases of good tunes on old fiddles). Kinsey appears not to take into account, however, the influences of industrial and urban environment. Britain’s Royal Commission on Population suggested in 1949 that these have a considerable effect on sexual function

  It is indeed arguable that modern urban life— whether because of the greater worry and nervous strain it brings with it, or merely because of the greatly increased number of alternative outlets for free time and energy—tends to cause a reduction in sexual activity from the level associated with the predominantly rural life of earlier times. There have, in fact, been investigations which showed a lower frequency of intercourse among men engaged in urban than among those in rural occupations.

A satisfactory sexual life is not a case of merely making the most of maximum desire; more than anything, it is dependent on privacy, understanding, and freedom from tiredness and worry.
There remains the question of why departures from the orthodox monogamous pattern have become more and more frequent in the past thirty years or so; the family is breaking up, say the bishops—and so it is. The life of a family in this country seldom exceeds two generations, and its members tend to break away as soon as they reach maturity. The stability of the family was part of pre-industrial, pre-urban society, in which each group was bound by tenure or dependence to its land or its small community. To-day, in the teeming agglomeration of town life, there is no chain of secure subsistence, and the experience of one generation has little significance for the next. The economic ties which gave the family its durability and coherence have largely gone; in consequence, there has been a sharp change in the traditional attitude to sexual morality.
Probably the strongest, and the most relevant to Kinsey’s theme, of the broken moral traditions was that sex was something for men to enjoy and women to endure. The endurance was real enough and related to the consequences rather than to the sex act itself, and the developed techniques of birth control have been the decisive factor in doing away with this astonishingly unwholesome attitude: they have also made extramarital sex possible for women. Society has never really thought it half so bad—a joke for seaside postcards, in fact—for men to have sexual adventures, chiefly because men don’t have babies. Now women needn’t have babies either, and that fact alone has provided a good deal of Dr. Kinsey’s material.
To sum up, then. The Kinsey Report may be an accurate analysis and it may be hokum; this writer is disposed to think that it was prepared with an eye on its market potentialities and that its statistics are misleading. It has nothing new to tell, except possibly— and this cannot be substantiated—that the incidence of sexual misbehaviour in the human female is higher than was suspected. The general propositions (many of which were made in Kinsey’s earlier work on the human male) about sex are based on assumptions of physical and mental make-up, and leave out of consideration the effects of environment on capacities and inclinations.
Nevertheless, the publication of—and the necessity for—a study which claims to find a high incidence of frailty in the female flesh points to the current instability of the property-based monogamous marriage system. The family as it is traditionally imagined is disintegrating in capitalism, and the morality which upheld it is relaxing consequently. Some people are shocked by Kinsey’s findings because they think women ought to be men’s property; others, because they fear that imperfect people will make an imperfect world. Never fear; the world got like it first.
Robert Barltrop