It's time to ditch the dirt

Alfred Kinsey succeeded in changing America's attitude to sex. Now he is being labelled as a pervert. But what are the motives of those trying to rubbish him?
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The Independent Culture
American sexologist Alfred C. Kinsey still excites extraordinary levels of controversy - some 40 years after his death. Tonight's Secret Lives documentary which claims to expose "Kinsey's Paedophilia", has already been condemned in advance by Kinsey's newest biographer Jonathan Gathorne- Hardy as inflammatory, sinister and downright dishonest. "I was appalled, quite frankly," he tells me when I meet him at his publisher's office, after seeing the preview tape.

Kinsey's name is already dirt thanks to a notorious recent hatchet job by yet another biographer. Only last year, James Jones in his Alfred C Kinsey A Public/Private Life claimed that not only was Kinsey a bad scientist, he indulged in peculiar acts of sexual self-mutilation on which floated a whole raft of dishonest behaviour.

In a sometimes overtly homophobic manner, he marks Kinsey down as a fifth- columnist gay man - the very image of deceit and lies. The Times published a leader after the book came out, and it was somehow regarded as the last word on the sexologist: "his science [was] vitiated by his disregard of proper sampling methods," it boomed with almost Victorian indignancy. "He was a voyeur, a masochist, a homosexual."

Jonathan Gathorne-Hardy's new biography of Kinsey, called Sex: The Measure of All Things, is published next week. It is a sane voice amongst the general hubbub and hysteria. But it wasn't for his sanity that TV producer Tim Tate recruited him for the Channel 4 documentary, in which he appears several times. It was for his notes on a paedophile's diary kept under lock and key at the Kinsey Institute. The Institute had refused Tate access.

"I admit I was naive, but there was no indication that they were going to make a case for Kinsey virtually being a paedophile." says Gathorne- Hardy, who denies being a Kinsey apologist. In an old-fashioned way he doesn't seem worried about himself, but feels errors are being made that he is honour-bound to correct. "There are legitimate criticisms to be made of Kinsey, but not on this level."

The world of Kinsey is the world of feuds - battles between academics and biographers mask a larger war between the forces of the progressive left and the forces of the reactionary right. As is so often the case these days, stories from the US tainted with insular American politics are delivered raw on the British doorstep with no attempt to analyse their origins.

The US Christian Right have been on Kinsey's case since he published his two pioneering books on male and female sexuality in 1948 and 1953 respectively. The Christian Right do not accept sexology as a science. They believe Kinsey to be the father of sex education in schools, which has long been anathema to their cause.

What are the accusations? He has been accused of distorting his figures from his love of the bizarre. He has been accused of encouraging group sex among his staff. He has been accused of being a closet homosexual and a masochist who inserted objects up his penis and even cut off his foreskin with a penknife. And now he is being accused of colluding with child rapists by not reporting them to the police, breaking the "confessional" of scientific research.

Tim Tate, who made the documentary, is no stranger to strongly polemical TV: an associate of Roger Cook, he is not from the sugar-and-spice school of programme-making. He wants to get your attention and then put his foot in the door. To this end he recruits a key figure of the Christian American Right, Judith Reisman. With her mannered delivery, this self-appointed nemesis of Kinsey seems the epitome of the familiar fundamentalist far- right mix of sentiment and violence.

For purely dramatic purposes Tate recruits one unfortunate woman, who, abused by her father as a child, thinks that her father may have sent details of the abuse to Kinsey. A horrible thought of course - but one for which there isn't a shred of evidence. After a tearful recounting of her experiences, the programme concludes with this woman heaving herself beseechingly up the steps of the Kinsey Institute - apparently locked out and cold-shouldered by an inhuman collaborator of her abusive father, a scientist-monster who turned abuse into pie-charts and percentages. The building looks forbidding, cold and almost fortified. "It isn't even the Kinsey Institute," observes Gathorne-Hardy. "It's the clock-tower in Bloomington".

The documentary recounts how Kinsey had corresponded with two especially unpleasant child-sex enthusiasts - one in the US, one in Germany - and used the data of the US man to produce one much-reviled chart on how long it takes pre-pubescents to reach orgasm.

"Kinsey saw paedophiles," says Gathorne-Hardy, a trace of exasperation in his voice."He saw everybody - rapists, homosexuals, people involved in incest because he was going to write a book about sex offenders and there was no way he could study them without talking to them. But any kind of coercion appalled him in sex. And he sometimes changed his views. Once he came back from St Quentin prison in a complete state after speaking to rapists, who had all told him they would willingly re-offend as soon as they were released. He felt there was nothing left except to leave them in jail till they died."

Interestingly, Gathorne-Hardy accepts a central charge of the programme. "He should have been honest about that chart on infantile sexuality, and where the data came from," he agrees. "But it was the bad publication of science rather than bad science - much of that data has subsequently been proved."

I mentioned that many people watching the documentary would feel appalled by the views expressed by members of the beleaguered Kinsey Institute. To a man they seem like classically deluded academics who have spent so much time with their subject they have quite lost touch of how to speak to the outside world about it. "You must remember these are very old men, and one in particular, Clarence Tripp, is something of a loose cannon who seems to forget that his views are not always Kinsey's views. But to say they have encouraged the spread of paedophilia by studying it is like saying those who study Aids are encouraging the spread of it"

Gathorne-Hardy hopes Kinsey will receive a more measured response in future. "I feel I have to stand up against this tide," he says. "He was a brave man and a pioneer whose figures, even when `cleaned' up, still stand. His influence on more tolerant ways of thinking is still with us." And the future of the Kinsey Institute? They've already moved Kinsey's notorious sex-films to a secret location. And they have vowed to destroy painstakingly accumulated material (including a $40 million erotic art collection, almost never seen) if the police arrive with warrants - as the Tate documentary suggests is desirable.

"I'm afraid a lot of material has probably already been destroyed by Kinsey's family," says Gathorne-Hardy, adding that they were "shattered" by Jones's book. "I think it's inevitable that things will be got rid of. They're under siege."

`Secret History', tonight, 9pm, Channel 4.

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