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“Kinsey” the film
  1. D Goldmeier
  1. Jane Wadsworth Clinic, St Mary’s Hospital London W2 1NY, UK; david.goldmeierst-marys.nhs.uk

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    Nowadays there are a number of sources that give us relatively unbiased information on what people do at sexual intercourse. One frequently quoted example is the “Sex in America” data—more popularly known as “The Laumann study.” We in the United Kingdom of course have a bigger and better one authored by Catherine Mercer and her colleagues. These papers are easily accessible on medical and general computer search engines. But I am pretty sure the average man (or woman) on the Clapham omnibus has neither seen them nor heard of them. In spite of mass sex education in many European countries (this starts at the tender age of 7 in the United Kingdom), I think that what Hollywood portrays is more likely to be accepted as normative behaviour than the findings of population studies. A good example of sexual inaccuracy is in the film “Titanic,” where it is implicitly understood that the heroine (Kate Winslet) has an orgasm at her first act of intercourse. We know from scientific data that this is unlikely to happen. What about other older sources? Well, there’s the Karma Sutra and the Bible. Sorry, the former only tells us what can be done and the latter tells us what shouldn’t be done.

    If things are that bad now, at least we, as the supposed literati, can say that normative data are now available. But in the 1930s in Europe and North America (or anywhere else for that matter) neither the general public nor indeed anyone else knew what people did at sex. Then along came Alfred Kinsey in the United States. But who was Alfred Kinsey? I asked a number of my medical and nursing colleagues, and most of them didn’t know. If you want to find out and be entertained, go and see the film “Kinsey.” I went to see the press showing of this film with a non-medical journalist friend who is something of a literary sex goddess. She enjoyed the film but felt the content was “shocking.” She continued “Can you imagine how much more shocking Kinsey’s findings were when they were first published in the early 1950s?”

    Kinsey was born in 1894 in Hoboken, New Jersey, and became a biologist with a special interest in gall wasps. This film will tell you how his life changed and he became the first person to study human sexual behaviour systematically as a biologist rather than as a novelist, moralist, or social reformer. Unfortunately while he was highly successful in developing unbiased, valid, reliable interviewing techniques (up to 510 questions at a sitting), his population samples were by no means chosen randomly. Kinsey knew that if he tried for such an unbiased sample he would have high non-response rates (remember this was the 1940s). So his samples came from, for example, sororities, fraternities, and college groups. This film tells us both about Kinsey’s work and much about Kinsey the man. He was all at once a happily married man, bisexual, strong minded to the point of arrogance, driven by compulsive data gathering, and finally hounded by Senator MacCarthy and alleged anti-American activity to a premature death.

    For the general public this film’s selling points are likely to be the subject matter (sex), Kinsey’s struggle and posthumous victory against the American establishment, and, lastly, the portrayal of his love for his wife. This love, the film asserts, transcended the statistics of his work and sexual matters in general. Rather, love is an ethereal, otherworldly, and spiritual concept. The romantic in me concurs with this notion. The iconoclast/spoiler in me wants to tell you that MRI scans can now isolate the parts of the brain associated with being in love, and that Donatella Marraziti from Italy can convince you that love is merely an obsessional illness.

    All that apart, this is an exceptional film. The acting, artistic production, music, and factual accuracy of this film are of a high standard. It is written and directed by Bill Condon (who also wrote the screenplay for Chicago) and stars Liam Neeson as Alfred Kinsey and Laura Linney (Life of David Gale, Lorenzo’s Oil) as his wife.

    Go and see this 118 minute film. It is educational and entertaining.

    You will not be disappointed.

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