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THE EARLY SEX RESEARCHERS: THE KINSEY SURVEYS - CRITICAL APPRAISAL

There can be little doubt that Kinsey attempted to obtain as accurate data as possible. His final questionnaire consisted of some 350 questions which were asked in a one-to-one interview. Kinsey himself performed about half of the more than 11,000 interviews. The interviews were structured so as to obtain the highest degree of accuracy and honesty from the respondents. For example, questions of a more controversial or threatening nature were asked late in the interview to allow rapport to be built between the interviewer and respondent. The questions themselves were structured to encourage the respondents to reveal information. Instead of asking "Do you masturbate?" Kinsey would inquire, "At what age did you begin to masturbate?" (It should be noted that critics suggest that this type of questioning may have led to an overreporting of certain types of behaviors.) Kinsey also sought accuracy by a variety of other methods: he obtained test-retest reliabilities, he interviewed groups of wives and husbands separately, and he checked for accuracy of his coding procedures by having two interviewers rate the respondent's answers in some interviews.

Nevertheless, the validity of the Kinsey data has been a matter of argument since its publication. One common criticism of a nontechnical nature is that the Kinsey reports deal mostly with behaviors and neglect attitudinal components. This criticism appears to have some foundation in fact. The most serious criticisms, however, involve the representativeness of the people sampled. Simply stated, were the persons questioned by Kinsey and his associates really comparable to the adult population at large? If not, then is it appropriate to generalize Kinsey's findings to the population as a whole? Critics (e.g., Cochran et al., 1953) have repeatedly pointed out that the persons questioned in Kinsey surveys in many ways are not like the U.S. adult population. Kinsey's respondents were, on the average, younger and better educated than the average citizen. They were also more likely to live in cities and to hold higher prestige jobs. Blacks, Catholics, Jews, and older people were underrepresented in the Kinsey sample. Although Kinsey attempted to adjust for these discrepancies by statistical procedures, his critics warn that systematic errors of unknown proportions may nevertheless remain in the data. Generally cited as examples of such possible errors are: (a) the relationships of various sociocultural and demographic factors to sexual activities and preferences, and (b) the relatively high incidence of many reported sexual activities, especially homosexual behaviors.

Given these concerns, we are required to ask just how accurate the Kinsey data are. There is really no way of proving or disproving the validity of the original Kinsey findings. However, there have been several other surveys since the publication of the Kinsey reports; and Brecher (1971) has noted that the better the methodology employed in these more recent surveys, the more likely they are to support Kinsey's data. Let us turn now to these later surveys.

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