SEXUAL BEHAVIOR IN THE HUMAN FEMALE

Kinsey, Alfred C. Pomeroy, Wardell B. Martin, Clyde E. Gebhard, Paul H. Sexual Behavior in the Human Female. Philadelpia and London: W.B. Saunders Company. 1953. pp 842.


            This book is the result of an in-depth study of human female sexual behavior. It is divided into three parts. Part one describes the history and methodology, part two looks at the types of sexual activity among females, and part three discusses the comparisons between the female and the male. The book includes many charts and graphs that depict the study’s findings.
            In part one, the scope of the study, the sample and its statistical analysis, and the sources of data are discussed. Chapter one describes the scope of the study, explaining that its objective was to discover what people do sexually, what factors influence their sexual behavior, how their sexual experiences affect their lives, and what social significance there may be in particular behaviors. We learn that case histories from 5940 white females provided most of the data for the study, which was done over a period of fifteen years at the Institute for Sex Research at Indiana University. There is also some discussion of society’s need for accurate sexual knowledge, in dealing with problems of marital adjustment, sexual problems of unmarried youth, sex education of children, and the social control of sexual behavior.
            Chapter two considers the sample and its statistical analysis, discussing the problems of sampling and then considering the constitution of the sample, looking at age range, educational background, marital status, religious background, parental occupational status, subject’s occupational status, rural versus urban background, decade of birth, age at onset of adolescence, and geographic origin. The specific sources of the sample are listed, as well as the occupations of the subjects and their spouses. Standard statistical terms used in the book are defined, such as accumulative incidence, active incidence, frequency of activity, frequency classes, median and mean frequency, active median and mean frequency, total median and mean frequency, standard error, significant differences, percentage of total outlet, and coefficient of correlation.
            Chapter three is devoted to sources of data, and describes the importance of establishing rapport, the objectivity of the investigator, confidentiality of the record, flexibility in form of question, consistency of the data, determining the quality of the response, and the time involved in the interview. The reliability and validity of the reported data is looked at. Comparisons of spouses, conformance of female and male reports on marital coitus, non-conformance of female and male reports on pre-marital coitus, memory versus physical findings, and comparisons of data in present and previous studies are all techniques used to test reliability and validity in this study. Recorded data, such as calendars, correspondence, original fiction, as well as photos and various art, erotic and sado-masochistic material has been collected from the subjects and used in the report for much of the non-statistical and more general discussions. Also, community studies, clinical studies, mammalian studies, anthropologic studies, legal studies, previous statistical studies and various other previous studies are credited for contributing to the study as observed data.
            In part two, the various types of sexual activity among females, including pre-adolescent sexual development, masturbation, nocturnal sex dreams, pre-marital petting, pre-marital coitus, marital coitus, extra-marital coitus, homosexual responses and contacts, and animal sexual contacts are considered. Chapter four takes a look at pre-adolescent sexual development, noting that there are both male and female children who are quite capable of “true sexual response,” and even orgasm, including some infants of a few months of age. It is also noted that approximately one fourth of the females in the sample had either been approached sexually by or actually engaged in sexual contact with adult males while they were pre-adolescent. Nearly two-thirds of these sexual approaches were verbal approaches or genital exhibition. Physical and psychosexual adolescent development of the female is also discussed.
            Chapter five considers masturbation in the female, noting that it is the second most common form of sexual activity that females engage in both before and after marriage, and the one which produces the most orgasms. It was found that in 95% or more of all her masturbation, the female does reach orgasm. Approximately two-thirds of the masturbating females sometimes used fantasy along with physical stimulation to reach orgasm, and approximately half almost always used fantasy with physical stimulation to reach orgasm.
            Chapter six considers nocturnal sex dreams of the female, noting that about two-thirds of the females in the sample had dreams that were overtly sexual, 20% of them culminating in orgasm. Chapter seven considers pre-marital petting, noting that 40% of the females had experienced heterosexual petting by fifteen years of age, and between69% and 95% had such an experience by eighteen years of age, and 90% of the entire sample, and nearly 100% of those who had married, had such an experience before marriage.
            Chapter eight discusses pre-marital coitus, noting that there was a “marked, positive correlation between experience in orgasm obtained from pre-marital coitus, and the capacity to reach orgasm after marriage.” Chapter nine discusses marital coitus, noting that it is the most common sexual outlet that females engage in after marriage. Also noted is that the “missionary” position is the most frequently used coital position, however over half of the younger generation in the sample have used the female superior position. Occurrence of orgasm and factors affecting orgasm in the female are also considered. Chapter ten takes a look at extra-marital coitus, noting that about a quarter of the sample had experienced extra-marital coitus by age forty, and about 85% of all those engaging in extra-marital activity responded, at least on occasion, to orgasm, about the same as in marital coitus. Reasons for participating in extra-marital coitus include: to experience with a new and sometimes superior sexual partner, to accommodate a respected friend, to retaliate for the spouse’s involvement in similar activity, to assert independence form spouse, to provide a new source of emotional satisfaction.
            Chapter eleven considers homosexual responses and contacts, recording the sexual responses and overt contacts the sample had experienced with other females. By age thirty, one quarter of the sample had recognized erotic responses to other females, and by age forty, 19% of the total sample had experienced some physical contact with other females, which was intended to be sexual. Chapter twelve considers animal contacts experienced by females, noting that 1.5% of the total sample had some sort of sexual relation with other animals in pre-adolescence, and 3.6% had sexual contacts with another type of animal after they had become adolescent. Nearly all of the contacts were with household pets, either cats or dogs, and involved general body contacts with the animal.
            Chapter thirteen considers total sexual outlet, defining it as “the sum of the orgasms derived from the various types of sexual activity in which that individual had engaged.” It is noted that for all ages, masturbation was the chief source of total outlet in single women. After marriage, the frequencies of total outlet for the females in the sample increased considerably compared to that of single females of the same age.
            In part three, the anatomy and physiology of sexual response and orgasm, the psychological factors in sexual response, the neural mechanisms of sexual response, and the hormonal factors in sexual response, in the male and the female are compared to one another. In looking at the anatomy of sexual response and orgasm in chapter fourteen, it is offered that “the genitalia of the male and female originate embryologically from essentially identical structures and, as adult structures, their homologous parts serve very similar functions.” Also noted is that the perineal area of both male and female provides a considerable source of stimulation, and the mouth is considered erotic and equally sensitive in the male and female, as well as the buttocks and inner thighs. It is concluded that the anatomical differences between men and women are only the reproductive differences, and that the anatomic structures essential to sexual response and orgasm are nearly identical in the sexes.
            In looking at the physiology of sexual response and orgasm in chapter fifteen, it is noted that the male and female do not differ in the basic physiological sexual responses, such as tactile and pressure responses, pulse rate, blood pressure, increased peripheral flow of blood, tumescence, respiration, anoxia, orgasm, and the afterglow. The male ejaculates, which is different. In considering the psychological factors in sexual response in chapter sixteen, it is summed up that men experience more arousal from psychological factors than do women.  Chapter seventeen looks at the neural mechanisms of sexual response which are identical in the male and the female. The function of the sacro-lumbar area and the roles of the upper portions of cord, the autonomic nervous system, and the brain, in sexual response are looked at.
Chapter eighteen discusses the hormonal factors in sexual response, taking into account the effects of estrogens and androgens, and their different roles in men and women. Also looked at are pituitary hormones and secretion, thyroid secretion, and adrenaline. It is noted that although hormonal levels may affect the levels of sexual response, including intensity and frequency of response, as well as the frequency of overt sexual activity, “there is no demonstrated relationship between any of the hormones and an individual’s response to particular sorts of psychological stimuli.”


            This book is the female counterpart to the Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, written five years previous. The methodology of the two books is essentially the same. Both reports’ samples were primarily younger white adults with some college education, with the majority coming from the northeastern quarter of the United States. The findings varied of course, due to the different sexes. Also, a considerable amount of the information in each of the books was cross-referenced and supporting the other in some way. For example, the Kinsey male report included the detailed information regarding factors affecting social outlet, as well as detailed information regarding sources of sexual outlet, not included in the Kinsey female report. And conversely, the comparisons of male and female sexual responses are included in the Kinsey female report.
            The 1994 publication of Laumann, Gagnon, Michael, and Michael’s The Social Organization of Sexuality: Sexual Practices in the United States, is a more current report of male and female sexual attitudes and behaviors. It surveyed 3,432 men and women between the ages of 18 and 59, from across America. A report done by sociologists, as opposed to biologists or psychologists, its primary focus was on how the social environment affects social behavior, rather than the variation of behaviors in the human species. Both reports collected data through interviews, and concern themselves with some similar topics, such as early sexual experiences, masturbation, and a variety of sexual practices. However, Laumann et al’s report, being more current, addresses topics such as contraception, AIDS, sexual dysfunction, which were not issues during Kinsey’s era.
            The author’s main bias, is merely for the scientific study of human sexual behavior and the education of people about his findings. It is a bias only in the most positive of light. He refrains from any judgment of the behaviors, merely reporting what is fact. One negative aspect of the book is that the information in it is not readily accessible to the average layperson. The gems of information are buried in statistics, and need to be excavated. One positive aspect is that it is a truly scientific work that has earned the respect of our nation as an authoritative body of information concerning human sexual behavior. The book most benefits the scholar, the researcher, and others in the field of sexuality.
            The author most certainly achieved his goal of discovering what females do sexually and what factors influence what they do, as well as his goal to get the information to the public. The book is well written. It is very well organized and it is clear in its descriptions and its presentation of material. It uses charts and graphs well to help the reader examine the data. The book is an invaluable contribution to the field of sexology. It has tremendously increased our knowledge and understanding of female sexual behavior, although we have learned much more about female sexual behavior since this report was written.  This book undoubtedly helped to unlock our nation’s close-mindedness about looking objectively at sex, and helped loosen the grip of sex as a taboo topic.