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Sexual Behavior in the Human Male

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When published in 1948 this volume encountered a storm of condemnation and acclaim. It is, however, a milestone on the path toward a scientific approach to the understanding of human sexual behavior. Dr. Alfred C. Kinsey and his fellow researchers sought to accumulate an objective body of facts regarding sex. They employed first hand interviews to gather this data. This volume is based upon histories of approximately 5,300 males which were collected during a fifteen year period. This text describes the methodology, sampling, coding, interviewing, statistical analyses, and then examines factors and sources of sexual outlet.

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1. HISTORICAL INTRODUCTION

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The present volume is a progress report from a case history study on human sex behavior. The study has been underway during the past nine years. Throughout these years, it has had the sponsorship and support of Indiana University, and during the past six years the support of the National Research Council’s Committee for Research on Problems of Sex, with funds granted by the Medical Division of The Rockefeller Foundation. It is a fact-finding survey in which an attempt is being made to discover what people do sexually, and what factors account for differences in sexual behavior among individuals, and among various segments of the population.

For some time now there has been an increasing awareness among many people of the desirability of obtaining data about sex which would represent an accumulation of scientific fact completely divorced from questions of moral value and social custom. Practicing physicians find thousands of their patients in need of such objective data. Psychiatrists and analysts find that a majority of their patients need help in resolving sexual conflicts that have arisen in their lives. An increasing number of persons would like to bring an educated intelligence into the consideration of such matters as sexual adjustments in marriage, the sexual guidance of children, the pre-marital sexual adjustments of youth, sex education, sexual activities which are in conflict with the mores, and problems confronting persons who are interested in the social control of behavior through religion, custom, and the forces of the law. Before it is possible to think scientifically on any of these matters, more needs to be known about the actual behavior of people, and about the inter-relationships of that behavior with the biologic and social aspects of their histories.

 

2. INTERVIEWING

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The quality of a case history study begins with the quality of the interviewing by which the data have been obtained. If, in lieu of direct observation and experiment, it is necessary to depend upon verbally transmitted records obtained from participants in the activities that are being studied, then it is imperative that one become a master of every scientific device and of all the arts by which any man has ever persuaded any other man into exposing his activities and his innermost thoughts. Failing to win that much from the subject, no statistical accumulation, however large, can adequately portray what the human animal is doing. However satisfactory the standard deviations may be, no statistical treatment can put validity into generalizations which are based on data that were not reasonably accurate and complete to begin with. It is unfortunate that academic departments so often offer courses on the statistical manipulation of human material to students who have little understanding of the problems involved in securing the original data. Learning how to meet people of all ranks and levels, establishing rapport, sympathetically comprehending the significances of things as others view them, learning to accept their attitudes and activities without moral, social, or esthetic evaluation, being interested in people as they are and not as someone else would have them, learning to see the reasonable bases of what at first glance may appear to be most unreasonable behavior, developing a capacity to like all kinds of people and thus to win their esteem and cooperation—these are the elements to be mastered by one who would gather human statistics. When training in these things replaces or at least precedes some of the college courses on the mathematical treatment of data, we shall come nearer to having a science of human behavior.

 

3. STATISTICAL PROBLEMS

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Students who are interested in population analyses will want to examine the technical procedures on which the present study has been based. Because of the scope of the project, it has been necessary to work out some original techniques in recording the material, in testing the validity of the record, and in analyzing the data statistically. These matters will be of less interest to those who are primarily concerned with the actual behavior of the human male, and such readers may prefer to pass over this and the next chapter and turn directly to the consideration of the sexual data which begins with Chapter 5.

It has already been explained (Chapter 1) that the data in the present study have all been gathered through personal interviews. In each history, 521 items have been explored; but since a subject is questioned only about those things in which he has had specific experience, the actual number of items covered in each case is usually nearer 300, and the number involved in the histories of younger and less experienced individuals is often less than that. The maximum list is shown in the following table. A few of the items (those marked with asterisks) call for information which is procurable only through physical examination or other special tests, and such items are being investigated only on certain individuals who are available for special study.

 

4. VALIDITY OF THE DATA

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Throughout research of the sort involved here, one needs to be continuously conscious, as already pointed out, that it is impossible to get more than approximations of the fact on the incidences and frequencies of various types of human sexual behavior. Memory cannot be wholly accepted as a source of information on what has actually happened in an individual’s history. There is both deliberate and unconscious cover-up, especially of the more taboo items; and in dealing with people of diverse mental levels and educational backgrounds, there are differences in their ability to comprehend and to answer questions with any precision in an interview.

Moreover, it is difficult for a person who has not kept a diary, and especially for one who is not accustomed to thinking in statistical terms, to know how to average events which occur as irregularly as sexual activities usually do. The mass of the population is not often called upon to estimate the frequencies with which they engage in any sort of activity, sexual or otherwise. This is most obvious in dealing with poorly educated persons, and with mentally low grade individuals. Most persons are inclined to remember frequencies for periods when the activities were regular, and to forget those periods in which there was material interference with activity. In marital intercourse, for instance, there are menstrual periods, periods of illness, periods of travel when spouses are apart, periods of preoccupation with special duties which, affecting either of the two partners, interfere with the regularity of intercourse for both of them. While other sources of outlet may fill in some of these gaps, there are situations in which no kind of sexual outlet is readily available; but these blank periods are not always taken into account by a subject who is estimating averages for a history.

 

5. EARLY SEXUAL GROWTH AND ACTIVITY

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The present volume is concerned, for the most part, with the record of the frequency and sources of sexual outlet in the biologically mature male, i.e., in the adolescent and older male. This chapter, however, will discuss the nature of sexual response, and will show something of the origins of adult behavior in the activities of the younger, pre-adolescent boy.

The sexual activity of an individual may involve a variety of experiences, a portion of which may culminate in the event which is known as orgasm or sexual climax. There are six chief sources of sexual climax. There is self stimulation (masturbation), nocturnal dreaming to the point of climax, heterosexual petting to climax (without intercourse), true heterosexual intercourse, homosexual intercourse, and contact with animals of other species. There are still other possible sources of orgasm, but they are rare and never constitute a significant fraction of the outlet for any large segment of the population.

Sexual contacts in the adolescent or adult male almost always involve physiologic disturbance which is recognizable as “erotic arousal.” This is also true of much pre-adolescent activity, although some of the sex play of younger children seems to be devoid of erotic content. Pre-adolescent sexual stimulation is much more common among younger boys than it is among younger girls. Many younger females and, for that matter, a certain portion of the older and married female population, may engage in such specifically sexual activities as petting and even intercourse without discernible erotic reaction.

 

6. TOTAL SEXUAL OUTLET

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As previously noted, the six chief sources of orgasm for the human male are masturbation, nocturnal emissions, heterosexual petting, heterosexual intercourse, homosexual relations, and intercourse with animals of other species. The sum of the orgasms derived from these several sources constitutes the individual’s total sexual outlet.

Since practically all of the sexual contacts of the mature male involve emotional changes, all of which represent expenditures of energy, all adult contacts might be considered means of outlet, even though they do not lead to orgasm. These emotional situations are, however, of such variable intensity that they are difficult to assess and compare; and, for the sake of achieving some precision in analysis, the present discussion of outlets is confined to those instances of sexual activity which culminate in orgasm.

There are some individuals who derive 100 per cent of their outlet from a single kind of sexual activity. Most persons regularly depend upon two or more sources of outlet; and there are some who may include all six of them in some short period of time. The mean number of outlets utilized by our more than 5000 males is between 2 and 3 (means of 2.5 or 2.2) (Table 39). This number varies considerably with different age groups and with different social levels (Figure 35; Chapters 7, 10).

 

7. AGE AND SEXUAL OUTLET

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In physiology, endocrinology, genetics, and still other fields, biologists often go to considerable pains to restrict their experimental material to animals of particular species, to particular age groups, and to individuals that are reared on a uniform diet and kept under strictly controlled laboratory conditions. Different hereditary strains of a single species may give different results in a physiologic experiment; and, in many laboratories, stocks are restricted to the progeny of particular pairs of pedigreed ancestors. In studies of human behavior, there is even more reason for confining generalizations to homogeneous populations, for the factors that affect behavior are more abundant than those that affect simpler biologic characters, and there are, in consequence, more kinds of populations to be reckoned with. Nevertheless, restrictions of psychologic and sociologic studies to clearly defined groups have rarely been observed (McNemar 1940), perhaps because we have not, heretofore, known what things effect variability in a human population and how important they are in determining what people do.

 

8. MARITAL STATUS AND SEXUAL OUTLET

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Among the social factors affecting sexual activity, marital status is the one that would seem most likely to influence both the frequencies and the sources of the individual’s outlet. The data, however, need detailed analyses.

In social and religious philosophies, there have been two antagonistic interpretations of sex. There have been cultures and religions which have inclined to the hedonistic doctrine that sexual activity is justifiable for its immediate and pleasurable return; and there have been cultures and religions which accept sex primarily as the necessary means of procreation, to be enjoyed only in marriage, and then only if reproduction is the goal of the act. The Hebrews were among the Asiatics who held this ascetic approach to sex; and Christian sexual philosophy and English-American sex law is largely built around these Hebraic interpretations, around Greek ascetic philosophies, and around the asceticism of some of the Roman cults (Angus 1925, May 1931).

A third possible interpretation of sex as a normal biologic function, acceptable in whatever form it is manifested, has hardly figured in either general or scientific discussions. By English and American standards, such an attitude is considered primitive, materialistic or animalistic, and beneath the dignity of a civilized and educated people. Freud has contributed more than the biologists toward an adoption of this biologic viewpoint.

 

9. AGE OF ADOLESCENCE AND SEXUAL OUTLET

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For many centuries, men have wanted to know whether early involvement in sexual activity, or high frequencies of early activity, would reduce one’s capacities in later life. It has been suggested that the duration of one’s sexual life is definitely limited, and that ultimate high capacity and long-lived performance depend upon the conservation of one’s sexual powers in earlier years. The individual’s ability to function sexually has been conceived as a finite quantity which is fairly limited and ultimately exhaustible. One can use up those capacities by frequent activity in his youth, or preserve his wealth for the fulfillment of the later obligations and privileges of marriage.

Medical practitioners have sometimes ascribed infertility to wastage of sperm. Erectal impotence is supposed to be the penalty for excessive sexual exercise in youth (e.g., as in Vecki 1901, 1920; Liederman 1926, Efferz in Bilderlexikon 1930 (3):118, Robinson 1933, pp. 61, 135, 142, et al., Rice 1946). The discovery of the hormones has provided ammunition for these ideas, and millions of youths have been told that in order “to be prepared” one must conserve one’s virility by avoiding any wastage of vital fluids in boyhood (Boy Scout Manual, all editions, 1911-1945; W. S. Hall 1909; Dickerson 1930:109ff; 1933:15ff; U. S. Publ. Health Serv. 1937). Through all of this literature, an amazing assemblage of errors of anatomy, physiology, and endocrinology has been worked together for the good of the conservationist’s theories. Why the ejaculation of prostatic and vesicular secretions should involve a greater wastage of gonadal hormones than the outpouring of secretions from any of the other glands—than the spitting out, for instance, of salivary secretions—is something that biologists would need to have explained. The authors of various popular manuals, however, seem able to explain it “so youth may know,” and conserve their glandular secretions.

 

10. SOCIAL LEVEL AND SEXUAL OUTLET

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The sexual behavior of the human animal is the outcome of its morphologic and physiologic organization, of the conditioning which its experience has brought it, and of all the forces which exist in its living and nonliving environment. In terms of academic disciplines, there are biologic, psychologic, and sociologic factors involved; but all of these operate simultaneously, and the end product is a single, unified phenomenon which is not merely biologic, psychologic, or sociologic in nature. Nevertheless, the importance of each group of factors can never be ignored.

Without its physical body and its physiologic capacities, there would be no animal to act. The individual’s sexual behavior is, to a degree, predestined by its morphologic structure, its metabolic capacities, its hormones, and all of the other characters which it has inherited or which have been built into it by the physical environment in which it has developed. Two of the most important of these distinctively biologic forces, age and the age at onset of adolescence, have been examined in the earlier chapters of the present volume.

 

11. STABILITY OF SEXUAL PATTERNS

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Before going further in discussing the stability of patterns of sexual behavior, it should be emphasized again (as in Chapter 10) that there is, inevitably, a considerable variation among the individuals in any social group. This variation involves the frequencies of total sexual outlet, the choice of activities in which each individual may engage, and his frequencies in each type of activity. There is similar variation in attitudes on all other matters of sex.

The frequency curves (e.g., in Chapters 14 to 21) show how far individuals in any particular educational level or occupational class may depart from the averages which are the bases for most of the discussions in the present chapters on social levels. These same curves, however, show that 80 to 85 per cent of each population is likely to lie within an area close to the calculated means or medians. This is true for each of the outlets involved; but if an individual is rather far removed from the average in regard to any one outlet, he is still likely to fit the generalizations made for his group for most of the other outlets. He is much less likely to depart from the pattern of his social group in regard to each and all of the individual outlets.

 

12. RURAL-URBAN BACKGROUND AND SEXUAL OUTLET

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The city boy’s failure to understand what life can mean to a boy who is raised on a farm, and the farm boy’s idea that there is something glamorous about the way in which the city boy lives, apply to every avenue of human activity, including the sexual. This popular interest in knowing how another group lives is projected into the sociologist’s invariable search for basic differences between the mores of city groups and the mores of farm groups; and this accounts for the fact that the few data which have been available on the sexual life of the rural male have commanded widespread attention.

Unfortunately, the only specific comparisons of the sexual activities of rural versus urban groups come from a small study made by Pearl in 1925. The study covered a limited number of sexual items on 174 older males, of whom 39 were farmers. The calculations derived from these few cases seemed to show that the farmers were sexually more active than the merchants and the bankers, and they in turn were more active than the professional men. These conclusions have been quoted many times in the sociological literature, although the data are, of course, altogether too scant to warrant any generalizations concerning such a tremendous population as the rural American group constitutes. It is unfortunate that such poorly established conclusions should have gained such wide credence, and particularly unfortunate because the conclusions are diametrically opposed to what now appears to be the fact. The Pearl series was not broken down for educational backgrounds or any other social measures of the individuals involved. Since lower social levels have higher frequencies of total sexual outlet, particularly of marital intercourse (Table 88), and since marital intercourse was the only sexual outlet for which Pearl had data, it is probable that the farmers in the Pearl study rated high in sexual activity because they belonged to lower educational levels. Conversely, the merchants, bankers, and professional groups, which constituted the major portion of Pearl’s urban sample, were from upper white collar and professional classes, and these always have lower rates of marital outlet.

 

13. RELIGIOUS BACKGROUND AND SEXUAL OUTLET

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In the broadest sense, the mores may become systems of morals and systems of morals are formalizations of the mores. It is no accident that the two words, mores and morals, stem from the same Latin root. Throughout history all peoples have defended their mores as stoutly as they have defended their religions, and their moral systems have determined the custom of the land. Sexual mores and systems of sexual morality are no exceptions to this general rule.

This means that there is nothing in the English-American social structure which has had more influence upon present-day patterns of sexual behavior than the religious backgrounds of that culture. It would require long research and a complete volume to work out the origins of the present-day religious codes which apply to sex, of the present-day sex mores, of the coded sex laws, and to trace the subtle ways in which these have influenced the behavior of individuals (Northcote 1916, Angus 1925, May 1931). Our particular systems certainly go back to the Old Testament philosophy on which the Talmud is based, and which was the philosophy of those Jews who first followed the Christian faith. In many details, the proscriptions of the Talmud are nearly identical with those of our present-day legal codes governing sexual behavior. Baek of the Jewish formulations were the older codes of such peoples as the Hittites (Barton 1925), Babylonians (Harper 1904), Assyrians (Barton 1925), and Egyptians (Budge 1895), all of whom probably had a part in shaping the sexual systems of the early Jews. Several Roman ascetic cults had a considerable influence on the asceticism of the early Christian church, and Greek philosophy in a more general way contributed to Christian ethics, both in the early days of the church and in the middle ages.

 

14. MASTURBATION

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The previous section of this volume has been occupied with an examination of the factors which affect human sexual behavior. Such biologic items as age and the age at onset of adolescence, and such social factors as educational level, occupational class of the subject and of the subject’s parents, the rural-urban backgrounds of the individual, and the religious backgrounds have been analyzed as factors affecting the total sexual outlet and each of the particular types of sexual outlet. The remainder of this volume will summarize the record for each source of outlet: masturbation (in the present chapter), and nocturnal emissions, pre-marital intercourse, homosexual contacts, and other sources of outlet (in the subsequent chapters). Although many of the specific data in this section will be drawn from material presented elsewhere in the book, these chapters will be especially concerned with interpretations of the data, and will summarize the nature of each type of behavior, emphasize the individual variation that occurs, discuss the correlations of each type of activity with each other source of outlet, and show something of the significance of these factors to the individual and to the society of which he is a part.

 

15. NOCTURNAL EMISSIONS

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It is possible that the first sexual responses of an infant or younger preadolescent could be evoked by physical stimulation alone; but the human animal is always conditioned by its experiences, and its reactions may come to depend as much upon the previous experience as upon any immediate stimuli. The evidence accumulates that the physical is usually a minor element in evoking sexual responses among older males, and there are few of the responses of an experienced adult which would be possible without a sufficient psychologic accompaniment.

Time and again a male may fail to respond to particular physical contacts, while responding almost instantly to more minor stimulation which comes under other circumstances (Vecki 1920, Haire 1937, Lovell 1940, Weiss and English 1943). His responses in the heterosexual may be immediate, while he experiences a minimum of arousal, or none at all, when subjected to identical techniques in contact with another male. The next male’s responses, on the contrary, may be immediate in the homosexual, and completely fail in the heterosexual. Some males are impotent when they attempt extra-marital intercourse, although they may be perfectly potent with their own wives. Other males may become impotent with their wives and capable of performing only with extra-marital partners. There are a few males who are impotent when they attempt to masturbate, although they are potent enough under other circumstances. There are males who are potent and respond to the point of orgasm in petting, although they block and become incapable of performing when they attempt actual coitus. Such differential impotency emphasizes the importance of the psychic element in sexual activities.

 

16. HETEROSEXUAL PETTING

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During the past few decades, particularly at upper social levels, premarital physical contacts between males and females have been considerably elaborated without any increase in the frequency of actual intercourse (Chapter 11). These contacts may go far beyond the hugging and kissing which occurred in older generations. In their maximum extensions they may involve all of the techniques of the pre-coital play in which sophisticated married partners engage.

In general this behavior is known to the younger generation as petting, although other terms are applied to certain types of contacts. Those which are confined to latitudes not lower than the neck are sometimes known as necking, and petting is distinguished from the heavy petting which involves a deliberate stimulation of the female breast, or of the male or female genitalia. While most of the younger generation of high school and college-bred males and females more or less accepts petting as usual and proper in pre-marital behavior, some of those who have doubts about the morality of their activities ease their consciences by avoiding the term petting for anything except the more extended forms of contact.

 

17. PRE-MARITAL INTERCOURSE

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Throughout history, in all cultures, primitive, classic, and modern, the matter of non-marital intercourse has been one of social concern; but in nearly all cultures extra-marital intercourse has been considered more important than pre-marital intercourse. In the ancient Hittite, Assyrian, and Babylonian codes (Harper 1904, Barton 1925), the issue was more often one of property rights, rather than one of ethics or morals. The married male’s ownership of his wife and his rights to all of the privileges that she could grant, were the primary concern. In most of the codes, pre-marital intercourse was rarely mentioned, unless it occurred after the time of betrothal. Then the first property rights emerged, there were laws against the infringement of those rights by another male, and considerable attention was given to the nature of those rights when an engagement was broken. In all history there are few instances of such concern over premarital intercourse as exists in the Jewish and Anglo-American codes.

 

18. MARITAL INTERCOURSE

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Marital intercourse is the one type of sexual activity which is approved by our Anglo-American mores and legal codes. For those males who are married and living with their wives, marital intercourse accounts for most of the sexual outlet; and to them, a successful sexual adjustment means sufficiently frequent and emotionally effective intercourse with their wives. It is, in consequence, inevitable in any study of human sexual behavior that especial attention be given to the nature of marital relationships.

Sociologists and anthropologists generally consider that the family is the basis of human society, and at least some students believe that the sexual attraction between the anthropoid male and female has been fundamental in the development of the human and infra-human family. Supporting data for these opinions are adduced from a study of the anthropoid family (e.g., Miller 1928, 1931). But whatever the phylogenetic history of the human family, the evidence is clear that the sexual factor contributes materially to its maintenance today. We have already emphasized (Chapter 16) that the success or failure of a marriage usually depends upon a multiplicity of factors, of which the sexual are only a part. Nevertheless, as we have further pointed out, where the sexual adjustments are poor, marriages are maintained with difficulty.

 

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