Let's Talk About Sex

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Last night I checked out an advance screening of the forthcoming Liam Neeson/Laura Linney flick Kinsey, which featured an interesting Q&A with writer/director Bill Condon (best known for Gods and Monsters, which netted him a screenwriting Oscar). The movie itself, a bio of the (in?)famous sexual researcher Alfred Kinsey, is pretty good, though I'll save up most of my thoughts in case I decide to review it closer to release. I will say, though, that it's got to be the least titillating movie that's centrally about sex I can recall seeing… with the possible exception of a Peter Sarsgaard full frontal & kiss with Neeson, if that's the sort of thing that tickles your pickle.

The Q&A with Condon brought out a few interesting things: First, the claim that despite the many methodological problems with the original Kinsey report, Condon says most of his actual findings (as opposed to popularized versions thereof) have held up relatively well. I've neither the time nor qualifications to assess that claim, but it'd be interesting if it were true, since my understanding had been more or less the opposite.

Second, Condon related an anecdote about talking with one of Kinsey's former colleagues about the late doctor's likely reaction to the contemporary gay rights movements. His surprising assessment was that Kinsey would've been "horrified." Not, of course, because Kinsey would've been opposed to gay rights but, the colleague posited, because he would've rejected the emphasis on identity—on sexuality as something you are, a category you fit into—rather than a set of behaviors too rich to fit into the gay/hetero/bi pigeonholes. That resonates pretty well with one of the quotes from early in the movie I liked: Explaining his early research on gall wasps, Kinsey tells his students that the hundreds of thousands he's seen are all quite distinct, and that "if every living thing is different from every other living thing, then diversity becomes life's irreducible fact." And that's a nice sentiment: the idea that the important kind of "diversity" isn't about a few prefabricated categories, but the more interesting differences between any two individuals.

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  1. “And that’s a nice sentiment: the idea that the important kind of “diversity” isn’t about a few prefabricated categories, but the more interesting differences between any two individuals.”

    The idea isn’t Kinsey’s but Darwin’s. Individual variation is one of the core concepts of natural selection theory. One of Darwin’s lesser known accomplishments was the establishment of the concept of individual variation within species by the meticulous measurement of individual organisms, a task that took many years.

    If I recall correctly, Kinsey subcribed to an extreme view wherein species did not really exist but were just an artifact of humanities need to categorize. A species designation was just a snapshot of related individuals taken at a particular point in time. Each individual’s decendents followed their own evolutionary pathway largely independent from others of it’s “species.” The cluster of individuals evolved smoothly and continuously all the time rendering the concept of species meaningless.

    I think Stephen J Gould wrote an essay on how Kinsey’s evolutionary theories moulded his research methodology and his conclusions. (Kinsey was a biologist who studied wasp. He got into sex research by accident). Interesting stuff.

    I think Kinsey was also an proponent of environmental determinism (as was virtually everybody else at the time). For that reason alone, he would have found the concept of sexual orientation as being somehow innate to an individual abhorrent.

  2. That’s just because he never caught Disco Fever.

  3. I thought you guys said that sex sells?

  4. Well, I’m not so sure that Kinsey would find the gay rights movement so “abhorrent”. He may not have liked the placement of people in broad, individual categories, however, i’m sure he would appreciate the fact that when the laws and attitudes are biased against such “immoral behavior” as consentual sex between two adults that happen to be of the same sex, you’ve gotta start somewhere.

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