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American Sexual Character

American Sexual Character: Sex, Gender, and National Identity in the Kinsey Reports

Miriam G. Reumann
Copyright Date: 2005
Edition: 1
Pages: 305
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1pnzck
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  • Book Info
    American Sexual Character
    Book Description:

    When Alfred Kinsey's massive studiesSexual Behavior in the Human MaleandSexual Behavior in the Human Femaleappeared in 1948 and 1953, their detailed data spurred an unprecedented public discussion of the nation's sexual practices and ideologies. As they debated what behaviors were normal or average, abnormal or deviant, Cold War Americans also celebrated and scrutinized the state of their nation, relating apparent changes in sexuality to shifts in its political structure, economy, and people.American Sexual Characteremploys the studies and the myriad responses they evoked to examine national debates about sexuality, gender, and Americanness after World War II. Focusing on the mutual construction of postwar ideas about national identity and sexual life, this wide-ranging, shrewd, and lively analysis explores the many uses to which these sex surveys were put at a time of extreme anxiety about sexual behavior and its effects on the nation. Looking at real and perceived changes in masculinity, female sexuality, marriage, and homosexuality, Miriam G. Reumann develops the notion of "American sexual character," sexual patterns and attitudes that were understood to be uniquely American and to reflect contemporary transformations in politics, social life, gender roles, and culture. She considers how apparent shifts in sexual behavior shaped the nation's workplaces, homes, and families, and how these might be linked to racial and class differences.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93004-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-IV)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. V-VI)
  3. LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. IX-XII)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    In 1948 and 1953, the United States was rocked by events that observers compared to the explosion of the atomic bomb: the publication ofSexual Behavior in the Human MaleandSexual Behavior in the Human Female, respectively, popularly known as the Kinsey Reports.¹ These two massive sex surveys, compiled by the Indiana University zoologist Alfred Kinsey and a team of researchers, graphically presented the results of interviews with thousands of American men and women, including information on their age at first intercourse, number of partners, history of premarital and extramarital sex, incidence of homosexuality and lesbianism, and virtually every...

  6. ONE “Sexual Order in Our Nation” American Sexuality and National Character in the Postwar United States
    (pp. 17-53)

    As world war ii drew to a close and the United States adjusted to peace, journalists, politicians, and authorities hailed a spirit of national optimism. Before Pearl Harbor, the publishing magnate Henry Luce had urged citizens to “create the first great American Century,” and the country could now heed his call to be “the powerhouse from which the ideals spread throughout the world.”¹ Americans had emerged victorious from the international conflict, surviving the war with less loss of life and more of its services and infrastructure intact than other combatant nations. In contrast to defeated Axis powers and to European...

  7. TWO “A Missing Sense of Maleness” Male Heterosexuality, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, and the Crisis of American Masculinity
    (pp. 54-85)

    Whensexual behavior in the human maleappeared in 1948, reaction to the volume was instantaneous and impassioned. Kinsey’s study spurred a national referendum on sexual behavior, prompted new research on related topics, and provided ammunition for social reformers of all stripes. The report also, however, affected Americans’ understanding of gender norms and relations, focusing popular attention on the relation between ideal codes of masculinity and actual male sexual behavior, and promoting discussion of what it meant to be a man in the atomic age. Kinsey and his team, as one social scientist put it, might be “mainly concerned with...

  8. THREE “Much the Same Desires as Men” Sexual Behavior in the Human Female and the “American Woman”
    (pp. 86-127)

    Sexual behavior in the human malehad prompted a public uproar and made American sexual behavior a popular subject of discussion among scientists, politicians, and commentators on popular culture. Five years later, anticipating the publication ofSexual Behavior in the Human Female, the public braced itself for even more shocking revelations. While the first volume had spawned unprecedented coverage of Americans’ sexual behavior and focused attention on the gap between moral ideals and actual practices, the second volume entered into an already heated discourse on sex in the United States. In addition, its focus on a specific group—white women...

  9. FOUR “I’m a Much Better Citizen Than If I Were Single” Remaking Postwar Marriage and Reconfiguring Marital Sexuality
    (pp. 128-164)

    Postwar americans simultaneously embraced marriage as the cornerstone of personal fulfillment and believed it to be in crisis. They endorsed the institution in unprecedented numbers, as the vast majority of the population chose wedlock over single life and marriage became increasingly central to national ideology. Simultaneously, however, experts also critiqued marriage, diagnosing a host of contemporary problems and speculating about its future. Kinsey’s studies reported that less than half of Americans’ sexual activity took place between spouses, and observers lamented the prevalence and devastating effects of premarital sex, infidelity, divorce, and other ills. In 1953, a philosopher tracing the past...

  10. FIVE “An Age of Sexual Ambiguity” Homosexuality and National Character in the Postwar United States
    (pp. 165-198)

    Whensexual behavior in the human maleappeared in 1948, one of its most shocking revelations was how many American men had had sex with other men. Kinsey found that nearly 40 percent of his male subjects had experienced homosexual sex “to the point of orgasm,” and among men who remained unmarried until the age of thirty-five, this increased to 50 percent.¹ The figures for American women that debuted a few years later were lower but still unsettling: the “accumulative incidence of overt contacts to the point of orgasm among the females reached 13%,” with lesbian experience most common among...

  11. EPILOGUE. “All America Is One Big Orgone Box” American Sexual Character Revisited
    (pp. 199-218)

    Shortly before the third report from the Kinsey Institute appeared in 1958, the president of Vassar College resignedly predicted that, given Americans’ insatiable curiosity about sex, the book—a survey calledPregnancy, Birth, and Abortion—“can be expected to evoke the same sensational treatment” accorded the earlier Kinsey Reports.¹ UnlikeSexual Behavior in the Human MaleandSexual Behavior in the Human Female, however,Pregnancy, Birth, and Abortionaroused little attention. Contemporaries suggested that the book’s topic was too clinical to command mass interest, or that the public had forgotten Kinsey in the two years since his death. More to...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 219-254)
  13. SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 255-286)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 287-294)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 295-295)