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Front row (left to right): Cornelia V. Christenson; Mrs. Leser; Clyde E. Martin. Arranged on steps (left to right): Mrs. Brown; Paul H. Gebhard; William Dellenback; Alfred E. Kinsey; Wardell B. Pomeroy; Dr. Davis; Eleanor Roehr; Dorothy Collins. Photo: Smithsonian Institute

Seventy years ago, a zoologist at Indiana University who had collected and inspected millions of wasps for small variations began a very different project.

Alfred Kinsey began the Institute for Sex Research in April 1947. Life behind the doors of the bedroom was never quite the same.

Indiana University is holding several events on its Bloomington campus in the upcoming fall semester. That includes an open house in September, a lecture series, and a new history exhibit about the Institute’s first 70 years.

It all began with two bombshells: the so-called Kinsey Reports. They were issued in the conservative postwar era, at the beginning of the Cold War: “Sexual Behavior in the Human Male” was published in 1948, and “Sexual Behavior in the Human Female” appeared in 1953.

The surveys and data collected by Kinsey and his co-authors delved into some subjects that were strictly taboo in mainstream society at that point: homosexuality, sadomasochism, and frequency of sex in marriages.

The findings suggested that women have more active sex drives than had been commonly believed, and that sexual orientation could be fluid over the course of life, with many people identifying as bisexual.

The science in the reports has been criticized because there may have been an element of self-selection at play, considering the reluctance of most people of the time to answer such questions.

Sue Carter, the current executive director of the Kinsey Institute said in a recent op-ed piece that Kinsey’s livelihood and position at Indiana were constantly under attack in the first years of his sex research.

“The groundbreaking Kinsey Reports caught the world’s attention when they described the nature of human sexual activity,” Carter writes. “Over the decades since their publication, the field of sexology and Kinsey Institute researchers have turned their attention to the behavioral and physiological mechanisms underlying human sexual behavior.”

Alfred Kinsey, who grew up in New Jersey, originally began teaching a marriage course at Indiana University in 1938. As part of his class, he began collecting sex histories from his students. The diversity of behavior and physiology was reminiscent the wide variety from his major project of the 1930s: collecting some 7.5 million specimens of gall wasps, according to Carter.

The Kinsey Institute was investigated by the House un-American Activities Committee, the McCarthyism-era probe for Communists in the Cold War era. The Institute lost major funding sources as a result of the HUAC probe, by the time of Kinsey's death in 1956. But it continues its work today with an interdisciplinary approach to research on hormones, technology and cultural impacts on sexual proclivities, and sexual-assault education, Carter said.

“Today Kinsey Institute employs the tools of neuroscience, psychology and biology to study a spectrum of sexuality issues that affect people around the globe,” she writes.

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