Sexual Behavior of the American Media: Alfred Kinsey and News of the Sexual Revolution


2019 marks the fiftieth anniversary of a transformative year—June of ’69 saw the “hairpin drop heard ‘round the world” at the Stonewall Inn in New York City and two months later hundreds of thousands of hippies, ‘enemies,’ and sexual revolutionaries gathered for Woodstock. 1969 was also the year the United States landed on the moon, but to the average silent majority viewer the real aliens were in the streets and on their televisions. As a result, the year is often pointed to as the moment the Sexual Revolution violently kicked open the closet door. Granting all this, and the cultural importance that ’69 has come to have, when we look at the closest thing we have to scientific data of the real, lived experiences of most young adults at the time, a different picture emerges: the Sexual Revolution was a revolution of the media—newspaper, magazine, journal, radio and television—not a revolution that touched the lives of the Silent Majority that elected Richard Nixon. Drawing on unpublished contemporary research done by the Institute for Sex Research (later, the Kinsey Institute), as well as the Society for the Scientific Study of Sex, Harry Benjamin, Masters and Johnson, and others this presentation argues that the lived experience of the 1960-80’s conflicts sharply with historical claims based on the media and cultural narrative of the era. Alfred Kinsey, often characterized—or demonized, in conservative narratives—as the ‘trigger’ of the Sexual Revolution was actually the instigator of the shift in media narrative that began in the 1950s. The shift was obviously monumental, as it shaped the way that sexologists, psychologists and sociologists approached their data, the way journalists reported the news, and the way historians told histories, but the effect was the creation of a tautological myth that the Western world was living through the most increasingly sexual liberal period—a myth that was believed all the way up until the dual shocks of the AIDS Crisis and the Reagan Revolution.

Morgan Room (New York Hilton, Second Floor)
Kinsey Institute Alfred Kinsey History of Sexuality book history
Brian M. Watson
Archivist, Historian, Knowledge Organizer

I’m an archivist, a public historian, an author, a researcher, and a knowledge organizer.