Friday, December 17, 2004

Some Thoughts on Kinsey

As someone who got basic reproductive biology as a child from reading Dr. Spock's Guide to Baby and Child Care in the '60s (which was generally reassuring about things like masturbation without ever explaning what masturbation was!), I generally understood most of the basic mechanics about human sexuality even if I got the details wrong. My mother bought some books about sexuality aimed at children, so we had reasonably complete sex ed at home, at school and in church youth groups. By the time my class graduated from high school in 1975, there was only one generally known pregnancy in the whole class, even though many of the kids were already sexually active. Remember, this was the late '60s and early '70s, before the government decided to resume lying to children about sex again.

So, I've always been a fan of Dr. Kinsey. I haven't read his books, but I've read books sparked by his research, and I know I've benefitted by his insistence on teaching the biological information about sex.

Bill Condon, a director/writer who created the very insightful Gods and Monsters a few years ago has made another wonderful movie in Kinsey. It carefully recreates a time when people ranted about zippers leading to promiscuity and oral sex leading to infertility. It's a useful movie to see because we may be headed down that road again. Kinsey makes it clear that while sexual experimentation can be very messy, studying sex and describing it honestly is very important.

One thing that's fascinating about Dr. Kinsey is that Liam Neeson, with a spot-on Midwestern accent, plays him as if he had Asperger's Syndrome - he's very obsessed and just doesn't relate that well to people. He eventually marries one of his students played by Laura Linney. Their relationship is the heart of the first half of the movie, but as the focus of the movie shifts from studying wasps to studying human sexuality, she rather drifts out of much of the movie until closer to the end.

The pacing of the movie is leisurely at first, but speeds up rapidly over the last ten years or so of his life, which is a shame. I would like to have seen a little more of the controversy over Dr. Kinsey in the '50s. The movie is absolutely worth the trip, for its compelling acting and intelligent writing, but it's also, rather strongly, a cautionary tale.

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