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Kinsey Institute's Reinisch Wants to Renew, Expand Sexual Studies : American Sex Habits Changed Since 1948--but Not That Much

May 18, 1986|BEVERLY BEYETTE | Times Staff Writer

June Machover Reinisch was 5 years old when Alfred C. Kinsey, a crew-cut, bow-tied Indiana University zoologist until then known chiefly for his studies of the gall wasp, became a household word with publication of the first "Kinsey Report."

It was 1948, and when Kinsey removed the plain brown wrapper from S-E-X, America was both shocked and titillated.

Today, those who once knew better words now use four-letter words. X-rated cassettes are shown in the privacy of one's home. We've seen the sexual revolution. But Reinisch, now 43 and director of the institute that bears Kinsey's name, is here to ask, "What revolution?"

'Deep, Dark Secret'

"The sexual revolution had very little effect on the average American," said Reinisch, who was in Los Angeles to attend a professional conference. For most, she contends, sex is still "a deep, dark secret," a subject on which they are "abysmally ignorant" and one about which they "have a great deal of difficulty" talking.

Sure, there's Dr. Ruth (Westheimer), TV's wildly successful 58-year-old guru of sex whose success surprises Reinisch not at all. "Sex," Reinisch said, "is still, and probably always will be, the most interesting area for most people, whether they are frightened, curious or angry."

And what are people most anxious about when it comes to sex? Well, Reinisch said, "Impotence is a big problem." Then there are sexually transmitted diseases, sexual orientation and worries about orgasm, how to achieve it and whether it's the right kind.

Real Male Concern

Reinisch, whose staccato delivery is in a voice interviewers are fond of calling Joan Rivers-ese, caught a quick breath and added, "And penis size! Penis size is a real American male concern. People are suicidal about it."

Strange, she said--when women are asked whether they consider it important, "it's way low on their list," far below "caringness and pre-intercourse technique" and of less concern than cleanliness. "Clean hair," Reinisch noted, "is very high on the list."

Are women equally obsessed with breast size? "Women don't as easily get unbalanced" about that, Reinisch said. She attributes this in part to the fact that "in general, women today want to be very thin and muscular . . . watching television in Los Angeles is fascinating. Every second advertisement is about a diet."

Still, she observed, "The vast majority of men would much rather have a round woman, a much more padded woman," one with wider thighs, more stomach and real hips and sides. She shrugged--"Everything goes in cycles. In the '50s we really believed that all men liked immense breasts. There are many men who prefer small-breasted women."

Her ongoing research has shown her, Reinisch said, that the current American mania for what she calls "the 15-year-old look" in women is not universal--"Europeans tend to be much more accepting of aging. In Europe, caviar and great champagne is a woman over 40."

Europeans, in general, are more content with their body images, she has found. The average American, asked how he or she feels about his or her body, Reinisch said, thinks "their nose is OK, or their left hip is OK."

In "Sexual Behavior in the Human Male," compiled from interviews with 12,000 subjects representing a cross-section of middle-class America, Kinsey revealed that the overwhelming majority had masturbated (and this in an era, Reinisch noted, when children were taught "to eat graham crackers instead"), that more than one-third had had a post-pubertal homosexual experience to orgasm, at least 10% were homosexual, between 68% and 90%, depending on social class, had engaged in premarital sex and that half admitted to extramarital sexual affairs.

Shocking Report

Five years later, in "Sexual Behavior in the Human Female," based on 8,000 interviews, he revealed that 50% of the women had had premarital sex, 2%-3% of women were exclusively lesbian and 26% admitted to extramarital affairs. The latter "was a real shocker in the '50s," Reinisch said. "Everybody thought women only had sex to make babies."

Today, with Reinisch at the helm, the Kinsey Institute for Sex Research has been renamed the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction, both to reflect Reinisch's broader interests as a scientist and to take advantage of her talents as a promoter and fund-raiser in a political climate in which dollars for sex research are hard to come by.

She was recalling the hullabaloo surrounding publication of the "Kinsey Reports" and the subsequent investigation of institute funding by a House committee that, Reinisch said, "decided that anybody writing about sexuality in America must be part of a communist plot." Middle America simply was not ready to accept that people were doing things that polite society then rejected as either promiscuous or perverted.

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