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Gary Younge
Sex pioneer Kinsey's biopic stirs up the right

Half a century later, as a film into Mr Kinsey's life hit the screens on Friday, some in the field of sexual research in the US believe they are once again under threat .

"I have been in this field for 30 years, and the level of fear and intimidation is higher now than I can ever remember," Dr Gilbert Herdt, a researcher at San Francisco State University told the New York Times.

"With the recent election there's concern that there will be even more intrusion of ideology into science."

Sexual research can mean anything from seeking to find out what kind of pictures arouse men and women to understanding why people engage in risky sexual behaviour that they know could leave them with a sexually transmitted disease or HIV.

Its findings can be of use to anyone from the porn industry to Viagra manufacturers, as well as those working in public health. Representatives of the religious right in Congress have routinely called for funding to be cut, while evangelical organisations believe the entire attempt to understand sexual behaviour is wrong.

"We know the formula for sexual health, which is sex within a monogamous, lifelong relationship," said Reverend Peter Sprigg, director of marriage and family studies for the Family Research Council, a conservative lobbying group based in Washington.

"Studying permutations of it is an effort like Kinsey's to change the sexual mores of society, so that what most people consider deviant behaviours look more normal."

Trained as a zoologist who specialised in the taxonomy of wasps Kinsey stumbled across sex, both professionally and personally, and found it a huge untapped resource for scientific discovery. His findings, based on personal interviews with 18,000 people, shocked post-war America.

Producing data suggesting one in ten men were gay and almost two thirds of women masturbated made him the target of many Conservatives. In 1954 he lost his funding through a McCarthyite witchhunt; two years later he died.

Even sympathetic experts now say his findings were problematic. Far from being random his sample was partly shaped by who was available. It relied heavily on the Midwestern state of Indiana, where he lived, on college-educated women and male prisoners - possibly leading to an overcount where gay experiences were concerned.

Nonetheless his two, blandly-titled books "Sexual Behaviour in the Human Male" and "Sexual Behaviour in the Human Female" forced a sea change in the way Americans thought and talked about sex. Ever since, some have been trying to turn back the tide.

Last year Congress came just two votes short of cutting federal funding for a study undertaken by the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction. Getting people to watch film clips that made them anxious followed by short bursts of pornography, they sought to discover which emotions sparked the most reckless sexual behaviour.

Mr Spriggs sees it differently. "Using government dollars to pay for people to watch porn?" he asked the New York Times. "I wonder how many Americans would be comfortable with that?"

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