When the Kinsey Institute opened in 1947, Elvis Presley was nine years away from shaking his pelvis for the first time on stage, and the birth control pill was 13 years away from its first use as a contraceptive. IU professor and sexologist Alfred Kinsey was talking about sexual behavior at a time when it was not yet commonplace in United States culture.
This year, the institute celebrates its 70th anniversary, which it commemorated Saturday with an open house and the unveiling of a new historical exhibition. The exhibition walks through the timeline of the institute: the pre-Kinsey era, Kinsey’s interest in human sexuality, how that led to the creation of the institute, the end of his period and the directors who came after him.
Marie Metelnick, Kinsey Institute communications media specialist, said the exhibition will be up for the next three years.
“We hope that it's going to give more exposure to how important Kinsey's beginning work and also the following work of the institute has been over the last 70 years,” Metelnick said.
Metelnick called Kinsey’s and the institute’s works groundbreaking in bringing the topic of human sexuality to society’s forefront.
“He made people think about sexuality as a major portion of human experience in ways that people didn't before,” Metelnick said. “We didn't talk about what (people were) actually doing. We had prescriptions about what they should be doing, but nobody was looking at what was actually happening in people's real lives.”
She said Kinsey also legitimized human sexuality as a field of scientific inquiry.
Tommy Stephens, a first year history Ph.D. student, said he is interested in gender and childhood and did not know much about Kinsey prior to Saturday’s event. He said it is surprising this profound human sexuality research took place here in the heart of the Midwest.
“I knew it was here," Stephens said. "But I just kind of assumed it eventually landed here, not that this research was done here and all of this cutting edge stuff, which is still today pretty taboo if you were to talk to a lot of people, especially in Indiana.”
Sophomore marketing major Emily Cosgrove went to the exhibit with her dad, Fred. Fred said he had not known the Kinsey Institute was at IU but had seen the Kinsey Reports – Kinsey’s two major publications about human male and female sexual behavior – and said the university should do more to publicize the institute’s resources.
Emily said she thinks the exhibition will help erase some of the negative stigma against the topic of sexual behavior.
“I think this is cool because it details the history for someone who has no idea what this is, which is nice and it makes it less taboo,” Emily said.
Metelnick said celebrating the institute’s 70th anniversary means that there is an ongoing need for sex research.
“Despite any periods of controversy or political pendulum swing one way or another, the research continues,” Metelnick said. “The University still believes in academic freedom and the value of pure research.”
Metelnick said that the research continues because there are more questions to be answered.
“We still have all kinds of issues about sexuality in our culture today around disease, pregnancy, unwanted sexual contact,” Metelnick said.
Metelnick said the future of the institute looks promising. She said the Kinsey Institute will conduct research until all those issues are solved.
“And that's going to be a long time,” she said.
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