March 14, 2000 09:37am
Hoover and Kinsey Wrestled Over Porn Collections
by: Janon Fisher
(NEW YORK, NY) -- The relationship between Alfred Kinsey, the founder of the Kinsey Institute on Sex, Gender and Reproduction, and the FBI can properly be summed up as "if you don't show me yours, I won't show you mine."
The 126-page FBI file on Kinsey, the father of American sex research, portrays a stormy relationship in which, like bickering lovers, neither side is willing to compromise.
It appears the FBI made several unsuccessful attempts to use the institute's research for its own purposes, and the bureau in turn rebuffed requests by the institute to see the FBI's extensive trove of pornography -- access to which was granted only by J. Edgar Hoover or his No. 2, Clyde Tolson.
Kinsey biographer James Jones believes that Kinsey shunned the bureau because of its attitudes towards sexuality.
"I don't think Kinsey would have [given information to the bureau], considering the FBI's animus toward gays and gay rights," said Jones.
Porn shipment seized
The FBI was similarly ill-disposed to the Kinsey Institute.
In 1957, a year after Kinsey died of an aggravated heart condition, a shipment of pornography destined for the institute was seized by the Indiana Police Department. The FBI investigated the case as a possible violation of laws prohibiting the interstate transportation of obscene material.
The FBI eventually dropped the matter due to a previous court decision that found that an object is not legally obscene "if the person importing it had a genuine scientific purpose."
Still, the bureau took the opportunity to get some inside information on how the institute was getting its pornography.
"It is the intention of the [Indiana police] if such an interview is authorized, to attempt to secure the cooperation of these officials in furnishing information concerning sources of obscene material," an Indiana field agent writes.
Dr. Paul Gebhard, who took over the institute after Kinsey died, and Dr. Wardell Pomeroy, the institute's the field director, were interviewed by a bureau agent, and they showed him their pornography collection.
"They estimated that they had approximately eight decks of cards containing obscene photographs; several books of an obscene nature; various latex goods; and miscellaneous devices similar to the 'man in the barrel' which they classified as humorous devices," the agent wrote.
Gebhard turned down the agent's request to provide the name or names of those who were providing the institute with pornography. "[Gebhard] usually assured the persons that their names would not be revealed as a source of furnishing obscene material to the institute," the file stated.
The bureau maintained hopes that it could tap into the Kinsey Institute as a source of pornographic material "of investigative interest."
The FBI's erotica collection
In 1959, the tables had turned, and the institute went to the FBI hoping to tap into its vast collection of pornography for an upcoming report on sex offenders.
An internal memo in Kinsey's file in late 1959 shows that the bureau didn't necessarily see the request as legitimate. An FBI informant tipped agents off to the attempt, describing it as "a devious plan for obtaining pornographic material from the State of New York through the FBI."
According to Athan Theoharis, an authority on the FBI and professor at Marquette University, the bureau had an extensive collection of pornography -- and perhaps still does -- but at the time it was well guarded and could only be accessed with the permission of Hoover or Tolson. Theoharis said Hoover hoped to keep the material away from the agents and that pornography records were routed separately from other bureau records.
Room 7625, one memo stated, held the agency's collection, but Hoover would not release it to the institute.
"In so far as any material which FBI has it is not going to be made available to this outfit," Hoover wrote in the margin of one memo.
Studying the report's findings
Kinsey was a Harvard graduate with a doctorate in zoology. He did his first study on the gall wasp and enjoyed moderate success as the author of a high school biology textbook. When Indiana University decided to start a course for married couples or couples thinking of getting married, they sought out Kinsey. Kinsey transformed the course into a research center for sex studies.
When his first report, "Sexual Behavior of the Human Male," came out in 1948, he became a household name.
That highly controversial first report was a shock to America's sense of sexual identity, but it became a best seller. Kinsey and his researchers interviewed a cross-section of 12,000 American men and reported that taboos like homosexuality, masturbation and adultery were more commonplace than previously believed.
The FBI, at first, gave Kinsey's work mixed reviews. "His sincerity to do a scientifically important study is not questioned, but exceeds his ability to accomplish the net result," wrote Milton Jones, chief of the crime records section of the bureau.
To Milton Jones, the book had good and bad points: "It is conceivable that interested legislators might glean from the book valuable data in forming more effective sex laws, but it is also conceivable that this book could do incalculable harm in the hands of adolescents who read it as justification for their own sexual habits."
Milton Jones passed it on to an agent working on sex offender crimes, but the agent found "the book has limited value."
"Who assigned them to review books? There was no law being violated," said Theoharis, who believes the bureau overstepped its bounds. "It reflects their concern of the effect of this book on the American public."
Critical of sex laws
Word got back to the bureau about a speech that Kinsey gave to the Marriage Counselors Association in which he was "quite critical of the bureau in his views on crime, homosexuality and other matters," according to the file. The bureau labeled Kinsey "anti-FBI."
Although it is clear from the file that Kinsey is critical of the sex laws at the time -- he believed that they were "merely preserving the talmudic tradition" -- the FBI decided it was time to meet with Kinsey.
"I talked to [redacted] about Professor Kinsey and wonder if it wouldn't be a good idea to tackle Kinsey and if it would be agreeable with him," one agent wrote.
Jones, who wrote Alfred C. Kinsey: A Public/Private Life, said that the professor's view on homosexuality chafed the bureau severely.
The bureau's review took issue with Kinsey's research methodology as far as homosexuality is concerned, quoting from the report that "about half of the older males (48%) and nearer two-thirds (60%) of the boys who where pre-adolescent at the time they contributed their histories, recall homosexual activity in their pre-adolescent years." The bureau dismissed Kinsey's findings as "typical of his alleged scientific approach -- it appears to be not as scientific as it is prejudicious."
In 1951, two years after Kinsey's first report came out, the FBI launched a program to purge homosexuals from the federal government. At the time it was believed that a government employee's homosexuality could be used as leverage to extort national secrets.
"I think that is interesting, considering the rumors about Hoover's sexuality," said Dr. John Bancroft, current director of the Kinsey Institute. "I think it suggests a fairly rank hypocrisy."
Rumors of Hoover's homosexuality abound. He was aware of the talk and often made a special effort to track the gossipmongers down. Hoover had taken a personal interest and writes at the bottom of one heavily redacted file that "if [redacted] would remove any confidential restriction on this I think it would be well to then have someone see Kinsey and make him put up or shut up." The director adds: "What do we know of Kinsey's background?"
Theoharis said this was a typical of the kind of reaction that Hoover had to criticism aimed at the FBI. "The bureau was his agency, and no one is going to impugn his reputation without paying for it."
But there's no mention in the files that Kinsey was targeted by the bureau for anything he said.
Sex offender threat dismissed
The FBI's views on gay rights may now seem out of step with the times, but the Kinsey Institute's stance on violent sex offenses also has been outdated.
"Sexual crimes, especially those involving force or violence, are far rarer than the headlines would indicated," wrote Gebhard in a 1965 Ladies' Home Journal article entitled "Our Dangerous Sex Laws." Gebhard also stated that "for readers of the Ladies' Home Journal, perhaps the outstanding message of the new report is that the average American woman and her children are in far less danger of becoming victims of a sex crime than is generally supposed."
The Bureau dismissed the piece as "another 'egghead' article in which he makes light of the danger of sex offenders."
According to the Uniform Crime Reports in 1963, the rate of violent sexual crime was up 0.9 percent.