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American Sexual Character

Sex, Gender, and National Identity in the Kinsey Reports

Miriam G. Reumann

Publication Year: 2005

When Alfred Kinsey's massive studies Sexual Behavior in the Human Male and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female appeared in 1948 and 1953, their detailed data spurred an unprecedented public discussion of the nation's sexual practices and ideologies. As they debated what behaviors were normal or average, abnormal or deviant, Cold War Americans also celebrated and scrutinized the state of their nation, relating apparent changes in sexuality to shifts in its political structure, economy, and people. American Sexual Character employs the studies and the myriad responses they evoked to examine national debates about sexuality, gender, and Americanness after World War II. Focusing on the mutual construction of postwar ideas about national identity and sexual life, this wide-ranging, shrewd, and lively analysis explores the many uses to which these sex surveys were put at a time of extreme anxiety about sexual behavior and its effects on the nation.

Looking at real and perceived changes in masculinity, female sexuality, marriage, and homosexuality, Miriam G. Reumann develops the notion of "American sexual character," sexual patterns and attitudes that were understood to be uniquely American and to reflect contemporary transformations in politics, social life, gender roles, and culture. She considers how apparent shifts in sexual behavior shaped the nation's workplaces, homes, and families, and how these might be linked to racial and class differences.

Published by: University of California Press

Cover

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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5

Contents

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pp. v-vi

List of Illustrations

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pp. vii-viii

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Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-xii

For more than a decade, as this project grew from piles of disorganized notes into a slightly more organized dissertation and—slowly—into a book, I have accumulated intellectual debts along with endless drafts. At the Johns Hopkins University, Toby Ditz warned me that I seemed to be a historian, Neil Hertz taught me the pleasures of close reading, ...

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Introduction

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pp. 1-16

In 1948 and 1953, the United States was rocked by events that observers compared to the explosion of the atomic bomb: the publication of Sexual Behavior in the Human Male and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, respectively, popularly known as the Kinsey Reports.1 ...

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One. "Sexual Order in our Nation": American Sexuality and National Character in the Postwar United States

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pp. 17-53

As World War II drew to a close and the United States adjusted to peace, journalists, politicians, and authorities hailed a spirit of national optimism. Before Pearl Harbor, the publishing magnate Henry Luce had urged citizens to “create the first great American Century,” and the country could now heed his call ...

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Two. "A Missing Sense of Maleness": Male Heterosexuality, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, and the Crisis of American Masculinity

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pp. 54-85

When Sexual Behavior in the Human Male appeared in 1948, reaction to the volume was instantaneous and impassioned. Kinsey’s study spurred a national referendum on sexual behavior, prompted new research on related topics, and provided ammunition for social reformers of all stripes. ...

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Three. "Much the Same Desires as Men": Sexual Behavior in the Human Female and the “American Woman”

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pp. 86-127

Sexual Behavior in the Human Male had prompted a public uproar and made American sexual behavior a popular subject of discussion among scientists, politicians, and commentators on popular culture. Five years later, anticipating the publication of Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, the public braced itself for even more shocking revelations. ...

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Four. "I’m a Much Better Citizen than if I Were Single": Remaking Postwar Marriage and Reconfiguring Marital Sexuality

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pp. 128-164

Postwar Americans simultaneously embraced marriage as the cornerstone of personal fulfillment and believed it to be in crisis. They endorsed the institution in unprecedented numbers, as the vast majority of the population chose wedlock over single life and marriage became increasingly central to national ideology. ...

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Five. "An Age of Sexual Ambiguity": Homosexuality and National Character in the Postwar United States

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pp. 165-198

When Sexual Behavior in the Human Male appeared in 1948, one of its most shocking revelations was how many American men had had sex with other men. Kinsey found that nearly 40 percent of his male subjects had experienced homosexual sex “to the point of orgasm,” and among men who remained unmarried until the age of thirty-five, ...

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Epilogue. "All America is One Big Orgone box": American Sexual Character Revisited

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pp. 199-218

Shortly before the third report from the Kinsey Institute appeared in 1958, the president of Vassar College resignedly predicted that, given Americans’ insatiable curiosity about sex, the book—a survey called Pregnancy, Birth, and Abortion—“can be expected to evoke the same sensational treatment” accorded the earlier Kinsey Reports.1 ...

Notes

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pp. 219-254

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 255-286

Index

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pp. 287-294

Production Notes

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p. 308-308


E-ISBN-13: 9780520930049
Print-ISBN-13: 9780520238350

Page Count: 305
Publication Year: 2005