- An Insider's View of Sexual Science since Kinsey
In the fall of 1953, just a few weeks after the publication of Alfred Kinsey's Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, Ira Reiss received his doctorate in sociology, accepted a job at Bowdoin College (Kinsey's alma mater), and started on a path that eventually brought him to the very top of the field of sexual science. Within a few years his research on American sexual attitudes and practices would be read not only by sociologists and other academics but also by the general public and federal policy makers. For more than half a century Reiss's beliefs about sexuality have shaped individual lives, academic programs, and national policy. In his memoir, An Insider's View of Sexual Science since Kinsey, Reiss allows readers a glimpse into the personal and professional experiences that shaped his own views on sexuality. Because Reiss was so often at the center of the emerging field of sexual science studies, this volume also offers an insider's view of the birth of a discipline. From university curriculum committees to the executive boards of national organizations to policy-steering committees, Reiss was a key player in the creation of the professional foundation of the scientific study of sexuality in the United States. Not surprisingly, the story of how sexual science claimed and maintained its status as a respectable and valuable field of inquiry as well as Reiss's role in this process is engaging, thought-provoking, and revealing.
An Insider's View of Sexual Science since Kinsey reads like a series of parables organized to present messages about Reiss's personal and professional development as well as the frequent overlap between them. In chapter 1, "Know Your Author," Reiss begins in his childhood. The moments he chooses to illustrate what he considers to be important or pivotal moments in his youth, though, are not always explicitly sexual. For example, he begins with anti-Semitism in the 1930s schoolyard. From this he writes: "I learned that I had to defend myself—not many others were stepping forward to offer help" (2). Among the other episodes that Reiss identifies as crucial to his personal analytical framework are his adventures [End Page 590] frequenting Scranton's "cathouses" in high school, struggling with questions of sexual morality as an undergraduate, and a close call with the power politics governing academic freedom in the final moments of his graduate training. As a whole these short scenes create a larger vision of some of the values and experiences that Reiss brought to the table when he entered the field of sexual science.
The subsequent fourteen chapters generally break down into short segments that detail important moments in Reiss's intellectual and professional development. He presents tales of federal censorship, shifts in the American Medical Association's stance on sexual health, and power struggles within the executive board of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality. His story, like his research, is centered on the United States, which became the center of sexuality studies in the wake of the Nazi regime's destruction of research laboratories and libraries in the 1930s. But Reiss also explores how this country fits into a global sexual community. Reflecting his most recent research on the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the development of a global theory of sexuality, in chapter 10, "Building a Cross-Cultural Explanation of Sexuality," Reiss outlines his position that the great diversity in past and existing sexual desires, identities, and practices does not offer "proof that there are no universal patterns in sexuality" (129). Rather, Reiss argues that the common elements that emerge in various times and places serve as evidence of cross-cultural sexual customs. These elements include not only physical pleasure but also an "orgasmic disclosure ratio" that Reiss formulated to measure the relationship between the number of people who have seen a person orgasm and the level of intimacy that person attributes to sexual experiences. These and other...