An image of a penis half inserted into a vagina, like something that could be found in a medical textbook, appeared on screen in Scaife Hall 125. Instantly, the people around me — about 50 sophomore and junior social and decision science majors — erupted into childish giggling. I sighed to myself and thought, “Aren’t we more mature than that?” But as the group continued to react to various scenes in the movie, my minor irritation grew into absolute dismay, embarrassment, and confusion.
Last Wednesday evening, I watched the film Kinsey for the class Empirical Research Methods. The movie is a portrayal of the life of Alfred Kinsey, the first scientist to study human sexual behavior. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, discussion of sex was taboo.
Kinsey found that there was a great divide between what was socially acceptable and what happened in real people’s lives. Publicly, sex was for married people, solely as a means of procreation. Kinsey found that approximately 50 percent of men and 26 percent of women had some extramarital experience during their married lives, that 92 percent of males and 62 percent of females indicated that they had masturbated, and that 37 percent of men and 13 percent of women reported at least one instance of a same-sex experience resulting in orgasm.
Except for the scene described above, the movie Kinsey was not graphic, but it addressed sex outside what is “normal” with exceptional directness; just like 1950s America was unprepared for the Kinsey report, much of my class couldn’t handle the movie. In another scene, Kinsey asks a woman in her 60s or 70s about her sexual practices. When she reports that she is very sexually active, some of the students laughed, but even more viewers squealed “gross” or “eww.”
Later in the film, after going to a gay bar to collect interviews, Kinsey and his assistant Clyde Martin talk about Martin’s bisexuality. Martin delicately asks Kinsey if he has homosexual feelings, and the two men kiss tenderly.
At this, the class became uproarious. Men turned their heads and the room was filled with grunts of revulsion. I was shocked, stunned, and taken aback that my peers felt offended by such a benign portrayal of two men experiencing sexual intimacy. I know at least one gay man who was in the audience; he was appalled by what he heard. I know I would have felt a devastating isolation had I been in his position.
Juxtapose my class’s outrage at watching two men kiss with the unprecedented 1000-person turnout at the TBA film Pirates. Nearly one-fifth of the undergraduate population came to watch men and women having meaningless sex on screen.
At Pirates, the audience was equally as verbal, hooting and cheering upon penetration and ejaculation. Yet two men kiss on screen and the class nearly breaks into riot.
How is it that most members of a community can take some sort of liberal stance — arguing that porn should be allowed, because we should be open about sex — and at the same time gasp and turn away at the sight of two men kissing?
It wasn’t all cheers at Pirates, though. At one point, the leading man is approached by a pair of pirate prostitutes, but the women are obese; in this case too, men in the audience offered rowdy boos and grunts of disgust.
Just as Kinsey found in the 1940s, a divide persists in society between what is socially acceptable and what happens in real people’s lives. Sex is only acceptable for public consumption or discussion if it happens between a handsome man and a beautiful woman (or two). Anything that falls outside that unrealistic comfort zone is unacceptable, proving that our supposedly progressive society — even just here at CMU — remains marred by homophobia, machismo, and conservative prudishness.