Pioneers in Sex Research: Dr. Alfred Kinsey (left) with Dr. Paul Gebhard

My colleague Dr. Paul Gebhard died recently at age 98. He was an unassuming, Harvard University anthropologist hired by Alfred Kinsey to conduct groundbreaking research for the Kinsey Report volume that became a bestseller in 1953.

After Dr. Kinsey died in 1956, Gebhard served as director of the Kinsey Institute for Sex Research at Indiana University until 1982. He helped shape what the Institute is today. Other books authored by Gebhard include Pregnancy, Birth and Abortion in 1958 and Sex Offenders in 1965.

Gebhard was an original interviewer for the Kinsey studies, and his soft-spoken manner made subjects feel at ease. He worked closely with Dr. Wardell Pomeroy, another Kinsey co-author, and my colleague until his death many years ago.

Another pioneer in sex research, Kinsey cohort Dr. Lester Kirkendall, was my original mentor as a sexologist.  I was honored to work with and know all of them. Pomeroy later was a key faculty member at the Institute for the Advanced Study of Human Sexuality in San Francisco, where I have spoken several times, once at the invitation of Pomeroy.

Gebhard was a trail blazer. He was brilliant, scholarly, creative and humorous. He had fun in his life.  He worked closely with Masters and Johnson, with whom I had the good fortune of discussing sex research. He seemed to know just about anyone still alive in the field of sexology. He has always been an inspiration to me.

Although I have carried out several sex research studies, I would still like to do more. One problem is the lack of funding, and also the severely restrictive human subjects’ policies at universities. I believe more relevant research comparing what people say they do with what they really do sexually would require an independent institute with plenty of funding. Paul Gebhard probably would have been intrigued by such a study, which would be controversial, but so were the Kinsey studies, and the life work of Masters and Johnson.

Given the lack of funding and restrictions on sex research, I wonder where sex research is headed. It would take a wealthy benfactor  to create a sex research institute apart from a university or other bureaucracy which would mire any such effort in red tape and fear of lawsuits.

Such an institute would need the best lawyers to complete the research without legal problems. There would be ethical issues to grapple with, but without forging ahead with multiple methods of sampling, it will be difficult to improve our knowledge about sexual expression and what it all means. As an anthropologist, Dr. Gebhard would probably have wanted to help design and carry out such a study as long as no one was hurt by the endeavor.