David Sonenschein

Fifty years in sex research, 1961 - 2011

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The tapes that follow were done during the summer and fall of 1967 in Chicago while I was on the staff of the Institute for Sex Research. The main data gathering device in their study was a 164 item “forced choice”  questionnaire administered in a one hour face-to-face interview. Since the emphasis was to be statistical, the range of possible answers, like the questions, was preselected. The qualitative or “open ended” interviews presented here were intended in part to provide elaborations on the staff’s main concerns. They were more particularly intended to be a continuation of my own research that began in 1961, and to focus more on the spurious idea of “promiscuity” and the problems of sex and friendship.¹

Most of the men were selected for these interviews either on the basis of their random designation according to questionnaire responses, or by my own determination as i grew to know people I met in the “field.” Some individuals volunteered or asked to be interviewed. Most of the men had taken the main questionnaire interview, hence often no reference was made to their demographics (age, occupation, etc) in the tapes; I have tried to include such information in the interviews where it was available to me. While I made no attempt to seek or include any “sensational” lives, neither did I make any attempt to select for or determine who or what was :representative.”

Since the interviews were not originally intended to stand alone, they do not give complete pictures or histories of the men’s lives. The quality and quantity of the information is sometimes frustrating because of this. Usually, the determination of how much to ask was limited by my own time and energy; most of the interviews took a little over an hour, while the longest one lasted over three hours.

Most of the interviews I did have been included and they appear for the first time.² Five have been omitted because their content basically repeats what is given here. A series of similar interviews on religion and the homosexual was given to another staff member and has since disappeared. With a couple of exceptions, I have not included or written or tape recorded field notes, nor have I included the few interviews I did with lesbians.

All the transcripts have been edited with several ideas in mind. The first was to decrease my own presence as much as possible. This is to give the men the priority of space, and I have tried to reduce my questions to rather simple one-liners. By and large, this was actually the case, but I have shortened my remarks even more. Secondly, I have edited out names, and changed the initials to designate individuals spoken of in the texts. I have also tried to cover certain locations where their revelation might present problems to individuals or groups. In the interests of gay history, however, I have included  many of the names of bars (some of which may still exist), or of other places no longer in use or operation. Thirdly, I have pretty much stuck with the speech patterns and content as they came off the tapes. Both writing and reading talk is somewhat difficult, but I have tried to retain the sense that this was in fact an interview, a spoken encounter and relationship between myself and the individual. Misuse of words, changes in grammar, and other shifts may make the meaning sometimes difficult to understand, but on the other hand, these variations are often-times meaningful in themselves. It should be noted that most if not all of the men here would probably not have written out their views and experiences, nor in much probability would the men have been written about by writers.


Many of the tapes were originally transcribed by Institute staff members Sue Williams and Karen Ford. I still think of them and help and good humor. Diana Claitor significantly contributed her sensibilities as a writer and as a long time friend. Her strengths in both made the manuscript a far better one than I could have produced alone. Cheryl Parsons Darnell, and William and Masuko Giesecke also offer professional advice and personal support, as did Will and Linda Norris and David Elliott. I am pleased to have had Joe Kirby design the cover and title page.

The study was originally funded by a grant to the Institute for Sex Research, Inc., Of Indiana University from the infamous National Institutes of Mental Health (PHS-MH-12535-02). This book is published at my personal expense on a non-profit basis, represents no official product or position of the Institute for Sex Research (the organization now refers to itself as “The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction”).

October, 1983, Austin, Texas


1. See “The Ethnography of Male Homosexual Relationships” (1968) and “The Homosexual’s Language” (1969), both in the Journal of Sex Research. The former article was misrepresented as “a study from the Kinsey Institute” in Martin Weinberg’s book, Sex Research (New York: Oxford University Press, 1976); it was reprinted without my knowledge or permission.

2. Fragments were used by John Gagnon and William Simon, the designers and occasional directors of the study, in their book, Sexual Conduct (Chicago: Aldine, 1973).

For some personal and historical background on the production of this book, see “Interviews and personal journeys: contingencies on writing,”  Issues in Writing 17(1-2):78-95, 2009