Gone fishin'

Ellen Kirwin Dudis

September 12, 1990|By Ellen Kirwin Dudis

POCOMOKE CITY — GREETINGS from a flunkee of the latest Kinsey survey, a survey that purportedly tested the nation's "basic knowledge of sex and reproduction." In fact, of the 18 survey questions I saw, only two concerned reproduction and at least six required specific knowledge of what goes on in other people's bedrooms!

Yet. June M. Reinisch, the Kinsey Institute director who initiated the survey, claims that the "vast ignorance" revealed by its results has great social relevance. It's hard to believe that the voyeurism which continues to dominate our culture has gained such credibility.

A couple of years ago, on our way to Baltimore, we stopped at Marley Station. Riding escalators is a big treat for kids from the Eastern Shore, so my two (then 9 and 11 years old) raced for Macy's magic moving staircase. As they reached the second floor, 100 TVs greeted them, 100 Oprahs asking with utmost sincerity and significance, "How did you feel about having intercourse with your father?"

The popularity of Oprahs and Geraldos and Donahues may indicate that Americans today do know more about other people's sex lives than about their own. Some probably suffer enough anxiety about their own experiences that they want reassurance in statistics -- safety in numbers, so to speak. Most are simply titillated by this endless parade of the bizarre and perverted and sick.

What happened to privacy? What happened to working out relationships without turning to Dr. Ruth or support groups? We've been led to believe that honest and open behavior means hanging out the dirty laundry and embracing anyone who'll listen.

So the emperor's new clothes these days are the emperor's exhibitionism, which would be a nice irony if it weren't so sad. Sexual candor is all too often the excuse for prurience and a criterion for modern art. Look at the tabloid headlines! Look beyond offensive rock lyrics for the more appalling existence of a market for such garbage.

Maybe we shouldn't be so surprised that the Kinsey Institute expects us to know the age at which the typical American first has sexual intercourse, how many of every 10 American women have masturbated, how many of every 10 married American men have had extramarital affairs.

Somehow, though, my ignorance of these numbers fails to disturb me. As my husband put it, "I think I'm a pretty knowledgeable fisherman. I don't know how many anglers prefer bottom fishing to trolling, or use soft crabs rather than peelers for bait, but that hasn't got anything to do with my grasp of the sport."

Ellen Kirvin Dudis is a writer and poet.

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