'Kinsey' Star Talks About Sex Researcher

More than 50 years ago, the nation saw its first comprehensive, scientific study on sex in America -- the Kinsey report.

The report's author, Alfred Kinsey, was a pioneer. His research, published in the late 1940s, startled a nation which didn't talk about sex. For example, it said that most men masturbate, that homosexuality is not statistically rare, and that women reach their sexual peak in their 30s.

Next week: "Primetime Live" will present its own landmark study on sex in America: who's doing what, how often, and where.

But it wasn't just Kinsey's message that made him controversial. It was also his methods. Some still consider him a degenerate.

"Kinsey," a new major motion picture about the researcher's life, is set to hit theaters next month. Academy Award winner Liam Neeson, who plays Kinsey in the movie, sat down with "Primetime Live" and for the first time talked about what he learned from his portrayal.

"We're all groping our way through life, hoping to be accepted and tolerated," Neeson said, referencing his upbringing in Northern Ireland, where relations between Protestants and Catholics were hostile for many long years.

"We all live in the same house. It's constantly in a state of disrepair. It's up to us to fix it. And God bless people like Kinsey that kind of shine a light into a murky area of our humanity."

The Father of the Man

There is no doubt that like Neeson, Kinsey was influenced by his life experiences.

Kinsey had a puritanical childhood, and grew up to become an awkward academic. He spent his early career studying a tiny insect -- the gall wasp -- and collected 4 million specimens over 20 years before turning his attention to human sexuality.

As a 28-year-old professor at Indiana University, he married a student, Clara McMillen. On their wedding night both were virgins. The film portrays the experience as "crude, painful and embarrassing for both of them," Neeson said.

Neeson believes Kinsey's research was an attempt to save people from that pain. "He didn't want people to suffer, especially young people," Neeson said.

After Kinsey moved his focus from the gall wasp, he and his team of researchers interviewed 18,000 Americans about their sex lives, forming the foundation of an organization that would become the world-famous Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction.

He became as hot as his research. In 1948, Cole Porter even immortalized him in the song "Too Darn Hot."

Strange Behavior

One of the most controversial parts of Kinsey's life is the "open marriages" that he encouraged among his research associates so they could act as test subjects.

Rather than ask complete strangers to come to his laboratory so that he could study them having sex, Kinsey asked his researchers -- who engaged not only their spouses, but each other -- to have heterosexual and homosexual sex.

Meanwhile, other researchers took notes, and even held a finger to the subjects' temples to take their pulse. It was "just very, very crude, basic science," Neeson said. "But that's what they did."

Kinsey also filmed hundreds of people masturbating. But it got even more surreal: often after these sex-research sessions, Kinsey would serve tea and sandwiches.

Changing the Culture

Laura Linney, who plays Clara Kinsey in the movie, said her role opened her eyes to Kinsey's enormous influence.

"Any sort of sexual education that anybody has had in the past 50 years came right from the Institute," she said. "So his impact is enormous and in ways that it's probably impossible for us to completely grasp, but he changed the culture."

Kinsey theorized that sexuality could best be understood on a sliding scale -- from completely heterosexual on one end to completely homosexual on the other. He even engaged in an affair with a male research assistant.

In the film, Neeson as Kinsey shares a passionate kiss with another man. The actor says he is heterosexual, but says the kiss wasn't hard to do.

"I wanted to do it right. And not for an audience to see me, Liam Neeson, flinching from kissing another guy," he said.

A Life Offered

In the end, Kinsey died for his research, Leeson said. "He was a workaholic. And sex killed him," he said. "That was his subject matter. That was his research, that was his life. And in pursuit of trying to bring tolerance and acceptance into the world, it killed him."

Kinsey died in 1956 at the age of 62 of overwork, a weak heart and pneumonia. The Kinsey Institute continues his research.

Kinsey allowed Americans to have a conversation about sexuality, Neeson said. "We can talk about sex, we can use words like masturbation, we can say penis and vagina, and people aren't going to jump out of their chairs in embarrassment."

Kinsey also allowed people to feel they are normal, Neeson added -- and that there's a wide range of normal. He let people know "that they're not some pervert because they, for example, masturbate twice a week or three times a week," Neeson said.

He said: "Kinsey is responsible for letting the genie out of the bottle, and you can't put it back in again."