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Gentlemen’s Disagreement

Alfred Kinsey, Lewis Terman, and the Sexual Politics of Smart Men

Gentlemen’s Disagreement

Alfred Kinsey, Lewis Terman, and the Sexual Politics of Smart Men

What is the relationship between intelligence and sex? In recent decades, studies of the controversial histories of both intelligence testing and of human sexuality in the United States have been increasingly common—and hotly debated. But rarely have the intersections of these histories been examined. In Gentlemen’s Disagreement, Peter Hegarty enters this historical debate by recalling the debate between Lewis Terman—the intellect who championed the testing of intelligence— and pioneering sex researcher Alfred Kinsey, and shows how intelligence and sexuality have interacted in American psychology.

Through a fluent discussion of intellectually gifted onanists, unhappily married men, queer geniuses, lonely frontiersmen, religious ascetics, and the two scholars themselves, Hegarty traces the origins of Terman’s complaints about Kinsey’s work to show how the intelligence testing movement was much more concerned with sexuality than we might remember. And, drawing on Foucault, Hegarty reconciles these legendary figures by showing how intelligence and sexuality in early American psychology and sexology were intertwined then and remain so to this day.

240 pages | 1 halftone, 3 line drawings | 6 x 9 | © 2013

Gay and Lesbian Studies

History of Science

Psychology: General Psychology

Sociology: History of Sociology


"Hegarty’s work may inspire more careful considerations of the ways scientists think about sexuality and intelligence."

Donna Drucker | Times Higher Education

“Peter Hegarty has crafted a fascinating history of the intersectionality of sexuality and intelligence in the social sciences. Hegarty masterfully weaves together queer theory, history, and psychology to examine how what many in the social science community have defined as normal is constructed and mutually constitutive. Gentlemen’s Disagreement sheds new light on Alfred Kinsey and Lewis Terman, but just as important, it offers insight into how these human science discourses of  sexuality and intelligence developed and how they continue today to shape modern psychology’s understandings of (and assertions about) normality. ”

Thomas A. Foster | editor of Documenting Intimate Matters: Primary Sources for a History of Sexuali

“Peter Hegarty’s highly original study of the relationship between sexuality and intelligence in the twentieth-century American human sciences focuses on their most celebrated students, Alfred Kinsey and Lewis Terman. By analyzing their personal biographies, training, disciplinary outlooks, and use of the conventions of contemporary science, Hegarty is able to construct a fascinating cautionary tale about unacknowledged subjectivity, misleading methodologies, and the politics of intelligence testing and human sexuality that will inform both practitioners and historians of the human sciences.”

Robert A. Nye | editor of Sexuality

“Peter Hegarty is the first scholar to examine seriously and systematically the connections between the discourses of intelligence and of sexuality, both of which were being refashioned in important ways in the United States. Hegarty’s use of Lewis Terman and Alfred Kinsey to build his analysis is original and compelling.”

John Carson | author of The Measure of Merit

"[An] intriguing and provocative study."

Journal of Interdisciplinary History

“A fascinating account of different worldviews. . . Highly recommended to historians of sexuality.”

Indiana Magazine of History

“A series of essays that draw freely from social theory, cognitive science, and archival research to explore the co-production of sexuality and intelligence as two of the most salient categories of human difference. Hegarty complicates received wisdom that sees Kinsey as the liberator of American sexual attitudes and Terman as the eugenicist intelligence tester. At the same time, Hegarty destabilizes longstanding assumptions within the field of sexology where the scientist’s heterosexuality is often equated with greater impartiality and objectivity.”

Social Studies of Science

“Interdisciplinary in scope and methodologically dynamic, Hegarty’s genealogy of the Terman-Kinsey debate troubles dominant psychological models by placing critical psychology, feminist and queer theory, and poststructuralist historiography in conversation.”


Table of Contents


1   A Gentlemen’s Disagreement?
2   Why the Gifted Boy Didn’t Masturbate
3   Less Than Ideal Husbands
4   Queer Individuals: Their Nature and Nurture
5   Gentlemen and Horse Traders
6   Ancient Ascetics and Modern Non-Americans
7   Frontier Living, by Figures Alone
8   Normalization Now

Works Cited
Index of Names
General Index


Choice Magazine: CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title Awards

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