Illegal Sex

Sex Offenders: An Analysis of Types

by Paul H. Gebhard and John H. Gagnon and Wardell B. Pomeroy and Cornelia V. Christenson and Paul B. Hoeber
Harper & Row, 923 pp., $12.50

How Many More Victims

by Gladys Denny Shultz
Lippincott, 363 pp., $6.95

In Sex Offenders, The Institute for Sex Research continues the work begun with the publication, in 1948, of the first Kinsey Report, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male. Of the original research team, only Mr. Pomeroy remains. The work, too, has changed, and for the better. Sex Offenders is a more sophisticated book than its predecessors, especially in its explicit analysis of its own methodological problems.

In one of the most interesting and amusing essays in The Liberal Imagination, Lionel Trilling criticized the first Kinsey Report very sharply for its naively normative view of sexual behavior; as if the erotic component of human relationships could be summarized by classifying and counting the various movements made by the male member as he approached his target. Even Leporello, cataloguing Don Giovanni’s conquests, enumerates them by nationality, though he also states that Don Giovanni took no interest in the physical, much less the personal, characteristics of his victims. But the first Kinsey report was even less personal in its approach to sexuality, treating sexual behavior as if it were a series of mechanical acts which could be interpreted and understood without reference to feeling or to the qualities of the sexual partner.

Sex Offenders is far less vulnerable to such criticism. Its topic of course is more concrete and specific—though of much less fundamental importance—than sexual behavior in the human male or female. Sex offenders are categorized by law, which makes a quantitative and categorical approach not only defensible but, to a degree, inevitable. But the authors, in any case, make a consistent, if largely unsuccessful, effort to relate the fantasy life and feelings of sex offenders to their offenses. Their failure to do so is partly the result of limitations inherent in their methodology; but not altogether so. Their most important finding is negative; their work strongly suggests that there probably is no reliable relationship between particular kinds of sex offenses and the character and personality of the offender. The types they propose in their subtitle to analyze never clearly emerge; and if sex offenders are not distinctive types of people, much of our policy toward them is both cruel and stupid, while Mrs. Shultz’s proposals, which we shall later consider, are very sinister indeed.

The value of Sex Offenders as a work derives from two quite different qualities that it consistently displays. The first of these is its methodological self-consciousness. This book will, indeed, be more useful to beginning students of research technique in the social sciences than to persons interested in sex, who, for $12.50, ought to be able to find a book with pictures. I do not mean by this that Sex Offenders reports a model piece of research—it has many defects—but its authors show a commendable awareness of the limitations their techniques impose on their data; and discuss these problems explicitly and in context, explaining just why they chose to proceed as they did.

But the way they finally went about their task seems to me to have…

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