James G. Wigmore, Forensic Toxicologist, Speaker, Author

We all know…or at least have heard…about the, often times, colossal failure that results from combining alcohol and sex. But did you know, that at least one time in history, it worked out?!

In 1962, R.F. Borkenstein (the inventor of the Breathalyzer) had a problem. He had to ask several embarrassing and personal questions of thousands of drivers for his upcoming Grand Rapids Study in order to validate his findings on the effect of alcohol on the risk of causing a motor vehicle collision. Fortunately, just a short walk across campus at Indiana University in Bloomington, there was an organization that was very adept at asking intimate questions from a large number of persons and receiving accurate answers – the Institute for Sex Research.

The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction

The Institute for Sex Research (as it was then known), was incorporated by Dr. Alfred Kinsey (1894 – 1956) in 1947.  He obtained a Sc D degree from Harvard University on the measurement of hundreds of thousands of gall wasps.  His famous and popular book, “Sexual Behaviour in the Human Male”, was published in 1948. As Kinsey was long dead, Bob approached Dr. Pomeroy who was the Director of Field Research at the Institute, to provide training for Borkenstein’s many interviewers.

Interview Technique

Borkenstein describes the interview technique as follows:

To develop rapport, the interviewer was instructed to approach the driver in such a manner as to suggest that the interviewer had no doubt that the subject would answer the questions. Sincerity was a key word stressed during the interview training sessions. A sense of friendliness had to be created within a few seconds.

Adaptability was another trait the interviewer had to develop. To obtain information from all strata of society, it would be necessary in the course of the year to talk with a wide variety of people. The interviewer had to be flexible in his approach.

Pomeroy also took the interviewers, step by step, through a simulated recorded interview. The tapped interview was stopped after each short series of questions. During these intervals, the trainees discussed the wording of the questions. They learned to avoid suggesting answers and to listen for hints of rationalization which would indicate the need for further probing on a point, if not immediately, a few questions later. Interviewers were not bound by the order in which questions appeared but were taught to follow leads that might come up in conversation. They alternated in the order of the interviewer and interviewee.

When asking how often a person drank, the research team suggested a range by asking “Many people have a drink every day, do you?” This system was recommended by Pomeroy as a psychological method to make the frequent drinker feel more comfortable. Rather than make it easy for the subject to give a low drinking frequency, the interviewer was instructed to suggest the highest range. Questions concerning when and where the person drank afforded a cross-check on the frequency and tended to eliminate distortion.

Grand Rapids Curve

This type of interview resulted in amazing cooperation from 95.75% of the accident sample and from 97.82% of the control sample and resulted in the classical Grand Rapids Risk Curve of Causing an Accident.

Nearly exactly the same relative risk was found in Long Beach California and Fort Lauderdale Florida studies, almost 35 years later (WOA50503).


Which I guess goes to show you that sometimes alcohol and sex do work together. Specifically, three times in the world of forensic research!


Borkenstein, R.F., Crowther, R.F., Shumate, R.P., Ziel, W.B., and Zylman, R., “The Role of the Drinking Driver in Traffic Accidents.

The Grand Rapids Study”, Blutalkohol, 11: 1-131, 1974 Lucas, D.M., “Professor Robert F. Borkenstein: An Appreciation of His Life and Work”, Forensic Science Review, 12: 1-21, 2000