The Power of Pleasure

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Sexology: Is It Research or "Me"Search?

Put your assumptions aside, sexuality experts may not be much different.

As a sex researcher, when my colleagues and I discuss how others perceive our area of study, we laugh at the number of questions we get from people ranging from whether we are into group sex, swinging, and promiscuity, to whether we were sexually abused as kids. In fact, research has demonstrated that the general public assumes that personal reasons are what motivate sexuality professionals to enter their field.1 So this begs the question, do we do this because we are more interested in sex than other folks? Or is that just a sterotype?

In the professions of psychology and public health (the two I'm most familiar with), many scholars admit to engaging in "me"search once in a while to spark their research curiosity. It makes sense, as many of the topic areas can easily be applied to one's own life. Conducting "me"search when your topic of interest is sex can therefore raise a lot of eyebrows.

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We are usually stuck debunking these myths one at a time, but now there is a study that empirically studied this phenomeon. The study was recently published in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy titled "Motivations and Sexual Attitudes, Experiences, and Behavior of Sexuality Professionals" by researchers Luria, Byers, Voyer, and Mock of Israel and Canada.2 This study aimed to examine the motivations for entering the field of sexology and the attitudes, experiences, and behavior of these professionals. The participants were 252 individuals from all over the world who were recruited from the meeting for the World Congress of Sexology.

Participants entered the field for diverse reasons. Many sexologists entered the field for reasons that were professional in nature, such as contributing to the field and bettering sexual health of the masses. The study found that only a small minority of sexologists entered the field for reasons that are stereotypically associated with it, such as gaining knowledge about their own sexuality, solving their own personal problems, or a need to feel unique.

Overall, the study found that sexologists had few differences from the general population. Childhood sexual experiences, quality of parent-child sexual communication, and rates of unwanted sexual experince in childhood were all similar to rates reported in the general population.

One benefit sexuality professionals do seem to enjoy is high sexual satisfaction and good sexual communication with their partner. Interestingly, this isn't protective against experiencing sexual problems. The study found 45% of the women and 35% of the men reported regularly experiencing one or more sexual problems. This is in comparison to about 28% of men and 39% of women reporting experiencing one or more sexual problems in a community sample.

In terms of casual sex, less than 25% of sexologists surveyed had engaged in sex with a casual or anonymous partner within the past 2 years; this is slightly higher than previous research that found 23% of men and 11% of women recruited from the community had engaged in this behavior in the past year.3 Additionally, sexologists weren't always as responsible with condom use as one might assume. Of those who engaged in casual sex, 20% reported that condom use wasn't consistent. So, although this 80% consistent condom use with casual partners is higher than found among community samples, it isn't as high as one might expect with the knowledge sexologists possess related to the importance of condom use.

For the most part, the idea of "me"search as motivation for entering the field was not supported by this study. It seems that overall, sexologists have similar experiences to that of the general population. I'm sure other sex researchers, therapists, counselors, and educators will be happy to now have a study to refer people to the next time assumptions are made about this field and the type of people who choose it as a career path.

Alfred Kinsey
Alfred Kinsey
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1Poole, H., Giles, D. C., & Moore, K. (2004). Researching sexuality and sexual issues: Implications for the researcher? Sexual and Relationship Therapy, 19, 79-86. 
2Luria, M., Byers, E. S., Voyer, S. D., & Mock, M. (2013). Motivations and sexual attitudes, experiences, and behavior of sexuality professionals. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 39, 112-131.
3Mercer, C. H., Copas, A. J., Sonnenberg, P., Johnson, A. M., McManus, S., Erens, B., & Cassell, J. A. (2009). Who has sex with whom? Characteristics of heterosexual partnerships reported in a national probability survey and implications for STI risk. International Journal of Epidemiology, 38, 206-214.

Kristen Mark, PhD, MPH, is a sex and relationships researcher and assistant professor at University of Kentucky and a managing editor at Good in Bed.

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