Nobody plans on being a sex researcher when they grow up. Nobody plans to work a strain gauge between splayed legs as they measure changes in penis circumference during sexual stimulation. Nobody dreams to sit across from over-caffeinated college students who are looking to make a quick buck, having to prosaically ask, “When’s the last time you’ve had oral sex?” and then wait for the answer to scrawl on a clipboard.
Yet, sex research remains a growing field. The average annual salary of a sexologist or sex researcher can range anywhere from $40,000 to $63,000, according to modest estimates, but with potential for that number to skyrocket if the person in question takes on sex therapy, blogging, and, of course, the celebrity of television “sexpert” appearances. Beginning as a scientific discipline in the classical Greek period, there are currently over 20 schools and institutes that provide higher education for those wishing to start a career doing clinical, survey, observational, or experimental sex research. Once an underground (and fairly dismissed) field, now the seminal work of researchers like Alfred Kinsey, William H. Masters, and Virginia Johnson are being incubated for a new era of hook ups, sexts, kinks, and performance enhancers. Not only in salacious period dramas on Showtime, but labs in universities across the United States. Think of the last time you read an article about the results of a sex study — it had to come from somewhere.
If you think sex — the favorite pastime of those with a pulse — is just sex and it hasn’t changed enough to warrant its own field, you’d be misled and, possibly, a bit blue-balled. In the last century, the slang words we use to describe genitals themselves have shifted widely, from “nether eye,” (1902) “mossy treasure,” (1883) and “beaver,” (1984) to the much more familiar “peen” (2004). The idea of multiple orgasms? That didn’t appear in any scientific literature until Masters and Johnson’s 1966 Human Sexual Response. Does the G-spot exist? We think so, but have fun Googling that one. Is hook up culture ruining 21st century sex lives? Don’t even bother looking that up.
Sex research remains a siren’s song of a scientific discipline, with as many misunderstandings as other fields of study. That’s partially because of the nature of sexuality — it is an act which predominantly takes place during the most private of human moments. But it’s also because, even after centuries, we are still awed, fascinated, and confused about who, why, and how we mate.
[Click to jump to interview] To learn more about the lives of today’s top sexologists, Nerve spoke to Dr. Debby Herbenick, a research scientist with a focus on consumer products, self-image, and health, Dr. Justin Lehmiller, a casual sex specialist, Dr. Kristen Mark, a relationship sex specialist, and Sarah Merrill, a researcher at Cornell University who studies eye tracking and arousal. Move over Lizzy Caplan and Michael Sheen, these are the real modern-day masters of sex.
Debby Herbenick, Ph.D., The Kinsey Institute, Indiana University
What brought you to this field?
I fell into this work a bit by accident. I was studying psychology at the University of Maryland and had been working with young children ages 3 to 7. I was fascinated with child development. At the time I graduated college, The Kinsey Institute was conducting research with adults, asking them about their childhood and adolescent development, and that interested me because some of the issues they were studying were relevant to what I regularly heard from parents and teachers of young children I knew at the time. Once I started working at The Kinsey Institute, I quickly realized how little people, including my friends and I, knew about sexuality and sexual health and I wanted to stay and learn more.
I know you often focus on sexual health, genital self-image, and sex toys. What would you say is your particular area of expertise?
I have several areas of focus: Consumer sexual behavior (e.g., use of condoms, vibrators, lubricants). Genital self-image and genital health is another major area for my work, as is tracking sexual behavior and feelings in the U.S. Exercise-induced orgasm is another major focus. Increasingly, I am also doing a lot in the area of intimacy, healthy relationships, and issues related to sexual assault. I keep busy!
You do mostly survey research. What kinds of subjects generally gravitate to your sex studies?
People take part in sex research for any number of reasons. Some people simply like to contribute to science of any sort. Many people tell us they find it interesting to participate in our research and that it provides them with opportunities to learn something new about themselves or their partner, if they have one. Others (especially college students and graduate students) might enroll in order to make a little extra money, if it’s a paid study, but not all studies have monetary incentives attached to them.
People of all genders, ages, sexual orientations, and political orientations participate in our research — especially our nationally representative research, where Americans from all walks of life are involved. Although sexuality remains a somewhat taboo topic at the societal level, I think most people understand that sexuality is an important part of humanity and deserves study.
The show Masters of Sex seems to be giving everyone the idea that being a sex researcher means watching people do it. Have you ever been present when someone was having sex in the lab?
People don’t have sex with each other in our lab. That is not a common occurrence in the US. I have been present in a lab when people may be watching erotic imagery or stimulating themselves in a nearby lab, (researchers are not in the same room as participants) but it’s really not a “sexy” or arousing situation. It’s a day at work, just like gynecologists and urologists have their days at work.
Within experiments, people are their own kind of independent variables. What do you find is the trick to interviewing or researching for the most accurate and honest results?
In my professional experience, I’ve found that most people want to connect with others and interviews are one way to share yourself and your life experience with another person. If you give people a safe, open, non-judgmental space in which they can feel that they can be themselves, they often will.
Do you have any favorite ridiculous sex myths from decades (or centuries!) ago that were once widely held beliefs?
The masturbation myths (e.g., that you will die, look prematurely old, go bald, or grow hairy palms, etc) were once widely held. Unfortunately many people still hear some version of these myths and carry around tremendous guilt about their masturbation. Can you imagine? Such shame around finding something lovely about your own body. It’s too bad.
You helped lead the 2009 National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior. You’ve also served as a sex columnist for many notable publications and made many, many TV appearances. From your years of research and media, what do you think is the most important element of sex people often forget?
I think more people could stand to realize that we’re all a little unique with our sexuality — and that uniqueness is something to appreciate, not fear. We’ve now conducted several NSSHBs — in 2009, 2012, and 2013 (and getting ready to do more) and I love pouring through data form thousands of Americans, from ages 14 to 94, to learn what they think and feel and do in their sexual lives.
What’s common is this deep need for intimacy and connection. Sex can do that, but it’s rarely enough on its own. We seem to be in a strange place right now with so many people — especially young, college-aged women and men — acting like they don’t want to date or love or be loved in return, and yet most do.
Explain to me what a typical day at work looks like.
I love variety and so I feel fortunate that there is no such thing as a typical day at work for me. My work involves any and all of the following: teaching a Human Sexuality class to college students at Indiana University, designing surveys, analyzing data, meeting with students, interviewing research participants, talking about sex on television (or by Skype), consulting with corporations and television producers, giving talks at conferences or to college and professional athletes, writing newspaper/magazine/blog articles, taking calls from writers, shooting web videos, recording Kinsey Confidential podcasts, and – these days – writing my next book.
You know how if you ate ice cream every day, you’d eventually get sick of it. Does critically thinking about sex ever get tedious or affect your personal life?
It never gets old. And it does sometimes impact my personal life, but in a good way. My last book Sex Made Easy, was based on the fact that those of us who work in sex research or education often get asked this very question — if our work impacts our personal life. I feel fortunate that it does. Most people will encounter small bumps or even a big problem or two in their sexual lives, relationships, or marriage – things like low desire, pain during sex, feeling disconnected rather than intimate, vaginal dryness, erectile problems, premature ejaculation, and so on. What’s nice in our field is that we get a lot of exposure not only to the problems but to the solutions. When problems arise, I feel good knowing how to tackle them.
Where’s the future of sex headed?
We’re a young field and a small field so there’s much to do, many questions to be asked, many technologies we still need, and many communities still not adequately supported or addressed. We need more research to understand and support the sexual lives of people with developmental disorders and physical disabilities.
We also need to do a significantly better job with sexual assault and rape — with understanding the motivations and designing and identifying truly excellent programs to put an end to it. I am of the firm belief that ending sexual assault – or at least reducing it by half – is a winnable battle. I tell my students at IU that saying you want to end rape on a college campus is not like saying you want to create world peace. Greatly reducing sexual assault and rape is winnable. We can do this.
Justin Lehmiller, Ph.D., Sex and Psychology
Did you think you were ever going to be a sex researcher?
Becoming a sex educator and researcher is something I never planned on. In fact, when I initially went to college to pursue a degree in psychology, I didn’t even know that studying sex was an option! What really set me down this path was when I was assigned to serve as a teaching assistant for a sexuality course in my second year of graduate school. Prior to that, I had never taken a college-level sex class. Needless to say, this experience really opened my eyes and it made me wonder how I had made it so far in life knowing so little about sex. After that, I began incorporating sex into my research program and by the time I graduated, I taught that sexuality course myself a total of six times.
And now you’ve become the hook up expert.
My area of expertise is casual sex. Most of my recent research projects have focused on topics such as friends with benefits (e.g., what happens to friends with benefits in the long run?) and use of smartphone hookup apps (e.g., do apps like Grindr promote riskier sexual behavior?).
What types of methods of research do you generally use?
I primarily use surveys in my research because this method is generally the most appropriate for studying people’s experiences with casual sex.
Who wants to participate in these studies?
Getting a sample that is perfectly representative of the population is difficult for any researcher, but it is especially challenging for sex researchers. In almost every sex study, there will be some degree of self-selection, such that those who are more sexually experienced and/or comfortable with sex will be more inclined to participate. Given that research participation is completely voluntary, this is a difficult problem to remedy. As a result, we try to be very cognizant of our sampling limitations and avoid making overly broad generalizations.
That said, I should say that the people who volunteer to participate in my studies are still a pretty diverse group. For example, in my online studies of friends with benefits, I have everyone from college students to senior citizens participating, with good representation of folks with varying gender and sexual identities. One of the most important things we as sex researchers can do to get the most accurate data possible is to guarantee our participants anonymity.
Is this whole “hook up culture” thing really a recent phenomenon?
One of the biggest myths is that young people today are more sex-crazed than previous generations and that they’ve stopped dating altogether in favor of hooking up. The reality is that national survey data reveals that today’s college students aren’t having any more sex or more partners than students from the 80s and 90s. If anything, the trend is toward less sex! Of course, there are still a lot of hookups going on in college, but casual sex has been around on college campuses for decades. It’s not as though we’ve just entered some new “hookup culture” era.
What is still one of the biggest misconceptions about sex that you’ve come across?
All too often, people confuse the terms “average” and “normal.” I hear from a lot of people who have looked at the numbers for things like average penis size or average amount of sex couples are having and are incredibly worried because they feel like they don’t measure up. The important thing to remember is that “normal” represents a pretty wide range and most people, whether they are above or below some average, are still perfectly normal.
Take me through a typical day in sex researcher’s life.
My day always begins by reading about the latest sex research. I do this not just to keep my knowledge base current, but also because I run a blog called Sex and Psychology that aims to educate the public about the science of sex. So, I’m always on the lookout for new information to write about and share with my followers.
After that, every day is a little different. Some days are spent in the classroom teaching college students about sex, other days are focused on conducting research or writing up results for publication in academic journals, while other days are spent working on my latest book project or writing about sex for magazines and websites.
Will thinking about sex ever get old?
The day that this job will “get old” or no longer interest me is the day that we know everything there is to know about sex.
What’s the most rewarding aspect of being a sex researcher?
Personally, I find my work as a sex educator to be the most rewarding aspect of my job. What makes it worthwhile is hearing from students who say that my class made them feel normal for the first time in their lives or that it gave them the vocabulary to have an important conversation with their partner.
One specific moment I’ll never forget is when a student brought her mother to class one day. Her mom came up to me afterward and thanked me for teaching this class. She was thrilled that her daughter had this opportunity and couldn’t wait to go home and share what she had learned with her husband.
What’s been the reaction from your family, friends, or even prospective dates about your career choice?
I have found that being a sex researcher makes you the life of just about any party! Every time I tell new people what I do, whether I am at the bar or at a formal dinner, everyone wants to talk about sex and ask their burning questions for the rest of the evening.
Kristen Mark, Ph.D., MPH, Director of Sexual Health Promotion Lab, University of Kentucky
What brought you to this field and what would you say is your particular area of expertise?
I was always interested in psychology and initially wanted to be a forensic psychologist. But during my undergrad I worked doing research at a high security prison and hated it. I happened to be taking a human sexuality course at the time and found it fascinating. I initially studied romantic relationships, and then realized how important sex was to romantic relationships.
I was also really interested in the fact that people found sex so taboo. I grew up in a family where my parents were pretty frank about sex. And I never understood why something that is such a natural part of human development should be so taboo. I went into the field with the idea that sex is universal – everyone does it – our population depends on it! So it made sense to study it. My area of expertise focuses on maintaining satisfying sex in long-term relationships, particularly by taking the couples approach by collecting data from both members of the couple to really understand the context around these constructs.
What’s your research methodology look like?
My research is conducted much of the time through online surveys. People tend to disclose more honest information in an online setting due to the anonymity it provides. However, I have also done some interview studies.
Is it only hyper sexual types that answer your surveys? What kinds of couples are these?
I would not say it is outgoing super sexual types, at least not for the type of research I do. I think a greater variety of people participate than we are perhaps given credit for. When conducting an online study, someone who may be very shy about their sex life may be just as likely to participate in our study due to curiosity as the person who is hyper sexual.
Additionally, we are mindful in our recruitment methods to try and get the broadest sample possible. Our advertisement for the study may not explicitly say it is about sex, but rather about the “dynamics of romantic relationships.” Then in the cover letter it may tell them a little more information about the study, that we will ask them questions about their sex life, and they can decide at that point whether they would like to consent to participate.
Your particular focus is on sex in long-term relationships. Is there any one key element threaded through sexually sustainable relationships?
The key element, despite how cliché it sounds, is communication. If couples can communicate, not just generally, but about sex and about their wants and needs, we’ve found they are a lot better off.
Another key element is being up for keeping the sex alive in your relationship. If both of you don’t make it a priority, it isn’t going to happen. Other parts of your life with take over, and it will negatively impact your relationship. For years research has consistently been showing that sexual satisfaction is directly related to relationship satisfaction. Sex is the only thing that distinguishes your partner from being just a roommate. So without the sex, what is the relationship, really? Keep the sex alive!
Have you ever been present when someone was having sex or being stimulated in the lab?
Quite a while ago I was a research assistant in a project where participants were to masturbate in the room next to us while they watched porn while hooked up to various physiological measures — heart rate, skin temp. We made the room more comfortable by having a comfortable chair, dim mood lighting, and by showing them that the door only worked one way, so they knew that we wouldn’t be able to come in and see them, they would have to open it for us to come in.
How do you remove your own sexuality from the space? You’re still human!
That’s a common question, but perhaps surprisingly, I am so into the research part of it and seeing what is happening scientifically: “Is that spike in skin temperature when the orgasm happened? Or was it here where the spike in heart rate occurred?,” that I don’t attach it to sex. For me anyway, sex research is very separate from my own sex life. I am human, and I feel like if I brought my vast knowledge about sex and sexuality into my own bedroom, it wouldn’t be nearly as enjoyable. I really try to keep the two separate, and for me that isn’t very difficult to do.
What do you find is the trick to interviewing or researching sex for the most accurate and honest results?
Being honest and upfront with your own biases is really important in sex research. We learned this from Kinsey in the early days! You need to be comfortable and understand what you aren’t comfortable with. Clarity with values around sex is critical for sound interviewing procedures. That said, being real is also critical. People are coming into the lab to talk to you about a really intimate part of their life. They are sharing that with you. So if you’re clinical, cold, and scientific, you’re not going to make them feel very comfortable. Building rapport with the participant is especially important in sex research.
Sex is one of the oldest human practices out there, but we’re still advancing in what we know about sex every year. What will never change in this field? What will?
If we don’t start to shift our thinking about sex from being something that is taboo and not to be talked about to something that is a natural part of human development, there will always be movement forward. Social norms take a long time to change.
Is anybody getting it right?
Right now I am in Amsterdam, where I am teaching a sexuality, sexual health, and sex education course. The people of the Netherlands have the best sexual health outcomes in the world. This is in large part due to their attitudes toward sex, that it is a natural part of human development, not something to be shamed. There are still struggles here of course, but it is so far ahead of North America in terms of the value placed on sex and, in turn, the value placed on people.
But there are still basic parts of female sexual anatomy that we don’t know. Additionally, sex is social. And the social is ever-changing. There will never be a lull in the questions we can answer in the arena of sex research. One of the many reasons this is such a great field.
What is the most ridiculous thing people believe about sex?
The one we still see in magazine headlines to this day: “men have higher sexual desire than women”. In my recent research and the recent research of my colleagues, the message has been that there is more variation within each gender than there is between the genders. In multiple samples, we have found that women and men are equally likely to be the member of the couple with lower sexual desire relative to their partner. I think our emphasis on gender differences in our culture is superficial and in a lot of cases harmful. So, I’ll repeat, there is more variation within each gender than there is between the genders! I strongly believe this and myself and a number of colleagues have the data to back it up. Society just needs to catch up.
From your research, what have you realized people are forgetting about sex?
Hmmm, maybe that it is human? With sex, it is really tough to generalize. Individual preferences vary so much and this is a key piece of sex. Maybe what makes sex so elusive is that there is no secret. There isn’t a map one can follow. It just doesn’t exist. Individual preferences outweigh any tips or tricks. Talk to your partner. Learn what they like. Explore.
What’s a day in the life of Kristen Mark?
Well, as a professor I deal with research, teaching, and service. In a typical day, I will catch up on any studies my lab is currently running (recruitment, progress, papers, etc.), then I may teach or grade. I teach a sexuality education course, sexual health promotion research seminar, healthy couple relationships research seminar, and a graduate theory course – not all at once – only a max of two per semester. I may do a bit of service, which entails reviewing colleagues’ work for publication in a sex journal, or teaching pregnant teens about pregnancy prevention at the community home, or serving on a dissertation committee by reviewing their work and providing critical feedback. I love what I do. For the most part, I don’t think of it as work.
Where do you think the field of sex research needs to go?
We need more transsexual health research. We also need more research into women’s sexual health and women’s sexual functioning. We don’t know nearly as much about women as we do about men. Most of this stems from the male-centric medical model that dominated for so many years. So women’s sexual health needs to catch up.
Is being a sex researcher ever hard on your personal life?
The dating world. It was hard as a young sex researcher to be in the dating world. The potential big deal breaker would always be the reaction from a potential romantic partner when they found out what I do for a living. So many men would be so into what I do for a living, like they fetishized it, and that would be a deal breaker for me. Others would be so intimidated by it that they could hardly function, and that would also be a deal breaker for me. Then there were the very select few who didn’t make a big deal out of it and took it as a legitimate area of scientific inquiry, understood the significance of studying something so universal, and saw me for me as opposed to “the sex researcher.”.
Has your family had any reaction to your career?
I grew up in a house where my parents were pretty frank about sex. My brother got condoms in his stocking, we all had the “sex talk” or some version of it, and we were made to feel relatively comfortable talking to our parents. My parents and grandparents came to my master’s thesis defense, and I recall one of my siblings pointing out to me that I had said “anal sex” in front of grandpa. I think from that point forward they truly understood what I studied.
Sarah Merrill, Ph.D. Program, Cornell University
Why did you want to get into sex research?
Part of what sparked my interest in sex research wanted to answer questions that my friends and I were asking every day, but with scientific validity!
What’s your main topic of study?
My areas of research focus on Female Sexual Fluidity, non-correspondence between physiological and subjective arousal, and the role of sex in creating and maintaining adult attachments.
Wow. What kinds of tools do you use for your research?
I use surveys, pupil dilation measurements, plethysmography (male) and photoplethysmography (female), eye tracking, experimental designs.
Sex isn’t something we typically view as measurable. What has been the biggest or most surprising finding either you or someone on your team has made?
As far as sex being an experience that usually isn’t measured, that isn’t strictly true. Sex has been measured physiologically since the work of Masters and Johnson in the 1950s. I feel that my colleagues and I are really following in this storied tradition. Being able to just ask people things about feelings, attitudes, and behaviors has always played an important role in psychological research; however, participants are not always able to tell the full or true story through self-report only. Therefore, being able to use physiological measures in many different aspects of psychology is important to have an unconscious and quantifiable measurement of the phenomenon we study – in this case sexual arousal. In particular, part of my research is interested in investigating why there are differences between our subjective accounts and the physiological measurements.
What kinds of differences?
There tends to be a much greater difference between what women subjectively report being attracted to and what physiological measurements would indicate they are attracted to than men: this is called non-correspondence. Some studies in the past have shown that physiological measurements of women’s arousal indicate that the women were aroused by everything, even monkey porn. However, the women, understandably, said they subjectively were not aroused by these stimuli at all. There have been a few theories that are put forth as to why this happens, but nothing has proven to be conclusive. I am currently conducting a study using a variety of erotic visual stimuli to see if by varying different aspects of the stimuli, the correspondence between subjective and objective arousal can be affected.
I’m particularly interesting in eye tracking — how does this relate to our sexuality? What’s it say about what we look at and what we’re aroused by?
In our studies, we use a combination of eye tracking and pupil dilation measurements. In fact, our lab is in the process of submitting a paper where we found that measuring the dilation of a participant’s pupils was as effective a measurement of a participant’s physiological sexual arousal as measuring their genital arousal. When a person’s eyes are dilated, they are more sexually aroused than when they are not. In fact, the plant Belladonna — also known as deadly nightshade —was used in ancient Rome in women’s eye drops to make women appear more beautiful and more seductive. It turns out that the Romans weren’t far off in this case.
Often we combine this data with where the participant’s eyes are looking when this dilation is taking place and over the course of a whole session. For example, did the participant spend the majority of the time looking at the model’s face or genitals? Chances are, they did, but what about when the person does not, what are they looking at, and does that hold some significance?
Have you ever conducted any research that involved people having sex in the lab? How do you distance yourself as a sexual being from that?
No, I haven’t ever been present for someone having sex or being stimulated in the lab. In our research, we use erotic videos, which are either two people having sex or a solo person masturbating. With these videos, the researchers see them so much that you can pretty easily become desensitized to them. Since every participant sees all of the video clips, which means the researchers (who also found and edited the clips for things like luminance and time) have seen these same clips hundreds of times. As we know, both in life and in sex research, novelty is important and all of the novelty is lost from these videos early on for the researchers.
Have you found that bodies relay information that testimonies simply can’t?
We had one participant who informed us of their sexual orientation prior to being in the study. However, after the study was over and they came out of the booth, they asked if they could change the sexual orientation previously listed because they had “learned some things” about themselves in the booth. It only happened once, but it is an interesting illustration that sometimes these types of quantitative measures can show us things about ourselves that we didn’t even know.
What’s been an important research take-away from your work in fluidity?
That there is a lot more variability in people’s sexual orientations than we usually expect. I think sexual fluidity – environmental and situation factors affecting a person’s sexual orientation, is just one aspect. Another would be the prevalence of people who, if given the opportunity would identify as “mostly heterosexual” as opposed to just exclusively, and yet another being asexuality. It’s more than just the hetero-, bi-, homo-sexual labels that people are used to – there is a whole spectrum that often gets forgotten in media and in the general public.
Another way this manifests is even in the measurement of sexual orientation itself. People may be familiar with the Kinsey Scale – which is a 0 to 6 scale asking people how they identify their sexual orientation from exclusively heterosexual to exclusively homosexual. However, there are other measurements, such as the Klein Sexual Orientation Grid, which ask about the different facets of sexual orientation, such as sexual arousal, lifestyle preferences, romantic inclinations, fantasies, and more. There can be, and should be, a significant amount of nuance when talking about a person’s sexual orientation.
Okay. This is a big question, but what happens during a study on the day-to-day?
If we are in the process of running a study, it is seeing participants – usually several a day, every day. I also spend an enormous amount of time scheduling and filling out paperwork in this part of the process so that everyone’s information stays confidential and anonymous, all the participants are paid on time, we have record of every participant’s consent, and all of the data is complete and safe. As for running participants, other than interacting before and after the study, that part of the process becomes very routine simply through repetition.
Once we have collected all the data, we start cleaning the data and performing data analyses. This process is very different depending on the type of data we are using. For example, vaginal photoplethysmographs use an output of VPA, which stands for vaginal pulse amplitude, since what is really being measured are light wavelengths. First, we remove any movement artifacts from when the participant shifted in the chair, then we average the amplitude for each video set for each participant. Then we use this data to run statistical tests comparing these values to other variables we measured that we hypothesized would have significant relationships. Once this is done, we spend quite a while writing.
What do you think needs to be changed in this field?
Romantic relationships are an oft-studied subject, yet researchers are still puzzled by the formation, maintenance, and markers of adult attachment. Specifically, the contribution of sex to the creation and indication of attachment relationships has been tragically understudied. Additionally, the underlying neurochemical processes that are hypothesized to contribute to sex’s role in attachment formation should play a role in either the mechanism of attachment or a marker of it. Yet, sex research and attachment research has remained to this point as very separate fields with much less crossover than would seem natural, given how often sex and love can go together in our lives.
Of course. Where do you suspect sexology is headed next?
I think a new horizon will be researching asexuality to a more significant extent, as well as finding the intersection between sex and attachment. I also think that we will see growth in the realm of technology in sex research – especially new physiological and neurological quantitative measurements of sexual interest and arousal.
You think critically about sex every single day. Does it ever impact how you relate to the act itself in your personal life?
Thinking about sex definitely never gets old for me, especially because the closer I delve, the more nuanced and larger the subject becomes. As far as the act itself, you would think that all the research I’ve read over the years would have some affect, but it really doesn’t. I actually found that my work on adult attachment far more easily affects my relationships than my sex research affects my sex life.
However, being a sex researcher can definitely be a little awkward out at the bars. In fact, one night I was out with a friend, who was excited to introduce me as her friend, the sex researcher. One guy was a little too excited about this fact and decided he needed to really let loose with all of his sexual problems. When we went to dinner, he followed us and sat down so he could finish asking me if I thought his relationship with his mother affected his sexual relationship with his ex-wife.
What about on dates?
When it comes to prospective dates, I don’t usually start with the fact that I research sex. I am currently getting my PhD in psychology, so I start there and work my way up to the sex research. I would never lie about what I do — I love it too much — but I try to judge the situation and person on an individual basis as far as when I want to tell them.