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Barriers and opportunities in modern sex research

March 5th, 2005

Dr Petra

Kinsey faced many barriers in relation to sex research, not least working in uncharted territory, and problems with obtaining funding. Modern sex research is also not without it’s difficulties.

As in Kinsey’s day, funding for research into sexual behaviour remains thin on the ground. However, now there is money from Big Pharma, but only if you deliver what drug companies want – to make minor sexual dissatisfactions into full blown dysfunctions in need of identification and cure.

There are still those within academia and the public who don’t see sex as a legitimate specialty, meaning it isn’t always the topic of choice for ambitious researchers. And although sex is a sensitive area to study, fears that talking about it may lead to people getting upset, or perhaps going off and trying out new sexual activities, can set up barriers. This is particularly true in the US, where ‘religious right’ groups are targeting sex researchers and trying to impede sex research.

At the risk of getting boring, the other major barrier we face is the problem of the self proclaimed ‘sexpert’ – the less qualified person who takes the place of the sex research professional. That or media and PR companies misusing sex surveys to promote themselves or products, undoing the good work of sex researchers. And not forgetting some who study sex in health and social care (particularly in developing countries) can hold very negative, narrow and pejorative views about gender, sexuality and sex. Or are influenced by the pharmaceutical industry to medicalise sexual behaviour and misinform the pubic.

This is why we need to ensure sex researchers are fully trained and supported, so participants and researchers are enabled to talk about sex, and researchers can complete research that informs policy and education. Encouraging sex researchers to be more proactive in engaging with the media will also help.

Fortunately sex research offers far more opportunities than the barriers it’s facing. It enables us to increase our sexual knowledge, decrease sexual anxiety, and reduce sexually transmitted infections, sexual abuse, rape, and domestic violence. More sex research completed in a sex-positive manner means increased sexual confidence and relationship happiness, and a reduction in stigma and fear. Sex research can promote greater tolerance and understanding of sex, and finally can mean we get to enjoy our sex lives.

In short, all the things that Kinsey wanted.

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