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Why sex research is so important

March 1st, 2005

Dr Petra

Kinsey was driven to research sex because America in the 1940s was a place of sexual repression, ignorance and fear. There was little evidence or information to tackle these issues, and few places to find out about it.

Now we can’t move for sexual imagery, information, commercial products, myths, and legends. Our expectations have grown. Now our fears are not about the unknown, but about impossible sexual standards we can’t possibly hope to achieve.

It’s one very good reason why we still need sex research, but there are many other good reasons too. Problems like sexual abuse, rape, and domestic violence were an issue when Kinsey was interviewing participants, and they remain a major problem. We need to know more about why abuse happens, develop ways to help survivors, and create effective programmes for offenders.

Sex research has traditionally focused more on prostitutes, with less attention on pimps or clients – who remain an underresearched group. Trafficking of sex workers, and coercion of teenagers and runaways into prostitution needs to be addressed, alongside understanding why some adults actively choose sex work as a career.

Research is needed so that people involved in the sex industry – porn stars, strippers, lap and pole dancers, and sex store workers, can speak for themselves and share many aspects of their lives. Not just the shocking or salacious.

Because sex was so taboo during Kinsey’s era, many sex issues weren’t openly discussed. With changing public attitudes and the increased commercialisation of sex, we’re now being told that pills, patches, or products can transform our sex lives – leading to increased levels of sexual dissatisfaction. The Internet brings us huge amounts of information, alongside access to sex fraudsters out to make a quick buck over our sex anxieties.

Kinsey’s aim was to reduce sexual ignorance. Sadly, global sex education isn’t as it should be, leading to high rates of teenage conception, STIs, and abuse. In many countries, religious organisations provide misleading information, or block sex education. In others teachers aren’t properly trained or supported, and parents can remove their children from sex education. We assume sex education is widespread, but in many places it is missing or poor. We mistake sexual commercialism with being sexually literate.

This is possibly why, although we claim to be liberated, people are still preoccupied with being ‘normal’. And that means asexuals, swingers, doggers, or anyone with an alternative sex lifestyle are negatively labelled. We need more impartial research on sexual diversity.

Kinsey had plenty of things to worry about; HIV wasn’t one of those issues. We’re facing a global pandemic, with those living in developing countries particularly at risk. It’s a tragedy that Kinsey fought to reduce our sexual ignorance, and in some populations now, a quarter of the people are HIV+.

And all I’ve covered are the problem issues! We also need sex research to look into sexual pleasures, relationships, trends in sexual attitudes and behaviours, and most importantly identifying what people want to know – and finding the answers for them.

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