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Sex Research. Methods and Concerns. sexology. The study of sexuality Goal – to understand, predict, and control sexual behavior. Control?. Is it a good thing to control sexual behavior? Yes – we need to decrease unwanted pregnancies and STD’s

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sex research

Sex Research

Methods and Concerns

  • The study of sexuality
  • Goal – to understand, predict, and control sexual behavior
  • Is it a good thing to control sexual behavior?
  • Yes – we need to decrease unwanted pregnancies and STD’s
  • Uncertain – Should we choose our children’s sex?

Should we change orientations?

non experimental methods
Non-experimental methods
  • Often used
  • Convenient
  • Frequently cost-effective
  • But tell us nothing about causation
the case study
The case study
  • An intensive study of an individual or a small group
  • Advantages – flexible


case study limits
Case study limits
  • Difficulty generalizing results from such a small sample
  • Subject to the failings of memory
  • Sometimes, completely unsuitable
  • A sample of people are questioned about their behavior and attitudes
  • Many advantages:

relatively inexpensive


lots of people & data

both anonymity and rapport

the all important sample
The all-important sample
  • Sample – interviewing a relatively small group to draw conclusions about a much larger one
  • Representative – all subgroups within the population of interest in their proper proportions
  • Random – everyone in population has equal chance
sampling gone awry
Sampling gone awry
  • Is it truly representative?

Not if only 15% reply

Miss out on key sub-groups

  • The self-selection dilemma – some participants are too eager, these tend to be more experienced and comfortable with sex
other survey hazards
Other Survey Hazards
  • Are the responses accurate?

vulnerable to exaggeration,

memory lapses, and

socially desirable responses

  • Demographics – most who respond are:

too educated

mostly white-collar

  • Missing minorities are often the most interesting
Also, …
  • Ambiguous, misleading questions will ruin any survey, no matter how well-conceived.
  • Should the survey be conducted through a written questionnaire or an interview?
  • Or should both be utilized?
surveys that mattered
Surveys that mattered
  • Kinsey

Males (1948) 5,300 – participated

Females (1953) 5,940 “ “

  • Obvious flaws

All white

too many highly educated urban WASPs

kinsey s contribution
Kinsey’s contribution
  • Despite shortcomings, still relevant
  • Demonstrated that sexual behavior is influenced by education and the undeniable presence of bisexuality
  • Also provided a baseline against which all subsequent investigations could be prepared
the national health and social life survey
The National Health and Social Life Survey
  • A response to two compelling challenges:

1) The Aid’s crisis of the late 80’s, and

2) A complete lack of information regarding current sexual practices

  • Initial plans called for a huge, truly representative sample of 20,000
  • But in ’91 federal funding was yanked
a methodological triumph
A Methodological Triumph
  • Undaunted, its proponents lined up private funding, to survey a truly representative sample of 4,369
  • An amazing response rate of 79%
  • Adequately covered whites, African- Americans and Hispanics
  • Administered by 220 carefully trained interviewers
  • Well designed, internally consistent
survey says
Survey Says!

Americans are:

1) content with their love lives,

2) less sexually active than anticipated, and

3) quite conservative

sexual violence survey
Sexual Violence Survey
  • Is there a connection between watching violent porn and sexual coercion?
  • 222 male nonoffenders were surveyed about porn viewing preferences
  • Within the last year, 81% had viewed nonviolent porn
  • 35% had watched sexually violent porn
  • The latter were more likely to use force/rape
meta surveys
  • Several surveys reveal that exposure to violent (sexual) media tends to:

1) increase tolerance for violence,

2) cause some to think that women want to be raped,

3) decrease sensitivity to victims, &

4) for some, to increase the probability of rape

alcohol sexual response
Alcohol & sexual response
  • Do a few drinks increase or impair sexual responsivity?
  • 20,000 survey participants
  • 60% said, YES!
  • Women were even more convinced
  • But did they really remember?
direct observation
Direct observation
  • A research design in which trained reporters watch and record responses
  • Used most effectively byMasters & Johnson (1966)
human sexual response
Human Sexual Response
  • Influential and respected
  • Watched sexual behavior in the laboratory and recorded the relevant physiological responses
  • Good numbers - 382 women and 312 men
  • A non-representative sample, but with physiological measures, it might not matter
human sexual response ii
Human sexual response ii
  • Innovative techniques
  • Thorough follow-up interviews
  • Non-subjective, quantifiable
  • No worries about memory deficits
  • But the participants knew they were being watched?!
experimental methods
Experimental methods
  • Present participants with certain events/stimuli under controlled conditions that allow for reliable measurement of their reactions
  • This control allows us to make inferences regarding causation
  • With this ingredient, we can control behavior
  • The Independent Variable – the factor controlled by the researcher

For example, 6 hours of watching sexually violent videos

  • The Dependent Variable – resulting behavior after the use of the independent variable as measured by the researcher

For example, responses to questionnaire

an actual experiment
An actual experiment
  • Hypothesis – viewing sexually violent media causes tolerance of and an increase in aggressive and assaultive behavior
study 1
Study 1
  • Method
  • 271 men
  • Half watch films in which women are victimized, but later “fall” for the abuser
  • Others watch nonviolent movies
  • When questioned days later, men who had watched the violent film were much more tolerant of sexual violence against women
other studies
Other studies
  • Rapists exposed to sexually violent and abusive films became sexually aroused
  • Nonrapists did not
  • Both groups aroused by consensual sex
experiments on alcohol and sex
Experiments on Alcohol and Sex
  • Reveal that arousal is decreased by drinking
  • Also, the more consumed the greater the decrease
  • Holds for both men and women
  • Varies greatly from survey self reports
  • Lab setting influence results?
sexology technology
Sexology Technology
  • Electronic measures of arousal – much more accurate than self reports
  • Penile strain gauge – a device which measures changes in the circumference of the penis
  • Very sensitive
  • Used with sex offenders
and for women
And for women …
  • The vaginal photoplethysmograph – a device which measures increases in vaginal blood flow
  • photosensitive
  • Brain imagining studies
  • reveal that hand holding reduces neural activity in brain areas linked to the anticipation of threats
  • Show that bisexuals may not be what we thought
computer assisted self interview
Computer Assisted Self-Interview
  • A “CASI”
  • Overcomes literacy and social problems
  • Simply listen, point and click
  • All in privacy
  • Has worked well with teenagers
cyber sexology
Cyber Sexology
  • Using the internet to collect sex-related data
  • Many advantages
  • Significant concerns
  • Cheap – by usually 20-80%

less staff, paper, postage

  • Participants feel safer
  • Flexible, easy to modify
  • Access to vast numbers of participants
  • Some virtually impossible otherwise
  • Greater accuracy – “help” menus


  • Sampling bias – “the digital divide”

participants tend to be younger, more educated and affluent, male

but every year this factor recedes

  • Ethical concerns – participants often recruited through unsolicited emails

true anonymity is illusory