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Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Kinsey Institue Kiss and Tell

Science Blog snagged a great interview with KI director, Dr. Julia Heiman. Among many other things, she discusses the obstacles that face researchers of sexual behavior:

"I don't like the difficulty of studying normal sexuality. We're always being pushed to study atypical sexual patterns or sexual patterns of smaller minorities. Smaller minorities are very important but we always have to leave out what happens to the majority of people a lot of the time. We don't understand basic things such as the structure and function of female physiology and sexuality. Things like why orgasms occur in women. I and other sex researchers have to struggle to understand the full range of sexuality across a broad range of people and there are no easy funding mechanisms."

...

""There are some behaviors that we can all agree on that shouldn't be happening, that are dangers to society, but while you're studying them, you have to figure out why they continue to happen. Why do we have fairly high rape rate? If we understand why somebody would be a repeated rapist, that does not mean we approve of that behavior. That is where things get confused in the public dialogue. If you study coercive sexual behavior or risky sex, in some way you are seen as supporting those behaviors. I don't know why that continues to happen, except that people may not appreciate why a scientific understanding of this is as important as social regulation."

She discusses how our nation's attitude impedes advances in sex research:

"...One of the countries that has solved more of their sexual problems. The Netherlands. They have a much lower rate of STDs. They have a low rate of teen pregnancy. They don't have a high rate of abortion. We have a higher rate of abortion. It's not like they are wildly sexual and the way they control it is by not making things happen on the other end or getting good treatment. They've addressed the sexual problems a society worries about. They do it by heads-up, from early ages, giving honest, straightforward sex education. Information about bodies. Information about sexuality and sexual health early on. They've worked out a way for them that is successful. One country can't just adopt another country's ideas. But to act as if no other country has solved some of these problems is just not accurate. That we're so special and so important that we couldn't possibly learn from another country is iconoclastic and not fair to our citizens who may want to benefit from the ways other countries have solved their problems."

The KI always takes a beating for the work it does, but the fact is that the KI is not opposed to abstinence. Dr. Heiman thinks that abstinence is a great idea. It is the ultimate way to prevent pregnancy and the transmission of STDs. It's the abstinence only position pushed by our administration and the religious right that poses a threat to our youth and their ability to make educated decisions about their own sexual activity.

In order to regulate sexual behavior, we must first understand it.