Bio 27: Human Sexuality

Bio 27: Human Sexuality
August 27, 2012
Chapter 2--Sex Research: Methods and Problems
Goals of Sexology
• Sexology: The study of
• Goals are to:
– Understand sexual
– Predict sexual behavior
– Control / influence sexual
• Ethical considerations when
controlling behavior
Challenges of sexology
• Sexology is a relatively
new science
• Sexual behavior in humans
can be difficult to study
– Most sexual behavior
cannot be directly observed
– Many people are
uncomfortable discussing
their sexual behavior, even
with doctors or therapists
• Pseudoscience: a claim,
belief, or practice which is
presented as scientific,
but does not adhere to a
valid scientific method,
lacks supporting evidence
or plausibility, cannot be
reliably tested, or
otherwise lacks scientific
• How do we tell
pseudoscience from real
Sexology research may be either
experimental or non-experimental
• 3 commonly used nonexperimental methods:
– Case studies
– Surveys
– Direct observation
• These are considered
because the researchers
only observe naturally
occurring behavior, they
do not manipulate it
Non-Experimental Research Methods:
Case Studies
• Single subject or small group
– Often used to study unusual behavior or
individuals with physical or emotional
• In depth data are gathered using:
– Direct observation
– Questionnaires
– Testing
– Experimentation
Non-experimental Research Methods:
Case Study
• Advantages:
– In-depth exploration
– Flexibility in data gathering procedures
• Disadvantages:
– Hard to generalize results
– Often based on retrospective self-report,
which can create bias
– Not suitable for many research questions
Non-experimental Research Methods:
• Small to large samples of people
• Data gathered using:
– Face-to-face or phone interviews
– Questionnaires
• Can be computerized or distributed online
Non-experimental Research Methods:
Survey Methods
• Advantages:
– Questionnaires: anonymity may improve
honesty, cheaper
– Interviews: more flexible, rapport, may
improve clarity & understanding
• Disadvantages:
– Non-response
– Demographic bias: people of color and more
conservative individuals are underrepresented
– Inaccurate information
Use of surveys to study sexuality
• Alfred Kinsey published reports on male (1948)
and female (1953) sexuality based on surveys
• Sampled 5,300 white males and 5,940 white
females from urban and rural areas; younger,
better-educated, urban, and Protestant
individuals were overrepresented
• Many key findings are still widely accepted today:
– Educational level is correlated with sexual behavior
– Homosexuality is not always an “all or none”
Use of surveys to study sexuality
• National Health and Social Life Survey was
funded by the government in 1988 in response to
the AIDS crisis to gain information about sexual
practices and attitudes among Americans
• Federal funding was withdrawn in 1991 by
conservative members of Congress
• Researchers continued using private funding, but
were only able to do a much smaller study
focusing on White, Black, and Hispanic Americans
Non-experimental Research Methods
Outcome from Survey Data
Research funding in the U.S.: it’s political
• Most health science research in the U.S. is
funded by the U.S. government through the
National Institutes of Health ($30.86B in 2012)
• National Institutes of Health are accountable
to the U.S. Congress and the President
• Distribution of funds is based on both merit
and politics
• Studies of sexuality and of drug and alcohol
abuse have been particular political targets
By the way, it’s still happening
• Congressman Darrell Issa proposed the following
amendments to the bill to fund the federal government’s
activity in 2011:
AMENDMENT NO. 417: At the end of the bill (before the short title), insert the following:
Sec. __. None of the funds made available by this Act may be used by the National Institutes of
Health to study the impact of integral yoga on hot flashes in menopausal women.
AMENDMENT NO. 418: At the end of the bill (before the short title), insert the following:
Sec. __. None of the funds made available by this Act may be used by the National Institutes of
Health to examine the potential impact of a soda tax on population health.
AMENDMENT NO. 419: At the end of the bill (before the short title), insert the following:
Sec. __. None of the funds made available by this Act may be used by the National Institutes of
Health to research the use of marijuana in conjunction with opioid medications, such as morphine.
AMENDMENT NO. 420: At the end of the bill (before the short title), insert the following:
Sec. __. None of the funds made available by this Act may be used by the Department of Health
and Human Services to study condom use skills in adult males.
AMENDMENT NO. 421: At the end of the bill (before the short title), insert the following:
Sec. __. None of the funds made available by this Act may be used by the Department of Health
and Human Services to study the concurrent and separate use of malt liquor and marijuana among
young adults.
AMENDMENT NO. 422: At the end of the bill (before the short title), insert the following:
Sec. __. None of the funds made available by this Act may be used by the National Science
Foundation to study whether video games improve mental health for the elderly.
Non-experimental Research Methods:
Direct Observation Studies
• Small to moderate samples
• Observe and record responses of subjects
- Reliability depends on representative samples and
accuracy of recording devices
• Advantages:
– Eliminates possibility of falsification
– Records can be kept indefinitely
• Disadvantages:
– Self-selection, behavior influenced by observers,
Methods for direct observation
• Video recording
• Photography
• Functional MRI (fMRI) measures changes in
blood flow in the brain; associated with
changes in brain activity
• New: measurement of eye pupil dilation
(study published August 3rd)
• Electronic devices for measuring sexual
arousal (shown in next slide)
Measuring Sexual Arousal
Penile strain gauge (above) measures erections; vaginal
photoplethysmograph (below) measures vaginal blood
Direct observation: Masters and
• Gynecologist William Masters
and psychologist Virginia
Johnson claim to have
observed at least 10,000 sex
acts in a laboratory setting
• Wrote two books in 1966 and
1970s and counseled couples
on improving their sex lives
• First to conduct research on
sexuality in older adults
• Did a combination of direct
observation and experimental
The Experimental Method:
• The Experimental Method is how most
scientific research is conducted
• Conditions are manipulated by scientists
usually in a laboratory setting
• Observations & previous knowledge lead
to the development of a testable
• Hypothesis: a proposed answer to a
scientific question
The Experimental Method:
• Independent variable: condition or
component that is manipulated
• Dependent variable: what is being
• Ideally want all experimental groups to be
the same except for the independent
The Experimental Method
• Advantages:
– Lowers the influence of other variables
– Can establish cause-effect relationships
• Disadvantages:
– Being measured may affect actions
– Artificiality of laboratory setting
Use of the experimental to study
sexual behavior
• Observation: men under the influence of alcohol
often exhibit impaired sexual performance
• Experiment: 48 male college students watched a
sexually explicit film while wearing a penile strain
gauge. They then repeated this action after
drinking alcohol
• Conclusion: Alcohol decreased sexual arousal,
and the degree of reduction was related to the
amount of alcohol consumed
Human studies: ethical issues
• Prior to 1948, few
restrictions on scientific
studies in humans
• Tuskegee experiment in
• Following cruel
experiments performed
by the Nazis, increasing
awareness that human
subjects of scientific
studies should be given
certain rights in the
Ethical Guidelines for Human Sex
• No pressure or coercion for participation
– Controversy over paying subjects for participation
• Informed consent and voluntary participation
• Confidentiality and anonymity
• Question of deception: don’t always want to tell
subjects in advance what is being studied
• Institutional ethics review
Use of animals in sexology research
• Most medical research in this country,
including sexology research, is performed on
laboratory animals
• 95% of laboratory animals are rats and mice
• Mice are about 85% genetically similar to
humans, but some substantial differences,
• Most mammalian females will only participate
in sexual behavior when in estrus
Use of animals in sexology research
• Ethical concerns about
the use of animals
• More invasive
procedures are
permitted, but must be
• Extensive laws protect
the rights of lab animals
• Some more protected
than others
Evaluating Research:
Questions to Ask
• Why was the research done? Who did the research?
Who paid for the research? What are their credentials?
What biases are there?
• Who were the participants? How were they selected &
assigned to groups?
• How was the research conducted? What methods were
• Where was the research reported? What additional
support is there?
“The federal government should not
spend money on sexology research”
How strongly do you agree or disagree with this
statement? Explain your answer.
strongly agree
Homework assignment : due
Wednesday 8/29
• Design a human sexuality research study.
Include a description of:
– What question you will answer
– How you will conduct your research
– What ethical issues will result from your study?
– What possible challenges might you have in
getting accurate results?
• Your assignment should be 400–700 words
and must be typewritten!

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