I study sexuality for a living and teach it as well. I’ve quickly learned when I meet people, and they inevitably ask me what I do, that it’s just easier in the long run to say that I’m a graduate student (which is true) and that I teach health. First, it’s more complicated than it sounds to explain health education, and even then, most people just assume that I’m a gym teacher. Second, telling people that I am specializing in human sexuality and that I teach it leads to some issues. More than a few times, when I have told people what I study or teach, they immediately do the “Wow! That’s so hot!” This has lead me to twist a strand of hair around a finger and respond, “Yeah, herpes is really sexy!” and then giggle. I get it that when a lot of people hear “sex” they think sexy and hot and fun – and that’s good! However, there are so many other arenas within human sexuality that aren’t exactly me making out with people or just thinking about the most steamy sex. For example, one of the areas I have been doing research in is intimate partner violence (so, not sexy at all) as well as sexual assault.
A contributor on Em & Lo’s blog, Abby Spector, recently wrote a post about the 10 Worst Things About Studying Sexuality in College that at some points made me giggle but also resonated deeply with me. Her first “worst thing” isn’t so bad in my opinion; she says that reading about the female orgasm isn’t the best thing to do on Sunday nights. Further, she mentions “Reading about great sex is not comforting when you are sad and horny.” I will admit here that I once spent a Friday night in October pouring excitedly over the recently published study that our own Dr Debby worked on. I meant to only read the first bit or maybe scan it. I was hooked from the intro written by the former Surgeon General M Jocelyn Elders, and ended up not looking up til I was almost done. I only stopped reading because some friends (whom I was supposed to meet up with – sorry, guys!) called needing a designated driver. While this may not be everyone’s idea of a Great Friday Night, I had a blast! It’s all about what makes you happy. To be fair, there have been plenty of times that I would have preferred to not be writing a paper and instead at a concert (or insert another fun event).
Spector’s third point is that once you surround yourself with sex, it starts to loose it’s sexiness. I say only maybe. I also volunteer for a rape crisis center, and to be fair, when I get home from a call helping a survivor (at a police station or a hospital), sex is not sexy at all and is the furthest thing on my mind. Sometimes I don’t even want my other half to touch me. I can be laying in bed reading over a (super cool to me) study and excitedly tell him about it – but while he may think it’s a sexy tidbit, to me it’s not an aphrodisiac.
I’m very glad that Spector shared her fifth reason that studying sex isn’t as exciting as it sounds – she mentions that just because people study sex doesn’t mean that they want it all the time. Further, I’ve talked to many individuals who assume that just because I study sex I’m amazing at it, want to sleep with them, want to have sex right this moment, I’ve had a ton of partners, or even that I’m easy. It just reminds me of the stereotypical ideas that senior citizens have no sex drive and aren’t sexual beings anymore, or that any sex worker is also easy and constantly ready to have the best sex ever.
I’ve even had students say comments like, “I bet you have an amazing sex life.” Um, awkward. When I was a bartender, everyone assumed I was the life of the party, but to be honest, I’m a pretty boring person. Sure, some nights I love to dance until my make up is sliding down my face, but there’s plenty of nights that sitting on the couch and watching a movie or reading a book is pretty ideal.
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