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Wednesday, Feb. 21
The Indiana Daily Student

IU researchers release detailed report about Americans' sexual behavior

Until recently, sexual health educators and health professionals based their assumptions about sexual behavior on data from nearly two decades ago.

The National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior, a study by IU researchers that was published Oct. 1, changed that, giving both practitioners and the general public access to the latest information on American sexual practices.

Church & Dwight Co., Inc., the producer of Trojan products, funded the study.

“This large and important study legitimizes all of the questions and concerns that we have about sex and about who we are and about where we fit in this world,” said Logan Levkoff, a sexologist and relationship expert hired by Church & Dwight Co., Inc. to analyze the data IU compiled.

The data includes 5,865 people from the ages of 14 to 94. The survey asked questions about types of, frequency of and patterns of sexual acts performed, as well as if protection such as a condom was used.

“We’ve never had enough data of this type that’s been conducted at multiple points across the history of the country to really make a ton of comparisons,” said Michael Reece, director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion and a co-author of the study.

This study, the first of its kind done since the Internet began being widely used, gives a broader picture of sexuality in the U.S., something Debby Herbenick, associate director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion and an author of a book on sexual health, can appreciate.

Herbenick has taught about human sexuality for IU in the past, and the information she provided students before didn’t really apply to them, she said.

“I was teaching them about things that happened either before they were born or when they were babies,” Herbenick said of the only previously-available research. “That’s ridiculous.”

Some important information provided included trends in adolescents from ages 14 to 17, women’s and men’s perspectives about sexual behavior and tendencies for sexual behavior across age groups.

Dennis Fortenberry, a medical practitioner and professor of pediatrics at the IU School of Medicine, said the information on adolescents debunked many commonly-held myths about sex among young people.

Sex among teens was shown not to be as prevalent as the media often portrays it to be, and condom use among this group is much higher than some would expect, researchers said.

“That’s the important part,” Fortenberry said. “It suggests that the reality of adolescent sexual behavior is not that it’s such an overwhelming part of young people’s day-to-day lives. That doesn’t mean that it’s not important, but it does mean that a lot of our perceptions — that teenagers are just having sex with anybody all of the time — is simply untrue.”

The study also showed that communication between sexual partners was crucial to pleasure during sexual acts.

Herbenick cited that the data shows 30 percent of women experience pain in some form during sex, while only 5 percent of men feel discomfort.

“We know from other research that about 10 percent of women have a diagnosable pain condition called vulvodynia, so you expect at least that,” she said. “But 30 percent is huge.”

The pain symptoms could happen for a number of reasons, but communication between partners seems to be the most plausible, said Kathryn Brown, a sexual health educator at the IU Health Center’s Department of Health & Wellness Education.

Brown said she thinks questions such as “How does that feel?” aren’t asked enough.
“If these questions aren’t asked and discussion doesn’t ensue, then these issues of lack of satisfaction from not having an orgasm to actually feeling pain during a sexual encounter will likely continue,” she said.

This information could give those across age groups, especially college-aged people, comfort in their sexual behaviors, whether they are not sexually active or highly active in sexual activities.

“There is no one ‘normal,’ and I think that’s a really healthy perspective for college students to get,” Levkoff said.

Studies such as these, Reece said, are often hard to conduct given the stigma given to sexual behavior research. This is why his group’s work is so vital.

“The field of sex research has always been controversial,” he said. “The Kinsey Institute has always found itself having to justify why it does the work it does. People have always been skeptical of whether sex research is really important.”

More than 35,000 people had downloaded the study as of press time.

However, Reece said if this research is not conducted more regularly and better funded, problems similar to the one faced by practitioners before the survey will happen again.

“I hope it doesn’t take 20 years before the next study is funded,” he said. “I’m hoping that people will see this as valuable and beneficial and that will then encourage someone to do this again. I’d love to see this done every five years, and if not every five years, I’d love to see it done at least every 10.”

Levkoff said the research performed at the Kinsey Institute and within other departments was crucial to mapping the contemporary trends of sexual behaviors.

“I think we’re starting to see, with respect to research, a really broad picture of sexuality, from the life span issues to health issues, as well as pleasure,” Levkoff said of research performed at IU. “That’s really starting to create this incredible, holistic perspective of sexuality that we really haven’t seen in a long time.”

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