If you read last month’s blog, you will know that “sex research” isn’t just one thing; there are limitless topics to explore, and many different methods and research designs that we can use to start investigating them. Can you believe that this winter alone we are launching close to ten new in-lab and online studies?! See below and here for more information!
In this month’s blog, we will highlight three of our ongoing studies conducted by our fantastic undergraduate students, who work under the supervision of grad students and Dr. Pukall. The first two focus on sexual well-being in bisexual individuals and on genital arousal via online surveys, and the last one investigates blood flow in the internal clitoral structure in an imaging study. And two of these studies involves watching sexually explicit material (yes, porn)! Read on for more information!
Sexual Well-Being in Self-Identified Bisexual Individuals
Sexual issues are common, with 19% to 52% of individuals experiencing issues ranging from orgasm concerns to partner dissatisfaction. Sexual issues are in fact a public health concern because they are highly related to poor emotional health, physical health, and overall well-being.
To better inform healthcare practice, numerous investigations have focused on understanding how partners navigate sexual issues. Unfortunately, bisexual individuals have not been included in these studies. So, it is unclear whether models of navigating sexual issues apply to bisexual individuals—and that is one of the main questions we want to explore in this study. We also do not understand how things like sexual script flexibility (having an adaptable approach to sexual issues) are influenced by partner gender. Because bisexual individuals may have partners of all genders, this question can only be answered when we study this population (as well as other people who have partners of all genders and who adopt other labels)!
And a pretty cool fact: This study is funded by the American Institute of Bisexuality—yes, there is a whole institute, see here for more information.
What we hope to see from this study includes the very important representation of bisexual individuals in the literature, as well as information that can help us understand how people with diverse sexualities navigate sexual issues (I’m sure we have a lot to learn) and how partner gender may influence this navigation process. We also hope to correct misinformation about sexual stereotypes and inform inclusive healthcare practice, including sex and couples therapy.
ONYX Study: Factors Influencing Genital Arousal Sensations and Perceptions
Sexual arousal is often divided into physiological (genital sensations and responses like erection and vaginal lubrication, for example) and subjective (the desire to engage sexually, for example) components. It is an important element of overall sexual response, and although sexual arousal may seem simple (you get “turned on”— feels good, right?), it isn’t. Sometimes the two components mentioned above don’t always work together: some people may feel lots of desire to engage sexually but their bodies don’t respond for whatever reason, and some people may have genital response but no desire to engage sexually. Even further, some people may not perceive their feelings of arousal (whether in their bodies or minds, or both) to be pleasurable.
How we perceive our arousal can influence the experience of sexual arousal to our benefit or distress, depending on the situation. How one experiences sexual arousal can be influenced by your perceptions or preconceived notions about arousal, how you feel or experience arousal intensity, and even your own desire for arousal (high or low) as well as your opinions about arousal (positive or negative) (Carvalho, Veríssimo, & Nobre, 2013).
The ONYX study hopes to further our understanding of what cognitive factors influence genital arousal sensations and perceptions. By completing our brief 20-30-minute online study, you can help us investigate potential cognitive interventions for arousal disorders. Our study is comprised of several questionnaires and two videos (one of which contains sexual material). Interested participants must be 18+. To participate in the study, please visit our website or click on this link to directly access the survey.
The Investigation of Clitoral Changes During Sexual Arousal.
It was not so long ago that the full extent of the clitoral complex was discovered. Before this discovery, people assumed that the extent of the clitoris was obvious – it was limited to what we could see (if we bothered to look): the tiny and highly sensitive nub on the vulva that sometimes played shy and hid behind a hood. But the clitoris is much, much more than this tiny area. It is a complex structure that is mostly internal—that’s right!—the nub is simply the “tip of the iceberg”, see here.
Now that the structure of the entire clitoral complex has been revealed, we decided to tackle the next step: how does it work? We are investigating how clitoral blood flow changes over time during sexual arousal. Where does it start? Where does it go? How long does it take to start?
So, how exactly are we doing this study focusing on the internal clitoral structure?
We are using functional magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), which is specifically used to look inside bodies for all sorts of reasons, medically-sanctioned and research-related. Why not use this for sex research? In our lab, we have used fMRI to look at how brains and brainstems respond to painful stimulation in people with vulvodynia, why not just move the focus from the brain to the pelvic area and hone in on the clitoral structure?
This study will help in gaining a greater understanding of female genital responses during sexual arousal.
Interested? After an eligibility screening process, healthy female participants are invited to lie (privately and fully clothed) in an MRI machine and watch a 20-minute erotic film. During this time, the machine will take scans of the pelvic area.
Thanks for learning about some of the studies that fall into the realm of sex research. We are particularly proud of our hard-working and stellar undergraduate students who are running these studies. What an awesome contribution! You can also contribute to research by participating!
Sofia Melendez, Morgan Sterling, Anne Pattison, Shannon Coyle, & Caroline Pukall
Basson, R. (2002). A model of women's sexual arousal. Journal of Sex &Marital Therapy, 28(1), 1-10.
Both, S., Laan, E., & Everaerd, W. (2011). Focusing “hot” or focusing “cool”: Attentional mechanisms in sexual arousal in men and women. The journal of sexual medicine, 8(1), 167-179.
Brotto, L. A., Basson, R., & Luria, M. (2008). A mindfulness-based group psychoeducational intervention targeting sexual arousal disorder in women. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 5(7), 1646-1659.
Carvalho, J., Veríssimo, A., & Nobre, P. J. (2013). Cognitive and emotional determinants characterizing women with persistent genital arousal disorder. The journal of sexual medicine, 10(6), 1549-1558.
Simons, J. S., & Carey, M. P. (2001). Prevalence of sexual dysfunctions: results from a decade of research. Archives of sexual behavior, 30(2), 177-219.