Media & Culture

Why We Need Better Media Reporting On the Science of Sex

May 11, 2016 by Justin Lehmiller

“Science is—by it’s nature—imperfect, but it’s hugely important. And it deserves better than to be twisted out of proportion and turned into morning show gossip. So if they are going to keep saying ‘A study says…’ they should have to provide sourcing and context, or not mention it at all.” – John Oliver

When science is reported in the media, it is often horribly distorted. One of the biggest reasons for this stems from the fact that many of the journalists and bloggers reporting on science simply don’t have a very good understanding of how science in general works. But it’s not just that–many of them don’t even make an attempt to understand the specific studies they’re writing about, with some publishing articles based upon nothing more than a quick review of an abstract or press release.

The end result is that far too many media reports about science contain nothing but bogus information. Unfortunately, this is something I see all the time when research on sex and relationships is covered.

One of the main reasons I started this blog is because I wanted to create a resource where people could go to fact-check what the popular media is saying about the science of sex. To that end, I’ve debunked my fair share of terrible media headlines over the years, including these stinkers:

· Dudes With Smaller Balls Are Better Parents

· Want More Sex? Men, Stop Helping With The Chores

· Semen Is ‘Good For Women’s Health And Helps Fight Depression’

All too often, media reports like these don’t provide enough details on how a study was conducted or address any of its limitations, leaving the reader or viewer unable to evaluate the quality of the research. Even worse, some don’t provide enough information on which study they’re actually talking about to allow the reader to track it down!

More often than not, research findings are reported selectively, over-generalized, and sold with a sensationalized headline. This is a big problem because all nuance is lost and what we’re left with is a string of outlandish claims that often contradict one another and, ultimately, undermine the public’s confidence in science itself.

In a recent segment on Last Week Tonight, John Oliver tackled this issue brilliantly. Oliver made a compelling case for why we need better media reporting on science in general—not just the science of sex. The full segment is below and it’s well worth a watch.

Afterward, check out this article to learn more about what you can do to become a more informed consumer of media reports about the science of sex and relationships.

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Written by
Dr. Justin Lehmiller
Founder & Owner of Sex and Psychology

Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He runs the Sex and Psychology blog and podcast and is author of the popular book Tell Me What You Want. Dr. Lehmiller is an award-winning educator, and a prolific researcher who has published more than 50 academic works.

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