Sex Ed

Sex News Roundup: What’s Going on In Sex Research Today?

August 28, 2020 by Justin Lehmiller

What’s going on in the world of sex and relationship research right now? Here’s a brief recap of the latest and greatest happenings. In this edition, we’ll review a new study looking at how asexual people define sex—and why many of them have sex despite lacking desire for it. We’ll also explore some fascinating research looking at why identical twins sometimes have different sexual orientations, and we’ll learn from a prominent sex researcher about how she got into the field and what she’s working on right now.

How asexuals define sex—and when and why they sometimes have sex

A recent study published in the Journal of Sex Research sought to better understand what “sex” means to people with ace identities, such as those who identify as asexual, graysexual, or demisexual. Researchers surveyed over 1,000 adults with identities on the ace spectrum and asked them to report on a variety of sexual behaviors that they personally counted as “having sex.” They were also asked to report which of these behaviors they had previously engaged in, the ones they would be open to engaging in, and the reasons why they would or wouldn’t engage in those behaviors in the future.

What they found was that most asexuals (>70%) counted any and all behaviors that involved genital contact as “sex,” which is interesting in light of how research on sexual people define it—most sexual folks adopt more narrow definitions, with only vaginal or anal intercourse counting as sex.

Most asexuals also reported having engaged in sex before, yet most said they weren’t interested in doing it again in the future. However, many—and especially those who identified as demisexual, which involves only feeling sexual attraction to someone with whom they have an emotional bond—said they were open to having sex in the future if they felt an emotional connection or a desire to please a partner.

To learn more about this study and some of the other key findings from it, check out the full report I wrote over on The Kinsey Institute Research Blog.

Why do some identical twins have different sexual orientations?

In recent years, a lot of research has pointed to genetic factors in the development of sexual orientation. On the basis of this work, it would be tempting to assume that two people who share 100% of the same genes would necessarily have the same orientation. However, many documented instances exist in which identical twins have different sexualities (e.g., one might identify as gay or bisexual while the other identifies as heterosexual).

So why is that? It may be because the key to understanding the origins of sexual orientation isn’t genetics—maybe it’s epigenetics. The basic idea behind epigenetics is that our genes interact with the environment in ways that can turn certain genes on or off. So, for example, if twins were developing in utero but experienced differences in prenatal hormone exposure (which is theoretically possible), that could potentially affect the development of sexual orientation later on.

A recent study supports this idea. To learn more about it, check out this article I wrote on The Kinsey Institute Research Blog.

Interview with the sex researcher: Dr. Nicole Prause

What is a day in the life of a sex researcher like? I spoke to Dr. Nicole Prause to find out—and, as you’ll see in this interview I conducted with her for The Kinsey Institute, she’s pretty busy! Nicole is a sexual psychophysiologist and neuroscientist who founded the independent research institute Liberos. She has an extensive body of research that addresses topics including orgasm, pornography use, penis size preferences, and more.

Read the full transcript of our interview here, where we discuss her professional journey, what she’s working on in the lab right now, what people tend to get wrong about porn, the concept of “porn addiction,” and what she sees as the biggest myths and misconceptions about sex.

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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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