University students convened in the Michigan League this week to talk about sex.
Sexpertise, a three-day event centered on sexual health, comprised 11 information sessions, including “Quickies: Short Talks on LGBTQ Health Disparities” to “Pleasure, Positions & Partners.”
The event, which ran Tuesday through Thursday, was sponsored by the University Health Service and included involvement from PULSE, Sexperteam and Body-Peace Corps, all student organizations participating in UHS’s Wolverine Wellness Initiative.
In the session “Sex Under the Microscope: A Primer in Sexuality Research,” Rackham student Katherine Goldey, who is a psychology graduate student instructor, presented on the field of sex research.
Goldey said there were many misconceptions in the media about what it means to research sex. She emphasized the importance of reading scientific literature in addition to what the media reports about it.
Presenters discussed several methods of study, including the measurement of salivary hormones and other physiological traits, such as brain imaging and thermography, as well as self-reporting methods such as interviews and questionnaires.
Goldey said research about sex is not just about studying biology, but also culture, which creates an “interesting mesh.”
Speaking specifically about her work, Goldey said her research has found that testosterone levels correlate with pleasure during sexual activity in women.
She added that for women, a scope of activities — from cuddling, sexual activity, exercise and thought — could all increase testosterone levels.
“What we’re thinking about can actually affect our hormones,” Goldey said.
Along with sex research, the conference touched on social norms surrounding sexuality. In a session titled “Undoing a Culture of Violence,” Chinyere Neale, School of Public Health program manager, emphasized the existence and culture of violence against women, the importance of an open dialogue and a need to define masculinity more broadly.
“What will we have to change?” she asked the audience, referencing the recent media attention on sexual assault on college campuses.
The U.S. Department of Education is currently investigating the University’s handling of allegations of sexual misconduct. The University is one of over 50 higher education institutions under investigation.
Neale stressed the importance of listening to people who say they have been assaulted. She encouraged talking to friends about the culture of sexual violence.
Touching on pop culture surrounding sex in the United States, Neale said it sometimes conveys negative messages and requires a critical analysis. In particular, she referenced the 2013 Robin Thicke song “Blurred Lines”, which drew controversy worldwide over concerns about its portrayal of consent.
“We live in a marketing world,” Neale said. “And so we need to be aware of that. And when our friends don’t seem to be aware of that, just point it out. You don’t have to hit them over the head or call them stupid. You can just say, ‘Wow, what were they talking about in that song? Do they realize what they’re promoting?’ ”
Nursing junior Emily Matus said she appreciated the way Neale approached the topic.
“It’s useful to frame the conversation in the way that she framed it in terms of how do we change the way we socialize young people — instead of how do we deal with the consequences of how we socialize young people,” she said.
Sexpertise also explored the ways in which sex is connected to today’s technology.
José Bauermeister, an assistant professor in health behavior and health education who led the session, named the phenomenon “Mobile Love.” He said the definitions of what it means to date and hook up are changing with technology.
“(There is a) Mr. Right and Mr. Right Now, and a conflation between the two,” he said.
He added that a big part of what it means to date now is hooking up. However, while it was previously thought that dating sites and applications were just for transient hook-ups, he said research has found that people do still make friends and form lasting romantic relationships through technology.
Though there are risks with both offline and online dating, he said technology itself is not bad.
“My phone doesn’t give me HIV,” he said.
To get a broader perspective on mobile-modern love lives, he emphasized thinking about what the technology is used for, when it is used and with whom.