Thursday, September 9, 2010

Gender: You Want to Study What?

If you're interested in studying human sexuality then maybe... just maybe... you should look at what graduate students are up to. Not yet full time professionals in the field but definitely well ahead of mere amateurs when it comes to looking in to the mysteries of how we all act. In fact if you want to know what interesting (or boring) things a field may lead you to research then reading what grad students are up to may be your best bet.

I got thinking this way when I stumbled across an article about some research on how women's sexual activities (or their "reproduction expediting") changed as their biological clocks started ticking louder. The title of a summary article says it all: Ticking Biological Clock = More Casual Sex.

This may seem to be an obvious observation. If you think about it though it's a bit counter intuitive. If I asked you how women's level of sexual fantasies, the amount of thoughts of sexual activity, and the willingness to have casual sex and a one-night stand would change as women get older and closer to menopause... would you have thought they all increase? After all isn't lower fertility sort of linked to less sex?

Apparently not.

And don't go thinking that this effect is based on whether a woman has had children or not. The hypothesis behind the numbers seems to indicate that this trend occurs whether or not the woman has had children. So the biological clock doesn't seem to be turned off if a women has had kids. At least not in this case.

Let me explain how I went from an interesting article to the idea of looking at what grad students are studying. The article linked to the actual study (pdf). Now studies are most often behind pay walls on sites that take your money before you see more than the abstract. So I checked the link to the PDF and it's from the website of one of the authors, Judith Easton, who's a grad student at the University of Texas.

Now in case you don't think you should go and read some of the other papers she's co-authored or contributed to let me give you a sample of some of the titles.

  • Reproduction Expediting: Sexual Motivations, Fantasies, and the Ticking Biological Clock. Personality and Individual Differences
  • Morbid Jealousy and Sex Differences in Partner-Directed Violence
  • How Having Children Affects Mating Psychology
How about some details on her research interests?
  • Jealousy/Morbid Jealousy: [With two colleagues] I'm studying how men who suffer from erectile dysfunction may differ from normally functioning men in their expression of jealousy and associated pre-copulatory anti-cuckoldry tactics.
  • Female Short-Term Mating: Engaging in short-term mating seems to be not in the best reproductive interest of a woman, and yet it is clear that in fact women do use this mating strategy. Previous research has provided several reasons why mated women may engage in this risky behavior, but the reasons why non-mated women do so are less clear
Reading a few of the papers and looking around I've come to two conclusions. If you want to know what a field of study will get you involved in your best bet is to look at what grad students are doing.

And... I wish someone had told me what areas detailed psychological research can lead to.

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