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Sexpresso @ Kinsey Institute

Sex is part of life

Julia Heiman and Rimini B. Sazdanovska
Interview with Julia Heiman, director of the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction, USA.

“Let’s talk about sex!” - was the invitation most often asked by one of the founders of modern sexology, Alfred Kinsey, and his research team at the beginning of their conversations with 18,000 people during in depth, face-to-face interviews regarding one of the most niggling, most intriguing and most important topics in life – sexuality.  “Are you normal” was the most common response to his “indecent proposal”. 

When his cult books “Sexual Behavior in the Human Male” and “Sexual Behavior in the Human Female” were published in 1948 and 1953, “sex” was still a dirty word. Today, Kinsey’s name is a synonymous with the scientific research of sexuality. For that purpose there is no better place on Earth then the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction. For the past 60 years it has been a scientific paradise for sexologists, and at the same time it is confirmation that sometimes controversy can serve as catalyst for changes within society, as was the case with this Institute in the 50’s with American society. In its’ library you can find, among the thousands of books, magazines, audio and video materials, erotic pamphlets from one hundred years ago, as well as pioneer works in the area of sexology, scientific magazines, textbooks for sexual education, cartoons with erotic and sexual content... The art collection, using various media, shows human fascination of sex throughout history and cultures.
The current director of the Institute, Julia Heiman, successfully continues the tradition of it’s founder. She specializes in research of women’s sexuality and sexual health, with a focus on the exploration of mind/body questions such as how we can better understand sexuality as an emotion. Led by the motto “there are still a lot of things to be discovered”, her vision of the Kinsey Institute is simple: to expand and grow!
We used our participation at the 50th Conference of Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality in Indianapolis, USA as our means to make an official visit to the Kinsey Institute and to talk with Mrs Julia Heiman.

What are the current challenges for sexual research?

heiman juliaJulia Heiman: The challenge is to find a group of people with an idea, vision and goal, who will continue sexual research. It doesn’t necessarily need to be a big group, what is important is that there are representatives from different sections of society, the community, academia, the religious community, the medical community to support the values of the research that has to be done. There has to be more then one person that thinks it’s a good idea. Previously maybe that was possible, but now it is almost impossible.
The second thing is the supply of financial funds. It doesn’t have to be an enormous amount in order to start. People will participate in the research of sexuality if they know that it will really be useful to ordinary people. They want to know what happens, it is important that people have confidence in the researchers, the scientists. The research has to be adapted to each culture. The time is right for that. It can bring a fresh, new, and different vision about what a country can be.

How can the sexologists make a better image of sexology as a science? How can they instigate a more serious, and a more general acceptance of sexology?

Julia Heiman: It is the same everywhere, but maybe it is more stressed in the USA because here everything is oriented towards practicality, usefulness, industrialization, and oriented towards identifying results and outcomes. The benefit and value of sexology have to be demonstrated.
But, what I am astonished about is that some people are at the same position that Alfred Kinsey had to confront in the 50’s of last century. There are people who say that this knowledge is dangerous and that attitude is still a part of this culture. Sexual scientists are not widely accepted because they explore issues that become sensational news later on, and then the audience doesn’t know what to do with the information; to make jokes, to talk, to keep quiet...
Another reason is that there is not enough financial support for big scientific research, for critical studies that make people take a science seriously. Small, innovative studies are sweet and interesting, but they don’t make a science look serious. If you undertake really good research, but you demonstrate it using a  small sample within a narrow scientific climate, it is neither significant nor serious. It will be considered as something interesting, as entertainment… For example, the research of Kinsey was large and impressive. As well as the research of Master and Johnson, who examined over 6000 people in their laboratories. That is why I expect that the next impressive study will be a combination of a great idea, very good implementation and the involvement of a great sample population. Also, people are not very comfortable when the issue is sexology, even at a scientific level.

Sexpresso: What kind of sexual education is needed in the educational system?

Julia Heiman:
There should be sexual education, at least in the sense of taking care of ones own body, which automatically means taking care of the mind as well. To have good health is to have a good mood. The content of sexual education should be adapted to age, culture and country. There is a need for comprehensive sexual education. But there has to be respect, evaluation of the body, one has to know what happens with his/her body, to care. Because, if one doesn’t know this, then one can hate parts of his/her body, won’t take care of them and then it is not just a problem of that person, but also for the people with which that person interacts, and with the society, because one becomes dependent of the society.

Sexpresso: What is your message to people about their approach to sexuality?

Rimini B. Sazdanovska, Julia Heiman, Rosano ColakovJulia Heiman:
Kinsey said: Sex is part of life. It is our responsibility as human beings to take care of sex, to take care of the outcomes of sex, to take care of ourselves, of the people that we interact with, and of future generations. Sex is important, also partly because it is reproductive. It stimulates many things in people - some are very destructive, and some very constructive. Let’s be aware of that and let’s talk about it.
People should lead an intelligent life concerning their relationships and partnerships. This is something that must be respected everywhere in the world, in all cultures. People should be offered good, comprehensive, scientific information and methodologies, and they should have the right to choose, because education is knowledge. If you try to repress knowledge, you repress power, options and choices. Every time knowledge is repressed it is a failure; failure for people because they become sick, hurt, and in some way that is a failure for the whole of society.