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188 Best Human Sexuality Research Topics For Your Assignment

human sexuality topics

The key to writing a great research project is coming up with a great idea that is original and interesting to both yourself and the reading audience. Professors are always looking to find projects that thoroughly answer questions with evidence-based facts and examples in support of a well-thought thesis argument.

In the field of human sexuality, it is very important to brainstorm several interesting topics for a research project at any level (i.e., high school through graduate school). Our expert writers have put together this list of human sexuality research topics that may provide you with some inspiration to build a great project for a high school, college, or graduate assignment.

What Is Human Sexuality?

The subject of human sexuality is a broad term that is best defined as the way people express themselves and experience sexuality, including biological, erotic, physical, emotional, social and spiritual behaviors and feelings.

The subject has had varied and historical contexts over time, and because there are so many directions one takes in researching and writing an assignment in this subject, you should do your due diligence in exploring several options before starting on a project.

How to Choose Research Topics on Human Sexuality?

Here are five simple steps to follow when selecting a topic in this area of study. If you get started early (within a day or two of receiving the assignment prompt) you should have no trouble narrowing your options to one or two related ideas that you can build upon:

  • Brainstorm 4 – 5 Research Ideas: The easiest step in the process is brainstorming. You can write a list of ideas taken from class lectures, assigned readings, interesting articles from journals, or the internet. Your goal should be to write on something in which you learn something new by pushing the envelope.
  • Select a Manageable Research Topic: Choose a broad subject and extract a few ideas and formulate a few questions you would like to explore. This will help you bring your topic down to earth so that you aren’t overwhelmed by having to write a comprehensive paper on the entire scope of human sexuality.
  • Narrow the Focus of Your Topic: You need to take your broad idea and make it more specific. Even if you find yourself changing your mind, you will be getting closer to a topic that is worth the effort you will put into completing the assignment.
  • Define Your Topic as a Question: Once you have focused your topic on something clear and concise, it would be helpful to define your idea into a specific research question that will put your paper into context and that will guide you when crafting your thesis statement.
  • Conduct Background Research: At this point, you should a great idea of the content you will need to search for to craft your research paper. Spend a few hours searching the web for background information. Start building an outline and keep detailed lists of in-depth academic research you will need to do.

Human Sexuality Research Paper Topics For High School Students

Many high school students are just developing their researching and writing skills. Research projects at this level are usually 5 pages long and require about two weeks to complete. The following ideas are manageable and appropriate for this level:

  • How do bad habits impact healthy sexuality in teenagers?
  • How do sex laws in the U.S. affect how people view sexuality?
  • How do biochemistry and medication affect sexual behaviors in adults?
  • Should society promote greater awareness of the importance of good sexual health?
  • How do teenage bisexuals internalize their feelings as it relates to sexual stigmas?
  • What are some of the physical changes that contribute to reduced sexual desire in men?
  • How can one better understand human sexuality through the lifecycle?
  • How to safely navigate the hookup culture among millennials?
  • What are the negative effects of sexting in young adults?
  • What do young people know about gender identification?
  • At what age should students learn about human sexuality?
  • How have sexual behaviors changed in young adults in the 21st century?
  • How to deal with the social stigma that comes with identifying as LGBTQ?
  • How can therapy help in situations where a partner has indulged in extramarital sex?
  • What are some of the physical changes that contribute to reduced sexual desire in women?
  • What are some of the biggest concerns young people have about gender?
  • Has the majority of society accepted same-sex marriages?
  • How do young people view consensual and non-consensual sexual experiences?
  • How are the sex lives negatively impacted by couples going through midlife crises?
  • Why is there a stigma for being sexually inexperienced before turning 18?
  • Are schools adequately providing enough education about human sexuality?
  • What impact has the internet had on sexual behaviors in young adults?
  • How important are sexual stimuli in creating sexual responses among married couples?
  • What are the major milestones males will experience in their lifespan?
  • How has human sexuality evolved over the generations?
  • Are sex educators adequately prepared to instruct today’s youth?
  • How does healthy and happiness affect the way teenagers feel about their sexuality?
  • How prevalent is extramarital sex in couples between the ages of 30 and 40?
  • What role do parents play in explaining human sexuality to their children?
  • What are the major milestones females will experience in their lifespan?
  • What role does religion play in the way people perceive human sexuality?
  • What are the most common questions young people have about sexual orientation?

Human Sexuality Psychology Research Paper Topics For College Students

These human sexuality topics for a research paper are more difficult than the ones listed above. At the college level, most students will write 1 or 2 research papers per semester (a midterm and a final) and will require about a month to complete. Here are some great ideas to consider:

  • How do psychological interpretations impact how young people view sexuality?
  • What are the psychological changes towards sexuality that occur with age?
  • In what ways does a person’s environment affect human sexuality?
  • What are the most common psychological dimensions in sexual behavioral health?
  • What are some of the biggest factors that cause reduced sexual desire in men?
  • Can marriages remain healthy despite sexual inactivity for prolonged periods?
  • How are sexual behavior patterns different in men and women?
  • How does the desire for being a parent influence sexual behavior in adults?
  • How do sexual images affect attention bias and recognition?
  • How have historical investigations on sexuality influenced modern perceptions of sex?
  • What are some mental health issues that influence sexual violence in adults?
  • What effects do anti-depressants have on sexual behaviors?
  • How do sexual practices in people affect behavioral changes?
  • How does the loss of a partner influence change in sexual desire in males and females?
  • What are the best or most effective treatments for sex addicts?
  • How do married couples and non-married couples view sexuality differently?
  • What are some of the biggest factors that cause reduced sexual desire in women?
  • How does infidelity impact human sexuality in married couples?
  • How has the definition of human sexuality changed over the last century?
  • How has the way we define sex addiction changed in the 21st century?
  • How do psychological needs influence sexual behaviors in young adults?
  • How can people overcome destructive sexual behaviors?
  • How are common and alternative sexual behaviors different across age groups?
  • How does infertility affect sexual desire in adults?
  • What impact does the media have on the way people perceive sexuality?
  • How do different typologies of adherence influence sexual satisfaction?
  • How do people become addicted to sex?
  • What impact have psychologists had in advancing the study of human sexuality?
  • Should psychological assessments be mandatory before sentencing sexual offenders?
  • What are the biggest social prohibitions against human sexuality?
  • What role do gender definitions have on a child’s understanding of sexuality?
  • What are the psychological dimensions of human sexual health and behaviors?

Good Human Sexuality Research Topics For Graduate School Students

Graduate research projects are significantly harder and often become a starting point for future studies if students wish to pursue a degree that incorporates human sexuality. These ideas require a lot of research, so students need to get started on these projects as early as possible:

  • How does school-based education on condom use influence sexual behaviors?
  • What effect does alcohol and/or drug use have on human sexuality?
  • What is the correlation between condom use and erection problems in young men?
  • Should comprehensive sex education be mandatory in all U.S. public schools?
  • What has sexual behavior increased among adolescents in the U.S.?
  • How has human sexuality been depicted in major art pieces of the 20th century?
  • What impact has the feminist movement had on our perceptions of human sexuality?
  • Should we learn more about the rise of sexuality among children in modern society?
  • What are the major characteristics of people that identify as asexual?
  • What can neurobiology tell us about sexual behaviors in adults?
  • Should sexual education classes encourage abstinence more than they do now?
  • How did England’s Victorian society control female sexuality?
  • Has modern technology caused virginity to lose its sense of virtue among young people?
  • How have birth control policies changed in the U.S. over the last 50 years?
  • Is abstinence-only sex education a great tactic to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies?
  • How important is sex education in public and private schools?
  • How did ancient societies view human sexuality differently than we do today?
  • In what ways does gender sexuality matter as it relates to human rights?
  • What do people in the military forces feel about human sexuality perceptions?
  • How is sexual orientation depicted in the Bible?
  • How can we use sex education to help promote sexual violence?
  • What are the perceived sexual and emotional satisfaction across different contexts?
  • How do people of different ethnic groups perceive human sexual experiences differently?
  • How do people view flirting and seduction differently in the U.S. versus the U.K.?
  • What do understand about gender identification among children?
  • How are sex education school policies different across the United States?
  • How can parents handle child sexuality choices without discouraging personal choices?
  • What role should politics play in determining sexual behavior in people?
  • What are the implications for how women define their experiences with rape?
  • How should high school teachers orient young people about sexual orientation?
  • How can we effectively measure sexual inhibition and excitation proneness in men?
  • How does cultural background affect the way people view human sexuality?

Current Human Sexuality Popular Topics Of Research For Any Level

A great way to capture your reading audience’s attention is to connect with them by writing about something current. You can turn to the web or recently published journals to find what others are currently discussing in the field of human sexuality. Choose something you find interesting from the list below or customize an idea to suit your needs more adequately:

  • What can we learn from examining the validity of compulsive sexual behavior?
  • Is the romantic kiss a near-human universal in expressing sexuality?
  • Why has compulsive sexual behavior increased in adults in the last decade?
  • Has television had too much of a negative impact on the way teenagers view human sexuality?
  • How have sexual behaviors among single parents of young children changed in the U.K.?
  • Would television censorship decrease sexual activity among teenagers?
  • In what ways has the pandemic limited safe access to sexual health services?
  • Why do young people continue to put themselves at risk of contracting an STD?
  • Do young people find it important to express how they identify sexually?
  • How influential are the early human sexuality studies of the 19th century to today’s research?
  • How are teenagers expressing sexuality differently now than a decade ago?
  • How do people perceive PDA differently today than 20 years ago?
  • Does access to better health services improve sexual health among teenagers?
  • What are the best techniques for teaching sexuality to teenagers?
  • Why are adult men attracted to adolescent girls?
  • In what ways should researchers reshape sexual studies for the 21st century?
  • What are some of the biggest sexual taboos around the world?
  • How can we shorten the gap in sexual understanding between parents and teens?
  • How does the LGBTQ community view virginity differently than the hetero community?
  • How can technology be used to better understand human sexuality?
  • How is gender expression in same-sex relationships different than in other relationships?
  • Are teenagers being sexualized on television and what impact does this have?
  • What can we learn about sexual needs during the Covid-19 pandemic?
  • What are some of the factors that affect sexuality in older women?
  • What factors affect a woman’s sexual arousal in the workplace?
  • What does it mean to “experiment sexually” in today’s society?
  • What does it mean to be positive about one’s sexual behaviors?
  • What are the major factors that affect sexuality in men over 50?
  • What are today’s biggest myths about human sexuality?
  • What impact has Covid-19 had on sexual health?
  • How does the media influence compulsive sexual behavior among teens?
  • What are the negative effects of engaging in cybersex?

Current Human Sexuality Research Topics In Psychology

There are a lot of topics in human sexuality for research you can find by watching the news, reading newspaper, journal, and magazine articles, and checking the web. The latest topics have a lot of information readily available on the web, but you must be sure the information you use in your research paper comes from reputable and trustworthy sources:

  • How effective has sex therapy been in treating people who find no pleasure in intercourse?
  • How has the stigma of having multiple partners led to low self-esteem in adults?
  • How does an abusive childhood affect sexual health as an adult?
  • In what ways have people changed their perceptions about having a healthy sex life?
  • What does it mean to have a healthy sex life in the 21st century?
  • How have advancements in sex therapy methods helped mental health?
  • What are some stereotypes that affect the way people view their sexual orientation?
  • Can pornography be used to help stimulate sexual desire in married couples?
  • What do we know about the influences sex predators have that cause them to behave in certain ways?
  • What influence do the fears of contracting an STD have on sexual orientation?
  • What do we know about human sexuality that can be used to prevent sexual predators from acting on their desires?
  • How much influence do parents have on their children’s sexual orientations?
  • How is sexual attraction affected by psychological characteristics developed at an early age?
  • How much influence did Sigmund Freud have on today’s study of human sexuality?
  • What effects can sexual play during childhood have on mental development?
  • What are some anomalies of reproductive organs that affect self-confidence?
  • What significance does sexual health have in determining a person’s mental health?
  • How does mental health affect the way a person approaches sexual relationships?
  • What are some factors that contribute to instances of pedophilia?
  • What are the biggest psychological issues related to human sexuality?
  • How does race affect how people view human sexuality?
  • How has the fluidity of sexual orientation changed in the last half-century?
  • How do covert rendezvous help stimulate sexual experiences?
  • How has collaborative pornography viewing impacted the quality of relationships?
  • What are the biggest links between sexual behaviors and violent behaviors?
  • Can sexual therapy have a positive effect on sexual predators?
  • How is the sexual psychology of women different from that of men?
  • What is the safest way to talk to our children about pornography?
  • How do rape victims cope with the stigma that comes from revealing clothing?
  • Is there such a thing as too much porn for our sexual health?
  • What can victims of child sexual abuse suffer from mentally as adults?
  • What is the psychological impact of traveling long distances for sex?

Hot Research Topics In Human Sexuality For A Large Project

Sometimes you will find hot topics being discussed everywhere you go. These can stem from a social or legal issue that you hear about in the news and that has drawn a lot of attention. Here are some ideas our experts have found that are currently being discussed:

  • How do personal finances influence people’s use of internet dating sites?
  • What does it mean to have sex in the 21st century?
  • How common is infidelity in the United Kingdom versus the United States?
  • What are the challenges in having a healthy sex life after a serious physical injury?
  • What is the difference between love and sexual attraction?
  • What is the best way to keep their children safe from sexual abuse?
  • What are the similarities and differences in courtship practices across cultures?
  • Is it ethical to prevent underage marriages in sovereign nations?
  • What does it mean to be sexually “normal” in today’s society?
  • What are the major stereotypes associated with aging and sexual health?
  • How effective are HIV awareness campaigns that target women in the U.S.?
  • How has literature changed in the way it expresses human sexual behavior?
  • What challenges do women face when identifying nonconsensual sexual experiences?
  • Should same-sex couples be given the same adoption rights as mixed-sex couples?
  • How do people perceive sex workers in terms of sexual and mental health?
  • Is there a link between pornography consumption and violence during sex?
  • How has communication changed to express sexual desires more accurately?
  • Do people with multiple partners have more satisfactory sexual lives?
  • What are the similarities and differences between same-sex and mixed-sex couples?
  • Should teenagers turn to the internet to find answers to question about sexuality?
  • How can we best protect LGBTQ workers against discrimination?
  • What does it mean to consent to sex legally in the U.S.?
  • What do we know about the anatomies of male and female orgasms?
  • Are male and female-specific gender roles nearing an end?
  • What influence does pregnancy have on a woman’s sexual desires?
  • What do the latest advancements in female sexuality research say?
  • What factors impact the way people develop attitudes toward asexuality?
  • How can we prevent unwanted teenage pregnancy in third-world countries?

For more professional assistance coming up with topics on this subject or assistance reviewing, editing, or writing a research assignment, contact our online college assignment help service for fast high-quality support. We make the process of creating exceptional assignments that earn the highest scores easy. We are not like the other cheap services you will find on the web; we guarantee our  sociology homework help and work is written from scratch by one of our certified academic writers, so you can be sure to find the academic success you deserve.

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5 studies that offer fascinating conclusions about human sexuality

Christopher Ryan: Are we designed to be sexual omnivores?

“My hope is that a more accurate updated understanding of human sexuality will lead us to have greater tolerance for ourselves, for each other, greater respect for unconventional relationship configurations like same-sex marriage or polyamorous unions, and that we’ll finally put to rest the idea that men have some innate instinctive right to monitor and control women’s sexual behavior,” Ryan says . “And we’ll see that it’s not only gay people that have to come out of the closet: we all have closets we have to come out of.”

Below, read up on some more lines of research that suggest out-of-the-box ideas about our sexuality.

  • Question: Is bisexuality a sexual orientation, something that’s temporary or an outgrowth of the sexual fluidity we all exhibit? . Research: In a 2008 study , Lisa M. Diamond of the University of Utah presented the results of a decade-long assessment of nearly 70 women who identified as lesbian, bisexual, or sexually unlabelable. Five times over the course of the study, the women detailed their sexual identities, attractions, behaviors, and their social and familial relationships. . Results: Based on Diamond’s findings, bisexuality is not a “transitional stage that women adopt ‘on the way’ to lesbian identification” or an “experimental phase” for heterosexuals. Her results, instead, supported that, “Bisexuality may best be interpreted as a stable pattern of attraction to both sexes in which the specific balance of same-sex to other-sex desires necessarily varies according to interpersonal and situational factors,” she writes. .
  • Question: Which comes first—desire or arousal? . Research: In a study from 2004, described in this New York Times article , Ellen Laan, Stephanie Both and Mark Spiering of the University of Amsterdam examined participants’ physical responses to sexual images. . Results: The research indicates that we respond physically to highly sexual visuals before our mind even engages with them. In other words, desire doesn’t precede arousal—it’s the other way around. And we aren’t even aware it’s happening. .
  • Question: Do men and women respond differently to sexual images? . Research: The same New York Times article describes an Emory University study that tracked participants’ eye movements and brain activity while they looked at sexually explicit photos. . Results: Men and women didn’t have the same reactions, but they might not be the ones you’d expect. Men looked at the faces in the photographs much more than women did, and everyone quickly flipped past close-ups of genitalia. Brain activity was gender-dependent: in particular, men had a lot more activity in the amygdala than women did. .
  • Question: Does geography influence the body types we idealize and are attracted to? . Research: There’s a lot written about the effects of culture and media on the bodily standards we uphold. But the International Body Project , a survey of 7,434 people worldwide, aimed to investigate whether there were more base-level factors motivating our ideal body types, too. . Results: The researchers found that places with low socioeconomic status tended to value heavier female body types, while places with high socioeconomic status tended to favor thinner bodies—possibly because body fat acts as an indicator of status when resources are scarce. And the effect of media shouldn’t be underestimated: “Our results show that body dissatisfaction and desire for thinness is commonplace in high-SES settings across world regions, highlighting the need for international attention to this problem,” the researchers write. .
  • Question: Do men and women have different sex drives? . Research: A recent New York Times Magazine article describes a University of Wisconsin, Madison “ meta-analysis ” of more than 800 studies of our sexual habits conducted over 15 years. . Results: The researchers found that “the evidence for an inborn disparity in sexual motivation is debatable,” the Times Magazine piece reports. The study “suggests that the very statistics evolutionary psychologists use to prove innate difference — like number of sexual partners or rates of masturbation — are heavily influenced by culture. All scientists really know is that the disparity in desire exists, at least after a relationship has lasted a while.” Women’s desire does decrease, but not as a matter of course—as a result of monogamy in particular.

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Editorial: psychological dimensions in human sexual health and behavior.

\nFilippo Maria Nimbi

  • 1 Department of Dynamic, Clinical and Health Psychology, Sapienza University of Rome, Rome, Italy
  • 2 Institute for Sex Research, Sexual Medicine, and Forensic Psychiatry, University Medical Centre Hamburg-Eppendorf, Hamburg, Germany
  • 3 Department of Psychiatry, Faculty of Medicine, University of São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil
  • 4 CPUP: Center for Psychology of Porto University, Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences, Porto University, Porto, Portugal

Editorial on the Research Topic Psychological Dimensions in Human Sexual Health and Behavior

Human sexuality is still an underexplored world, subjected to great taboos and controversies over the decades, representing one of the most challenging areas of research and facing countless political and social demands. In this sense, leading organizations such as the World Health Organization ( WHO, 2014 ) and the World Association for Sexual Health ( WAS, 2014 ) have established sexual health and well-being as human rights and key goals to be achieved worldwide to improve the health-related quality of life. The new message that is being carried out by these entities, is that sexual health not only concerns reproductive issues, sexual problems, sexual violence, and sexually transmitted infections, but also positive aspects related to intimate relationships, pleasure, consenting sexual relationships, gender and sexual orientation variety, and sexual functioning among other aspects.

The current special issue on “Psychological Dimensions in Human Sexual Health and Behavior” represents an important step toward a broader biopsychosocial understanding of human sexuality ( Berry and Berry, 2013 ). After a major focus on organic factors underpinning sexual difficulties and behavior, researchers have recognized the need of targeting the psychological factors, and the interplaying role between organic, psychological, and social aspects affecting sexual health and well-being ( Assalian, 2013 ; Brotto et al., 2016 ).

The psychological dimensions are being considered as central elements in the international guidelines for clinical intervention in sexual difficulties and dysfunctions, sexual health promotion programs, and sexual education ( DeRogatis, 2008 ; Althof et al., 2012 ; Bitzer et al., 2013 ; Fugl-Meyer et al., 2013 ; Laan et al., 2013 ; McMahon et al., 2013 ; Mulhall et al., 2013 ; WHO, 2018 ). These psychological dimensions have been framed within conceptualizing models of human sexual response, often including cognitions, emotions, personality traits, psychopathology, socio-cultural, and relational variables influencing sexual functioning and behavior.

In this Research Topic, readers will find interesting and innovative contributes to the understanding of the role of some psychological components in peculiar aspects of sexuality such as cognitive processing and response to sexual stimuli, sexual satisfaction, and adherence to Sexual Double Standards (SDS), coming out in LGBTQI+ population, polyamory, sexual violence, and trauma.

Understanding the processing of sexual stimuli has become prominent in human sexuality research, since it may explain the arousal process and the cognitive mechanisms underlying the sexual response ( Huberman, 2021 ). Erotic processing seems to be very relevant in our brain. Novák et al. reported the absence/inconsistency of spatial attention bias to sexual images and suggested that sexual stimuli are prioritized in memory and cognitive processes compared to other stimuli. Moreover, literature has shown that cultural factors play a primary role in sexual stimuli processing ( Rupp and Wallen, 2008 ). Recognizing the need of including cultural relevance in imaging studies, Cui et al. validated and shared a sexual stimuli database, useful for further research in eastern Asian cultural settings, showing some interesting gender differences in sexual arousal, pleasantness, and sexual attractiveness ratings.

How adherence to gender roles may affect psychology in sexuality represent one of the main challenges in sex research. Álvarez-Muelas et al. showed that relationship satisfaction may be the main predictor of sexual satisfaction and vary according to gender and SDS adherence. These results suggest the urgency to investigate how people internalize attitudes toward the SDS in future studies.

The role of attitudes is also relevant when it comes to LGBTQI+ and Polyamory. For example, Rosati et al. extended the current knowledge on the role of coming out and minority stress experiences among different generations of LGBQ+ people. On average, older adults became self-aware and disclose at a later age than younger men, they seem to be more Catholic and came out more frequently to their Catholic community, with reactions ranging from total acceptance to open rejection. Focusing on women, Baiocco et al. reported that lesbian women had their coming out to both their parents more often than bisexual ones, reporting lower levels of internalized sexual stigma and more positive attitudes toward lesbian/bisexual identity. These new studies contribute to our understanding of coming out peculiarities in varied forms of sexual and relational expressions. Moors et al. with their focus on polyamory, showed that a significant percentage of Americans desire to engage and/or has already engaged in polyamory. Few sociodemographic variables were related to this interest and given that relational intimacy is an important part of most people's lives, understanding the varied ways in which people cross in their intimacy is crucial for social, psychological, and sexological fields ( Vaughan et al., 2019 ).

A significant focus in this special issue has been given to sexual offenders and victims. This is still a relevant topic under different perspectives. International reports ( UNICEF, 2017 ; WHO, 2021 ) draw an alarming figure with respect to the rate of abuse in minors and adults, on the need to find more effective prevention strategies and programs to support victims, as well as the management and treatment of offenders. In this context, Barroso et al. focus on specific kind of abuse such as the study on sexting in adolescence in terms of emotional and behavioral problems, potential markers of psychopathy, childhood trauma and maltreatment, and different forms of aggression. The criminal responsibility of sexual offenders with paraphilic disorders is also a current challenge. Dobbrunz et al. presented an assessment following a two-stage method for the severity of a paraphilic disorder and the criteria for/against diminished capacity according to the German legal system, giving ground to an empirically based assessment of criminal responsibility.

From the victims' side, the psychological factors that may improve/worsen the outcome of traumatic conditions such as child sexual abuse are of extreme interest to offer tailored support weighting to the individual resources/weaknesses ( Daigneault et al., 2007 ). Ensink et al. stress the attention on the possible interaction between sexual abuse history and attachment security, showing that sexually abused children with insecure attachment seem to be more at risk for post-traumatic symptoms. Also, in later stages of life, sexual traumas can have profound consequences on quality of life and sexual relationships. Almås and Pirelli Benestad give specific directions for psychological treatments integrating different clinical approaches, highlighting how traumatized people need particular attention to safety, respect, and acceptance.

The journey to understand sexuality is still long and tortuous, but this special issue represents a small significant step in this direction. Enjoy the reading.

Author Contributions

FMN wrote the first draft of the manuscript. All authors have reviewed, discussed and accept the final version.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

Publisher's Note

All claims expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of their affiliated organizations, or those of the publisher, the editors and the reviewers. Any product that may be evaluated in this article, or claim that may be made by its manufacturer, is not guaranteed or endorsed by the publisher.

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Brotto, L., Atallah, S., Johnson-Agbakwu, C., Rosenbaum, T., Abdo, C., Byers, E. S., et al. (2016). Psychological and interpersonal dimensions of sexual function and dysfunction. J. Sex. Med. 13, 538–571. doi: 10.1016/j.jsxm.2016.01.019

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Keywords: sexuality, psychological, psychology, sexual health, clinical psychosexology

Citation: Nimbi FM, Briken P, Abdo CHN and Carvalho J (2021) Editorial: Psychological Dimensions in Human Sexual Health and Behavior. Front. Psychol. 12:739708. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.739708

Received: 11 July 2021; Accepted: 27 July 2021; Published: 25 August 2021.

Edited and reviewed by: Emily K. Sandoz , University of Louisiana at Lafayette, United States

Copyright © 2021 Nimbi, Briken, Abdo and Carvalho. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY) . The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

*Correspondence: Filippo Maria Nimbi, filipponimbi@hotmail.it

Disclaimer: All claims expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of their affiliated organizations, or those of the publisher, the editors and the reviewers. Any product that may be evaluated in this article or claim that may be made by its manufacturer is not guaranteed or endorsed by the publisher.

research paper topics on human sexuality

  • From Our Archives
  • Sexuality & Gender Studies Now

Trends and Directions in Sexuality Research at the Start of the Twenty-First Century

To complement our “ Sexuality & Gender Studies Now ” series, we revisit this 2000 report by Diane di Mauro , then program director of the SSRC’s Sexuality Research Fellowship Program. Di Mauro summarizes the history of sexuality research in the United States and then explores how sexuality and gender research can address emerging (and still relevant) themes beyond their framing as “health” issues and in ways that engage the public and policymakers.

Sexuality researchers in the United States were not always, as one observer put it, refugees from the social sciences. At one time research in this area was almost lavishly funded. In 1921, the paucity of scientific knowledge about human sexual behavior led the National Research Council to form the Committee for Research in Problems in Sex, supported by the Rockefeller Foundation. Between 1922 and 1947, the Committee received approximately $1.5 million for the “scientific study of sexuality as a biological phenomenon distinct from the limited study of human social problems of a sexual nature.” More than $1 million was also provided in direct financing to five universities for sex research projects approved by the committee. Efforts supported during this period ranged from studies of hormones and the biology of sex to the pioneering social research of Alfred Kinsey and his collaborators. Following the controversy that erupted after the publication of the Kinsey studies in the late 1940s and early 1950s, funding of research that utilized national samples and focused directly on sexuality decreased steadily, culminating in the rejection of two largescale sexuality studies by the federal government in the early 1990s.

The lack of support for this work within the disciplines in the wake of the Kinsey uproar has had significant effects. As a cohesive field of inquiry and investigation, sexuality research has remained largely underdeveloped. Sexuality researchers have often found themselves isolated within their respective disciplines, and their work has typically been viewed as illegitimate, unimportant, or invisible, only coming to public attention during periods of controversy. Nor has there been any coordinating mechanism in the social sciences to provide financial, logistical, or political support to professionals conducting sexuality research. For generations of researchers, this situation has created enormous disincentives for entering the field. The fact that sexuality research is relevant to a variety of disciplines but prominent in none is evidenced by the lack of comprehensive, specialized training, peer support, and professional recognition for those conducting research in this area.

Nevertheless, some current developments within the field of sexuality research offer significant promise for field development. Research in family planning has in recent years moved beyond contraceptive issues to larger developmental and life-course concerns relating to sexual and reproductive health. A substantial body of research on adolescent sexuality from the 1950s to the 1990s has been accumulated in a variety of disciplines, although with little efforts to integrate these findings into policy formation.

Since the advent of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in the 1980s, most of the information about sexuality has been extrapolated from research on the transmission and prevention of the HIV virus. As a result of the epidemic, numerous high-quality research programs relevant to sexuality have been undertaken by well-recognized researchers representing a variety of disciplines including epidemiology, sociology, psychology, and medical anthropology. Several of these programs in the 1990s developed a strong interdisciplinary orientation. Such programs, both domestic and international, have included: the design, implementation, and evaluation of programs of sexual behavior change; sexuality surveys at the local and national level; HIV/AIDS prevention in various populations and fieldwork studies of sexual patterns in afflicted groups.

The field of sex therapy grew rapidly after the introduction of behavioral therapeutic approaches by Masters and Johnson and others during the 1960s and 1970s. While usually conducted by clinically-trained psychologists, social workers, and others, sexual therapy for individuals and couples has increased considerably, yet often without adequate moorings in scientific research and evaluation of treatment modalities. More recently, cognitive behavioral techniques have been applied to the treatment of sexual dysfunctions, and there have been concomitant advances in the study of physiological measures of sexual functioning and in the understanding of sexual problems, especially in those areas of hormonal development in humans and lower animals. At the same time, the field of sex therapy has become somewhat isolated from other areas in sexuality research, with little impact upon the implications of clinical work for other areas of research (e.g., experimental, developmental, survey).

Scientific advances in the treatment of intersex patients have led to a greater understanding of psychosexual differentiation through an integration of psychological, endocrinal, and genetic contributions. Clinical research in this area has led to basic behavioral studies of the formation of gender identify over the life course. Spontaneous errors of sexual differentiation in patient populations have exemplified the interplay among chromosomes, hormones, body build, sex of assignment, and a list of factors involved in the social process of childrearing. Meanwhile, the social and cultural conditions of sexual and gender development, including the rise of transgender identities, has precipitated an increased attention to the “social construction” of sexuality in the social sciences.

Over the past two decades, the second wave of the feminist movement and the gay and lesbian movement have shifted and transformed research models of and cultural thinking about issues of gender and sexuality, both in and out of the academy. Women’s studies programs have influenced conceptions of gender and sexuality within the more traditional disciplines and have increased research interest in many areas, including sexual rights/discrimination, sexual violence/harassment, and commercial sex work. Scholars in the gay and lesbian movement have influenced both gay and lesbian studies programs and the traditional disciplines by encouraging work that identifies the complex relations among social movements, community structure, personal identity, and sexual practices in the United States and abroad. These influences have been particularly evident in the discipline of history, which has produced considerable new work on the history of sexuality.

Beyond disease prevention

Despite these developments, the primary driving force currently generating sexuality research remains a preventive health agenda that defines sexuality as a social problem and behavioral risk, as in HIV/AIDS or STD transmission or teen pregnancy. This definition typically translates to a disease prevention model of sexuality encompassing medically defined categories of analysis, epidemiological assessments, and/or pharmaceutical interventions. While there can be no doubt that behavioral research is needed to help prevent social problems and/or disease, the ramifications of a limited, preventive approach are significant. First, the research questions are focused primarily on identifying high-risk sexual behaviors and/or motivating behavioral change, and second, sexuality is often conceptualized solely within a negative and problematic context.

In moving beyond the disease prevention approach, a number of priority areas for further research investigation emerge. First, there needs to be a strong commitment to examining biological and social/cultural interactions that impact sexual life. Second, intrinsic factors such as hormonal influences and genetics should be studied in a social and cultural context that reflect the complexity of human sexuality. Third, the influence of cultural differences on sexuality and sexual functioning needs to be understood through careful descriptive and contextual research. In identifying priority areas, an essential question is: On sexuality research topics and issues should investigators and funders concentrate their resources and energies to both advance the field of human sexuality research and provide findings with potential application to society? An emerging list of needed areas of research include:

  • Sexuality, social inequality, and injustice is a pervasive theme underlying several needed lines of inquiry. Connected to this, what is the link between specific risk behaviors and social factors such as poverty and limited access to services that increase the rates of STDs and HIV transmission among specific ethnic groups. Some important questions here are: What impact do the social hierarchies reflecting class, race, gender, and sexual orientation have on sexuality and sexual functioning? What is the effect of being excluded from the “mainstream” community by any of those factors?
  • Aging and sexuality . The public health of a sexually active aging population is affected by both HIV and other STDs, but also by issues associated primarily with aging, such as: social norms and expectations; biopsychosexual developmental changes of maturation; stigma and discrimination; presence or absence of social and psychological support; loss of relationships and obstacles to forming new, perhaps same-sex, relationships; and retirement.
  • Sexuality of women . Given the recent emphasis of research on the sexuality of men in the wake of Viagra, investigations on female sexuality are needed to identify the interactions of biological factors (such as hormonal state) and psychosocial factors (such as power differentials and fear in negotiation of sexual interactions, stress, and/or positive or negative feelings about pregnancy) and their effect on women’s sexuality.
  • Relationships and the importance of the dyad (either romantic or parent-child). Given that the nature of “a couple” has changed over the last several decades, research is needed to understand these changing relationships, addressing such questions as: How is the couple viewed differently by each partner within the context of gender script theory? How do people form, maintain, and dissolve relationships? What is the romantic ideology involved? Is it the same for a same-sex relationship as for an opposite sex one? What are the contributions of gender differences to these issues? What impact do these factors, in turn, have on gender violence? A major barrier to the investigation of this type of relationship has been the absence of both appropriate methodologies with which to collect data from couples and statistical models to analyze quantitative data.
  • Adolescent relationships . Knowledge is particularly lacking about how adolescents go about forming partnerships, and how success in this regard can contribute to their feelings of competency. How do children conceptualize gender scripts and the development of relationships?
  • The impact of same-gender relationships warrants investigation, especially in light of recent changes in public policy, e.g., the recognition of civil unions of same-sex couples in Vermont. Here, the questions are: Will the legalization of such unions have a positive outcome on sexual and mental health? What impact will it have on opposite gender, i.e., heterosexual, couples that choose to forgo marriage in favor of other partnership or family structures? What effect will other social changes, such as the recent growth of the “out culture,” have in terms of personal self-esteem and self-efficacy, sexual behaviors, and the formation of new sexual scripts?
  • Norms . How and to what extent culturally-based religious and social norms influence a range of behaviors relating to sexuality over the life course would be an important line of inquiry, including sexual negotiation, gender roles and gender scripts, contraceptive use and HIV/STD protection, and same sex-behaviors and sexual identity.
  • Religious beliefs and prohibitions . The impact of religious beliefs and prohibitions on sexual behaviors and the role of religious communities and religious leaders in this regard is little understood. Considering that humans now mature sexually at an earlier age and marry later than in the past, and that marriages often end in divorce leading to another period of single adulthood, an important question is: What are the ramifications of religious prohibitions against premarital sexual intercourse that allow for no discussion of protection against sexually transmitted infections or unwanted pregnancy? What is their impact on policy in this regard?
  • Media, information technology, and sexuality . The advent and acceleration of communication technologies presents new research questions and challenges as the Internet becomes an increasingly significant conduit for “sex education” and the arena in which new relationships are initiated (either in actuality or in cyberspace). Research is needed to address the usefulness and impact of the media and of IT for information production and dissemination and its link to sexual socialization, behavior, and practices. Some important questions to address are: What is the role or responsibility of the media in promoting sexual health? What is the significance and importance of the internet as a new sexual conduit for men and for women? What is its significance for research design and implementation with the possibility of new methods of data collection and multisite studies?

The way in which sexuality is conceptualized has significant impact on the research undertaken, the funding available for its support and its links to advocacy, service provision, and public opinion; as well, it directs researchers to prioritize specific topics, approaches, and issues, prompting them to compete with other researchers for the small amount of funding available for work in this area.

Acceptance and legitimization of sexuality research and recognition of its potential contribution to public policy is affected by various factors including the political climate, public awareness, funding, and the participation of diverse professional organizations and networks. Currently, there remains considerable public misperception of sexuality researchers as flag bearers of the “sexual revolution,” and substantial work is needed, both within and outside of academic arenas, to promote the research and its potential impact as well as those who conduct it.

Some significant policy issues

Although the US public is generally uninformed about the value and contribution of sexuality research to discourse on important topics, there is a “silent and diffuse majority” that is receptive to information about human sexuality linked to the quality of life health status and promotion, relationships, and family well-being. Juxtaposed to this group are the relatively vocal extremists (an “intense minority,” e.g., the religious right) who have proven their skill at grassroots organization, lobbying, and interfacing with the media. Effectively able to shape public opinion, this group continues to promulgate via diverse channels that research questions about human sexuality should not be asked and that human sexuality is not a legitimate area of research inquiry, forcefully hindering support for this work.

In order to be effective communicators of their findings, researchers must tell a potentially complex story in a simple way. This is not a matter of “scaling down” research findings, but of waiting until the emerging picture is sufficiently mature to allow for the appropriate identification of a central message—a process useful to the academic and lay communities alike. Such simplicity can emphasize relevance, and in so doing, can be more compelling to the public consumer. Major tasks for researchers, then, are: to understand the social contexts within which various segments of the public interacts (e.g., religious, ethnic, cultural, and familial arenas), present compelling data to the public via diverse and customized dissemination activities, and be able to effectively address concerns raised during public discourse. Moreover, researchers need to incorporate the “concerns” of the public by making use of the data they produce in ways that the public can identify. Life or situational “stories” can have a significant effect in this regard, such as “case study” stories of couples or dyads that powerfully communicate important issues, in many instances much more effectively than current methods of dissemination based solely on reiterating statistical data.

While research dissemination of issues and data increasingly takes place in the context of community outreach and education through providers, service organizations, and advocacy groups, the media remains the most far-reaching and powerful means of public communication available to researchers—for the dissemination of their work, to convey credibility on sexuality research, to change public opinion and, ultimately, to affect public policy. And yet, this arena remains a woefully underused mechanism for most researchers who are typically trained not to engage in public discourse and shudder at the prospect of working with the mass media (knowing that the experience is often one in which they are unexpectedly “set up” in a false debate, misquoted in print, or rushed through radio or television interviews with loss of the crucial context of their messages).

The sexuality research field in the United States has not, and currently is not viewed, as an effective force in policy development and implementation, and an important factor in this regard is the lack of effective leadership in the field. Moreover, sexuality researchers have little participation in the political arena so visibly dominated by conservative organizations, effectively able to bring their ideological views, unsubstantiated by research, to bear on legislators or other policymakers. Yet the political arena can present positive opportunities of which the research community must take advantage. An example of this is the forthcoming Surgeon General’s report, Sexual Health and Responsible Sexual Behavior (January 2001), which provides a comprehensive definition both of individual sexual health and a sexually-healthy society, supports training for all professionals whose work relates to sexuality and a comprehensive sexuality research agenda and promotes research evaluation/ dissemination to practitioners, policymakers and educators. The planned, extensive distribution of this report to individuals and organizations at the community level nationwide will significantly encourage a more constructive public discourse about sexuality. Researchers should be ready to clarify and discuss the implications of the report, thus not only providing this essential public service but in so doing, publicly demonstrating the significance and relevance of the work.

In order to ensure the effective translation of research into applied work relevant to the general public, communities, NGOs, and individual practitioners, sexuality researchers must be able to play a more active role in the development and implementation of policy. The creation of both a national commission of research experts and a coalition of research and policy organizations would exert a much-needed leadership in that it could periodically issue data-based recommendations and/or executive summaries concerning sexuality research, education and funding, testify before legislative and other policymaking groups, and monitor media coverage of emerging policies. Policy training workshops provide important formalized opportunities for accumulating skill in providing quick, accurate responses to public policy changes, and to effectively disseminate research findings relevant to sexuality in general and sexual health in particular. Policy forum series in which sexuality researchers, politicians, government representatives, and policy planners participate would provide an opportunity to exchange ideas and dialogue on relevant health issues. These forums would include politicians, legislators, and journalists and could occur in the form of breakfast meetings or monthly working groups. In this exchange, researchers would have the opportunity to educate politicians about the significant and potential impact of current research findings (including public health and mental health consequences) and in turn, policymakers can apprise researchers of ways in which they can become a part of the policy development process. They may be able to move toward working alliance of mutual respect and understanding.

This article is based in large part on the discussion at several meetings, in particular a roundtable on the trends and future directions of sexuality research and training held at the Council offices on June 1–2, 2000.

This archive piece was originally published as “ Current Trends and Future Directions in Sexuality Research .”

Diane di Mauro has worked over 20 years in the field of human sexuality, specializing in the areas of sexuality research and education. She served as the director of the SSRC’s Sexuality Research Program (SRFP), which was active from 1996 to 2005. Di Mauro is the author of Sexuality Research in the United States: An Assessment of the Social and Behavioral Sciences (SSRC, 1995.)

This essay originally appeared in Items & Issues Vol. 2, No. 3–4 in the fall of 2000. Visit our archives to view the original as it first appeared in the print editions of Items .

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Sexuality and Gender in Psychiatry: Ethical and Clinical Issues

  • Samuel Ricardo Saenz , M.D. , M.P.H.

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The inclusive lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer community (LGBTQ+) is a diverse and underserved population in the United States. The prevalence of mental illness among this population makes the ethical considerations surrounding evaluation and treatment for this population particularly compelling. Compared with their heterosexual counterparts, LGBTQ+ youths have higher rates of mental illness, including depression, suicide, anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder, and alcohol and drug misuse, as well as preventable sexually transmitted infections ( 1 ). Elevated rates of mental illness may be attributed to the high degree of stress and discrimination faced by LGBTQ+ individuals compared with that of heterosexual and cisgendered individuals (i.e., those whose gender identity matches the sex assigned at birth) ( 2 ).

More specifically, the elevated prevalence that exists is likely attributable to persistent social stigma and discrimination that have been internalized by many individuals in this population. Both internalized and externalized homophobia and transphobia can contribute to problems with self-acceptance, anxiety, depression, forming intimate relationships, and being open about one’s sexual orientation (i.e., an individual’s innate attraction to members of the same sex, opposite sex, or both sexes) and gender identity (i.e., an individual’s identification as male, female, or other gender) ( 3 ). Therefore, it is paramount for mental health care providers to attune to this population.

Working with LGBTQ+ populations can be challenging for some providers in the field of psychiatry, given the amplified degree of vulnerability and intimacy that can exist in therapeutic relationships. Additionally, physicians and health professionals often have little to no formal training in human sexuality and gender identity, despite their important role in human development, psychology, and relationships ( 2 ). Nevertheless, psychiatrists, after educating themselves, should strive for open discussion of issues pertaining to gender and sexuality with their patients to develop a therapeutic alliance and normalize conversations surrounding these topics. In this article, I attempt to emphasize ethical guidelines when working with LGBTQ+ populations, with a focus on understanding and confronting common limits on expertise and scope of practice with working with LGBTQ+ patients.

The following case vignettes illustrate scenarios that may be encountered by psychiatrists treating the LGBTQ+ patient population. Relevant ethical aspects of the vignette are subsequently discussed, and suggestions are offered regarding pertinent opportunities to use the culturally and structurally competent psychiatrist’s skills for the patient’s benefit.

An outpatient psychiatrist encounters the mother of one of his patients in the hallway of the clinic. The patient, a 19-year-old male who identifies as gay, had previously come out to his psychiatrist. At his last appointment, he shared he was thinking of coming out to his parents as well. The mother, visibly irritated, corners the psychiatrist in the hallway and begins to ask him numerous questions regarding her son’s psychiatric treatment. After responding that he is unable to answer questions about the patient’s direct care, the psychiatrist is then asked about the neuropsychiatric basis for homosexuality.1.1. What is the best response to the mother’s question?

  A.Discuss different brain MRI findings between patients who identify as LGBTQ+ and those who identify as heterosexual.

  B.Listen to the mother’s concerns and encourage her to have a discussion with her son in an effort to better understand his needs.

  C.Dismiss the mother without answering the question.

  D.State that there is no established biological basis for homosexuality, though this is an active area of ongoing research.

  E.Ask the mother to come with her son and family to next week’s appointment to facilitate a family discussion on this topic.

Julia, a 22-year-old transfeminine patient with a psychiatric history of bipolar disorder I, follows up with a psychiatry clinic after a recent hospitalization for a manic episode. After discussing further changes in her medication doses, the patient visit wraps up, and she is scheduled to have a follow-up clinical appointment in one week. After Julia checks out of the clinic, she notices that male pronouns are used in the automated postclinic-visit summary provided to her by the front desk clerk.2.1. Which of the following interventions is LEAST likely to improve the patient’s likelihood of returning to the clinic?

  A.Create a gender identity category in the demographics section of the electronic medical record.

  B.Post materials and resources for the clinic that are LGBTQ+ friendly.

  C.Use gender-neutral language in the postclinic-visit summary.

  D.Offer the patient an opportunity to switch providers at the same clinic.

  E.Ask the clinic’s leadership to offer LGBTQ+ allyship training.

1.1 The answer is B. This case illustrates conflict between several ethical principles, including beneficence (i.e., ensuring a harmonious relationship between the patient and his parents), nonmaleficence (i.e., avoiding reinforcing the mother’s distraction from providing adequate support to her son with unproductive questions regarding his sexuality), privacy (i.e., protecting private patient health information from his mother), and veracity (i.e., answering the mother’s challenging questions truthfully while respecting the boundaries of the patient’s personal life). The mother is preoccupied with her son’s sexuality, perhaps out of the hope that it would be a mutable characteristic. Her attitude is not uncommonly experienced by those in LGBTQ+ populations and is often anticipated by providers when patients come out to them. Inability to accept a family member’s sexuality can have important negative consequences, as patients who identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual may be at increased risk for suicide, particularly because of lack of social support, acceptance, and understanding from close relationships.

Conversations focused on the biology of homosexuality can serve as distractions from helping families understand what they find unacceptable about it. Moreover, the “causes” of homosexuality, bisexuality, and gender identities are unknown ( 2 ); thus, speculation about their origins may be an unfruitful clinical activity. Beneficence ultimately guides culturally and structurally competent physicians to ensure optimal care of LGBTQ+ patients and the potential interpersonal precipitating or perpetuating factors in a patient’s psychiatric symptoms. Gaining a clear understanding of the family’s underlying concerns and encouraging a similar effort on their behalf to understand their LGBTQ+ child’s struggles is an important first step toward facilitating a safe and supportive environment for all patients.

2.1 The answer is D. Many psychiatrists will work with a transgender or nonbinary (i.e., having spectrum gender identities that are not exclusively masculine or feminine) patient at some point in their careers. Although epidemiologic studies have shown that roughly 1 million adults in the United States (390 persons per 100,000) identify as transgender, this statistic is likely an underestimate, given the social stigma attached to these individuals ( 4 ). It is important for the psychiatric team to effectively advocate for the patient because of the health inequities that the LGBTQ+ community faces. Transgender and nonbinary adults are more likely to experience serious psychological distress and thoughts of suicide when compared with cisgender adults ( 5 ). Transgender patients are also subject to acts of violence, harassment, and discrimination, and they often face challenges in accessing appropriate health care and insurance coverage of related services ( 2 ).

If LGTBQ+ patients receive mental health care in a nonfriendly environment, this may lead to early termination of the therapeutic relationship. Affirming a patient’s identity is important in any therapeutic relationship, and it is paramount in the care of LGBTQ+ patients if providers are to uphold the ethical principle of justice (fairness and equality in the distribution of resources) in their practice. One concrete example of this principle in action is when coworkers foster an inclusive environment by introducing themselves with their pronouns. Further, it is worth noting that the care provided to the patient in this example extends beyond the relationship with the psychiatrist and into the manner in which the clinic interfaces with the patient. I encourage providers to think about ways in which their practice may or may not be an environment that is LGBTQ+ friendly. It is important that providers work to understand and faithfully address their practice’s shortcomings in meeting the needs of this population rather than referring care elsewhere. This action further reflects the important ethical skill of identifying an institution’s biases and having open discussions with leadership to provide appropriate ethical care. In this manner, each provider can have opportunities to improve their personal expertise in understanding nuances in LGBTQ+ issues.

The preceding cases illustrate just a few examples of ethical quandaries encountered by the LGBTQ+ population when trying to access appropriate mental health care. Some of the psychological distress experienced in this population can be attributed to trying to hide one’s identity because of the safety concerns that some individuals may have (e.g., concern for the consequences of coming out and how this may affect their career) as well as the lack of culturally and structurally appropriate care. However, many individuals find that coming out, or revealing of one’s LGBTQ+ identity, often reduces anxiety ( 2 ).

Providers must be mindful of their biases regarding what constitutes “normal” human sexual behavior and forms of gender expression, which may compromise the therapeutic alliance. Utilizing psychotherapy to explore the etiology of the patient’s sexual identity, gender identity, or both may ultimately be distracting and unhelpful in exploring present stressors ( 6 ). It is also important for both trainees and supervisors to recognize the limits of their knowledge in working with the LGBTQ+ community and ask patients or more experienced colleagues for guidance, consultation, or supervision when needed. More information on commonly used terms that may be helpful to know when working with LGBTQ+ patients can be found in the appendix of the APA’s Textbook of Psychiatry ( 2 ).

Culturally and structurally competent health care, advocacy, and policy making can improve health disparities for LGBTQ+ youths ( 1 ). Examples of efforts in health care settings to establish themselves as sources of support for the LGBTQ+ community include intake and questionnaire forms that are LGBTQ+ friendly, marketing or branding of the clinical environment, and making available learning materials for culturally and structurally competent care for this population. In addition to modeling respectful interactions between patient and provider (as well as between providers), psychiatrists may refer parents of LGBTQ+ individuals to existing reputable resources for supporting their children ( 7 ). Overall, health care systems must evolve to meet the needs of the LGBTQ+ population.

Dr. Saenz reports no financial relationships with commercial interests.

The author thanks Bianca R. Argueza, M.D., M.P.H., and Dre Irizarry, M.D., for their thoughtful review and insights.

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research paper topics on human sexuality

  • Gender Differences

A Scoping Review of Empirical Asexuality Research in Social Science Literature

  • Original Paper
  • Published: 23 May 2022
  • Volume 51 , pages 2135–2145, ( 2022 )

Cite this article

  • Samantha Guz   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-6256-3939 1 ,
  • Hillary K. Hecht 2 ,
  • Shanna K. Kattari 3 ,
  • E. B. Gross 4 &
  • Emily Ross 4  

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Research on asexuality as a part of the experience of human sexuality has increased over the last two decades. However, there has not yet been a systematic review of the extant literature on asexuality. This paper aims to provide a systematic scoping review of literature on asexuality with articles published in 2004 through August 2021. After a systematic search procedure, 48 studies were included. A codebook was developed to extract broad information about the literature on asexuality, including sampling techniques, research participant sociodemographics, and conceptualization of asexuality. Results of the review indicate that the research is currently split between qualitative and quantitative methods. The literature primarily relied on convenience sampling within asexual online communities. The primary online community was Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN), which may have contributed to the majority of participants being White, presumptively cisgender, women between the ages of 20–30. Analysis of the overall literature scope demonstrates no support for asexuality as a medical condition (i.e., a disorder requiring treatment) and instead supports the need to recognize asexuality as a complex identity and sexual orientation. Implications for research are discussed, such as the need for additional research on the topic of human sexuality that includes asexuality as a sexual orientation as well as the need for more intersectional research within the literature.

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research paper topics on human sexuality

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Funding was provided by Swansea University (Grant Nos. ID0E4EAE5148, ID0E4EAE51488).

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Guz, S., Hecht, H.K., Kattari, S.K. et al. A Scoping Review of Empirical Asexuality Research in Social Science Literature. Arch Sex Behav 51 , 2135–2145 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-022-02307-6

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DOI : https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-022-02307-6

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2.4: Ethical Considerations in Sexuality Research

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As discussed in the previous chapter, research done by the Father of Modern Gynecology , Dr. Marion Simms was tainted by his unethical approach to patient care, based on perceived racism and beliefs about the pain threshold of Black enslaved women. As research became something that aided in the pursuit of knowledge, many researchers who were laser focused on wanting to know chose to overlook ethical considerations, and their actions led to great harm in numerous cases. Ethics are taken very seriously in institutions of higher learning because of this shameful past, and we as present day practitioners are held to high standards when it comes to research on human subjects.


At a broader societal level, members of some groups have historically faced more than their fair share of the risks of scientific research, including people who are institutionalized, are disabled, or belong to a racial or ethnic minority or otherwise disadvantaged group. A particularly tragic example of this is the Tuskegee (Box 2.3 above)  and Guatemala Syphilis studies both led by Dr. John Cutler. In Tuskegee, the study conducted for the Public Health Service took place  from 1932 to 1972. These participants were poor African American men in the vicinity of Tuskegee, Alabama, who were told that they were being treated for bad blood . Although they were given free medical care, they were not treated for their syphilis. Instead, they were observed to see how the disease developed in untreated patients. Even after the use of penicillin became the standard treatment for syphilis in the 1940s, these men continued to be denied treatment without being given an opportunity to leave the study. The study was eventually discontinued only after details were made known to the general public by journalists and activists. It is now widely recognized that researchers need to consider issues of justice and fairness at the societal level.

Beginning in 1946, the United States government, under Dr. Cutler, immorally and unethically engaged in research experiments, in which more than 5000 uninformed and unconsenting Guatemalan people were intentionally infected with bacteria that cause sexually transmitted diseases. Many remain untreated to this day (Rodriguez, & García, 2013).

In 1997, 65 years after the Tuskegee Syphilis Study began, and 25 years after it ended, President Bill Clinton formally apologized on behalf of the government to those who were affected. The United States eventually provided treatment and compensation for victims, families, and heirs in Tuskegee, including funding to locate the victims and pay attorneys’ fees. The ethical principle of equal justice strongly suggests that similar relief should be provided for the Guatemalan victims. While the U.S. now acknowledges this was an ethical failing, efforts to remediate the damage as in the case of Tuskegee, have not been undertaken, In a 2013 article entitled, First, do no harm: the US sexually transmitted disease experiments in Guatemala , The authors write, “Although US President Barack Obama apologized in 2010, and although the US Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues found the Guatemalan experiments morally wrong, little if anything has been done to compensate the victims and their families.” (Rodriguez, & García, 2013).

Researchers have an obligation to practice their research in an ethical manner, but what does that mean exactly? They must respect their participants' dignity and their autonomy, giving them the opportunity to act without coercion. Researchers must obtain informed consent, which essentially involves the participants' agreement and documentation of their agreement to participate in a study after having been informed of everything that might reasonably be expected of them as participants. Included in this is also a right to privacy so that those being studied have their identity kept confidential as well as the right to opt out. None of this was done in Guatemala nor in Tuskegee, and had they been informed, they most likely would not have agreed to participate in the first place.

Because of these and other heinous examples of ethical violations, measures have been put in place to offset this type of exploitation. One of the earliest ethics codes was the Nuremberg Code, a set of 10 principles written in 1947, in conjunction with the trials of Nazi physicians accused of shockingly cruel research on concentration camp prisoners during World War II. It provided a standard against which to compare the behavior of the men on trial, many of whom were eventually convicted and either imprisoned or sentenced to death. The Nuremberg Code was particularly clear about the importance of carefully weighing risks against benefits and the need for informed consent. The Declaration of Helsinki is a similar ethics code that was created by the World Medical Council in 1964. Among the standards that it added to the Nuremberg Code was that research with human participants should be based on a written protocol, and it must include a detailed description of the research that is reviewed by an independent committee. The Declaration of Helsinki has been revised several times, most recently in 2004. In the U.S., concerns about the Tuskegee experiment and others led to the publication of federal guidelines known as the  Belmont Report. The Belmont Report explicitly recognized the principle of seeking justice, including the importance of conducting research in a way that distributes risks and benefits fairly across different groups at the societal level. The Belmont Report became the basis of a set of laws the Federal Policy for the Protection of Human Subjects that apply to research conducted, supported, or regulated by the federal government. An extremely important part of these regulations is that universities, hospitals, and other institutions that receive support from the federal government must establish an Institutional Review Board (IRB), a committee that is responsible for reviewing research protocols for potential ethical problems. An IRB must consist of at least five people with varying backgrounds, including members of different professions, scientists and nonscientists, men and women, and at least one person not otherwise affiliated with the institution. The IRB helps to make sure that the risks of the proposed research are minimized, the benefits outweigh the risks, the research is carried out in a fair manner, and the informed consent procedure is adequate. The federal regulations also distinguish research that poses three levels of risk. Exempt research includes research on the effectiveness of normal educational activities, the use of standard psychological measures and surveys of a nonsensitive nature that are administered in a way that maintains confidentiality, and research using existing data from public sources. It is called exempt because the regulations do not apply to it. Minimal risk research exposes participants to risks that are no greater than those encountered by healthy people in daily life or during routine physical or psychological examinations. Minimal risk research can receive an expedited review by one member of the IRB, or by a separate committee under the authority of the IRB that can only approve minimal risk research. (Many departments of psychology have such separate committees.) Finally, at-risk research poses greater than minimal risk and must be reviewed by the entire IRB.

Specific to human sexuality research, The American Psychological Association (APA) is the governing body for much of the sex research undertaken. Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct (also known as the APA Ethics Code ) was first published in 1953 and has been revised several times since then, most recently in 2002. It includes about 150 specific ethical standards that psychologists and their students are expected to follow. Much of the APA Ethics Code concerns the clinical practice of psychology advertising purposes, the most relevant part, is linked here: American Psychological Association Ethics Code .

Sidebar 2.4: Sex Research and Equity

Just as the medical field grew in the West out of predominately white, heteronormative, cisgender persons, so did the study of sexuality. Much of the body of research in the field is done on white, heterosexual cisgender people. Despite the world of human sexuality, being as vast and diverse as it is, research is slow to catch up. New spaces and opportunities for different research are opening up as the field of educators become more diverse but as we will learn throughout this book, there is much still to be done. One space that facilitates engaging with sexuality beyond those borders is afrosexology.com . Their mission to educate, explore and help people  reclaim their sexual agency which then give them agency in their larger lives is one way in which current sex research is moving the needle towards equity.


Putting Ethics Into Practice

In this section, we look at some practical advice for conducting ethical research. Who knows, some of you may be undertaking sex research one day! Again, it is important to remember that ethical issues arise well before you begin to collect data and continue to arise through publication and beyond.

As the APA Ethics code notes in its introduction, “Lack of awareness or misunderstanding of an ethical standard is not itself a defense to a charge of unethical ethical responsibilities” (Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct, 2017).  At a minimum, this means reading and understanding the relevant standards of the APA Ethics Code, distinguishing minimal risk from at-risk research, and knowing the specific policies and procedures of your institution including how to prepare and submit a research protocol for institutional review board (IRB) review. If you are conducting research as a course requirement, there may be specific course standards, policies, and procedures. If any standard, policy, or procedure is unclear, or you are unsure what to do about an ethical issue that arises, you must seek clarification. You can do this by reviewing the relevant ethics codes, reading about how similar issues have been resolved by others, or consulting with more experienced researchers, your IRB, or your course instructor. Ultimately, you as the researcher must take responsibility for the ethics of the research you conduct.

As you design your study, you must identify and minimize risks to participants via the informed consent procedure, which in parts states:

A researcher must inform participants about (1) the purpose of the research, expected duration, and procedures; (2) their right to decline to participate and to withdraw from the research once participation has begun; (3) the foreseeable consequences of declining or withdrawing; (4) reasonably foreseeable factors that may be expected to influence their willingness to participate such as potential risks, discomfort, or adverse effects; (5) any prospective research benefits; (6) limits of confidentiality; (7) incentives for participation; and (8) whom to contact for questions about the research and research participants' rights. They provide opportunity for the prospective participants to ask questions and receive answers. (Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct, 2017).

Start by listing all the risks, including risks of physical and psychological harm and violations of confidentiality. Remember that some risks might apply only to some participants. For example, while many people would have no problem completing a survey about their fear of various sex crimes, this may be triggering for those who have been a victim of one of those crimes. This is why you should seek input from a variety of people, including your research collaborators, more experienced researchers, and even from nonresearchers who might be better able to take the perspective of a participant.

Once you have identified the risks, you can often reduce or eliminate many of them. One way is to modify the research design. For example, you might be able to shorten or simplify the procedure to prevent boredom and frustration. You might be able to replace upsetting or offensive stimulus materials (e.g., graphic photos) with less upsetting or offensive ones (e.g., milder photos of the sort people are likely to see in the newspaper). 

A second way to minimize risks is to use a pre-screening procedure to identify and eliminate participants who are at high risk. You can do this in part through the informed consent process. For example, you can warn participants that a survey includes questions about their fear of sex crimes, and remind them that they are free to withdraw if they think this might upset them. Prescreening can also involve collecting data to identify and eliminate participants.

A third way to minimize risks is to take active steps to maintain confidentiality. You should keep signed consent forms separate from any data that you collect, and in such a way that no individual's name can be linked to their data. You should only collect information that you actually need to answer your research question. If a person’s sexual orientation or ethnicity is not clearly relevant to your research question, for example, then do not ask them about it. Be aware also that certain data collection procedures can lead to unintentional violations of confidentiality. When participants respond to an oral survey in a shopping mall or complete a questionnaire in a classroom setting, it is possible that their responses will be overheard or seen by others. If the responses are personal, it is better to administer the survey or questionnaire individually in private or to use other techniques to prevent the unintentional sharing of personal information.

Be sure to identify and minimize deception. The APA code of ethics standard 8.07 states that a researcher may:

(a) not conduct a study involving deception unless they have determined that the use of deceptive techniques is justified by the study's significant prospective scientific, educational, or applied value and that effective non deceptive alternative procedures are not feasible.

(b) not deceive prospective participants about research that is reasonably expected to cause physical pain or severe emotional distress.

(c) must explain any deception that is an integral feature of the design and conduct of an experiment to participants as early as is feasible, preferably at the conclusion of their participation, but no later than at the conclusion of the data collection, and permit participants to withdraw their data. (Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct, 2017).

Remember that deception can take a variety of forms, not all of which involve actively misleading participants. It is also deceptive to allow participants to make incorrect assumptions or simply withhold information about the full design or purpose of the study. It is best to identify and minimize all forms of deception.

Remember that according to the APA Ethics Code, deception is ethically acceptable only if there is no way to answer your research question without it. Therefore, if your research design includes any form of active deception, you should consider whether it is truly necessary.

In general, it is considered acceptable to wait until debriefing before you reveal your research question as long as you describe the procedure, risk and benefits during the informed consent process.

Once the risks of the research have been identified and minimized, you need to weigh them against the benefits. This requires identifying all the benefits. Remember to consider benefits to the research participants, to science, and to society. If you are a student researcher, remember that one of the benefits is the knowledge you will gain about how to conduct scientific research, knowledge you can then use to complete your studies and succeed in graduate school or in your career.

If the research poses minimal risk, no more than in people’s daily lives or in routine physical or psychological examinations, then even a small benefit to participants, science, or society is generally considered enough to justify it. If it poses more than minimal risk, then there should be more benefits. If the research has the potential to upset some participants, for example, then it becomes more important that the study be well designed and answer a scientifically interesting research question or have clear practical implications. It would be unethical to subject people to pain, fear, or embarrassment for minimal scientific gain. Research that has the potential to cause harm that is more than minor, or lasts for more than a short time, is rarely considered justified by its benefits.

Once you have settled on a research design, you need to create your informed consent and debriefing procedures. Start by deciding whether informed consent is necessary according to APA Standard 8.05 . If informed consent is necessary, there are several things you should do. First, when you recruit participants whether it is through word of mouth, posted advertisements, or a participant pool, provide them with as much information about the study as you can. This will allow those who might find the study objectionable to avoid it. Second, prepare a script or talking points to help you explain the study to your participants in simple everyday language. This should include a description of the procedure, the risks and benefits, and their right to withdraw at any time. Third, create an informed consent form that covers all the points in APA Standard 8.02a that participants can read and sign after you have described the study to them. Your university, department, or course instructor may have a sample consent form that you can adapt for your own study. If not, an Internet Search will turn up several samples. Remember that if appropriate, both the oral and written parts of the informed consent process should include the fact that you are keeping some information about the design or purpose of the study from them but that you will reveal it during debriefing.

Debriefing is similar to informed consent in that you cannot necessarily expect participants to read and understand written debriefing forms. So again, it is best to write a script or set of talking points, with the goal of being able to explain the study in simple everyday language. During debriefing, you should reveal the research question and full design of the study. For example, if participants are tested under only one condition, then you should explain what happened in the other conditions. If you deceived your participants, you should reveal this as soon as possible, apologize for the deception, explain why it was necessary, and correct any misconceptions that participants might have as a result. Debriefing is also a good time to provide additional benefits to research participants, by giving them relevant practical information or referrals to other sources of help. For example, in a study of attitudes toward domestic abuse, you could provide pamphlets about domestic abuse and referral information to the university counseling center for those who might want it.

Remember to schedule plenty of time for the informed consent and debriefing processes. They cannot be effective if you have to rush through them. The next step is to get institutional approval for your research, based on the specific policies and  procedures at your institution or for your course. This will generally require writing a protocol that describes the purpose of the study, the research design and procedure, the risks and benefits, the steps taken to minimize risks, and the informed consent and debriefing procedures. Do not think of the institutional approval process as merely an obstacle to overcome but as an opportunity to think through the ethics of your research and to consult with others who are likely to have more experience or different perspectives than you. If the IRB has questions or concerns about your research, address them promptly and in good faith. This might even mean making further modifications to your research design and procedure before resubmitting your protocol.

Your concern with ethics should not end when your study receives institutional approval. It now becomes important to stick to the protocol you submitted, or to seek additional approval for anything other than a minor change. During the research, you should monitor your participants for unanticipated reactions, and seek feedback from them during debriefing. Be alert also for potential violations of confidentiality. Keep the consent forms and the data safe and separate from each other and make sure that no one, intentionally or unintentionally, has access to participants personal information.

Finally, you must maintain your integrity through the publication process and beyond. Address publication credit; who will be authors on the research and the order of authors with your collaborators early and avoid plagiarism in your writing. Remember that our scientific goal is to learn about the way the world actually is and that your scientific duty is to report on your results honestly and accurately. So do not be tempted to fabricate data or alter your results in any way. Besides, unexpected results are often as interesting or more so than expected ones.

Sidebar 2.5: Hypocrisy is the Greatest Luxury

While these standards of ethics put forth by the APA are seen as a definitive guide in the pursuit of ethical research, even the organization itself, the APA has failed to abide by them in large scale research that has been widely published, cited and used as justification for policy and funding decisions nationwide. Many historically relevant psychological studies are clear violations of the current standards set by the American Psychological Association (APA) and were founded on the basis of systemic racism. Experiments like the aforementioned Tuskegee Syphilis Study, Jane Elliot’s Blue/Brown Eyes Exercise examined in the film, A Class Divided (full film) | FRONTLINE , and The Doll Test Landmark Cases: Brown v Board Doll Test (C-SPAN) hold a variety of unethical practices in the way they were produced, but are still considered to be groundbreaking contributions to the current psychological landscape.

Additionally, many early thinkers including Ronald Fisher, a key player in the development of statistical science, also supported racism and eugenics. There is a laundry list of connections between systemic racism and psychology, which is why the APA’s decision to apologize for its role in incorporating racism within the discipline of psychology is critical to the development of psychological practices to come, but not the only solution.

The APA cannot completely correct the wrongs of the racist practices put forth in the past, however, the Association has a responsibility to put forth more ethical practices that do not further marginalize and misdiagnose people of color. To this day, there is an overrepresentation of Black Americans who are admitted into psychiatric hospitals , suicide rates for Black Youth continue to rise , and Black Americans are more likely to be diagnosed with disorders like schizophrenia as compared to White Americans .

As American culture strives to become more centered around the emotional wellness of all people and seeks to condemn dehumanization, institutions must develop better practices for building spaces of healing.

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19 The Psychology of Human Sexuality

Sexuality is one of the fundamental drives behind everyone’s feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. It defines the means of biological reproduction, describes psychological and sociological representations of self, and orients a person’s attraction to others. Further, it shapes the brain and body to be pleasure-seeking. Yet, as important as sexuality is to being human, it is often viewed as a taboo topic for personal or scientific inquiry.

Learning Objectives

  • Explain how scientists study human sexuality.
  • Share a definition of human sexuality.
  • Distinguish between sex, gender, and sexual orientation.
  • Review common and alternative sexual behaviors.
  • Appraise how pleasure, sexual behaviors, and consent are intertwined.


Sex makes the world go around: It makes babies bond, children giggle, adolescents flirt, and adults have babies. It is addressed in the holy books of the world’s great religions, and it infiltrates every part of society. It influences the way we dress, joke, and talk. In many ways, sex defines who we are. It is so important, the eminent neuropsychologist Karl Pribram ( 1958 ) described sex as one of four basic human drive states. Drive states motivate us to accomplish goals. They are linked to our survival. According to Pribram, feeding, fighting, fleeing, and sex are the four drives behind every thought, feeling, and behavior. Since these drives are so closely associated with our psychological and physical health, you might assume people would study, understand, and discuss them openly. Your assumption would be generally correct for three of the four drives ( Malacane & Beckmeyer, 2016 ). Can you guess which drive is the least understood and openly discussed?

This module presents an opportunity for you to think openly and objectively about sex. Without shame or taboo, using science as a lens, we examine fundamental aspects of human sexuality—including gender, sexual orientation, fantasies, behaviors, paraphilias, and sexual consent.

The History of Scientific Investigations of Sex

An image on an ancient Greek drinking cup of two lovers kissing. circa 480 BC.

The history of human sexuality is as long as human history itself—200,000+ years and counting ( Antón & Swisher, 2004 ). For almost as long as we have been having sex, we have been creating art, writing, and talking about it. Some of the earliest recovered artifacts from ancient cultures are thought to be fertility totems. The Hindu Kama Sutra (400 BCE to 200 CE)—an ancient text discussing love, desire, and pleasure—includes a how-to manual for having sexual intercourse. Rules, advice, and stories about sex are also contained in the Muslim Qur’an , Jewish Torah, and Christian Bible .

By contrast, people have been scientifically investigating sex for only about 125 years. The first scientific investigations of sex employed the case study method of research. Using this method, the English physician Henry Havelock Ellis (1859-1939) examined diverse topics within sexuality, including arousal and masturbation. From 1897 to 1923, his findings were published in a seven-volume set of books titled Studies in the Psychology of Sex. Among his most noteworthy findings is that transgender people are distinct from homosexual people. Ellis’s studies led him to be an advocate of equal rights for women and comprehensive human sexuality education in public schools.

Using case studies, the Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) is credited with being the first scientist to link sex to healthy development and to recognize humans as being sexual throughout their lifespans, including childhood ( Freud, 1905 ). Freud ( 1923 ) argued that people progress through five stages of psychosexual development : oral, anal, phallic, latent, and genital. According to Freud, each of these stages could be passed through in a healthy or unhealthy manner. In unhealthy manners, people might develop psychological problems, such as frigidity, impotence, or anal-retentiveness.

The American biologist Alfred Kinsey (1894-1956) is commonly referred to as the father of human sexuality research. Kinsey was a world-renowned expert on wasps but later changed his focus to the study of humans. This shift happened because he wanted to teach a course on marriage but found data on human sexual behavior lacking. He believed that sexual knowledge was the product of guesswork and had never really been studied systematically or in an unbiased way. He decided to collect information himself using the survey method , and set a goal of interviewing 100 thousand people about their sexual histories. Although he fell short of his goal, he still managed to collect 18 thousand interviews! Many “behind closed doors” behaviors investigated by contemporary scientists are based on Kinsey’s seminal work.

Today, a broad range of scientific research on sexuality continues. It’s a topic that spans various disciplines, including anthropology, biology, neurology, psychology, and sociology.

Sex, Gender, and Sexual Orientation: Three Different Parts of You

Applying for a credit card or filling out a job application requires your name, address, and birth-date. Additionally, applications usually ask for your sex or gender. It’s common for us to use the terms “sex” and “gender” interchangeably. However, in modern usage, these terms are distinct from one another.

Illustration from a 1950s magazine or print ad depicting four women baking and icing a cake in a kitchen.

Sex describes means of biological reproduction. Sex includes sexual organs, such as ovaries—defining what it is to be a female—or testes—defining what it is to be a male. Interestingly, biological sex is not as easily defined or determined as you might expect (see the section on variations in sex, below). By contrast, the term gender describes psychological ( gender identity ) and sociological ( gender role ) representations of biological sex. At an early age, we begin learning cultural norms for what is considered masculine and feminine. For example, children may associate long hair or dresses with femininity. Later in life, as adults, we often conform to these norms by behaving in gender-specific ways: as men, we build houses; as women, we bake cookies ( Marshall, 1989 ; Money et al., 1955 ; Weinraub et al., 1984 ).

Because cultures change over time, so too do ideas about gender. For example, European and American cultures today associate pink with femininity and blue with masculinity. However, less than a century ago, these same cultures were swaddling baby boys in pink, because of its masculine associations with “blood and war,” and dressing little girls in blue, because of its feminine associations with the Virgin Mary ( Kimmel, 1996 ).

Sex and gender are important aspects of a person’s identity. However, they do not tell us about a person’s sexual orientation ( Rule & Ambady, 2008 ). Sexual orientation refers to a person’s sexual attraction to others. Within the context of sexual orientation, sexual attraction refers to a person’s capacity to arouse the sexual interest of another, or, conversely, the sexual interest one person feels toward another.

While some argue that sexual attraction is primarily driven by reproduction (e.g., Geary, 1998 ), empirical studies point to pleasure as the primary force behind our sex drive. For example, in a survey of college students who were asked, “Why do people have sex?” respondents gave more than 230 unique responses, most of which were related to pleasure rather than reproduction ( Meston & Buss, 2007 ). Here’s a thought-experiment to further demonstrate how reproduction has relatively little to do with driving sexual attraction: Add the number of times you’ve had and hope to have sex during your lifetime. With this number in mind, consider how many times the goal was (or will be) for reproduction versus how many it was (or will be) for pleasure. Which number is greater?

Although a person’s intimate behavior may have sexual fluidity —changing due to circumstances ( Diamond, 2009 )—sexual orientations are relatively stable over one’s lifespan, and are genetically rooted ( Frankowski, 2004 ). One method of measuring these genetic roots is the sexual orientation concordance rate (SOCR). An SOCR is the probability that a pair of individuals has the same sexual orientation. SOCRs are calculated and compared between people who share the same genetics ( monozygotic twins , 99%); some of the same genetics ( dizygotic twins , 50%); siblings (50%); and non-related people, randomly selected from the population. Researchers find SOCRs are highest for monozygotic twins; and SOCRs for dizygotic twins, siblings, and randomly-selected pairs do not significantly differ from one another ( Bailey et al. 2016 ; Kendler et al., 2000 ). Because sexual orientation is a hotly debated issue, an appreciation of the genetic aspects of attraction can be an important piece of this dialogue.

On Being Normal: Variations in Sex, Gender, and Sexual Orientation

“Only the human mind invents categories and tries to force facts into separated pigeon-holes. The living world is a continuum in each and every one of its aspects. The sooner we learn this concerning human sexual behavior, the sooner we shall reach a sound understanding of the realities of sex.” ( Kinsey, Pomeroy, & Martin, 1948 , pp. 638–639)

We live in an era when sex, gender, and sexual orientation are controversial religious and political issues. Some nations have laws against homosexuality, while others have laws protecting same-sex marriages. At a time when there seems to be little agreement among religious and political groups, it makes sense to wonder, “What is normal?” and, “Who decides?”

An intersexual two-spotted bumble bee.

The international scientific and medical communities (e.g., World Health Organization, World Medical Association, World Psychiatric Association, Association for Psychological Science) view variations of sex, gender, and sexual orientation as normal. Furthermore, variations of sex, gender, and sexual orientation occur naturally throughout the animal kingdom. More than 500 animal species have homosexual or bisexual orientations ( Lehrer, 2006 ). More than 65,000 animal species are intersex —born with either an absence or some combination of male and female reproductive organs, sex hormones, or sex chromosomes ( Jarne & Auld, 2006 ). In humans, intersex individuals make up about two percent—more than 150 million people—of the world’s population ( Blackless et al., 2000 ). There are dozens of intersex conditions, such as Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome and Turner’s Syndrome ( Lee et al., 2006 ). The term “syndrome” can be misleading; although intersex individuals may have physical limitations (e.g., about a third of Turner’s individuals have heart defects; Matura et al., 2007 ), they otherwise lead relatively normal intellectual, personal, and social lives. In any case, intersex individuals demonstrate the diverse variations of biological sex.

Just as biological sex varies more widely than is commonly thought, so too does gender. Cisgender individuals’ gender identities correspond with their birth sexes, whereas transgender individuals’ gender identities do not correspond with their birth sexes. Because gender is so deeply ingrained culturally, rates of transgender individuals vary widely around the world (see Table 19.1).

Table describing amount of transgender people per 100,000 in a sample of countries. The nations and total are as follows: Sweden, .17; Poland, .26; Ireland, 1.4; Japan 1.4; India, 167; Thailand, 333; United States, 476; Malaysia, 1333.

Although incidence rates of transgender individuals differ significantly between cultures, transgender females (TGFs) —whose birth sex was male—are by far the most frequent type of transgender individuals worldwide. Of the 18 countries studied by Meier and Labuski ( 2013 ), 16 of them had higher rates of TGFs than transgender males (TGMs) —whose birth sex was female— and the 18 country TGF to TGM ratio was 3 to 1. TGFs have diverse levels of androgyny —having both feminine and masculine characteristics. For example, five percent of the Samoan population are TGFs referred to as fa’afafine , who range in androgyny from mostly masculine to mostly feminine ( Tan, 2016 ); in Pakistan, India, Nepal, and Bangladesh, TGFs are referred to as hijras, recognized by their governments as a third gender, and range in androgyny from only having a few masculine characteristics to being entirely feminine ( Pasquesoone, 2014 ); and as many as six percent of biological males living in Oaxaca, Mexico are TGFs referred to as muxes , who range in androgyny from mostly masculine to mostly feminine ( Stephen, 2002 ).

A hijra dancer with a feminine appearance wearing eyeliner, lipstick, and earrings.

Sexual orientation is as diverse as gender identity. Instead of thinking of sexual orientation as being two categories—homosexual and heterosexual—Kinsey argued that it’s a continuum ( Kinsey, Pomeroy, & Martin, 1948 ). He measured orientation on a continuum, using a 7-point Likert scale called the Heterosexual-Homosexual Rating Scale, in which 0 is exclusively heterosexual , 3 is bisexual , and 6 is exclusively homosexual . Later researchers using this method have found 18% to 39% of Europeans and Americans identifying as somewhere between heterosexual and homosexual ( Lucas et al., 2017 ; YouGov.com, 2015 ). These percentages drop dramatically (0.5% to 1.9%) when researchers force individuals to respond using only two categories ( Copen, Chandra, & Febo-Vazquez, 2016 ; Gates, 2011 ).

What Are You Doing? A Brief Guide to Sexual Behavior

Just as we may wonder what characterizes particular gender or sexual orientations as “normal,” we might have similar questions about sexual behaviors. What is considered sexually normal depends on culture. Some cultures are sexually-restrictive—such as one extreme example off the coast of Ireland, studied in the mid-20th century, known as the island of Inis Beag . The inhabitants of Inis Beag detested nudity and viewed sex as a necessary evil for the sole purpose of reproduction. They wore clothes when they bathed and even while having sex. Further, sex education was nonexistent, as was breast feeding ( Messenger, 1989 ). By contrast, Mangaians , of the South Pacific island of A’ua’u, are an example of a highly sexually-permissive culture. Young Mangaian boys are encouraged to masturbate. By age 13, they’re instructed by older males on how to sexually perform and maximize orgasms for themselves and their partners. When the boys are a bit older, this formal instruction is replaced with hands-on coaching by older females. Young girls are also expected to explore their sexuality and develop a breadth of sexual knowledge before marriage ( Marshall & Suggs, 1971 ). These cultures make clear that what are considered sexually normal behaviors depends on time and place.

Sexual behaviors are linked to, but distinct from, fantasies. Leitenberg and Henning ( 1995 ) define sexual fantasies as “any mental imagery that is sexually arousing.” One of the more common fantasies is the replacement fantasy —fantasizing about someone other than one’s current partner ( Hicks & Leitenberg, 2001 ). In addition, more than 50% of people have forced-sex fantasies ( Critelli & Bivona, 2008 ). However, this does not mean most of us want to be cheating on our partners or be involved in sexual assault. Sexual fantasies are not equal to sexual behaviors.

A technical drawing of an anti-masturbation chastity belt with key components numbered for reference.

Sexual fantasies are often a context for the sexual behavior of masturbation —tactile (physical) stimulation of the body for sexual pleasure. Historically, masturbation has earned a bad reputation; it’s been described as “self-abuse,” and falsely associated with causing adverse side effects, such as hairy palms, acne, blindness, insanity, and even death ( Kellogg, 1888 ). However, empirical evidence links masturbation to increased levels of sexual and marital satisfaction, and physical and psychological health ( Hurlburt & Whitaker, 1991 ; Levin, 2007 ). There is even evidence that masturbation significantly decreases the risk of developing prostate cancer among males over the age of 50 ( Dimitropoulou et al., 2009 ). Masturbation is common among males and females in the U.S. Robbins et al. ( 2011 ) found that 74% of males and 48% of females reported masturbating. However, frequency of masturbation is affected by culture. An Australian study found that only 58% of males and 42% of females reported masturbating ( Smith, Rosenthal, & Reichler, 1996 ). Further, rates of reported masturbation by males and females in India are even lower, at 46% and 13%, respectively ( Ramadugu et al., 2011 ).

Coital sex is the term for vaginal-penile intercourse, which occurs for about 3 to 13 minutes on average—though its duration and frequency decrease with age ( Corty & Guardiani, 2008 ; Smith et al., 2012 ). Traditionally, people are known as “virgins” before they engage in coital sex, and have “lost” their virginity afterwards. Durex ( 2005 ) found the average age of first coital experiences across 41 different countries to be 17 years, with a low of 16 (Iceland), and a high of 20 (India). There is tremendous variation regarding frequency of coital sex. For example, the average number of times per year a person in Greece (138) or France (120) engages in coital sex is between 1.6 and 3 times greater than in India (75) or Japan (45; Durex, 2005 ).

Oral sex includes cunnilingus —oral stimulation of the female’s external sex organs, and fellatio —oral stimulation of the male’s external sex organs. The prevalence of oral sex widely differs between cultures—with Western cultures, such as the U.S., Canada, and Austria, reporting higher rates (greater than 75%); and Eastern and African cultures, such as Japan and Nigeria, reporting lower rates (less than 10%; Copen, Chandra, & Febo-Vazquez, 2016 ; Malacad & Hess, 2010 ; Wylie, 2009 ). Not only are there differences between cultures regarding how many people engage in oral sex, there are differences in its very definition. For example, most college students in the U.S. do not believe cunnilingus or fellatio are sexual behaviors—and more than a third of college students believe oral sex is a form of abstinence ( Barnett et al., 2017 ; Horan, Phillips, & Hagan, 1998 ; Sanders & Reinisch, 1999 ).

Anal sex refers to penetration of the anus by an object. Anal sex is not exclusively a “homosexual behavior.” The anus has extensive sensory-nerve innervation and is often experienced as an erogenous zone, no matter where a person is on the Heterosexual-Homosexual Rating Scale ( Cordeau et al., 2014 ). When heterosexual people are asked about their sexual behaviors, more than a third (about 40%) of both males and females report having had anal sex at some time during their life ( Chandra, Mosher, & Copen, 2011 ; Copen, Chandra, & Febo-Vazquez, 2016 ). Comparatively, when homosexual men are asked about their most recent sexual behaviors, more than a third (37%) report having had anal sex ( Rosenberger et al., 2011 ). Like heterosexual people, homosexual people engage in a variety of sexual behaviors, the most frequent being masturbation, romantic kissing, and oral sex ( Rosenberger et al., 2011 ). The prevalence of anal sex widely differs between cultures. For example, people in Greece and Italy report high rates of anal sex (greater than 50%), whereas people in China and India report low rates of anal sex (less than 15%; Durex, 2005 ).

In contrast to “more common” sexual behaviors, there is a vast array of alternative sexual behaviors. Some of these behaviors, such as voyeurism , exhibitionism , and pedophilia are classified in the DSM as paraphilic disorders —behaviors that victimize and cause harm to others or one’s self ( American Psychiatric Association, 2013 ). Sadism —inflicting pain upon another person to experience pleasure for one’s self—and masochism —receiving pain from another person to experience pleasure for one’s self—are also classified in the DSM as paraphilic disorders. However, if an individual consensually engages in these behaviors, the term “disorder” is replaced with the term “interest.” Janus and Janus ( 1993 ) found that 14% of males and 11% of females have engaged in some form of sadism and/or masochism.

Sexual Consent

Clearly, people engage in a multitude of behaviors whose variety is limited only by our own imaginations. Further, our standards for what’s normal differs substantially from culture to culture. However, there is one aspect of sexual behavior that is universally acceptable—indeed, fundamental and necessary. At the heart of what qualifies as sexually “normal” is the concept of consent. Sexual consent refers to the voluntary, conscious, and empathic participation in a sexual act, which can be withdrawn at any time ( Jozkowski & Peterson, 2013 ). Sexual consent is the baseline for what are considered normal —acceptable and healthy—behaviors; whereas, nonconsensual sex—i.e., forced, pressured or unconscious participation—is unacceptable and unhealthy. When engaging in sexual behaviors with a partner, a clear and explicit understanding of your boundaries, as well as your partner’s boundaries, is essential. We recommend safer-sex practices , such as condoms, honesty, and communication, whenever you engage in a sexual act. Discussing likes, dislikes, and limits prior to sexual exploration reduces the likelihood of miscommunication and misjudging nonverbal cues. In the heat of the moment, things are not always what they seem. For example, Kristen Jozkowski and her colleagues ( 2014 ) found that females tend to use verbal strategies of consent, whereas males tend to rely on nonverbal indications of consent. Awareness of this basic mismatch between heterosexual couples’ exchanges of consent may proactively reduce miscommunication and unwanted sexual advances.

The universal principles of pleasure, sexual behaviors, and consent are intertwined. Consent is the foundation on which sexual activity needs to be built. Understanding and practicing empathic consent requires sexual literacy and an ability to effectively communicate desires and limits, as well as to respect others’ parameters.

Considering the amount of attention people give to the topic of sex, it’s surprising how little most actually know about it. Historically, people’s beliefs about sexuality have emerged as having absolute moral, physical, and psychological boundaries. The truth is, sex is less concrete than most people assume. Gender and sexual orientation, for example, are not either/or categories. Instead, they are continuums. Similarly, sexual fantasies and behaviors vary greatly by individual and culture. Ultimately, open discussions about sexual identity and sexual practices will help people better understand themselves, others, and the world around them.

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An in-depth and objective examination of the details of a single person or entity.

Oral, anal, phallic, latency, and genital.

One method of research that uses a predetermined and methodical list of questions, systematically given to samples of individuals, to predict behaviors within the population.

The cultural, social, and psychological meanings that are associated with masculinity and femininity.

A person’s psychological sense of being male or female.

The behaviors, attitudes, and personality traits that are designated as either masculine or feminine in a given culture.

Refers to the direction of emotional and erotic attraction toward members of the opposite sex, the same sex, or both sexes.

The capacity a person has to elicit or feel sexual interest.

Personal sexual attributes changing due to psychosocial circumstances.

Twins conceived from a single ovum and a single sperm, therefore genetically identical.

Twins conceived from two ova and two sperm.

Born with either an absence or some combination of male and female reproductive organs, sex hormones, or sex chromosomes.

A term used to describe individuals whose gender matches their biological sex.

A term used to describe individuals whose gender does not match their biological sex.

A transgender person whose birth sex was male.

A transgender person whose birth sex was female.

Having both feminine and masculine characteristics.

Opposite-sex attraction.

Attraction to two sexes.

Same-sex attraction.

Fantasizing about someone other than one’s current partner.

Tactile stimulation of the body for sexual pleasure.

Vaginal-penile intercourse.

Cunnilingus or fellatio.

Oral stimulation of the female’s external sex organs.

Oral stimulation of the male’s external sex organs.

Penetration of the anus by an animate or inanimate object.

Sexual behaviors that cause harm to others or one’s self.

Inflicting pain upon another person to experience pleasure for one’s self.

Receiving pain from another person to experience pleasure for one’s self.

Permission that is voluntary, conscious, and able to be withdrawn at any time.

Doing anything that may decrease the probability of sexual assault, sexually transmitted infections, or unwanted pregnancy; this may include using condoms, honesty, and communication.

The lifelong pursuit of accurate human sexuality knowledge, and recognition of its various multicultural, historical, and societal contexts; the ability to critically evaluate sources and discern empirical evidence from unreliable and inaccurate information; the acknowledgment of humans as sexual beings; and an appreciation of sexuality’s contribution to enhancing one’s well-being and pleasure in life.

An Introduction to Social Psychology Copyright © 2022 by Thomas Edison State University is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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Human Sexuality: Personal Reflection Research Paper

Introduction, personal reflection, critical thinking and value systems in sexual decisions, effect of environment and historical perspective on my sexuality, gender identity, attraction and love, reference list.

Even though it might not be explicitly expressed, sexuality is very important to every person. Whether a person is old or young, man or woman or from any background, sexuality affects every aspects of their lives. The field of sexuality has always attracted many scholars who try to explain issues that surround human sexuality; however, this topic is not openly discussed leading many people to be ignorant of sexuality issues. It is commonly agreed that sexual drive is one on of the major drives that influence our decisions. In fact, sexual drives come next to basic drives such as eating and sleep. Due to this, knowledge on human sexuality is very important. It allows one to understand experiences and objective decisions on sexual life. To me, the course on human sexuality was eye-opening; allowing me to understand some of the things that I assumed to be obvious.

Before this course, issues on sexuality did seem important. I took the issues as only worth of being experienced but not to be discussed. I took sexual identity and feeling as given but not based on rational decision s. My sexual decisions were not well evaluated; I relied on impulsive emotions to make such decisions. I did not have a plane of reference to gauge my sexual decisions. Today, as I reflect on my earlier experience I see the course as liberating for giving me knowledge to base my sexual decisions on. Gender and sexuality seemed synonymous and seemed to have just been acquired and which a person had no influence. Today I can reflect on influence of these forces to my identity and all other aspects of my life. Love and attraction were just clichés whose meaning seemed to be obvious. Issues relationship and romance seemed to be obvious and negative experiences from relationships seemed to be just an element of bad lack (Nevid, J.S. et al., 2005, 67). Today, due to the principle acquired in the course, I have understanding of these issues and also on their influence on my relationship. Today I understand how love intimacy start, develop and how they can be maintained. Today the forces of sexuality do not just influence me without knowledge but I understand every element of sexual experience and mould them to the right direction.

I have always appreciated the use of value system making ethical decisions. However, I could not have imagined how critical thinking could be applied in making sexual decisions. I considered decisions made on sexuality to be based on emotions and feelings that could not be based to reason. I also saw value systems and sexuality to be incompatible and in competition. The course has brought light to this issue. I have come to realize that value systems and critical thinking are compatible with sexual decisions and in fact, should always be used in such decisions. Indeed, sex is a need; however expressing one’s sexuality is based on personal choice (Diamond, J., 1997, p87). The decisions are not just based by the biological nature of human but rational decisions should be used. Before, I did not apply a lot of thoughts to my decisions but left them to instinct of conscience. I did not closely relate ethics with sexuality only basing May decisions on my conscience.

My value system is very important in my decisions on sexuality. They give me a base in which to arrive at my decisions and to evaluate sexual drives. I strongly believe in ethical action. It evaluates the ethical consequence of any actions and believes that any actions should be based on rational decisions. In sexuality, ethics are also important. Critical thinking acquired in the course has allowed me to evaluate the ethical consequences of my sexual drive (Craig, A. H., 2008, p99).

Every individual has value systems that influence their decisions. From the course, I have been able to appreciate value systems of other people. Knowledge of their value system helps me to understand the rationale through which they make sexual decisions. This however does not make me to be swayed but have helped me to respect my value systems. Also this knowledge has allowed me to be tolerant of other people’s sexual decisions. Although I may strongly believe in sex as reserved for marriage, I have no problem with other people who hold contrary opinions. I am now able to respect their decisions but at the same time respect my decision ns even more. In making sexual decisions, I now have very strong tools: value systems and critical thinking.

Romantic novels, magazines and movies were the main base of my knowledge on sexuality. Critical thinking has given me a tool to critically analyze the ideas presented before taking applying them. Critical thinking has given me the skills to ask questions that would lead to a better conclusion.

Environment and history has great influence on the perspective that we have on sexuality. Each person live in a certain environment interacting with other people in the environment, thus one have to be influenced by the perspectives held by other people. The value systems, culture and other aspects of life are acquired from the environment. Historical perspective e in very important in analyzing the perspective on sexuality held today (Nevid, J.S. et al., 2005, p78). To me, evaluating historical perspective helps to analyze whether the perspective on sexuality that I hold today is really mine or acquired other perspectives. Review of historical perspective help to appreciate the influence of culture and religion to attitude on sexuality and sexual behavior (Sharon, M. V. & Simon, L., 2006, p123). As the course progressed, influence of various cultures to my sexuality was evaluated. This enabled me to identify the cultures that have influenced my perspective on sexuality in a bigger way.

As I evaluate the influence of historical perspective and environment on my sexuality, I have realized that Christianity has great influence on me. My Christian parent made it clear that sex is sacred and reserved for marriage. My parents discouraged premarital sex mostly due to their Christian background. The perspective on sexuality has passed down though sermon, scripture and other Christian teachings. For example Paul advised those who could to life as celibate, Augustine also taught that indulgence in carnal pleasure was a great hindrance to spirituality (Nevid, J.S. et al., 2005, p56). Other sexual practice such as anal, oral and masturbation is viewed as sinful. Today I can appreciate the influence of environment and historical perspective but I am able to make my own stand on my sexuality.

Discussion on historical perspective and environment has made me to appreciate my sexual identity. Gender identity is very important and it entails the recognition f a person as either a male or a female. As I reflect on my life, I realize that I developed my gender identity depending on how I was treated (Craig, A. H., 2008, p33). The type of cloth worn to me by my parents had great influence to my gender. The type of games that I was encouraged to participate and the toys bought to me said very much on my gender. The kind of chore given to me during my earlier life suggested strongly on my gender. Remark made by my parent on me suggested the kind of life that I was supposed to live and also to my gender. As I now realize, the gender identity from my parent and environment is through the learning theory (Abramson, P. R., & Pinkerton, S. D., 1995, p113). This theory suggest that children acquire their gender identity by observing their parent, siblings, duties assigned, and perspective created in the media to gain their gender identity.

For a long time now, I have been in relationships. If I compare the relationships to a game, then love and attraction were the moist important element in the game. I have fallen in love in various time; engaging in intimacy and various decisions on relationship. From the course, I can now appreciate the opposite attraction as postulated by science. Indeed I am attracted to individuals of opposite sex who share so me qualities with me and that we have common interest.

Sexuality is a very important element in human lives. Sexuality dictates our relationships, career and other decision in our lives. It is mostly assumed that our sexuality has nothing to do with science but the course suggested otherwise. The skill of critical thinking acquired in the course in very important in making decision on sexuality. Knowledge on attraction and love, influence of environment and historical perspectives on our sexuality is important in appreciating our sexuality and making decisions on the same.

Abramson, P. R., & Pinkerton, S. D. (1995). With Pleasure: Thoughts on the Nature of Human Sexuality. New York: Oxford University Press.

Craig, A. H. (2008). Human sexuality: personality and social psychological perspectives . Philadelphia: Sage Publication.

Diamond, J. (1997). Why is Sex Fun? The Evolution of Human Sexuality. New York: BasicBooks.

Nevid, J.S. et al. (2005). Human Sexuality in a world of diversity. New York: Pearson Education, Inc.

Sharon, M. V. & Simon, L. (2006). Human sexuality . New York: Sinauer Associates.

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IvyPanda. (2021, November 29). Human Sexuality: Personal Reflection. https://ivypanda.com/essays/human-sexuality-personal-reflection/

"Human Sexuality: Personal Reflection." IvyPanda , 29 Nov. 2021, ivypanda.com/essays/human-sexuality-personal-reflection/.

IvyPanda . (2021) 'Human Sexuality: Personal Reflection'. 29 November.

IvyPanda . 2021. "Human Sexuality: Personal Reflection." November 29, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/human-sexuality-personal-reflection/.

1. IvyPanda . "Human Sexuality: Personal Reflection." November 29, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/human-sexuality-personal-reflection/.


IvyPanda . "Human Sexuality: Personal Reflection." November 29, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/human-sexuality-personal-reflection/.

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Birds have been adapting to human activity for millennia, research suggests

by University of Copenhagen

Birds have been adapting to human activity for millennia

Roughly 14,500 to 10,500 years ago, in the transition from the last glacial period, Epipaleolithic and Neolithic peoples harvesting vegetation from the wetlands of eastern Jordan created a habitat for birds that would otherwise have migrated, a new study published in the Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory reveals.

It shows that human activity is not necessarily detrimental to biodiversity but may allow for species to co-inhabit specific environments, the researchers suggest.

The presence of humans is usually associated with negative effects on flora and fauna, and our species has demonstrably influenced biodiversity negatively in the course of history.

But in the study, titled "Waterfowl Eggshell Refines Palaeoenvironmental Reconstruction and Supports Multi-species Niche Construction at the Pleistocene-Holocene Transition in the Levant," a team of researchers from the University of Copenhagen and the University of Turin has discovered that some human activities may have had an encouraging effect on biodiversity through modification of specific ecosystems.

"The ecosystem in question is the Shubayqa wetlands of eastern Jordan that is now only seasonally flooded. But recent evidence has shown that water was likely available through much of the year, and therefore it was also possible for waterfowl and other species to exist there all year round if they had a suitable habitat," said zooarchaeologist Lisa Yeomans from the University of Copenhagen.

The team's excavations at the sites of Shubayqa have produced evidence that the Neolithic peoples who occupied these sites for longer or shorter periods of time not only harvested emergent vegetation from the wetlands, but also hunted waterfowl and collected their eggs and feathers.

"The presence of eggshells and bones of juvenile ducks and swans in the archaeological record indicates that these birds did indeed remain year-round to breed in the wetlands instead of returning to Europe. We know that the modern descendants of these birds can stay and breed in the region, but only if the environment is suitable for them, and we think that human management of the wetland vegetation did provide suitable ecological niches for them through harvest of the vegetation," added Lisa Yeomans.

Wetland management: A pathway to agriculture?

The archaeological cultures the researchers have been studying were periods when humans were on the cusp of developing agriculture. Recent studies have considered that habitat modification activities such as the ones documented at the Shubayqa wetlands of eastern Jordan might have been an important driver in this process.

"We know that agriculture developed in this region not long after these cultures, and we suggest that intentional management of wetlands was an important stage in this process. The effort taken to alter the wetlands paid off in that it afforded improved foraging opportunities in terms of waterfowl, eggs and feathers," said anthropologist Camilla Mazzucato.

"Novel paleoproteomic methodologies were developed to identify species of eggshells. Breeding waterfowl at Shubayqa demonstrates the year-round presence of water at the wetland. This has encouraged us to consider the agency of humans and other species in modifying the environment and move beyond simple deterministic interpretations of climate-driven innovation.

"For millennia humans and animals have co-inhabited different environments adapting to the presence and actions of one another, and this co-habitation has, we argue, been crucial for innovations that subsequently led to the advent of agriculture."

Provided by University of Copenhagen

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  • Iran J Nurs Midwifery Res
  • v.23(3); May-Jun 2018

Ethical Considerations in Sexual Health Research: A Narrative Review

Maryam shirmohammadi.

1 Student Research Committee, School of Nursing and Midwifery, Isfahan University of Medical Sciences, Isfahan, Iran

Shahnaz Kohan

2 Department of Midwifery and Reproductive Health, Nursing and Midwifery Care Research Center, Faculty of Nursing and Midwifery, Isfahan University of Medical Sciences, Isfahan, Iran

Ehsan Shamsi-Gooshki

3 Department of Medical Ethics, Faculty of Medicine, Tehran University of Medical Sciences, Tehran, Iran

Mohsen Shahriari

4 Department of Medical Surgical Care Nursing, Nursing and Midwifery Care Research Center, School of Nursing and Midwifery, Isfahan University of Medical Sciences, Isfahan, Iran


There is an assumption that sexual health research has great influence on the quality of human life through elevating sexual health standards, and their results will eliminate the burden of sexual health challenges on family relationships. The aim of this study was to review ethical considerations in sexual health research.

Materials and Methods:

This narrative review was conducted between January 1990 and December 2017 based on the five-step approach of York University. The keywords used to search for the studies included ethical issues, research, sexual health, reproductive health, and sensitive topics. The language of the literatures was English and the search process was performed on PubMed, Elsevier, Ovid, Springer, Google Scholar, ResearchGate, SAGE Publishing, ProQuest, WHO website, Kinsey Confidential, and Worldsexology.

After assessing the quality and eligibility of 94 articles, 13 were selected. The results of the present study showed that the most important ethical considerations were protecting the confidentiality and privacy of participants, obtaining informed consent, and paying attention to vulnerable people.


The review of literature exhibited several considerations that sexual health researchers are faced with. In order to manage these considerations, the researcher should have sufficient understanding of them. The important matter is that strategies to manage these challenges should be completely rational and practical according to each context. These strategies can also be applied in other societies with great similarities in their context.


Ethical considerations in research refer to a set of rules and guidelines that should be considered in order to avoid possible damage to participants and researchers.[ 1 , 2 , 3 ] There is no general description of the characteristics of a sensitive research, except for topics that have been accepted as sensitive as a result of experiences. Some examples of sensitive topics include sexual behaviors, drug abuse, topics that arouse emotions, and other topics tagged as a taboo.[ 4 , 5 ] The level of sensitivity can vary according to some characteristics of participants, such as age (for example, adolescents under 15 years of age or elderly people), gender identity (for example, homosexuals), and mental health retardation.[ 5 ] Some other topics, such as abuse and violence, are also considered sensitive as they can remind participants, who have been victims of past traumatic memories. For example, in some cases such as sexual violence, ethical complexities emerge because using methods such as in-depth interviews and questioning can arouse painful emotions and memories in victims.[ 6 ]

Researchers have different views on sensitivity of sexual topics. Many claim that sexual topics are not more sensitive than other research areas,[ 4 , 7 ] whereas others believe that these studies are highly sensitive.[ 8 , 9 ] It should be noted that sensitivity affects all details of research, from designing the approach to implementing and publishing the results.[ 10 ]

In countries with a traditional and religious context such as Iran, some of the traditional beliefs and social structures make it difficult to conduct sexual health and sensitive research.[ 11 ] Studies on sexual health and sensitive topics become important in the case of the widespread occurrence of some high-risk sexual conditions, such as HIV, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), unwanted pregnancy and unsafe abortion due to some risk factors such as very young age at the time of first sexual relationship, multiple sex partners, extramarital relationship, and above all, the lack of any education and information provision especially among adolescents. The common language of sex in Iran is the language of silence, because sex and related issues are considered a taboo and talking about them freely in most settings is forbidden.[ 11 ] Therefore, this study was conducted to identify ethical considerations in research related to sexual health and sensitive research.

Materials and Methods

This narrative review study was conducted in 2017 to determine the ethical considerations in research related to sexual health and sensitive topics (such as, trafficked women, unwanted pregnancy and illegal abortion especially in adolescents, sexual violence, etc.) based on the five-step approach of York University. This approach includes development of the research question, identification of relevant studies, assessment of the quality of the studies, summarization of the evidence, and analysis and synthesis of information.[ 12 , 13 ]

The databases used included PubMed, Elsevier, Ovid, Springer, Google Scholar, ResearchGate, SAGE Publishing, and ProQuest. Moreover, websites, including who.org, kinseyconfidential.org, and worldsexology.org, were searched to find relevant studies using keywords such as “Ethical issues, Research, Sexual Health, Reproductive health, and Sensitive Topics”. In the first stage, the keywords were searched separately, and then, they were combined with “and” or “or” to make some new keywords or phrases. The search process was conducted on articles published from January 1990 until December 2017. At first, 94 texts, including E-books and articles were obtained; 36 articles gained from PubMed, 7 from Elsevier, 7 from Scopus, 14 from ResearchGate, 16 from Google Scholar, 9 from ProQuest, and 5 from Ovid. After inspecting the inclusion criteria, including year of publication, language, and consisting of clear and precise description of ethical considerations related to the research question and suitable method of data gathering and analysis, 33 articles were selected. Finally, 13 articles were identified as eligible for the study after the thorough review of the texts. The quality of the selected articles was assessed based on a checklist consisting of the standard components of qualitative, descriptive, and review studies. The most important criteria were: Has the question of the study been developed clearly?; Is the approach of the study appropriate for answering the question of the study?; Has the background of the study been described well?; Has the sampling procedure of the study been fully described?; Has the data collection method been described well?; and Is the data analysis method appropriate for this study?.[ 14 ] In addition, to ensure the reliability of the selected studies, each article was reviewed by at least two members of the research team. Finally, concepts in different categories were separately identified and studied; there were no considerable differences among the opinions of the members. Then, all the content was analyzed and categorized, and ethical challenges were fully described. The process of article selection is described in Figure 1 .

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Object name is IJNMR-23-157-g001.jpg

The process of finding resources

Ethical considerations

Research ethics confirmation was received from the Isfahan University of Medical Sciences.

In this study, 13 studies were reviewed, which were conducted in 7 different countries including Canada, Australia, Britain (3 articles each), Nigeria, Africa, Mexico, and America (1 article each). In the review, unfortunately, no Iranian or even Persian articles were found in this regard. In total, 1,275 individuals have participated in quantitative and qualitative studies. The data collection methods used in these articles were different; individual and group interviews with purposive sampling in qualitative studies and convenience sampling in quantitative studies, examining a case report, and review of articles.

The results showed some similar and common ethical considerations related to sexual health and sensitive research in all of the reviewed studies. In 2007, Gune and Manuel stated that performing any research on sexual issues can cause embarrassment in participants, because sexual health research often interferes with individual's privacy, and the ethical concepts of studies as well as the publication of their findings may cause many problems. This study sheds more light on the importance of the confidentiality and anonymity of participants and results.[ 15 ]

In 1999, Binik et al . in Canada studied ethical issues regarding conducting sexual research on the Internet.[ 16 ] They stated that the Internet provides the virtual space for conducting innovative research in sexual topics, but this new world is associated with new ethical complications like ethical issues related to participants' registration in the research, informed consent, and collecting and storing data. Special methods and caution are required in order to collect information from children in order to protect privacy and preserve and record sensitive information. Finally, the researchers stated that the research related to sexual issues on the Internet is associated with a few risks; they considered common ethical standards to be sufficient for ordinary research in this field. It seems that risks on the Internet are not so extreme as to require the use of strict standards in this respect.[ 16 ]

In 2008, Flicker and Guta conducted a study to evaluate the necessity of obtaining parental consent for participation of adolescents in these types of studies.[ 17 ] Their hypothesis was that the process of parental intervention may have no place in this type of research because it is in contrast to the principal of participants' autonomy.[ 17 ]

In a qualitative research conducted by Dickson-Swift in 2007, the ethical considerations in studies with sensitive topics included communication between researchers and participants, relationship with isolated person, the creation of a sense of guilt in the researcher, vulnerability due to leaving the research relationship, and fatigue caused by the study.[ 18 ]

In a review article, Benbow and Haddad examined the ethical considerations in research on elderly patients with dementia, who were sexually abused, in 1993.[ 19 ] The results showed that in most cases the rapist had a history of psychological disorders, which indicates that both rapist and rape victim can be victims of their psychiatric disease. The most important challenges in this type of study have been the problem of connecting with participants and the perilous situation of the study that could endanger the researcher due to the presence of both offenders and victims.[ 19 ] Cowburn in 2005 evaluated the ethical complexities in studies where the participants were sex offenders.[ 20 ] In interviewing this group of people, the principle of confidentiality should be repeated by the investigator at the start of each new section of the study. The result indicated that observing the principle of confidentiality could legally cause serious challenges, especially when the researcher is informed of an unpleasant imminent incident.[ 20 ]

In a study conducted by Marshall and Batten in 2003 on groups with different cultures, the results showed that the research process must be based on the culture of each group of participants, respect for the values of each community, and devoting enough time to familiarization with the culture of each group of participants.[ 21 ] In 1999, James and Platzer conducted a study to evaluate the ethical considerations of research on minority groups, and the marginalized and stigmatized population. The results indicated some challenges such as the vulnerability of researchers and participants, the need for partnership of the researcher and his/her coworkers to support him/her in case of stress, the participants' potential for remembering emotionally painful experiences, using appropriate policies to deliver the results of these studies without negative influence on the cultural atmosphere of the community.[ 22 ]

Cwikel and Hoban, in another study in 2005, explored the ethical issues in studies on trafficked women.[ 23 ] They pointed out that the ethical considerations in research on this group in the most important cases included the complexities associated with obtaining informed consent, legal punishment for researchers who get involved in illegal actions for the benefits of their study, and protection of the rights of vulnerable participants by the researcher.[ 23 ] The results of the study on ethical considerations of research on runaway and homeless young people as vulnerable populations, which was performed by Meade and Slesnick in 2002, revealed that maintaining beneficence and justice, ensuring the autonomy of the teenager, obtaining informed consent from the teenager, reporting any abuse regarding runaway and homeless teenagers, and providing access to useful services as the most important ethical necessities.[ 24 ]

In a study by Seal et al . in 2000 on qualitative studies with the subject of sexual health, the most important ethical considerations included obtaining informed consent, maintaining privacy and confidentiality, and observing the principles of establishing communication in such qualitative studies.[ 25 ] Gledhill et al . in 2008 studied the culturally taboo and forbidden topics in various communities; indeed they wanted to disclose the importance of sex research as a socially prohibited and culturally taboo topic. Furthermore, they indicated obtaining informed written consent and confidentiality as the most important ethical considerations.[ 26 ] A comparison of the characteristic of all 13 studies is presented in Table 1 . In Table 2 , almost all ethical considerations found during this study have been listed.

Outline of the studies included in the review

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Ethical considerations and challenges in sexual and sensitive research

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Based on the results of the study, the most important attained ethical considerations were protecting the confidentiality and privacy of participants, various aspects of informed consent, informed consent in vulnerable participants (particularly adolescents), the necessity of standard ethical protocols for sexual health and sensitive research, and ethical issues in publishing sexual health or sensitive research results. The summary of results is provided in Table 2 .

Confidentiality and privacy

Among the 13 reviewed studies, 6 indicated that, based on the principles of the Declaration of Helsinki, all precautions to protect the privacy and confidentiality of participants' personal information should be considered.[ 19 ] The violation of the confidentiality and privacy of participants are circumstances in which they lose their control over personal information that has been provided during the study.[ 26 ] The most important part of these concerns is related to preserving the dignity and individual control of participants and establishing rapport with them in order to guarantee the validity and integrity of the study. These concerns are particularly among vulnerable groups such as young people, drug abusers, prostitutes, people with dementia, etc. The concerns of scientists and researchers about ethical standards have guided them to feel the necessity for creating ethical guidelines and solutions in order to protect the participants from risks and maintaining their privacy by establishing confidentiality. In addition, scientists are looking for guidelines that can protect novice researchers from potentially dangerous conditions.[ 27 ] Regarding vulnerable people, although some issues in studies are usual, there are some cases that should be considered as uniquely and independently sensitive issues. For example, observing privacy in studies on adolescents, especially in dealing with high-risk behaviors, can be performed with the conditional or unconditional consent of the adolescent.[ 28 ] The principle of privacy is not only a topic in the context of ethics, but also is an individual right regarding privacy and freedom from danger.[ 29 ] Preserving privacy and confidentiality is one of the main concerns of adolescents who take part in research. They are normally and potentially prone to self-harm or abuse by relatives. For example, in case of domestic violence, if the adolescent feels that there is the risk of the offender becoming aware of the presented information, he/she will be frightened and this may result in self-censorship. In addition, there is the risk of each member of the research team disclosing information related to the adolescent participants and the results of the research.[ 30 ]

Parental intervention and interference mainly with adolescents above 15–18 years of age regarding the research atmosphere, especially in sensitive topics, may result in a kind of self-censorship by the adolescents. The confusion of the adolescents can finally result in silence, because of the fear of exposing their private matters; however, in sexual health research, the accuracy of the adolescents' speech is crucial.[ 17 ]

There are some exceptions related to preserving privacy during research. If researchers understand that there is some risky behavior or condition that can potentially endanger the adolescent's health, they should break their silence and inform the parents or law. Please notice that in any situation related to risky behavior, the health and well-being of children and adolescents are more important than confidentiality.[ 31 ]

Informed consent

The participation of people qualified to provide informed consent as study subjects or participants in health and medical studies must be voluntary. An informed consent in research can only be obtained when participants are fully informed of the objectives, methods, sources of information, the possibility of any conflict of interest, organizational affiliation of the researcher, potential benefits and risks of the study, the requirements after the study, other aspects related to the study, and their right to withdraw from the study at any time, freely, and without any risk of retaliation.[ 19 ] Obtaining informed consent in cases such as vulnerable population, such as adolescents, has special importance and it may challenge researchers. In 2014, Folayan et al . stated that deciding on the adequacy of informed consent in adolescents was mostly based on birth certificate age rather than on a direct assessment of adolescents' capacity to understand the issues and ability to offer informed consent for participation in the study.[ 32 ] Moreover, Folayan et al . are of the opinion that the participation of adolescents in research is compulsory, and therefore, adolescents do not have a comprehensive understanding of damage related to participating in those studies.[ 32 ] Based on the Islamic Republic of Iran research ethical guide on vulnerable people, children and adolescents are among vulnerable groups, and regarding the ability to give informed consent, children are categorized into three groups. The first group consists of children of less than 7 years of age, in which written informed consent should be obtained from both parents, or if they are absent, from their legal guardian, especially in clinical research. The second group consists of 7- to 15-year-old children, in which written informed consent should be obtained from the children's legal guardians and as well as the children according to their understanding and cognitive power. Children of above 15 years of age constitute the third group, in which written informed consent should be obtained from both the legal guardian and child.[ 33 ] In addition, participants of over 18 years of age are authorized to participate in research without parental consent or even awareness.[ 33 ]

Vulnerable people

Sexual health and sensitive research on vulnerable people (adolescents, sexual minorities, prostitutes, sexual violence victims, etc.) should be conducted with the maximum protection specific to each group. Studies on such participants are justified only in the case of paying attention to their special health needs and only when it is not possible to perform the study on ordinary people. In addition, these people should be aware of the results of the research and types of interventions. Moreover, there should be sufficient rational support for all the interventions performed and actions taken in these kinds of research.[ 19 ] For example, careful attention and special adolescent-friendly protocols are the basic requirements for research on this age group. The Convention on the Rights of the Child includes the most basic human rights for children.[ 31 ] This protocol has been the most widely accepted human rights document in history and includes 54 articles and 2 optional protocols with 4 basic principles. These principles include no child should suffer from discrimination; when a decision is made regarding children, their highest interests must be taken into account, children should have the right to live and develop,[ 10 ] children have the right to express their ideas freely, and these ideas should be considered in all issues related to them.[ 34 ] In order to observe the rights of adolescents under the form of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, although these models have been defined as the standards in the world, a more specialized protocol should be developed in each context and in each research according to the study objectives and characteristics of the target group, using the four mentioned principles.

During work with vulnerable people, there is the chance of evoking terrifying memories in the participants, for example, in a victim of sexual violence. In these cases, the researcher or interviewer should be equipped with consulting skills and in the least time begin counseling the participant to minimize the maleficent effects of the research.[ 18 ]

Standard ethical protocols for sexual and sensitive research

Research with human subjects must be conducted based on scientific and generally accepted principles. The design and method of such studies should be clearly explained and justifiable based on a research protocol. The research protocol should include information such as the research funding, institutional affiliations of the researcher, potential conflicts of interest, and motivation of the participants, information on the rules of the treatment or research, and the ways to compensate possible losses due to research.[ 19 ] For example, if the data gathering method in a sensitive study is through the use of the Internet, researchers should be aware of possible threats that place data and information at risk as well as potential biases of participants in responding to questions through a computer and report them clearly.[ 16 ] There are several phenomena that are considered as sensitive according to specific cultural and social contexts. For example, topics with a dominant private nature, stressful topics, and topics related to death, fears of stigma, and sexual problems that can evoke the feelings of people are considered sensitive. The experiences and review of studies have revealed that not only are the participants exposed to the influence of the sensitive nature of the study process, but also the researchers are susceptible to the effects of these studies. Researchers and participants involved in the study, observers, and readers of published results could also be considered as susceptible. In order to protect the physical and psychological health of all people, developing the protocols and guidelines at the beginning of each study is essential in order to identify and reduce risks or loss during the research.[ 35 ] Clear and precise protocol and strategies to minimize the potential risk and loss during the research should be included in the proposed design of research with sensitive topics. They should also be provided for the ethics committee in order to prevent any misconception and decrease the risk of the rejection of the proposed topic. In studies conducted through interview or when interview is a part of them, the way to reduce the threats from the first step of meeting the interviewee, arranging interviews, protecting the physical and psychological health of the interviewer and interviewee, predicting the approach to end the interview, and the final report should be included in the proposed protocol. Another benefit of a standard protocol is to prevent the creation of unrealistic or unnecessary obstacles especially in sensitive research by the ethics committee.[ 36 ]

Disseminating the result of the studies

Researchers, authors, sponsors, editors, and publishers are required to observe all ethical issues related to the publication of the research results. Researchers are responsible for human subjects and the accuracy of the reports. When publishing the results, the source of funding, institutional affiliations, and any conflicts of interest must be clearly expressed. If there is any conflict between regional ethical guidelines and principles and the international statements of ethical principles, such as the Helsinki statement, the results should not be accepted for publishing.[ 19 ] Sociocultural and religious sensitivity are some of the most important specialized characteristics in most studies with sensitive topics and on sexual health, which mainly induce the researcher to use unclear words and concepts at the stage of publishing the results. At the end of this spectrum, sometimes we are faced with self-censorship by researchers, due to the consequences of results publication or the absence of project approval by research ethics committees that, in turn, causes uncertainty regarding the accuracy of the findings. Another form of self-censorship is created by the participants often due to the private nature of data and feeling of shame due to the taboo nature of the information. Finally, in some cases, in order to prevent anxiety, tension, and disturbance in the atmosphere of the community, the whole or a part of the results of some studies with sensitive topics are provided merely to groups of decision-makers, officials, and related experts, and publishing the results for the community is prohibited.

However, this topic is one of the priorities of our society in order to promote sexual science. A limited number of studies have been conducted on sexual issues in Iran, which caused limitation in results generalization and native suggestions. The importance of sexual health and issues around the world and Iran is due to several causes including high-risk sexual behaviors, for example, the onset of high-risk sexual relationships at a young age.

Based on the results of this study, ethical considerations in sexual health and many other sensitive topics have great similarities in terms of moral principles and standards. It should be noted that these common ethical principles in biomedical studies, based on the special nature of sexual health and sensitive topic research, not only can be interpreted in one study differently from another study but also are affected differently by the dominant culture of each society.

Financial support and sponsorship

Isfahan University of Medical Sciences.

Conflicting Interest

Nothing to declare.


We are thankful for the support provided by the Isfahan University of Medical Sciences in approving this project with the number 393866 and the National Committee of Ethics in Research of the Ministry of Health and Medical Education for scientific grant. Also, we appreciate all the people who contributed in this research kindly.


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