Some Current Events in Sexual Behavior Research and Policy

More Sexting Data, Not a Lot More Information

A study published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking adds to the small number of preliminary studies intended to catalog young people’s use of cell phones for sexual communication, or as it’s come to be known, sexting.  The authors targeted youth demographically identified as Black and Hispanic in an effort to describe the “prevalence and patterns” of their sexting behaviors. An audio-assisted self-interview tool was used with youth who were part of a larger study assessing HIV and pregnancy prevention work in a large, urban school district in southeast Texas.

For this study, sexting was defined as having ever “sent, posted, received, and/or shared nude or semi-nude pictures or videos and sexually suggestive text-only messages.” Researchers asked a total of 1,304 tenth graders (mean age, 16) about overall cell phone use and specifically about using a cell phone for sexual communications.

They report that 23% of youth sent, and 31% received at least one message that would qualify as a sext. While they break the numbers down by whether or not the text included a nude or semi- nude picture, they don’t seem to have defined “semi-nude” or “sexually suggestive,” which could very well mean that texting a sexual joke or comment, or sharing pictures of oneself in a bathing suit are included in the above numbers.

The data are similar to findings from 2008, when the media began reporting that there was a sexting trend. But they are much higher than data from 2009 and 2011, when 4% and 10% (respectively) of youth texted a sexually themed message to a friend, or a picture to someone else or even themselves.,0,5829407.story



From Abstinence-Only to Risk-Avoidance: New Language, Same Message

An article in Education Week alerts educators to a shift in language within the abstinence-only movement that has made its way to politicians on the right. The piece cites a speech given by U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-Ill.) on the House floor calling for an additional $110 million dollars for abstinence-only sex education. Only now the approach (which doesn’t allow for any discussion of such real life concerns as contraception, safer sex, sexuality identity and orientation) is being called “risk-avoidance education.” Organizations like the National Abstinence Education Foundation are also using the term, sometimes lengthening it to “Sexual Risk Avoidance Abstinence Education.”

It isn’t clear if the new term serves a purpose beyond re-branding an approach that has consistently proven to be ineffective and is now out of favor with the Obama Administration. In most of the public materials available, the messaging of Sexual Risk Avoidance seems to be the same as Abstinence-Only; avoid risk by not engaging in any sexual activities outside of a heterosexual marriage.


Married or Cohabiting, What’s the Healthy Choice (for Those Who Have One)?

Those of us who work with couples know that identifying one universal relationship factor that leads to positive health outcomes is a fool’s game.  And yet, sociologists have long documented a variety of physical and mental health benefits conferred on those who are legally married. As the debate on same-sex marriage arrives at the Supreme Court this year, researchers begin to consider the issue in the context of sexual orientation.

A study published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior pooled data from 1997 to 2009 National Health Interview Surveys to compare the self-rated health of same-sex cohabiting men and women, comparing them to the ratings of different-sex married, different-sex cohabiting, and unpartnered divorced, widowed, and never-married adults.  They found that same-sex cohabiting men were 61% more likely than straight married men to say they were in poor or fair health and cohabiting women were 46% more likely to say they were in poor or fair health than straight, married women.

They also found that same-sex couples rated their health higher than different-sex cohabiting couples, although they report the difference is largely a measure of socio-economic status. The researchers conclude that health benefits may be due to increased access to health care and reduced stress that married couples may enjoy as a function of social capital and privilege.,0,2162814.story


Chicago Passes Sex-Ed for Kindergartners

According to an ABC News report, the Chicago Board of Education, which manages the third largest public school system in the U.S., approved a new sex education curriculum. The curriculum that will be implemented within two years will include sexual health content beginning in kindergarten.

From kindergarten to third grade, lessons will include anatomy, reproduction, healthy relationships, and personal safety (appropriate and inappropriate touching). Information about puberty and basic HIV information will be introduced in fourth grade, and reproduction, STI prevention, abstinence, contraception, and bullying will be the focus in fifth to twelfth grades. The article also notes that for the first time, sexual orientation and gender identity will be included in curriculum, in an effort to bring the material in line with President Obama’s national HIV/AIDS strategy.


DSM V Finalized

On December 1, 2012 the American Psychological Association board of trustees approved the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the DSM-V. This was the final step in the pre-publication process that will end with the May 2013 release of the manual, which was last fully revised in 1994.

Major changes include a scrapping of the “axis” system, a restructuring of diagnostic groups based in part on disorders that are currently thought to be biologically related, and the inclusion of “dimensional assessments” to indicate severity of symptoms. There are three changes related to sexuality and gender garnering the most discussion:

The change from Gender Identity Disorder (GID) to Gender Dysphoria (GD), is seen by most as a positive move away from pathologizing gender expression (although many disagree as to the significance of the move).

There was an effort to include a new diagnosis of Hypersexuality disorder, but this did not make the final edit and will not be included in the DSM-V.

A change in both name and scope, from Transvestic Fetishism to Transvestic Disorder, a move that seems to be the opposite of the one from GID to GD, captures a much larger group of people under a disordered category and attempts to canonize the controversial concept of “autogynephilia”.

Not surprisingly, both the process and the resulting changes in the DSM-V are drawing criticism from many quarters.


An Update on Gender Diagnoses, as the DSM-V Goes to Press


Sex Addiction Beyond the DSM-V


DSM 5 Is Guide Not Bible – Ignore Its Ten Worst Changes



New U.S. National Data on Sexual Violence Includes Orientation for the First Time

With so much media attention being paid to the sexual assault and murder of a young woman in India, it is timely that the CDC released data from their National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, serving as a stark reminder that sexual violence isn’t just something that happens “over there,” but is a part of every day life for many Americans.  According to the data, gathered in 2010 using a random digit dial telephone survey conducted over both land lines and cell phones, of the 18,049 interviews conducted, nearly 1 in 2 women (44.6%) and 1 in 5 men (22.2%) experienced “sexual violence victimization” at some point in their lives. When respondents were asked about rape (distinguished as involving forced penetration/being forced to penetrate), nearly 1 in 5 women (18.3%) and 1 in 71 men (1.4%) report having been raped in their lifetime.

The data released in January also provide, for the first time ever, a set of national prevalence data on intimate partner violence (IPV), sexual violence (SV), and stalking victimization by sexual orientation.

The study found that lesbians and gay men reported IPV and SV over their lifetimes at levels equal to or higher than those of heterosexuals; sexual orientation was based on respondents’ identification at the time of the survey. The survey also found that bisexual women (61.1 percent) report a higher incidence of rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner compared to both lesbian (43.8 percent) and heterosexual women (35 percent). Of the bisexual women who experienced IPV, approximately 90 percent reported having only male perpetrators, while two-thirds of lesbians reported having only female perpetrators of IPV.

The authors note that as a result of their methods, they do not report whether sexual violence occurs over time more frequently in same-sex or opposite sex couples


CDC: <> National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey






These pieces were originally published as a part of the Summer 2013 STEP SIG Newsletter.

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