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Why are health psychologists interested in human sexual behaviour and how have they attempted to study it?

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Introduction

SS3.27 Psychology of Education & Health Lecturer: Carla Willig Why are health psychologists interested in human sexual behaviour and how have they attempted to study it? In order to thoroughly answer the question posed various factors need to be scrutinized. Firstly the main reasons for health psychologists' interest in human sexual behaviour shall be explored and secondly the main methods used will be described. The foremost techniques shall be argued to be sex surveys, laboratory studies, studies of social cognitions, sexual experience within close relationships, and the study of sexual meanings. These five contemporary approaches are behavioural, physiological, cognitive, relationship and meaning orientated respectively and an example of each shall be presented. All these features will be evaluated in detail before summarising the main points and offering a conclusion as to which direction future research into human sexual behaviour should take. From a health psychologists viewpoint it is unproblematic to see why they choose to study human sexual behaviour. The three main reasons resolve around the idea of mind-body interdependence, physical/emotional consequences and social interaction. The first motive is pretty straightforward as sexual activity incorporates the body as well as the mind. Yet the second one is slightly more complex. The outcomes of sexual behaviour could include pregnancy (wanted or unwanted), sexually transmitted diseases or major emotional problems such as guilt or humiliation. Both bodily and emotional consequences can have a serious effect on an individual's psychological well-being. Indeed history has been punctuated by a series of panics around sexuality over "childhood sexuality, prostitution, homosexuality, public decency, STD's and pornography", (Weeks, 1985). The final imperative reason for health psychologists' interest in sex is due to the social interaction that takes place during a sexual encounter. ...read more.

Middle

Additionally many problems present themselves in terms of the validity of this method, these include social desirability bias, interviewer effect (gay participant may not tell a heterosexual interviewer what they might say to another homosexual), use of clinical language (creates a medical frame which may limit what participants say), and furthermore they have an observably restrictive design. Alternatively laboratory studies have a physiological focus i.e. Masters & Johnson, 1966.Virginia Johnson was a student of master's and the experimental questions they set out to answer were: 1) what happens to the human male and female as they respond to effective sexual stimulation 2) why do men and women behave as they do to effective sexual stimulation. They recruited male and female participants aged 21-40 years old and asked them to either have sexual intercourse or to masturbate in a room containing a two way mirror (observation took place in the adjacent room). The participants had electrodes attached to their bodies and in more current investigations the researches inserted micro cameras into the body to monitor internal processes. Masters & Johnson's whole study took 11 years and the investigators observed over 10,000 sexual response cycles. They ultimately 'found' that male and female responses follow the same pattern (See Table 1.). 4 PHASES OF SEXUAL RESPONSE: (1) EXCITEMENT (2) PLATEAU (3) ORGASM (4) RESOLUTION Table 1. Masters & Johnson's sexual response cycle Supplementary findings demonstrated verification of sexual arousal throughout the entire body such as vasocongestion and myotonia, increase blood flow and muscle tension respectively. Additionally it was realised that more intense orgasms (physiologically) were achieved through masturbation and this was apparent in both sexes. Lastly orgasms were found to be more reliably produced through masturbation for women. ...read more.

Conclusion

Consequently Willig proposed that "sex education within the context of HIV/AIDS must challenge these constructions if it is to be effective" The problems that arise from studying sexual meanings are such as how time-consuming the technique is and how small the samples tend to be. It takes an enormous amount of time to transcribe an interview. Moreover, Segal (1994) argues that this approach "fails to address questions about bodily and psychic processes". To conclude, "In modern civilised life sex enters probably even more into consciousness than hunger". Edward Carpenter, Love's coming of age. In essence this quote sums up the reason why health psychologists are accordingly interested in sexual behaviour, and why Kinsey was so shocked that it hadn't previously been studied further. However the contemporary reasons health psychologists study human sexual behaviour/experience are because of the mind-body interdependence, the consequences (both emotional and physical) and lastly because of the social interaction involved. The five main approaches to the study of sexual behaviour/experience have been cited with praises and criticisms explored. It is clear that health psychologists need to further develop alternative research strategies in order to gain access to differing types of data and to advance and improve the reliability and validity of contemporary research results. In order to do this the problems mentioned with the techniques need to be minimalised if possible and a more eclectic approach could prove beneficial as currently contrasting approaches are measuring incompatible aspects of human sexual behaviour. Word count = 2,650 ?? ?? ?? ?? Rachel MacDonald Why interested in human sexual behaviour and how attempted to study it? 1 of 7 11/04/07 ...read more.

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