Midwestern Kink

So long, Indianapolis—I just got home from the annual meeting and 50th-anniversary celebration of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality (SSSS, a/k/a "Quad S," at sexscience.org). You'd think that attending a conference of sex researchers, therapists, and academics would be pretty freakin' fun, especially with titillating symposium titles like "I'll Take 'Nipples' for $1,000, Alex" and "Student Judgments Concerning the Sexually Explicit DVD American Bukkake 14." But in most of the sessions I went to, complex statistics, dry presentations, and boring analyses were more common than provocative topics and engaging presenters. I'm all for super-duper sex brainiacs (sex nerds make me hot), but the event felt like any standard academic gathering—the presentations just happened to be on masturbation, barebacking, and sex work.

Some of the research was undeniably interesting, like studies on gender and sexual coercion, sex and emerging technologies, and female erotic response. But there was a wide gap between what the academics were inquiring into and theorizing about (too much sexual dysfunction, not enough function) and the subjects I'd really like to see explored. The overall program got me thinking about how much we still don't know about so many areas of sexuality. So I put together a little list.

Top Five Sex-Research Studies I'd Like to See:

1. Female Ejaculation. We still have very little scientific information about female ejaculation—most of what we know is based on anecdotal evidence. We need some heavy-hitting studies to prove wrong all the people who still insist that "women are just peeing."

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2. Sex-Toy Use. In his talk about the history of sex-toy stores in North America, Cory Silverberg from Come As You Are, a sex-positive shop in Toronto (comeasyouare.com), pointed out that no research has been done on people who buy sex toys, how they use them, and how the toys affect their sex lives and attitudes about sexuality. Silverberg sounded an unabashedly activist note when he called on sex researchers to pay attention to current trends; sadly, there were only a dozen people in the room.

3. BDSM. There were a handful of papers on BDSM, but I'd like to see lots more, particularly a study on the intersection between people who do BDSM and their perceptions and attitudes about body image. In my experience, people in BDSM communities appear to be more comfortable with nudity and diverse body sizes; I'd love to see if this hypothesis holds up with research.

4. Female Porn Viewers. There were only two papers on porn at this conference, but that's pretty representative of the lack of information we have about porn consumption. We know especially little about how women react to different kinds of porn and what they want to see in porn. And not just college students. I get it—college students are a convenient pool of research subjects because they're in the professor's backyard—but there seemed to be far too many studies of college students.

5. Sex-Toy Safety. We don't have enough information about sex-toy materials, like the safety or toxicity of those made with phthalates (which I reported on in my February column, "Dangerous Dildos," part one and two.). My suggestion: Why not study a population of people that has extensive "exposure" to these toys—i.e., porn stars?

Clearly, I could go on, but I want you to know that some fun was had in Indy! I had dinner with a friend I hadn't seen in years, a kinky tranny guy and master knife-maker who lives in Indianapolis. He told me that there was a big s/m party happening, one of the biggest of the year in the city. A few of the people I knew at the conference were kinky, so I passed along the info. Within hours, about 15 people came by, whispering, "I heard there was a party tonight. . . . "

See, that's the other interesting thing: With all these folks interested in sex research and discourse, only a small percentage are sex radicals or alternative-sex practitioners of some kind—or at least only a small percentage are willing to be out about it. I'd been wondering: Where were all the swinger sexologists? Anyway, I had somehow become troop leader of this spontaneous Perv Scout field trip, taking their names and admittance fees and arranging the carpooling. So we all headed out to a nearby chain hotel.

The local organization throwing the party, Indiana Masters and Slaves/Submissives/Switches, had taken over a large ballroom and transformed it into a dungeon, a social space with demos, and a small area for vendors. Everyone I met—from the woman at the door, to the hostess who gave us a tour, to the gentleman who offered to lend me some toys to play with—was warm and gracious. Our little group of out-of-town sex geeks came in three waves, but eventually everyone arrived. They scattered around, some watching others play, some getting right into the action. I saw a hot sexologist flog another hot sexologist in the only male/male coupling in the room. Much to my delight, I spotted a professor (whose two papers I'd heard and enjoyed that weekend) pressed up against the wall, a well-known sexologist pinning her there and kissing her. She ended up splayed on a spanking bench when a flogger appeared, and the two were off to the races. Nice to see sex geeks who practice what they research.

The next morning, just before the 9 a.m. sessions, I was headed to hear a paper about, among other things, "teledildonics" (sex toys controlled by computers and software) when I ran into nearly everyone from our dungeon-party adventure. They stood among their colleagues, who gripped small coffee cups and discussed a fundraising auction they'd enjoyed the night before; all my cohorts had rosy glows and slightly devious smiles. I even saw the professor who'd been pinned against the wall lugging her suitcase behind her. I'm not sure which session she was headed to: "A Meta-Analytic Review of Gender Differences in Sexuality"? "Understanding Heterosexual Women's Same-Sex Encounters at College Parties"? I wanted to tell her how beautiful she'd looked surrendering to that man, but we were headed in opposite directions, so we simply exchanged big grins and went on our way.

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