The Social Sciences Research Council Supports Sexuality Research

by Susan Moke

As Alfred Kinsey and his successors can attest, insufficient funding for sex research has created a dearth of knowledge about human sexuality that in turn sustains many of the social crises evident in the United States today. Recognizing that sexuality plays significant roles in such social and public health problems as contraceptive use, adolescent pregnancy, child abuse, and the HIV/AIDS pandemic, the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) has established a Sexuality Research Fellowship Program Committee to fund behavioral research into human sexuality. With funds provided by the Ford Foundation, the program pursues a threefold goal: 1) to expand the information base on sexuality and to disseminate research findings to policy makers, health practitioners, educators, and the public; 2) to facilitate the comprehensive training of sexuality researchers; and 3) to encourage greater academic respectability and public acceptance of research in this area.

For the 1996-97 academic year, the committee funded eleven doctoral and three postdoctoral projects in sociology, anthropology, history, and psychology. The projects cover such topics as the determinants of sexual socialization in girls, the experience of gay immigrants, and the "impact zones" of HIV/AIDS. The SSRC awarded both a doctoral and a postdoctoral Sexuality Research Fellowship for projects centered at Indiana University Bloomington. Sharon Abbott, a doctoral candidate in sociology, received a fellowship for her investigation into the production of pornography. Noting that research into pornography has thus far focused on its reception and effects, Abbott is examining the organizational structures of the production companies, the careers of participants, the contents of the products, and the audience and market constraints that determine how pornographic video products are produced.

Joanne Meyerowitz, an assistant professor of history at the University of Cincinnati, was awarded a one-year fellowship to work at the Kinsey Institute on the history of transsexuality in the United States. Meyerowitz points out that the Kinsey Institute holds the best collections in the United States on the history of transsexuality. The institute's archival records include correspondence between Dr. Harry Benjamin, the so-called father of trans-sexualism, and his first transsexual patients. The institute's library also has an extensive collection of clipping files and published works on the history of transsexuality. Meyerowitz's current work focuses on Christine Jorgensen. For Meyerowitz, Jorgensen's case provides a lens through which to examine larger questions. She comments that "the press coverage accorded Christine Jorgensen in the 1950s shook the very foundations of sexual and gender ideology. Jorgensen herself publicized, promoted, and accelerated changing understandings of the visibility and mutability of sex and gender. In particular, the publicity of Jorgensen's transsexualism helped replace an older, binary version of separate and opposite biological sexes with a newer version of overlapping sexes. It also encouraged the conceptual separation of gender and sexuality from biological sex."

For the second year of the fellowship program, the 1997-98 academic year, IU again attracted two awards. David Aveline of the Department of Sociology won a doctoral fellowship for his study of the process by which gays and lesbians become parents, and Meredith Reynolds, who recently received her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Michigan, secured one of the SSRC's postdoctoral fellowships. She will come to the Kinsey Institute to study the relationship between childhood sexual play and adolescent and adult sexual development. Reynolds' study will involve conducting interviews with a representative sample of IU students. She will also conduct a comparative analysis of the data gained in the interviews with original Kinsey interview data on this topic gathered fifty years ago.

An important component of the SSRC's promotion of sexuality research as a respectable academic pursuit is an annual meeting in which SSRC fellows share their research experiences. During this annual meeting, the fellows also receive training in the dissemination of their research results. The Kinsey Institute will host this year's meeting of the SSRC fellows. Kinsey