Random Sample

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A sex educator

As founder of The Psychology of Human Sexuality blog, Justin Lehmiller has become somewhat of a male Dear Abby, albeit one grounded in rigorous science. Lehmiller, who teaches human sexuality and research methods at Harvard, launched the blog two years ago as a way to give people research-backed information on sex and relationships.

"Most of us receive inadequate and often imbalanced sex education in school," says Lehmiller. "There is also so much damaging misinformation out there and far too many ‘sexperts' offering nothing but personal opinions and anecdotes. This is what inspired me to create a resource that provides people with sex information grounded in science."

In addition to reporting on sex and relationship research and trends, he answers reader questions every Friday. Recently, he's addressed such topics as whether a man can sexually fantasize about another man and still be straight (it depends) and how many kids today are sexting (not as many as you've been led to think). His most popular post to date — one on unusual sexual practices — garnered 185,000 visitors in a single day.

His research

The blog's contents are based largely on the scientific literature, some of it his own. His studies have explored sexual orientation, secret relationships, prejudice and stigma, safe-sex practices and "friends with benefits." His most recent research publication, in the Journal of Sex Research, compared sexual communication, satisfaction and condom use practices among people in casual and committed relationships.

Captivated by human motives: A couple of high school psychology classes sparked Lehmiller's initial interest in psychology. "I distinctly remember learning about the classic studies of Milgram, Zimbardo, Darley and Latané, and others," he says. "I was captivated by the psychological motives behind why we do what we do." His interests expanded to sex in graduate school after serving as a teaching assistant for a sexuality course. "Until that point, I didn't even know psychologists could study sex," he says.

Future plans

Lehmiller used to think being a full-time faculty member was his only career option, but authoring two textbooks — including an upcoming title on human sexuality — and the blog has changed his perspective. "Popular press writing is incredibly gratifying because you can reach more than just the 20 to 30 students in your class, or the handful who read your journal article," he says. "We need more psychologists engaging in scientific outreach beyond their classroom walls."

— Sara Martin

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