In Brief

Three behavioral researchers spoke at a March 5 congressional briefing about why sexual health research is vital to promoting public health.

The briefing was sponsored by the Coalition to Protect Research (CPR), a group of more than 40 organizations that includes APA. CPR supports federal funding for basic research in human sexual development, sexual health, HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). APA helped found the group last fall in response to Rep. Patrick Toomey's (R-Pa.) narrowly defeated amendment to eliminate funding for four sexual health research projects funded by the National Institutes of Health.

"One of the briefing's main goals is to educate Congress and policy-makers about sexual health research itself, and the importance of protecting the peer-review process," says Karen Studwell, JD, APA senior legislative and federal affairs officer and CPR co-chair. "We need to explain how this research will help millions of people affected by STDs, those who suffer from sexual abuse and others." More than 100 congressional staffers, federal officials and members of CPR-affiliated organizations attended the briefing, which was moderated by psychologist Alan Leshner, PhD, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

"There's no way we can get a handle on public health crises without understanding sexual transmission," he said to the audience, emphasizing that sexual behavior research is critical to understanding many public health issues, including AIDS and other STDs.

Other researchers backed Leshner's points in their talks:

  • Thomas Coates, PhD, of the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, asked the audience, "Has sexual behavior research given us any tools to reduce HIV/STI [sexually transmitted infection] transmission?" To convince them that it has, Coates, who studies the application of psychology to HIV prevention, highlighted several examples of useful sexual behavior research--including studies on people's continued high-risk behavior following HIV diagnosis and evaluations of sex education programs.

  • University of Wisconsin-Madison psychologist Janet Shibley Hyde, PhD, argued that studying positive sexuality and relationship health in monogamous couples is important to strengthening social fabric. Hyde, who studies human sexuality and gender-role development, has examined sexuality during pregnancy and postpartum and the myth of "dual-income, no sex" married couples who are too busy and stressed for sex. She has found that, in fact, dual-income couples have sex as frequently as other couples.

  • John Bancroft, MD, director of the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction, said that basic research methods, such as studying genital response to different sexual stimuli, can help answer such questions as why some people take sexual risks or sexually abuse others--questions with important public health applications. He described the institute's research on psychobiological factors in human sexuality.

--L. WINERMAN