Wednesday, August 24, 2016
Last updated: 11 months ago

Sex | Sex on the brain: UBC sex research

It is no secret that university students have sex on the brain. Usually, this serves as a distraction from a droning lecture or a looming deadline. For a group of lucky students, thinking about sex is their highest priority.

One of those fortunate few is UBC student and sex researcher Morag Yule.

“Nearly everyone finds sex interesting, whether they want to do it or they don’t want to do it, or everything is working properly, or things aren’t working properly,” said Yule. “It’s a topic that people find relevant to their lives.”
Currently pursuing her Master’s degree in clinical psychology, Yule has worked with Dr Lori Brotto at the UBC Sexual Health Lab.

So how does someone become a sex researcher? According to the lab’s studies coordinator Yvonne Erskine, “They come out from all different directions, but we get our volunteers mainly through the department of psychology at the university.”

As for Yule, she became interested in the field after taking a course on human sexuality during her undergraduate studies (PSYC 360).

“I always had an interest in biology as well as psychology, and not only is sex research the perfect combination of the two, it’s fascinating!”

Fascinating is just the right word for a study she recently completed: “Sexual Orientation, Handedness, Asexuality and Digit Ratio in Women.” Yule looked into the correlation between hands and sexual orientation. Could it be that palmistry has some merits after all?

“Handedness has been linked to sexual orientation, and is thought to be an indicator of prenatal development,” said Yule. “We found that asexuals are more likely to be non-right-handed [left-handed or ambidextrous] than heterosexual individuals.”

Results for digit ratios, on the other hand—pardon the pun—were inconclusive. Added Yule, “Studies have provided evidence that there is some relationship between digit ratios and sexual orientation for men, but not for women.”

Nevertheless, Yule is glad to shed some light on asexuality. “It’s amazing that asexuality has been overlooked for so long… and is very often misunderstood.”

Sex researchers, too, are a misunderstood bunch. Even decades after the Kinsey report, some stigma remains. Yvonne Erskine, who also works for the UBC Sexual Health Lab, admitted she is reluctant to tell new acquaintances about her occupation.

“I usually tell people I’m a research coordinator.”

The lab has ongoing studies about the benefit of pyschoeducation as a treatment for sexual difficulties, which involves educating participants about their condition. The theory is the better they understand it, the better they can deal with their dysfunction.

“[Some participants] think they are the only ones in the universe who feel that way,” lamented Erskine. “We only talk about it if it’s good.”

She emphasized the importance of being in a group setting for people experiencing conditions like Provoked Vestibulodynia (PVD, pain in the vaginal vestibule), sexual arousal difficulties for women and sexual difficulties for cancer survivors.

The lab is currently looking for volunteers to participate in an online survey of sexual desire. The study examines the motivation of men and women in established relationships (minimum five years of cohabitation) to either initiate or be receptive to advances for sexual activity with their partner.