Sexuality in America focus for team receiving 2018 Outstanding Faculty Collaborative Research Award

Ten-year survey project has changed understandings of the sexual health, behaviors and lives of Americans ages 14 to 94

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- How has sex changed? That question is at the heart of research an Indiana University Bloomington team has been carrying out since 2009. Now the team's collaboration on the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior has earned the campus's 2018 Outstanding Faculty Collaborative Research Award.

The National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior is the largest nationally representative survey of sexual behavior ever conducted in the U.S. To date, seven waves of data collection have been completed. The importance of the survey's findings has been publicly recognized by former U.S. Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders, by leadership at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and by numerous clinicians, researchers and journalists. The survey also represents a longstanding academic-corporate research partnership to better understand sexual health, with funding from Church & Dwight, maker of Trojan sexual health products.

The award-winning IU research team includes:

  • Brian Dodge, professor of applied health science and associate director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at the IU School of Public Health-Bloomington.
  • J. Dennis Fortenberry, professor of pediatrics and chief of the Section of Adolescent Medicine in the Department of Pediatrics at IU School of Medicine, and an affiliated faculty member of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion.
  • Debby Herbenick, professor of applied health science and director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion.
  • Michael Reece, professor of applied health science and founding director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion.
  • Stephanie Sanders, the Peg Zeglin Brand Chair and a Provost Professor in the Department of Gender Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences, a senior scientist at the Kinsey Institute, and an affiliated faculty member of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion.

The team will present a public lecture on "Sexuality in America: What We've Learned from the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior" at 3 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 27, at IU Cinema. The lecture is free and will be followed by a reception.

To date, the group's work has resulted in more than two dozen scientific manuscripts in peer-reviewed journals, collaboration with scientists from the Centers for Disease Control and findings presented at a 2016 White House policy briefing related to bisexual health. The team's research forms the basis for a current study supported by external funding from the National Institute of Mental Health. Their work also has been featured in a Discovery TV series, an Emmy-nominated documentary and a New York Times best-seller, among other milestones.

"We're enlivened by one another's perspectives and expertise to address sexuality in the holistic way it's experienced by real people in their everyday lives," team lead Debby Herbenick said. "The human experience of sexuality is shaped by our relationships, emotions, psychologies, health, education, hormones, body image, attractions, orientations and gender roles. We simply could not do justice to the study of sexuality as individual faculty members; it takes a multidisciplinary approach."

Working together, the team has studied changing sexual behavior patterns among diverse segments of the U.S. population; painful intercourse affecting both men and women; evolving sexual identities; patient/provider conversations about sexual health; attitudes toward bisexual individuals; why condom use is declining; the role of kissing and cuddling in sexual arousal; and shifting patterns related to open and monogamous relationships. The researchers also have responded to pressing matters such as assessing Americans' knowledge about the sexual transmission of Zika, for example.

"This insightful approach demonstrates the importance of a multidisciplinary team to advancing knowledge in a field as complex as sexuality," said Lauren Robel, IU Bloomington provost and executive vice president. "Their work is pushing forward our understanding of how sexuality affects people's health, identities and relationships. Their continued dedication will, no doubt, improve the quality of countless lives."

Jointly offered by the Office of the Provost and the Office of the Vice Provost for Research, the Outstanding Faculty Collaborative Research Award recognizes faculty team accomplishments in research, scholarship and creative activities. The award includes a $15,000 stipend to support the team's research program.

"With their complementary backgrounds in applied health science, sexual health and behavior, psychology, medicine, adolescent development, and gender studies, this team has enriched our understanding about human sexual experiences and generated innovative measures and new discoveries," said Rick Van Kooten, vice provost for research at IU Bloomington. "We're delighted to honor them and their work."