Researchers at the Center for Sexual Health Promotion, in conjunction with our academic and community partners, pursue a progressive research agenda in sexual health. Below are the six core areas within which most of our individual research projects fall. To learn more about our work, visit our publications and presentations page and feel free to contact our faculty and staff to learn more about individual projects.
Community Based Participatory Research (CBPR) and Sexual Health
To effectively promote sexual health requires that researchers seek to fully understand the complexity of human sexual expression within the context of the lived experiences of individuals and the communities in which they are embedded. To accomplish this, our Center has remained committed to research that incorporates the principles of community based participatory research. Our students receive intensive training in the application of these principles to sexual health research and the vast majority of our work across all priority areas is grounded in participatory mechanisms.
Innovative Tools and Venues for Sexual Health Promotion
One of the primary research areas of the Center is focused on understanding the manner in which adults seek products and information related to sexuality through both traditional and non-traditional sources. Additionally, our work explores the potential for unique and understudied segments of society to become active outlets for the delivery of sexual health promotion initiatives. We are particularly focused on both traditional and non-traditional venues, both those considered to be part of the adult retail industry (e.g., sex shops, adult bookstores, in-home sex toy parties) and those considered to be more mainstream (e.g., internet sites, community pharmacies). Our research in this area examines studies focused on a) the characteristics of the venues where sexuality-related products are accessed by consumers, b) the nature of the products themselves, and c) the characteristics of today’s consumer and the types of information and products they seek.
Women’s Sexual Health
Women’s experiences related to sexuality are unique due to biological reasons (e.g., female anatomy, hormones, etc), life experiences such as pregnancy or menopause, as well as socio-cultural factors that may affect their sexual expression. As such, much of our research is influenced by a desire to learn more about women’s sexual health and sexual expression. This is reflected in several of our research studies including those related to women’s use of lubricants, sexual health information seeking behaviors of women in in-home sex toy party settings, women’s use of sex toys, and sexual function following treatment for breast cancer. In addition, we have dedicated our research efforts to developing and testing reliable and valid measures of attitudes toward women’s genitals, and to understanding the social and behavioral contexts of vulvovaginal pain and discomfort.
Men’s Sexual Health
As with women, men also face distinctive sexual health issues on the basis of their gender. For example, men comprise over half of those who are HIV infected worldwide and the majority of infections in women have been attributed to sexual activity with HIV positive men. Public health entities, including the National Institutes of Health, have recently called for more research on gender and HIV risk. Men’s gender roles and norms may influence sexual behavior in numerous specific ways and contexts. However, most past research on the influence of gender on sexual behavior has focused primarily on women. The disproportionate concentration on women has led to a relative lack of knowledge of the male side of gender, the development and maintenance of men's - and women's - perceptions of appropriate male behavior, and men’s specific sexual health needs. Our ongoing research projects related to men’s sexual health include understanding men’s use and non-use of condoms, relations between men’s sexual orientation and identity to their sexual and risk behaviors, and innovative methods of reaching men with sexual health services (including testing and routine care).
Capacity Building among Sexual and Gender Minority Youth
Creating safe and supportive environments is critically important for overall health and wellbeing among sexual and gender minority (SGM) youth. SGM youth are more likely than their heterosexual peers to experience a wide range of health disparities and related difficulties. SGM health disparities may be found in psychosocial health issues, such as depression, anxiety, substance use, violence victimization, and suicidality; health risk behavior issues, such as unprotected sex, sex work engagement, higher number of sexual partners, frequent use of emergency contraception and pregnancy termination; and biomedical health issues, including disproportionate rates of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STI), as well as lower health-related quality of life; bisexual and transgender youth bear particularly disproportionate rates of these outcomes. These findings suggest that SGM youth may be enmeshed in a web of synergistic epidemics (syndemics), in which such disparities interact with one another in a chain reaction of negative health outcomes propelled by early life adversities including isolation, stigma, discrimination, lack of community, and trauma. However, many such health disparities and their outcomes have been shown to be buffered by protective factors that increase resiliency, especially social support mechanisms offered by SGM community and community-at-large attachments. As yet, the role of such community connections among SGM youth have not been examined outside the context of large urban areas on the East or West Coasts of the United States with well-established LGBTQ+ communities and access to the resources that these may facilitate. We are currently working on the development, implementation and sustainability of an academic-community initiative, the IU-Prism Health Partnership. that benefits from the strong organizational context, sustainable structures, and youth-centered focus to implement health studies and programming in South Central Indiana and beyond.
Global Sexual Health
Sexual health research, particularly given the nature of global sexual health concerns like HIV/AIDS, requires us to be active global citizens and to facilitate the growth of scholars focused on sexual health in other nations. Our Center currently has strategic research partners in Africa, Europe, Latin America and Asia. Through our IU-UPR Partnership for Sexual Health Promotion with our sister center, the Latin American Center for Sexual Health Promotion, based in the School of Public Health at the University of Puerto Rico, we have a long-term commitment to research and doctoral student mentorship related to sexual health in the Caribbean. Similarily, the U.S.-India Partnership for Sexual Health Promotion has facilitated unique opportunities for research and educational exchange in India, with a focus on sexual and gender minority health.