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 some of the core areas within which our individual research projects fall. To learn more about our work, visit our publications page and feel free to contact our faculty and staff to learn more about individual projects.
National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior (NSSHB)
The National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior (NSSHB), initially conducted by researchers from the Center for Sexual Health Promotion in 2009, is one of the most comprehensive studies on these topics in almost two decades. Wave 1 (conducted in 2009) includes the sexual experiences and condom/contraceptive use behaviors of 5,865 adolescents and adults ages 14 to 94. Findings from the largest nationally representative study of sexual and sexual-health behaviors ever fielded, conducted by Indiana University sexual health researchers, provide an updated and much needed snapshot of contemporary Americans’ sexual behaviors, including a description of more than 40 combinations of sexual acts that people perform during sexual events, patterns of condom use by adolescents and adults, and the percentage of Americans participating in same-sex encounters. We are now in the 8th Wave of NSSHB data collection; please visit the NSSHB website to learn more about NSSHB publications and findings.
National Survey of Sexual Wellbeing (NSSW)
The National Survey of Sexual Wellbeing (NSSW) was conducted in May and June 2021 in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, and provides important insights on sexual health care experiences (including telehealth), sexual function, sexual behaviors, and the overall sexual wellbeing of U.S. adults. A total of 3878 U.S. adults ages 18 participated in the NSSW. The first paper from the 2021 NSSW has been accepted at the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, with other papers in various stages of preparation or review. This new in-press paper provides needed updates on U.S. adults’ most recent sexual experiences. Study findings demonstrate that event-level kissing, cuddling, vaginal intercourse, and oral sex were prevalent at adults’ most recent sexual event and also that event-level sexual choking (an emerging sexual behavior that has recently grown in prevalence) was more often reported by adults under 40. Additionally, while women and men reported a similar actual duration of sex (about 24 minutes), men reported a longer ideal duration (33 minutes for men, 27 minutes for women). Participants with same-sex partners reported a longer ideal duration of sex than those with other-sex partners. Finally, findings show that gendered sexual equities related to pleasure and orgasm persist. This study was supported by Roman Health.
As prior research has demonstrated that bisexual individuals experience profound health disparities in comparison to both heterosexual and gay and lesbian individuals, we have dedicated significant efforts to exploring the unique health issues faced by diverse bisexual populations, in direct response to calls for such resources from the Institute of Medicine and National Institutes of Health.Health disparities among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and other sexual and gender minority people exist across the lifespan, and are increasingly well-documented, but gaps remain in our basic understanding of how health status, behaviors and outcomes vary within these groups, especially bisexual individuals. A growing body of evidence suggests that bisexual-identified individuals experience significant health disparities in comparison to heterosexual and gay/lesbian-identified individuals. These include higher rates of mood and anxiety disorders, substance use (including tobacco use), suicidality, as well as disparities related to healthcare access and utilization. However, bisexual individuals remain relatively invisible in public health research except when studied almost exclusively through a lens of sexual risk behavior.
National Study of Stigma and Sexual Health (NSASH)
Gay and bisexual men (GBM), and other men who have sex with men (MSM), represent the largest group of individuals infected with HIV in the U.S. At current rates, 1 in 6 MSM will be diagnosed with HIV in their lifetime. Extant research has largely focused on identifying individual- and interpersonal-level risk factors for HIV infection among GBM; however, accumulating evidence also points to structural determinants of HIV outcomes in this population. Recent research has demonstrated that structural stigma (defined as societal- level conditions, cultural norms, and institutional policies that constrain the resources and opportunities of stigmatized individuals) is associated with adverse health outcomes, including HIV risk, among GBM. The few existing studies of structural stigma and HIV outcomes among GBM have been limited by a reliance on cross-sectional designs, a small number of structural covariates, little attention to mediators/moderators of the structural stigma-HIV risk association, and non-probability samples of GBM. To address these limitations, CSHP researchers collaborated on a prospective probability study of HIV-uninfected/unknown status GBM (N=500) followed for 5 waves of data collection over a 24-month period (sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health, R01MH112384, MPI: Dodge/Hatzenbuehler). This project stands to make important contributions to research on reducing disparities in the incidence of HIV infections among GBM, identified as a high NIH HIV/AIDS research priority.
Gender, Sexuality & Health
Cisgender women's experiences related to sexuality are unique due to biological reasons, 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 sexual pleasure and orgasm, women's sexual agency, 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 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. 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).
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, several CSHP faculty members have been particularly involved in research and educational programming that incorporates the principles of community based participatory research. To learn more about this aspect of our work, we invite you to explore publications from Drs. Green, Greene, Sherwood-Laughlin, and Walsh-Buhi, among others. We are also highly committed to sharing and dialoguing on our own, and our colleagues', scientific research with diverse communities using a innovative community-based mechanisms, including the Bloomington Sex Salon.
Global Sexual Health
Sexual health research, particularly given the nature of global sexual health concerns like maternal health, COVID-19, and HIV/AIDS, requires us to be active global citizens and to facilitate the growth of scholars focused on sexual health in other nations. CSHP facultyhave had strategic research partners in Africa, Europe, Latin America and Asia. Also, the U.S.-India Partnership for Sexual Health Promotion has facilitated unique opportunities for research and educational exchange in India, with projects related to sexual and gender minority health as well as women’s sexual and reproductive health.