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Saturday, November 08, 2008

sunshine, sex, and San Juan

Hello from San Juan, Puerto Rico! Why, you may ask, would I be in beautiful, sunny San Juan in the middle of the school year? Oh, just to hear and talk about sex – sex, sex, and more sex! I’m currently attending the 51st annual meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality. Attending last year, where it was held in Indianapolis, IN, fails to compare to this year’s meeting in Puerto Rico. Let me be clear – the people are always great, and the work is always great – but things are so much better when you’re right on the beach.

When I’m not sleeping in, recovering from the previous night’s festivities, I try to attend as many sessions that relate to my interests as possible. Kicking off the conference experience, I attended the Student Award Finalists session on Thursday afternoon. Needless to say, all of these students deserve the award – there is such great work that researchers at all levels of the pipeline are doing. Of course, erotic plasticity, sex work, internalized homophobia, and cybersex are always a great start to a great weekend. Thursday night ended with the pool party and welcome reception, sponsored by the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at my home university, Indiana University. The lines for the open bar were too long, but by the fourth rum and Coke, I didn’t mind much.

Yesterday, I was able to drag myself out of the comfortable hotel bed to attend a session on LGBT Identity Issues – discussions of bisexuality, suicidality, and a repeat of the erotic plasticity and internalized homophobia presentations. The former presentations highlighted the necessity of recognizing and exploring variation within the group that tends to be lumped together – LGB or LGBT or non-heterosexuals, or whatever term researchers may use. But, it was the Winer Plenary – Lisa Bowleg’s presentation on the use of an ecological model of sexual risk for black heterosexuals – that left me in awe. Dr. Bowleg’s talk noted many things, but a few of these points really struck me: the necessity of transdisciplinary work, the necessity of using multiple methodologies, particularly qualitative methods, the necessity of exploring various factors and influences that shape individual-level behavior, and the necessity of looking at particular groups’ unique histories to better understand the groups and their behavior. I must say, none of these points are new to me – these are things I and others continue to call for. But, it’s striking that so few researchers, even at this conference, have taken Dr. Bowleg and others up on their challenge. So, many of the presentations have relied on predominately-white samples and looked no further to explore race, or on predominantly-US-born samples and looked no further at citizenship, nationality, and migration, and so forth.

And so, the conference continues. I hope to catch another session or two today before things begin to wrap up and I head back to Indiana. If only I could take back the sunshine, beach, and sex-positive environment I’m enjoying so much this weekend.

--Eric Grollman

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