Talking About Sex

Talking About Sex
Staff Photo Nick Brothers  Kristen Jozkowski (right), a UA assistant professor of public health, leads a discussion with her graduate students during their weekly sexual health research meeting, Tuesday, Feb. 10.

Staff Photo Nick BrothersKristen Jozkowski (right), a UA assistant professor of public health, leads a discussion with her graduate students during their weekly sexual health research meeting, Tuesday, Feb. 10.

Kristen Jozkowski has been studying human sexuality for more than eight years. Her main focus points in her research are sexual communication and consent, desire and pleasure, sexual function, and women’s sexuality. She’s also a research fellow with the The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction.

She has been a part of several studies of sexuality including determining what women and men think about vibrator use, effects of hormonal contraceptives on sexual pleasure, the link between relationship satisfaction and sexual satisfaction, and how lubricants can enhance sexual satisfaction among other studies.

Currently, Jozkowski is an assistant professor at the University of Arkansas, and teaches at the graduate and undergraduate level with classes in public health, human sexuality, and sex in the college culture.

So for Valentines Day, we at The Free Weekly thought it might be cool to talk sex with a sex expert. Here’s our Q&A:

TFW: So how did you know you wanted to study sex for a living?

JOZKOWSKI: I guess I developed a sort of professional interest in sexuality as early as my undergrad. I think what sort of drove me to that was being surrounded by people who were not really educated about it and not feeling equipped themselves to provide guidance. I happened to be one of those friends that other people sought information from.

Freshman year of college my roommate from rural Pennsylvania was sexually active with her boyfriend and wasn’t sure if she could get pregnant. She and her boyfriend were engaging in sexual activity, and he would ejaculate on her stomach. She was convinced that, I swear, she would get pregnant from the ejaculate going in her belly button. I was like, “No, you’re not. I’m a freshman in college, but I know that much is true that you’re not going to get pregnant.” She and her boyfriend were also engaging in odd behaviors with engaging in oral sex and using Clorox wipes to clean their mouths, and I’m like, “Y’know, I don’t think you’re supposed to do that.

I really had no formal sex education, even though I’m from New York. But I sort of knew these things were missed that my roommate was believing in. It encouraged me to take a human sexuality class. I really connected with that professor, and I became a discussion leader for her class. It got me interested in sex education.

I went to get my masters in public health program at Indiana University, where there’s also strong sexuality programming at the Kinsey Institute. I got a job as coordinator for sexual health at the Indiana health center for college students, and got a job running a peer-based sexual assault program. I decided to go get my Ph.D., and began a trajectory for my research. It really solidified what I wanted to do. I liked researching and teaching sex, and I found my niche.

TFW: You’ve done a lot of research thus far in your academic career.Have you had any revelations about sex in your research?

JOZKOWSKI: When I was a doctoral student, I worked for this company that distributes sexual enhancement products and condoms. One of the first things I was in charge of was to develop a gold standard for assessing sexual pleasure to apply to use of their products so they could compare their different products.

What we found was we couldn’t pinpoint what is pleasure. It’s orgasm certainly, it’s what people would think first and foremost. There’s so much more that goes into it than that. With teaching, my students think I’ll be able to open up all these secrets to pleasure. Really, what it comes down to is knowing what you want and getting that.

You need to ask yourself, “What do I want out of this experience?” So if it’s that you want to have a great orgasm, and you achieve that, sex will be pleasurable. But if you want to go into that sex wanting intimacy, stress relief — or wanting something like revenge…If you achieve it through that sex act, that’s pleasurable. There’s things like seeking fertility or victims of sexual violence wanting an experience where they aren’t scared during sex.

It makes sense in retrospect, getting what you want, but at the time we were seeking for this ability to assess pleasure from orgasm and it ended up being so much more than that. It’s not always about the orgasm, but that certainly is a big part of it.

TFW: Okay, what’s something you think everyone should know about sexual health?

JOZKOWSKI: I think the most important thing to being sexually healthy is being able to talk about your sexuality. When I think about sexual health, I don’t think it’s just about being free from STDs or unwanted pregnancies. I consider it having really good sex. The foundation for preventing those infections or preventing an unwanted pregnancy and also having great sex all comes back to communication. There is an importance to masturbation and self-exploration. Knowing what you want and communicating that to your partner.

People depict themselves as being really good at sex or being good in bed. My students always want me to tell them how to be great at sex. Well, it’s about asking your partner what they want. There’s all these rule books, y’know “Sex for Dummies,” “The Guide to Getting it On” that say to stimulate your partner in a certain way, and it’ll be “mind blowing.” Maybe so, but every individual is unique. Everyone has different tastes and interests in how they like a sexual act to unfold and how to be stimulated.

It sucks that in general our culture sees sex as a taboo. Being able to open those dialogues help to get your immediate needs addressed. It builds trust. The more people talk about sex, the easier it becomes to talk about sex.

That’s where technology can be important. If you’re not ready for a face to face conversation, start with email. Directing your partner to things you might like, send them a link to a product or specific behaviors you might be interested in. Be specific.

When you’re having sex, check in with your partner. A lot of people say “Oh, that’s awkward.” Well, there’s a lot of research that suggests people, especially women, feel better when their partner is asking them things like, “Is this okay? Does this feel good?” It can also be erotic to have those discussions.

TFW: So, scientifically, what does it mean for something to be erotic?

JOZKOWSKI: Essentially, it’s something that you find sexy, a turn on. A lot of people ask me if things like vanilla extract are aphrodisiacs. What goes for erotica, if you think it’s erotic, then it is. There’s the mainstream perception of what’s erotic, like lingerie, candle light and soft music. Anything can be erotic to people. Hell, if you have four kids, just having two out of the house and two taking a nap might be erotic for you to get it on with your partner before everyone wakes up.

Breasts for the most part in American culture are wildly erotic. Women generally like having their breasts stimulated, and people like stimulating them — it’s really sexy. We make them sexy with things like lingerie. In American culture, lips and eyes can be really sexy and in other cultures things like large earlobes, fatter bodies, or piercings and other adornments are considered sexy.

TFW: Let’s talk about kink and fetishes, which are definitely more of a taboo. Why and how do these sort of things develop in people?

JOZKOWSKI: Kink can refer to anything that might be deviating from a norm. A lot of people engage in what you might say is fringe behavior. With the “50 Shades of Grey” movie coming out and that whole book series has certainly elucidated a different viewpoint for BDSM (bondage, discipline, and sadomasochism) portrayed in the movie and raised awareness for deviating from the norm. We typically think about that as flogging, whipping, sadomasochist stuff with one person inflicting pain consensually. It could also be things like wearing costumes or role playing, too. Fetishes are basically something that is generally perfectly healthy and fine, and it’s a certain arousal or response from a certain thing.

How they might manifest in an individual is likely something that is psycho-social and cultural fetishes. We’ve fetishized lingerie and silky underwear. You could apply the same cultural standards to granny panties.

TFW: What’s your opinion on the Internet’s effect on sexuality and the accessibility of the various types of pornography?

JOZKOWSKI: I don’t think porn on the Internet is bad. I think the Internet can be great for people building communities. If you’re a gay kid in rural Wyoming, finding a community for you to explore your sexuality and talk to someone could be really challenging. The Internet has opened avenues for sexual minorities and transgender folks, who might not have a label for what they’re feeling. So you can find a community of people that can help you identify your feelings and understand them.

At the same time though, you’ve got pornography, and there’s ton of misinformation out there. Having pornography available to us I don’t think is problematic. But if you’ve got that as your form of sex information because your parents aren’t talking about it because they feel uncomfortable or inadequate and you’re not getting it in schools and you rely on porn, that’s something that can become problematic. Most mainstream porn is not very realistic. Women are definitely not having orgasms that quickly from that kind of stimulation. Of course, some women are, but in general 64 percent of women don’t have orgasms through vaginal-penile intercourse and that’s typically depicted in porn.

The internet can be helpful as a tool and for getting information. Most porn is not in a realistic view. Watching porn can be good for finding what you like, but understanding just like movies, it’s not reality.

TFW: Let’s say you have a magic wand that allows you make one giant change to the world about society in regards to sex. What would you have it do?

JOZKOWSKI: I’d have more permissive views about sexuality and being open to diversity. If I could wave my wand, let’s just have people be free to express their sexuality, that includes who they want to have sex with and when in terms of consenting adults. Then, just having more information about it with a truly comprehensive sex education from birth to death. We express sexuality our entire lives. Being okay with recognizing that and teaching about it I think would do wonders for our society in terms of sex.

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