When Dr. Alfred Kinsey and his team conducted interviews in the 1940s and 1950s, they were recording a taxonomy of human sexuality - documenting the range and variability of human sexual behavior in the U.S.
Today's research at the Kinsey Institute seeks to illuminate the most intimate and formative aspects of our lives - from sexual behavior and identity to love and relationships.
Our research questions are informed by developments in psychology, neuroscience, biology, gender studies, sociology and other fields, and reflect a new emphasis on the complexities of relationships, sexual interest, behavior and sexual health.
The Neurobiology of Love
Previous studies showed us that the hormones oxytocin and vasopressin are fundamental to the phenomenon of social monogamy in the prairie vole.
Current research has expanded to investigate the role of these popularly-called 'bonding' hormones in human relationships, including parent-child interactions; the effect of medical interventions, such as the synthetic oxytocin (Pitocin), on the health and development of offspring; and mental health and well-being.
Trauma and Its Effects and Treatments
New research initiatives are addressing the life-changing affects around trauma, including sexual assault and partner violence, bullying, and the trauma associated with diagnoses and treatment of the reproductive system.
An interdisciplinary core team of researchers in neuroscience, psychology, and informatics are uncovering not only how trauma affects the body and mind, but new interventions to mitigate these effects.
International Studies of Environmental Factors
A ground-breaking study into the variability in women's reproductive functioning in rural Bolivia examines the changes in hormones and health indicators that can affect women as they undergo the transition to menopause, called peri-menopause.
A joint team of researchers from The Kinsey Institute, Montana State University, and the University of Greenland have begun a 3-year study of challenges facing Greenlanders including reproductive choices and health in the face of climage changes.
Sexual Behavior and the Immune System
Does the presence or absence of sexual activity influence our immune response? How does the immune system interact with reproductive activities? Do sex hormones play a role in activating or alleviating conditions like depression?
Research is underway examining sexual activity and immune response in pre-menopausal women across the menstrual cycle.
New research is also suggesting that the effects of sexual activity on the immune response may increase chances of conception in fertile women.
Intimate Relationships and Couples
Intimate relationships and couples present complex and multifaceted questions to researchers, from sexual satisfaction in newlywed couples to the differing motivations for infidelity between men and women.
Researchers want to know how factors like cultural differences and political views can impact attitudes and behaviors in dating and long term relationships, and to see how relationship and sexual satisfaction can change as couples age.
Researchers also investigate changes in relationship patterns like the emergence of hook-up culture in young adults, and attitudes towards dating in America.
Working from an understanding of the Dual Control Model of Sexual Response, developed at The Kinsey Institute, researchers continue to investigate what factors influence how and when we become sexually excited, and why individuals make the sexual choices they do.Recent studies have examined the influence of alcohol, emotional states, and sexual compulsivity on sexual risk-taking behaviors. Studies have also explored the differing motives between men and women when committing infidelity and patterns of sexual arousal*, as well as the sexual decision-making process in young, heterosexual men. Some researchers are also working with brain imaging technology to understand better what areas of the brain are involved in sexual attraction.
Definitions of Sex
The findings from these studies have implications for sexual research, and sexual health organizations, as well as for medical practitioners, clinicians and other health care providers for whom it is important to understand exactly what people mean as they talk about “having sex.”
Condom Use Errors and Problems
Studies have demonstrated that many individuals use condoms both inconsistently and incorrectly, putting these “condom users” at the same risk for STIs and unintended pregnancy as non-users. Men have been found to start intercourse before putting on a condom, or to remove the condom during sex and then resume. Some men reporting erectile difficulties have been found to forgo condom use altogether, fearful that they would be unable to have intercourse.
Researchers continually conduct studies to determine the reasons behind these errors in condom usage, the barriers preventing correct condom usage, and the behaviors leading individuals to habitually forgo condoms. Studies such as these lend important insight to the development of instructional interventions to improve correct condom use. By helping people to use condoms consistently and correctly, such studies could have enormous impact on HIV and STI prevention efforts.
Women's Sexuality & Wellbeing
Sex researchers are continually gaining greater understanding as to how the body and the mind work together, both to the detriment and to the healing of sexual function. Kinsey researchers investigating female sexuality target special problems, such as cancer survivors, and the effects of sexual violence on women and girls .
This research is also meant to reach and aid women and men of various ages and ethnicities, who are struggling with physical and emotional barriers that affect their sexual lives and relationships.
Research examining chronic conditions resulting from sexual consequences and side effects of long-term oral contraceptive use has also being undertaken.
Role of Oxytocin in Postpartum Depression and Behavior
Postpartum depression may affect 20% of new mothers, though the stigma is heavy and many women suffer without any help, understanding or intervention.
Kinsey researchers are investigating the hormone oxytocin’s protective quality against postpartum depression, and a possible way to intervene with hormonal applications.
In another study, researchers are identifying how oxytocin affects women's responses to infants and sexual interest.
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