Wednesday, 7 November 2012

All about sex

[Another article written for university.]

Her life is all about sex. She reads, writes, and talks about it. Thinks about it - a lot. And on her office window high up above the city, there is a three-letter sign: SEX. Some people might say she is obsessed with it, but for Jocelyn Wentland sex is her job. She is a sex researcher at Ottawa University, and has been studying relationships, both sexual and otherwise, ever since she took a sexuality class as an undergraduate. Wentland is very outspoken person who feels comfortable with using straightforward street-level sexual words, which don’t always sound exactly scientific or academic.

"Stefan Franke" /
For her honours thesis at the University of British Columbia, she looked at why women have casual sex. Wentland says, "We found that women engage in casual sex for the same reasons men do: They are drunk, they are horny, they want to do it, the guy is hot and they want to take him home from the bar."

Since then she has moved on to focus on how both gender's definition of relationships have changed, on which she focuses for her PhD thesis. "Classically, you hear ‘relationship’ and think of committed, long-term, monogamous situations, ending in marriage, kids and a house in the suburbs. But for many people, especially young adults, the notion of what qualifies as a relationship is very different."

Many might only think of strangers and the classic one-night stand when hearing 'casual sex', but Wentland sees a more nuanced definition in her research. There are three other types of relationships she looks at: the 'Booty Call', 'Fuck-Buddies' and 'Friends With Benefits'. "They are casual sex relationships, but they are ongoing, and there is an element of knowing the person, which is definitely not there with the one-night stand," she explains.

But with all these nuances, there's also the problem of defining casual sex. "Are we talking about intercourse, any kind of sexual activity, oral sex and do both people get oral sex? That is a big problem with the literature, that researchers don't define casual sex." Her very own definition for casual sex is the “sexual activity that happens outside the context of a committed relationship”.

While friends and family know what she does for a living, Wentland is a little careful in telling other people. She has two ways in which she answers what her job is. If it is a friend, or someone who she thinks can handle the truth, she says sex researcher. Other people get the more diplomatic answer, a psychologist or a relationship researcher. But the reactions can still be quite interesting. "I've heard everything from 'I can't believe you're getting a PhD in that' to: ‘You must be some sex-crazy nymphomaniac' and everything in between", says Wentland. That might be why many of her fellow researchers identify themselves as relationship researchers. "That's safer, essentially. Maybe I'm just pushing the envelope, but I'm happy to do sex research."

And for all the time she spends researching relationships and sex, she cannot define her own sexuality. "I will have to think about that", she says with a shrug. "Yes, I do sex research, but my personal life is pretty private to me." She continously tries to separate the research from her personal life: "My career is very different from my sex life."

She pauses a moment to think, then says, "I notice that I am immersed in this pretty much full-time: Reading about sex, writing about it, researching it, analysing sex results and findings from my study. I am always in it, and I am able to talk about really intimate and personal things, but they are not that intimate or personal to me, because I have that researcher's hat on. For me, sex is not something that only happens behind closed doors." She has had dating partners in the past who had problems with her being a sex researcher. "They would ask me whether this was Jocelyn, the sex researcher or Jocelyn, the girlfriend," she says. "It's a balance. Sometimes I have to remind myself that not everyone lives the life of a sex researcher."

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