By Edo Steinberg
Dr. Bryant Paul was the guest at the inaugural Bloomington Sex Salon at The Bishop on Sunday. The Salon, hosted by Dr. Debby Herbenick of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at the School of Public Health, will be a monthly occurrence with a different guest each time.
“I was a little nervous when I saw how many people showed up,” Bryant said about the well-attended event, but after a few minutes and a few dirty jokes by Debby he felt at ease and had a great time.
The conversation covered quite a lot of Bryant’s history as a sex researcher, beginning with what drew him to the subject in the first place. Bryant attributes his research interests to the fact that his puberty and teenage years coincided with the AIDS epidemic of the 1980’s. He was first learning about sex at the same time as he was learning about the dangers of it, as well. Years later, thinking back to coverage of AIDS, he was amazed by how little was known and what the public was told by the media.
Bryant wanted to conduct sex research in graduate school, but was persuaded to steer away from the subject while he studied for his MA at the University of Miami. Members of the faculty told him he would never be able to find a job as a sex researcher. He took the advice and temporarily turned to political communication.
Determined to study sex in the media, he earned his Ph.D. from the University of California, Santa Barbara, “where all the perverts were,” Bryant joked onstage. While there, he was hired to write briefs for court cases involving the question of whether or not strip clubs and similar businesses were harmful to the communities in which they operated. His research found no harm. One of his briefs was even cited by the Supreme Court.
Bryant also talked about his current ambitious content analysis project. With the help of MA students Yanyan Zhou and Michelle Funk and others in his Sex in the Media graduate seminar, he will analyze a very large number of videos and pictures from two porn sites. Bryant made sure to contact those in charge of technological services to make sure the sites would be accessible from campus computers. The authorities were worried about what this would do to students exposed to large amounts of porn. Bryant saw this as a legitimate concern, but has seen that rather than desensitizing coders to chauvinism, it has made them more sensitive to sexual bias.
Bryant decried the negative focus of much of the research into sex and porn in the media. He believes more research should be done into its positive effects. One of his examples was the fact that in areas in which the internet was adopted more quickly, sex crimes had a greater decrease than in areas with slow internet adoption rates. Since this did not happen with any other kind of crime, internet pornography may have had a positive effect.
The conversation and questions from the audience covered many other topics. The common theme of the night was the desire to learn more about how sex in the media affects people and to make research into the area more accessible to the layperson, who would then be able to use it to make informed decisions.