Friday, 3 August 2007

Why humans have sex?

You're all talking about that new study, aren't you, about the 237 reasons human beings have sex. Come on, you know you are. (Personally, the only reasons for having sex that I'm truly interested in are those of myself and my partner. But I digress).

Anyway, Elizabeth at the Sex in the Public Square blog has a good look at the so-called study's methodology -- "always look at the methodology," she says, and she's right -- and despite all the earnest journalist commentary and the wads of pseudo-scientific reportage, she discovers quite quickly that it's not a survey showing reasons why humans have sex, or even why Texans have sex, but the reasons why 1,549 undergraduate students enrolled in Introductory Psychology courses at the University of Texas might want to have sex (noting that a large proportion of these tender young Texans have never had sex, and only Only 10% of the women and 7% of the men were either married or living with a sexual partner.)

So much for scientific and sexual reportage.


  1. I've always been amazed at how little academic rigor you need to release a "finding".

    All psyc students have to participate in a bunch of studies as part of their first year, for research being undertaken by psyc postgrads.

    So lots of research findings come out of a sample that has very little resemblance to the whole population.

    The "finding" gets muddied from the methodology to the conclusion, again from the conclusion to the media, until it is reported as some big amazing finding when it usually means practically nothing.

  2. All psyc students have to participate in a bunch of studies as part of their first year, for research being undertaken by psyc postgrads.

    No they don't. They are asked, but never forced or coerced. If only we could make them. That would eliminate self-selection bias. However, ethics committees won't let us.

    Also, lots of research that is initially conducted using students (not just first-year psych students), will be replicated using other populations. Despite what you think, most findings observed in undergraduate students, are also observed in more general populations. They really aren't that different. They are used, because they are available and willing. Technology such as MRI, fMRI, EEG, EKG, PET, CAT and other scanners, were all developed by initially testing them using students. That doesn't mean they don't work.

    Yes age may be a factor, but you keep that in mind when doing the research. You won't find much research on hip-replacement surgery done with undergraduate students.

    By the way, it is very hard to get a truly representative sample. Using students has served us very well.

    Sure there is bad research out there (and this study may be one example, although I haven't read it, so I won't comment), but don't assume that research using students is necessarily bad research.

    I do agree with you about the media though. Most journos don't understand how research works and will quote percentages, odds-ratios population attributable risk-ratios, effect sizes, etc. without knowing what they actually mean.

    By the way, for an example of really bad research on sex, have a look at the Hite Report, by Shere Hite (also known as the S.hite Report).

  3. Quote Craig:"I've always been amazed at how little academic rigor you need to release a "finding"'
    D agrres totally. the difference bettween us is simle.

    You dont neeed ne thing taht u don't arady have, if you feel, consider yourself a mortal and take [A]great comfort. u cn then tRAINTRian your mind to behave as you tell it. EYE am: a 'mysitc'

    if you understand then you FELE:SEE:SENCE:judge
    SENCE:SEE:HEAR:FEEL;is close, but Quite difirent to the true coding, and, the Whole picture.

    Intrigeing, Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm?
    Calucladed "mythology. I Quote"STOP:ELEMENT:CAUSE:THINK:FEEL>'' ''

    As foxex say, the early bird will ALL wys catch the worm, Special is everywhere, but comes from within. USE it, 'with caution'
    people manipulation is EZ

    MAgic IS REAL---> the only think you need is

    a)an untainted mind(spotless0R><)
    b) realxatoin in what ever form that makes you who you choose to be: FROM THIS POINT Onward. read it twice, three+intetion+Magic.

  4. And so many of those reasons can be condensed into fewer reasons.

    It is a truly ridiculous study.

  5. *shugs* They were "suggested" to my partner like a "suggested donation" is made to secondary school parents. If I recall correctly, she even got marks for doing them.

    MRI, CAT, EKG - These are all medical technologies. Testing of these is a matter of if they objectively work. A psyc student has a brain, with the same basic structure as anyone else's (quiet in the back) so putting it through an MRI will let you know how the technology is going.

    Not the same as taking a bunch of predominantly white, female, young, rich and intelligent people and using them to provide "insight" into the motivations of the whole population.

    I think the blame rests with the media and some researchers equally - a researcher makes a dubious/very limited scope finding and it's picked up by a journo who wants a big headline.

  6. Craig D has hit the nail on the head. There is an inherent problem with under representative populations being used in studies that are sensationalist. However, it should also be pointed out that review boards are to blame for approving the publication of the spurious findings.

    Furthermore, Researcher is wrong as far UK research is concerned. Here, undergrads are generally told to participate in studies. It is only upon challenging the ethics of forced participation that an essay-alternative is offered.


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