Left to right: Brittany Stairs (BA’13), Dr. Monika Stelzl, and Hannah Anstey (BA’17). The researchers are concerned about how the meaning of “sexual problems” is described in undergraduate human sexuality textbooks and their work has now been published in a peer-reviewed journal.
A STU professor and two recent graduates are concerned about how the meaning of “sexual problems” is described in undergraduate human sexuality textbooks and their work has now been published in a peer-reviewed journal. 
 
Psychology professor Dr. Monika Stelzl, Brittany Stairs (BA’13), and Hannah Anstey (BA’17) surveyed 16 undergraduate human sexuality textbooks to see how the meaning of sexual problems was explained.  
 
Their peer-reviewed article, “A narrow view: The conceptualization of sexual problems in human sexuality textbooks,” was published in a special issue of the Journal of Health Psychology that focuses on sexual health. (Read the full article here: http://bit.ly/2rdYZv6)

“We were interested in examining undergraduate sexuality textbooks,” explained Dr. Stelzl, who is currently teaching Sexuality and Diversity at STU. “We explored how the textbooks presented the meanings of sexual problems. In other words, we were interested in how textbooks defined and described what sexual problems meant.”
 
Unique Student Experience

Dr. Stelzl worked on this research with recent Psychology grads Brittany Stairs (BA’13) and Hannah Anstey (BA’17). She says it’s wonderful for students and recent graduates to get hands-on experience with different parts of the research process – in this case, manuscript preparation, which includes writing, submitting, and revising the manuscript.

“For our students, this a pretty unique experience at the undergraduate level. Typically, it is not until graduate school that students get invited to collaborate on a manuscript,” she says.

“By being involved in research and manuscript preparation, students start developing their research skills early on in their scholarly journey. In addition, it helps them understand the energy and time involved in conducting and publishing one’s research and, thus, they are better equipped to make decisions about their professional future.”

Advocating for a Holistic Approach to Understanding Sexual Problems

The researchers found that sexual problems were largely framed by the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Alternative views of sexual problems were sometimes included. Although, when they were it was to a much lesser degree. 
 
“Our findings contribute to the existing research by showing that textbooks tend to reproduce and privilege mainstream and dominant ways that sexual problems are defined,” she adds.
 
“The meaning of sexual problems can be constructed in multiple ways, yet textbooks tended to not incorporate alternative definitions and focused primarily on the medical description. Thus, the findings of our study are important as they encourage those who teach and study human sexuality to use critical thinking when teaching and learning about sexual challenges.”
 
The researchers also found these results especially concerning because these textbooks are aimed at undergraduate students.
 
“It is important to know that there are different definitions and understandings of sexual problems for a number of reasons. The textbooks’ privileging of one specific (i.e., medical) way that sexual problems are described may encourage students to accept this one way as the only way of what sexual problems mean. This can influence their understanding of sexual problems in a broad sense – such as what students come across in media, other courses, and even in conversations with friends and family,” Stelzl explains.
 
“But this can also impact how students make sense of their own sexuality. By knowing that sexual problems can be defined beyond the language of medicine and pathology (i.e. sexual problems as sexual disorders), students of human sexuality have more options in terms of understanding their own experiences – be it on their own or in relationships.”

The authors are advocating for textbooks to revamp their section on sexual problems.
 
“Rather than positioning alternatives as ‘other’ or not equal to medical discourses, we advocate for substantial incorporation of alternative discourses. Discourses of diverse bodies and diverse sexual possibilities as well as discourses of health and pleasure need to be given the same attention as discourses of pathology and medicine in human sexuality textbooks.”