OPW INTERVIEW -- Aug 12, 2007 -- Online dating services are in the business of love, which also makes them part of the sex business. Here's my interview with sexologist Yvonne Fulbright, author of Sex with Your Ex & 69 Other Things You Should Never Do Again, and Touch Me There! A Hands-On Guide to Your Orgasmic Hot Spots (http://www.yvonnekfulbright
What is your background? How did you become a sexologist?
My interest in sexuality education started early on, as a sixth grader. I had just moved to the U.S. from Iceland and was the first girl in my class to have developed. As a result, I wound up dealing with conflicting messages – positive ones from my Icelandic mother and negative ones from my American peers’ parents. Although my upbringing suggested that my body changing was a perfectly normal part of growing up and becoming a woman, American society, in general, made it seem as if something was wrong or dirty or perverted with a 10-year old already sporting breasts.
This discrepancy inspired me to take advantage of an opportunity I had in school to give a presentation on the female reproductive system to my sixth grade class. I did it to educate and empower and, of course, learn more about what was going on with me. The day I captured my classmates’ attention, I just knew at that point that I had found some sort of calling and passion. Nothing moves an audience like sex, and I learned that when I was eleven years old.
Later on, I completed an undergraduate major of psychology and sociology, with psychology seemingly the one way to study sex at the college level. I then went to the University of Pennsylvania for a Master’s in Human Sexuality Education. I took a couple of years off to work at the American Medical Students Association and to get some public health experience, before going on to New York University for a Ph.D. Because the master’s degree in sex education was not being warmly received by most employers, I thought that going for a Ph.D. in International Community Health Education, with a sexual health focus would allow me to be more marketable, but at the same time stay true to my sexual education interest.
What role does sexuality play in short-term versus long-term compatibility?
In the short term, from kissing to sex, sexual expression really tells you a lot about someone. For instance, you can quickly tell if your partner is selfish and only into his/her own gratification, or if he or she is a giver, making sure that you’re satisfied and that the whole experience isto be a pleasurable one. Also in the short term, there’s a sexual chemistry specifically. A lot of times I get asked the question, “I like this person, but there’s no chemistry. What should I do?” I would say in the majority of cases, the chemistry does not come with time. It tends to be pretty immediate. Because of how Mother Nature made us, we tend to know earlier rather than later whether somebody is going to be sexually attractive to us.
With that said, it’s also the sexual chemistry that is going to make for the intrigue that will make for the long-term compatibility. Sex might make you hold on longer even when a relationship isn’t going well. It’s that powerful of a force.
How good of a job are online dating sites doing in educating their customers about sexuality issues?
I think at least a couple of the sites are getting better. Whether it’s due to public demand or social responsibility, more sites are using established resources in the field. They are incorporating expert sexologists, versus self-proclaimed ones, and attracting editors from the sex ed business. This latter turning point is especially huge because an editor without legitimate knowledge about sexuality doesn’t have the sexual savvy to really be in charge of the content, to know whether it’s right or wrong or even if it’s appropriate or not. Oftentimes, this lack of education can lead to a reinforcement of stereotypes and misconceptions, like those along the lines of Mars/Venus. It’s still a favorite topic, but because of recent efforts, I don’t think it’s as bad as it used to be.
I also think the dating sites are doing a better job of finding a balance between PG and R-rated content. They’re recognizing that we are sexual adult beings and need content that’s sexy and realistic.
How can online dating sites address and handle sexuality while maintaining credibility and class in their advertising?
They need to acknowledge sexuality without exploiting it in the content. When you promote sex as the reason to meet people, you’re objectifying your clients and pretty much throwing out any chance of them treating each other with great respectability. Some of the sites, like True, advocate looking beyond a person’s looks, but then use women who basically look like Hooters girls in their ads. Sex certainly sells, but it only sells to certain people. Again, know who you want to attract. Sites like these may wind up having more males sign up, but a lot of the females will be turned off by a site that appears to be full of women who don’t look like them. In attracting some customers, these sites may end up losing others.
In this society, we certainly sexualize the females more than the males. But there’s a way to have visual be erotic and sensual without necessarily being sexual. When sites push sex too much, I actually think it comes off cheesy.
What reliable sex education resources are available to consumers online?
I would recommend sexualhealth.com. It has been around for at least a decade, was established by a couple of sexologists, and has sex experts on the panel. Loveandhealth.ifriends.net has a lot of good articles and a great Q&A section. It, too, is written by experts. I also like goaskalice.com, which is based out of Columbia University’s health center. It is really good, has a whole bank of information, and is geared more towards younger people.