Institutional review boards that approve research on human subjects are cautious about the risks of asking people about sex and trauma. As a result, research that could steer a better understanding about the psychological consequences of rape, child sexual abuse, sexually transmitted diseases, post-traumatic stress and sexual dysfunctions becomes more difficult to receive IRB approval for.
With a new study from the University of New Mexico, researchers say that typical research participants-college undergraduates-are less affected by questionnaires about sex, trauma, and other sensitive topics, which challenges the IRB's assumption that sex surveys are traumatic.
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The study randomly assigns 504 college students to spend two hours either doing standard intelligence tests, or completing trauma/sex questionnaires about a wide variety of sensitive topics-such as whether the research participant had ever been raped or raped someone else, whether they'd suffered childhood sexual abuse or physical beatings, whether they recently felt suicidal, how many sexual hook-ups they'd had, how often they have sexual fantasies about cheating on their partner, whether they would take part in an orgy, how often they have traumatic flashbacks, when their last menstrual period was, whether they use sexual lubricant while masturbating, whether they have breast implants of body piercings, and whether they've used a day-after contraceptive pill recently.
Participants rated their positive and negative feelings before and after the study. Participants who completed the trauma/sex survey reported slightly higher negative emotion on average than the intelligence-test participants, but the difference was small. Participants who completed the trauma/sex survey reported more positive emotion, more personal insight, less boredom, and less mental exhaustion, according to the study.
The results suggest that the current generation of American college students, who grew up with South Park, Cosmopolitan magazine, and Facebook, are more psychologically resilient, and much less upset by trauma/sex research, than IRBs assumed.