Many of us have done it--filled out those magazine surveys asking about our sex lives, partners, and practices. We've read the results with guilty pleasure, and measured our own behavior against them. And we have noted the results of more scholarly sex surveys, always comparing our behavior to that of the respondents.
But who asks these questions? And why? What effects do they have on policy and perception? In her new book, "Kiss and Tell: Surveying Sex in the Twentieth Century" (Harvard University Press), sociologist Julia A. Ericksen looks behind the sensational answers to examine the questions, questioners, and questionnaires.
"Sexual behavior is a volatile and sensitive topic, and surveys designed to reveal it have both great power and great limits," writes Ericksen, an associate professor of sociology at Temple University. "By revealing the private behavior of others, they provide a way for people to evaluate their own behavior and even the meaning of information the surveys produce. And they provide experts with information they urgently seek to understand society and develop social policy."
"Kiss and Tell" takes a clear-eyed look at approximately 750 sex surveys taken over the last 100 years, paying close attention to the surveys' questions and to the surveyors' changing concerns. Ericksen examines surveys in light of marital and premarital sex, adolescence, AIDS, and politics, among other backdrops, and looks at how they have influenced policy and perceptions in these areas.
Ericksen first taught on the sociology of sexuality in the late 1970s, and had
also worked on and been involved in survey research and feminist theory and
practice. By 1992, after 12 years in academic administration, she had become
quite curious about the way the social sciences produce knowledge, particularly
in less easily investigated areas like sexuality. After hearing that the
federal government had pulled funding for a pair of sexual-behavior surveys, s
Contact: Tom Durso