Justin Lehmiller knows a hell of a lot about sex. So much so that he is a Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute and the author of a brand new book “Tell Me What You: The Science of Sexual Desire and How It Can Help You Improve Your Sex Life. With a Ph.D .in Social Psychology from Purdue University and Certificate of Teaching Excellence from Harvard University, and a long list of honors and awards, we jumped at a chance to talk with him and learn about sexual fantasies.
He was in PTown for a Book Signing at East End Books, but first he swung by QUEERGURU to share some of the knowledge. We must have got too hot and bothered as although we filmed the interview the video ended up being unwatchable. Here then is the transcript of us learning more about the birds and the bees than we ever knew before.
QG: The breadth of your knowledge on sex and sex psychology is way above my simple mind and anyway as we only have 15 minutes lets focus on the real reason why we are here which is to talk about your new book Tell Me What You Want ….. and can you tell us, why we want it ?
JL: It’s a book based around the largest study into sexual fantasies in the United States. We surveyed more 4000 Americans from all 50 States about what it is that they want. I wrote this book to help people better understand not just what other people are fantasizing about, but what our fantasies say about us.
The goal is help normalise a lot of our fantasies and also to provide a roadmap to help people talk about communication and sharing their fantasies.
QG: So why write it , and why write it now?
JL: I wrote this book because for the last decade as a college sexual educator I’ve been asked the same question over and over : am I normal? I get the question from college students, from people who read my Blog . They want to know more about what their fantasies mean, and so I wanted to write a guide so people could better understand themselves.
QG:How do you ensure your book reaches the general public and doesn’t just become another research document?
JL: As an Academic I was trained to write Journal articles which are indecipherable to the general public, so that’s one of the reasons I started a Blog a few years ago was to take the science and translate it in a way that people could us, appreciate and understand. So I wrote the book in the style on my Blog which is designed not just to educate and entertain but give people practical tools in many ways.
AMERICANS BEING CAUTIOUS ABOUT SEX
QG: You’re an expert in what Americans want out of sex. As a Brit I have found them as a generalisation, almost puritanical. Is that changing at all now?
JL: It’s been that way for a very long time! (laugh). American culture is very interesting because we have sexual cues all around us in popular media which might give the idea that we are comfortable with sex, and comfortable talking about it, but we aren’t.
One of the things I see in my data is the vast majority …..some 80% … want to act on their favorite sexual fantasy at point, but only 1 in 5 have done so. And less than half have shared their fantasies with their partner . So we have this big gap between fantasy and reality, and I think it is important to address that and get more of what we want.
ARE GAY BETTER ABOUT ACHIEVING THEIR FANTASIES?
QG: Are gay men better at achieving that?
JL: On average, yes. They are more likely to have shared and acted on their fantasies, but it is still a minority who are doing that. Even though gay men have a more open dialogue about sex, it is still restricted in many ways.
QG: Justin, how on earth did you get into a field like this in the first place?
JL: (laughs) It’s not something I said this is what I want to do when I grow up, it just kind of happened. I was in Graduate School studying Social Psychology focusing on what makes a long term healthy relationship and one of the things I found as we are trained to study relationships, no-one was talking about sex. It felt like a kind of oversight. So as part of my work I got interested in sexual research and how that contributed to our relationships and found that there is so much we don’t know yet.
QG: When you first met your now husband wasn’t it a little off putting making out with a sexual academic?
JL: (laughing) We met long before I got into this field of work, and in fact this year is our 20th Anniversary, So I kind of eased him into it, because we have been together for such a long time.
CHILDREN OF LESBIANS ARE LIKELY TO BE GAY
QG: You recently wrote that the children of lesbian parents are likely to be gay, why is that ?
JL: They are more like to identify as gay , which I think could be for a couple of reasons. One is that if these women are having their own biological children we know that there are genetic links to homosexuality and that could support the genetic theory about that. Another possibility is that when you are raised in an environment with lesbian parents you grow to be more accepting of sexual diversity and are more willing to acknowledge those aspects in yourself.
AN END TO HIV?
QG: I also read that you said that you believe we may be able to eradicate HIV without a vaccine.
JL: Through widespread use of PreP we maybe able within a couple of generations to eradicate HIV without ever finding a cure for it. Which is very fascinating because before most people thought you need to find a cure, but because PreP is so effective at blocking transmission of HIV we may be able to eradicate this disease long before we develop a cure to the extent because there are high rates of taking up the drug.
Also people living with HIV are on antiretroviral medications that lower the risk of transmissions effectively to zero.
QG: Do you have statistics on this, or a date in mind even?
JL: The research I read has it with a couple of generations . This is something that will take years. Decades even. It is achievable and closer than ever before.
IS SEX CHANGING?
QG: Do the areas of sexual concern change all the time?
JL: I think sex is something that is always changing and it Is interesting to see how sex has evolved in the last couple of decades, and to thinK how it Is going to continue to change into the future. I think technology is one of those areas where we see it having a dramatic effect on what counts as sex, and also how it’s going to be involved in changing the picture.
For example if you look at rates of sexual behaviour over time we see that Americans are having less sex than in the past, but they are having more different types of sex, more sexual engagements with a lot of people meeting people online. It will ALSO be interesting to see going forward as virtual reality becomes more of a thing how that impacts our sex lives.
QG: If we read your book what happens? Does it educate us or make us feel more fulfilled?
JL: The goal is that it does both of those things Part of it is to provide educate as sex education in the US is not good. Its particularly bad for the LGBTQ community as growing up we are taught nothing about sex . Part of this book is to provide that missing piece of sexual desire and sexual education, and to give people the tools to empower them to get more of what they want.
WHAT WILL YOU LOOK FOR IN SEX NEXT?
QG: You mentioned that you work at the Kinsey Institute, what motivates you to find your next area of research.
JL: I describe myself as a promiscuous researcher in the sense that there isn’t just one topic I want to research for the rest of my career. I’m not going to be the ‘fantasy guy’ forever.
For me going forward I think it’s important to answer the unanswered questions that are still out there about sex and focus on filling the gaps There are still a ton . Also I want to look at what is going on in the world of sex right now, and I try to design research studies to better understand that.
QG: What ambitions do you still have?
JL: I have lots. I have a Word document that is open on my computer every day. It’s about 50 pages long and it includes all my research ideas Every time I get an idea I write it down , even though I know I am never going to be able to get through them all, I am going to try and do as many as I can .
“Tell Me What You: The Science of Sexual Desire and How It Can Help You Improve Your Sex Life. is available from EAST END BOOKS and good book shops everywhere
Follow Dr Justin Lehmiller’s Blog : SEX & PSYCHOLOGY HERE
Portrait of Dr Lehmiller courtesy of Esther Boston