Pepper Schwartz Welcome
NATIONAL ADVISORY COMMITTEE WELCOME FROM THE CHAIR: PEPPER SCHWARTZ
I am delighted to be chairing the advisory committee for this new PhD program for sexuality studies with it’s timely, and timeless, investment in clinical and policy studies. My own entry into this field came first from an interest in testing some of the non- scientifically derived “facts” about female sexualities. I was a graduate student in the late 1960 and early 1970s and it was a time to question old assumptions ( some of them profoundly sexist ) and to stand up for inalienable sexual rights. Feminist consciousness was rising, gay rights were proclaimed and fought for, and the air fairly crackled with energy, anger, activism, and scholarly industry and discovery. My own major work of the period took ten years to accomplish and resulted in a study funded by the National Science Foundation, comparing same sex couples, heterosexual cohabiting couples, and heterosexual married couples.
The: "American Couples study” gathered data of about one thousand Lesbian couples, 1500 gay male couples, several thousand heterosexual cohabiting couples and approximately 8000 married couples. Long questionnaires were filled out, and 600 couples were interviewed in depth ( equally divided between the four kinds of couples and in sub groups of age and duration of the relationship). The study, conducted within an hour or so radius of Seattle, San Francisco and New York told us a great deal about intimacy in three different kinds of gender configurations, and how marriage was different, and similar, to other kinds of committed relationships. We found continuities of gender for men and for women, no matter what kind of relationship they were in, and major differences between marriage and every other kind of relationship. This study, published in 1983 was done way before gay marriage was a movement, much less a reality, but at the time we recommended that all kinds of couples should have the option to marry since it seemed to bestow a stability and gravitas that helped couples last longer.
This study was a staple of human sexuality textbooks and also became useful in the first gay marriage court case in Hawaii and in many subsequent gay rights cases, particularly the first attempts to gain equity for gay men and Lesbians in the armed forces and in custody and adoption cases. This fusion of objective, traditional research being used both in the courts for sexual justice and in people’s lives, to help them figure out their relationships, has led to a deeply satisfying professional career. And it is not over. Sexuality studies is a vibrant area, with much to accomplish and learn. My own latest book, The Normal Bar, the surprising secrets of extremely happy couples (Harmony/Random House 2013) is a very large cyber study and looks at over 90,000 relationships in more than ten countries. This study also compared heterosexual and same sex couples- but found only a very few differences. If I were to do the American Couples study again, I would now be able to compare gay marriages and heterosexual marriages not only to each other, but to gay and heterosexual cohabiting relationships. Much has changed since the original study was conducted.
The Normal Bar had some very interesting findings that my co-authors and I ( Chrisianna Northrup and Dr. Jim Witte) felt could be very useful to all relationships. As in the American Couples study we found that intercourse and other sexual and affectionate behaviors decreased over the duration of the relationship and was affected by increasing age of the partners. But we also saw that extremely happy couples kept their sexual life alive and were most likely to do many affectionate behaviors , such as cuddling, holding hands, public displays of affection giving gifts, taking romantic vacations and calling each other pet names. Affectionate behaviors did decline over time- but not so much for the extremely happy couples. We found that these small affectionate behaviors were elementally important for couple happiness.
We also found out some disquieting facts: most couples keep major secrets from one another. Sometimes its about having an illicit , hidden relationship- other times it could be about their real opinion of their partner’s love making! Only a wisp of a majority said they felt their partner was fulfilling their sexual needs, and this became the minority for the over 50 population. What could help? There were a lot of prompts in the data. Few people rated their partner’s kissing a 9 or -10 on a scale where the highest was 10. And many women did not give their partner accurate feedback about his love making. Men complained of not getting enough romance!
Still the majority of the couples in the study said they loved their partner and in particular, the men indicated they would risk their life if their partner were in danger, whether or not they were in a happy relationship!
These kind of studies point out pitfalls and often- subtly or straightforwardly, suggest ways to make the reader’s relationship more loving and more attuned to a partner’s needs. It pleases me to think some research I did, or some research I disseminated to the public, might change someone’s life for the better. It is this mission, helping inform public policy and helping people take care of themselves and their sexual and emotional commitments, that makes me feel passionate about my work.
Helping new generations be trained and able to extend knowledge to the world or therapy to needy clients seems to me like an admirable service to be able to provide. I see the California Institute for Integral Studies as becoming the hub of producing new scholars who will exceed my own and my generation’s work and help make this a better world for everyone’s sexual life and sexual rights.