I recently spoke to Jeremy Glass at Thrillist re “bad sex writing” — where is comes from, what kinds of problems it causes, and how to sift through the pitfalls.
Here’s some insights from “Why You Should Take Anything You Read About Sex with a Giant Grain of Salt” (5/4/16) — you can also read the full piece on bad sex writing right here.
Surveys aren’t always indicative of real trends.
As a writer who specializes in sex and dating, I know how much pressure there is to put out articles that will get eyeballs on them. Thus, you need to write headlines that will be clicked on. Anyone writing for online publications these days is guilty of using clickbait. So I can’t totally condemn any of the writers or publications mentioned.
“Surveying scientifically is hard,” says Ronald L. Wasserstein, executive director of the American Statistical Association, “On the other hand, if you don’t care whether the results are relevant, accurate, meaningful, and generalizable, then anyone can do it. One should be very suspicious of survey reports that don’t provide details about the methodology involved.”
There’s a lot more to it — you can read my full correspondence with Jeremy re bad sex writing below. Enjoy!
Jeremy Glass: Do you think a lot of misinformation is spread by way of badly-researched articles on FB?
DrCT: I think a lot of misinformation about sex and sex behaviors is spread by poorly done research, poorly summarized research, and “research” that comes with an agenda.
Designing a study is hard. There are a lot of factors that go into research design, from basic know-how and expertise in a specific area to pure feasibility (read: Is there funding?). As such, there is a lot of work out there that’s limited – but is often touted as “Fact.”
There is also the tendency to “hot take” research today – to take a bit of science and distill it down into plain language, making it accessible for average folks. This is a great, as most research is locked up in university libraries, inaccessible to average readers, but what happens if the person doing the “hot take” doesn’t understand the study itself? (I saw one super egregious example from this recently where a fairly high-profile sexpert was attempting to explain some brain science… It wasn’t pretty) That’s where problems occur and misinformation can be spread.
There’s also the extremely frustrating occurrence of research with an agenda – “studies” and such conducted to shore up an existing perspective, rather than find new information. Now obviously, all studies are impacted by human biases to some degree, but studies done by foundations or “think tanks” (and even universities) intended to show something social is bad or something tied to a specific community is especially good – these are the worst! It’s certainly ok for communities to have their own norms and standards – as long as consent is present, more power to ‘em. But to make claims about the veracity or nobility of a standpoint on the basis of pseudo-science is no good.
JG: What can writers and readers do to fix this problem?
DrCT: Writers can work to fix this problem by collaborating! I know – it might require more than a cursory Q&A via email, but if everyone in this information chain came together to make sure accurate information was being disseminated, that would help. Often scientists and researchers speak with a particular jargon – something that’s largely inaccessible to everyone else. Writers, be they journalists or sexperts or whomever, often have a pretty big responsibility to translate said jargon into something readable and accessible. This is further impacted by how tenuous discussions of sex are in our society – even though it’s currently 2016, we still seem to want to think about sex is very specific ways.
My best suggestion would be to always go back to the source and double-check your “hot take” – better that than miss an opportunity to reach readers due to a poor explanation or translation.
And readers can contribute too by doing their due diligence. I know we supposedly all already know this, but just because it says it on the Internet doesn’t make it true. Ask questions, demand better content, and make sure to pay for the information. Part of the reason so many things are falling by the wayside is our insatiable need for new content/stimuli, which devolves into poorly paid writers scrambling for clickbait. Make sure to pay for well-done work, and more well-done work will follow!
(pictured: not really relevant, but I thought it was funny!)
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