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Research targets male sexuality


27 October 2003
About one quarter of men across all age brackets experience some kind of sexual problem but most are unwilling to talk about it, according to a research study by a Southern Cross University (SCU) psychology PhD Candidate.

Bill O’Hehir, who is based at the Coffs Harbour campus, is more than half way through a four-year research project examining the effect of sexual anxiety on Australian males. He is also developing a computer-based tool to help men learn about their sexuality and deal with emotional problems.

The findings of the first two parts of the study, involving more than 200 men and women in three states, have already surprised Mr O’Hehir who has worked in the men’s sexual health field for 20 years.

“The first study is an attempt to develop an assessment tool to highlight whether men experience anxiety in relation to sexual matters. The way we are conditioned we don’t talk about it,” Mr O’Hehir said.

What the study has shown is that factors such as sexual self-esteem, apprehension about their partner’s reaction, fear of negative sexual evaluation and nervous system responses, all contribute to sexual problems.

“I’m surprised because it goes against the way males portray themselves sexually. The attitude comes across as being casual, but in this study a lot of men are not as blase as they appear.

“Sex for blokes seems to be a mechanical thing, whereas in reality when you scrape the surface there are a lot of emotional factors which are not addressed.”

Mr O’Hehir said the research had also involved more than 100 women.

“If a man feels sexually inadequate does that build up to the point where they take it out on their partner? Do they just withdraw from their partner and substitute it with drugs and alcohol?”

He said in some cases the men withdrew to the Australian icon, the "shed", and the couple ended up living parallel, but separate lives in the same house.

The next major part of the study is the development of an interactive computer-based educational tool for middle-aged men, which is being produced in conjunction with the Coffs Harbour company Ivatech.

The CD will allow men to work through the problems associated with sexuality in the privacy of their own homes.

“That’s what makes this research so unique. We are going to take this program to Victoria, South Australia and Nambucca Heads and trial it against ordinary blokes and see what happens. The potential for it is that we are able to identify key aspects of sexual problems and highlight the computer technology as a useful way of educating males.”

He said when drugs such a Viagra came on to the market many men were able to return to sexual activity, but the psychological and emotional factors were not addressed.

“Many women were placed in a position where they were forced back into a physical relationships. This is very much a women’s issue as well as a men’s issue.”

The fourth stage of the research will look at the link between sexual anxiety and substance abuse and depression. The project is expected to be finished by March 2005.

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