A Day in the Life at UNMC

Is there a sexpert in the house?

Drs. Irwin and Jawed-Wesel interacted with the public at a July 8 Science Cafe.
Drs. Irwin and Jawed-Wessel interacted with the public at a July 8 Science Cafe.

Sexpert. “It’s a funny word,” said Jay Irwin, Ph.D., associate director of the Midlands Sexual Health Research Collaborative (MSHRC), housed in the Department of Health Promotion, Social & Behavioral Health in the College of Public Health.

It is a funny word. Nevertheless, Dr. Irwin has agreed to take it on as a mantle. At least that’s the way he and his fellow panelists are billed at periodic Science Cafes that tackle the subjects of sex, sexuality, gender issues and sexual health. They’re the sexperts.

Dr. Jawed-Wessel listened as a member of the audience contributed to the discussion.
Dr. Jawed-Wessel listened as a member of the audience contributed to the discussion.

How does one achieve the rank of sexpert?

“I would say at least some basic training in human sexuality and being comfortable with the title,” Dr. Irwin said. So, it’s an honorary title, but not just an honorary title. There should be academic/scientific training involved. That schmoozy guy at a party going around calling himself a sexpert?

“I’d ask to see some credentials,” Dr. Irwin said.

That guy’s probably a pervert.

But being a sexpert is not all glamour – writing academic papers, conducting research surveys and headlining Science Cafes.

Anyone with a profession – doctor, plumber, author of incredibly compelling Lookin’ at U profiles – can sometimes want to unplug and think about something else. Lawyers, for example, sometimes complain about getting bugged at parties for free legal advice. Do sexperts ever want to just talk about something other than sex?

Christopher Fisher, Ph.D.
Christopher Fisher, Ph.D.

“I was at a gas station,” said Christopher Fisher, Ph.D., UNMC assistant professor of public health and director of the MSHRC. He was minding his own business, looking for some beef jerky or some chips, when a woman yelled out: “Hey, you’re the guy from that thing!”

(It’s rarely good to be the guy from that thing.)

And the woman started enthusiastically asking him about sexually transmitted infections (STI).

Now THAT’S a full-service gas station.

“I did stop and talk to her,” Dr. Fisher said. “But I was just there to buy snacks!”

And physicians complain about being on call. Sexpert: it’s not just a job, but a mission to serve.

Dr. Irwin addressed a full house at the sexperts' recent Science Cafe.
Dr. Irwin addressed a full house at the sexperts’ recent Science Cafe.

I went to a recent Science Café to see sexperts in (ahem) action. This time the panelists were Dr. Irwin and Sofia Jawed-Wessel, Ph.D., another MSHRC assistant director. Dr. Irwin’s research interest is in health status and health care of LGBT individuals and in sexual and gender identity. Dr. Jawed-Wessel studies the sex lives of pregnant and postpartum couples.

“I come from a very pleasure-focused, sex-positive point of view,” she said.

Hi-yo!

They threw the floor open to questions. One young man raised his hand immediately. Then, question answered, we waited a minute or so for the ice to break and someone else to step forward. The same guy immediately raised his hand again.

It turns out, we need sexperts. There’s a lot of misinformation out there. As Dr. Jawed-Wessel said at one point, “There’s misinformation even at the doctor level.”

But the sexperts are helping there, too. They give presentations to UNMC students. These students master a tremendous amount of information, Dr. Irwin said. “But most of it is very clinical. Not so much on how to talk to people.”

A patient’s level of “outness,” for example, may be important. (That’s a scientific term, “outness.”)

Sexperts in action: important, but not quite as exciting as it sounds.
Sexperts in action: important, but not quite as exciting as it sounds.

The questions kept coming. One silver-haired gentleman seized the microphone. He emphatically stated that young people should not think it’s icky that their grandparents have sex. Old people have sex! And it’s beautiful!

It was unclear whether he was actually there for Science Café night at the Slowdown or if this was just his latest stop as he made this announcement at every bar in town. Either way, the sexperts nodded appreciatively.

Afterward, more people came up to them. Asked more questions, delivered more declarative statements. They were surrounded by people. People who wanted to talk to them about gender identity, or sexual health. This is the life of a sexpert. It’s rewarding. But not as sexy as you’d think.

Listen to the podcast of the July 8 Science Cafe featuring the sexperts, below.

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