Psychology major, Molly Wilson, Researches Sex

August 31, 2009

Sex can be tricky. Researching it can be complex. Psychology seniors must complete an independent senior research project to graduate, and Molly Wilson, from Washington, Illinois, designed her own experiment examining male sexual arousal to sexual dominance in pornography.

"People instantly have a negative connotation with it," she says. "I am not talking about the negative aspects of pornography, but as a therapist I might recommend the use of pornography to help with sexual dysfunctions."

She says she examined questions about pornography and found some interesting results. "Not necessarily statistically interesting -- but interesting." Her conclusions showed that, be it aggressive or non aggressive, males are aroused by pornography.

"Men being sexually aggressive to women is an accepted form of interaction, and some radical views suggest that men are more aroused when the men in the videos are being aggressive in a sexual manner. I wanted to find out if this was true on a more subtle level - if men were aroused by videos of men being more dominant over a woman."

Her results were much of what she predicted, but she was surprised that her research also showed that the subjects were equally aroused by video clips of non aggressive behavior and aggressive behavior. "But when I asked them, they said that they preferred the non aggressive video clips." That, according to Wilson, suggests that men are persuaded by the societal standards.

Working in the lab with Heather Hoffmann, professor of psychology, gave Wilson basic research skills, as well as the chance to work with psychophysiological equipment. "I wanted to complete research as an undergraduate, in order to reaffirm that I want become a sex therapist with my degree in psychology," Wilson said. "The more time I spend in the lab, the more comfortable I become with equipment and instruments that are featured in a sexual research laboratory in the world. I am gaining the preparation necessary to enter the world as fully functioning therapist."

The experience taught Wilson how to manage her time, by having to schedule her lab work, schoolwork, and social life. "I am figuring how to take my theoretical knowledge and apply it to practical situations. Finally, I am becoming more adept at taking my research and creating strong arguments for its validity," she said.

Wilson has a pragmatic point-of-view. "As a psychology major, you can only learn so much in the classroom," she said. In fact, "Research is an integral part of any science. It is one thing to learn about how a reaction works, it's another to be able to perform the reaction by yourself."

She agrees with the perception that she is a good representative of what a psychology student at Knox is like. "I've taken a lot of the courses, and have a good understanding of what it is like. I know all of the professors and love working with them. They give me encouragement that I might not find at another school. That is what makes the Knox community unique."

Wilson says her confidence has increased dramatically since coming to Knox. "My comfort level in both in my academics and my personality has changed. I wanted that change. I wanted to put myself out there."

The pragmatism continues. "I want to do my part in finding answers. I'm good talking to people and talking about my research with human sexuality is going to be good for me. I'm planning on getting a sex therapist degree so I need to be able to talk about sex to whomever."

Following graduation, Wilson went to work as a research assistant for Heather Hoffman, professor of psychology at Knox.