Local News

Duke sex toys study intrigues some, upsets others

Posted November 5, 2009 6:27 p.m. EST
Updated November 13, 2009 5:00 p.m. EST

— Duke University is recruiting female students to take part in a research study involving Tupperware-style parties where sexual toys are discussed and purchased.

Some on campus find the study disconcerting.

"I think it can give the impression that the university is endorsing behavior that I don't think the university should endorse," said Father Joe Vetter, director of the Duke Catholic Center. "I don't think that's the intention of the university, but I think it can be perceived that way."

The study, which is funded by private donations, is being led by Dan Ariely, the James B. Duke professor of behavioral economics in the Fuqua School of Business. He declined to discuss the purpose of the research, saying it could taint the results.

Vetter said he believes the study is a response to concerns about sexually transmitted diseases and promiscuous behavior on college campuses.

Duke on Thursday pulled an ad from the university Web site that promoted the study and recruited volunteers for it. According to the ad, participants would fill out an initial questionnaire about sexual attitudes and behavior and then attend a one-hour "sex toy party" where they could discuss the devices with each other and buy them at discounted rates. Two months after the party, they would have to fill out a second questionnaire online.

Sophomore Taylor Sites said she heard about the study from her roommate and said she didn't see anything wrong with it.

"Anyone who is interested, sure, why not?" Sites said. "(It's) not that big of a deal."

Graduate student Christopher Nafis said he was surprised Duke would conduct such a study.

"I wouldn't think college students would be particularly interested in that kind of thing," Nafis said. "It seems like it might be embarrassing for a lot of people to talk publicly about what kind of sex toys they are buying."

Michael Schoenfeld, Duke's vice president for public affairs, said research is an important part of the university's mission. All studies using human subjects go through a rigorous review process before they can begin, he said.

"Not all research will make people comfortable. In fact, there's a lot of things, there are a lot of questions, there are a lot of issues that are studied at a university that make people uncomfortable," Schoenfeld said. "That's how we get an understanding of things like ethics (and) behavior."

Academic freedom and the need for research doesn't shake Vetter's belief that Duke would be better off ending the sex toy study.

"It's not fostering relationships, and it seems to me that one of the things that we want young people to do is to figure out how to have deep, intimate friendships and relationships," he said. "I would draw the line at a different place. I don't think that it's a good idea."