Observational Method. These observations may take place in field settings or in laboratories. This particular method, however, has had a very limited application so far because of the requirement of privacy that shrouds sexual experience in many cultures (Katchadourian, 1989). An example of observational research is when psychologists observe the patterns of nonverbal communication and body language among couples in dating situations (Rathus et al., 1993). Researchers can also interact with the people whose behavior they are recording, this is deemed the participant observation method. One major limitation of this method is the possibility that the behavior under study may be altered by the participant because of the presence of the observer (i.e., observer effect). In other words, the participants’ behavior may consciously be changed to “fit” with what they believe the observer is seeking.
Human Sexual Response (1966) by William Masters and Virginia Johnson is one of the seminal studies examining the sexual behavior of humans via the observation method. Despite the controversy engendered by the method of their study, it gave a reliable picture of what happens to the body during sexual behavior.
Allows the researcher to examine the relationship between variables of interest
Experimental Method. Experiments permit researchers to draw causal conclusions between the independent variable and dependent variable. One example of this method is exposing participants to sexually arousing materials while instruments monitor physiological responses (Katchadourian, 1989). The particular limitations of this study seem obvious, in that, one cannot manipulate many variables of interest directly because of ethical standards.
Correlational Method. For example, a researcher may be interested in the variables that relate to sexual satisfaction in couples. Therefore, he/she may look at the variables of partner compatibility, communication skills, and number of years the couple has been together. The major limitation of this method is that correlation does not equal causation.
Case Study Method. The intensive study of one particular participant. A vast amount of descriptive information is gathered about one particular individual, therefore, giving a much more detailed picture of that individual than would otherwise normally be attained. The major shortcoming of this method is that generalization to a population is out of the question. In addition, participants may also have “gaps” in their memories and ways of thinking which bias results.
One cannot truly begin a dialogue about human sexuality without addressing the biological perspective, in particular, hormones (Strong, DeVault, & Sayad, 1996). Hormones may be viewed as one of the major “driving forces” of sexual behavior. Over the past several years, there has been much research examining the various roles that hormones play in the sexual behavior of humans. Hormones are produced by the gonads (i.e., testes and ovaries), the adrenal cortex, the pituitary gland, and the hypothalamus. In addition, the hormones of androgens, estrogens, and progestins all exist in both males and females. They exist in different concentrations, however, within males and females. Males have a higher concentration of androgens and females have a higher concentration of estrogens and progestins. Incidentally, androgens are responsible for the sexual differentiation of the male reproductive system before birth and the sexual maturation of boys at puberty. Testosterone, a specific androgen, is associated with the male sexual drive and possibly with aggressive behavior (Reinisch, Ziemba-Davis, & Saunders, 1991). Estrogens and progestins, found in higher concentrations within females, regulate the menstrual cycle and are essential for reproduction. The relationship of these hormones to the female sexual drive and behavior are unclear. Hormone levels are usually correlated with sexual behavior, but in humans this is not necessarily true because of intervening variables. Thus, an individual may be physiologically ready to participate in sexual behavior, but does not because of factors that supercede any biological reason.