Dr. Sandra Byers, Former Board Member and Chair of the Selection Committee

Professor wins international award for sex research

dr-sandra-byersNew Brunswick Telegraph-Journal
Wed Nov 20 2013
Page: A1
Section: A
Byline: Chris Morris Legislature Bureau

FREDERICTON - After 35 years of teaching about and researching human sexuality, Sandra Byers has discovered one key fact: people find sex endlessly fascinating.

Byers, professor of psychology at the University of New Brunswick, has been awarded the 2013 Alfred C. Kinsey Award by the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality. She received the award at the society's annual meeting in San Diego, Calif.

Byers said the award is special because it recognizes her achievements throughout a long career. As well, she was the unanimous choice of the society - the number one sex research organization in the United States.

"Sexuality is an interesting topic," said Byers, who began teaching her popular human sexuality course at UNB in the early 1980s.

"When you tell people you are in sexuality, nobody's eyes glaze over. They want to hear more about it. When people buy magazines, the first article they usually open to is the one on sexuality."

Byers has focused her research on two main areas: sexual communication and sexual well-being.

She said in an interview on Tuesday that although she has seen changes in societal attitudes over the past three decades, people remain fundamentally poor communicators when it comes to sex.

"My research has shown that despite the fact that we live in a sexualized society and sex is used to sell things, most people are not good sexual communicators," she said.

"I have shown that between partners, people have a really hard time being open about their sexual likes and dislikes. Parents still have a really hard time talking to their children about sex in an open, non-judgmental way. And health care professionals still are not talking to their patients about how their chronic illnesses will affect their sexuality."

Even in her university courses, Byers said she still encounters surprising myths and lack of knowledge about human sexuality.

"We do have sex education in schools and it is much better than it used to be," said Byers, who is also a practicing clinical psychologist in Fredericton.

"If I was in charge of the world, we'd have even more extensive sex-ed in schools."

The Kinsey Award acknowledges individuals from around the world for their outstanding contributions to the field of sex research, sex therapy or sexology.

It is named after American sexologist Alfred Kinsey, a pioneer in the subject whose research in the 1940s an '50s on sexual behaviour became known as the Kinsey reports.

Byers is a licensed psychologist and teaches at UNB in the fields of human sexuality, clinical psychology and ethics and professional issues in psychology.

She has published more than 125 refereed journal articles and book chapters and is co-author of the most popular undergraduate textbook, Understanding Human Sexuality, which is now in its 5th edition. She has been chair of UNB's psychology department in Fredericton since 2003.

"Dr. Byers has had a long and distinguished career as a leading researcher on sexuality, and her receipt of this prestigious award brings much-deserved recognition to her work," said John Ball, acting dean of arts at UNB in Fredericton. "We in the faculty of arts are very proud of her latest achievement."

Lucia O'Sullivan, a professor and Canada Research Chair in adolescent sexual health in UNB's psychology department, was mentored by Byers as an undergraduate and masters' student, before going on to complete a PhD in the United States.

O'Sullivan said Byers' courses at UNB are among the most popular with students. "She consistently earns high praise for her energized, humorous and informed teaching style," O'Sullivan said.

© 2013 Telegraph-Journal (New Brunswick)
Reprinted by permission