Professor Mindy Stombler is found at the head of the class in Introduction to Social Problems and in Sexuality and Society. Her sense of humor and fresh take on controversial topics land her on forums such as Rate My Professor with a high grade of “A,” an average 4.7 and notably a hot tamale. Stombler’s specialties lie in the areas of Sexuality and Social Inequality.
In times of love and lust, not many have an authority or place to look for sage advice. For someone whose profession is to take a critical look, here is Professor Stombler on sex, dating and internet trends.
Q: In your Sexuality class, what is it generally about?
Stombler: Sexuality and Society offers students a chance to view sex and sexuality from a sociological perspective. We spend a lot of time learning about the social aspects of sexuality, that our attitudes and behaviors are a product of interacting with other people. What we think is “natural” in terms of sex and sexuality is really constructed differently across cultures and time. Other course themes include exploring the fluidity of sexuality and also sex-positivity. We design and participate in our own sexual behavior survey within our class.
Q: How do you view online dating and the internet changing our relationships?
Stombler: [With online dating], users have a lot more choices. They are no longer relegated to physically finding partners at work, school, in their neighborhood, etc. They can seek partners with specific likes and dislikes, interests, even specific sexual tastes. Individuals no longer need others to introduce them to partners, so independence can be an upside. Yet sociologists also argue that intimate relationships are often stronger when they are drawn from existing social networks (when you are introduced by friends, family members, coworkers, etc.), something that may be missing on an app.
Q: There are trends online that men and women do on social media that go viral, such as posting screenshots of their interactions or putting the person they’re in a relationship with into memes. What is your take?
Stombler: It means you have to be careful not to assume trust before it’s earned. This is sex-negative behavior. Social media may make it easier to inflict this sort of damage in terms of speed and reach.
Q: How do you view modern relationships in comparison to ones of the past?
Stombler: In modern relationships, there is an assumption that all partners should be experiencing sexual pleasure. Modern relationships are also showing more sexual fluidity, especially among the Millennials and Gen Z, and in particular among women. Sexual identities, behaviors, and attractions do not always align, and people are much more willing to cross boundaries previously seen as impervious. An individual’s sexual responses may change over time and are partly dependent upon the situations in which they find themselves.
Q: How do you view hookup culture as it is talked about and handled today?
Stombler: Hookup culture needs to be put into perspective. The average number of hookups for a graduating senior is seven. A quarter of graduating seniors will have never “hooked up.” I have most concern about the quality of sexual interaction. Researchers have found that students are often dissatisfied with heterosexual hookups, with women having orgasms at half the rate as men in first time hookups, for example. Students in one study said they wanted at least pleasure, meaning, or empowerment from their sexual activity, and hookup culture was not delivering in those areas. There is no need to kill hooking up, per se, but creating an environment where there are other opportunities for the kind of sex college students want (the pleasurable, meaningful, and/or empowering sex) would be a step in the right direction.
Q: In what ways have you seen race affect how people date?
Stombler: Race is still being used as a screening tool. Americans still have implicit biases by race and data from online dating sites quantifies the biases, where groups are most or least likely to be contacted by potential dates. Our neighborhoods, schools, places of worship, and more remain segregated by race, inhibiting our likelihood of meeting partners across race lines “IRL.” Even when we do form interracial couples, love does not erase the racism of the greater society. Researchers who study interracial couples find they are not “beyond race” and that race is a part of their relationships.
Q: In regards to sex, what is the largest gap or void in our generation’s education?
Stombler: The current sex education system is disgraceful. Despite the vast majority favoring comprehensive sex education, a vocal minority continues to succeed in pushing abstinence-only education, a form of education that has been proven to be ineffective. What is missing most is a focus on sex-positivity. If you begin with the assumption that sex can be healthy, pleasurable, and enjoyable, you reframe the entire curriculum and the rest of the gaps will be filled as a consequence. We should be educating earlier and more frequently. We should understand that knowledge is power. If we want kids to behave responsibly and experience joy, we have to provide the tools for them to do so.
Q: What is your take on the narrative of ‘slut shaming?’
Stombler: Slut shaming promotes sex-negativity and is primarily used as a means to control women’s sexuality. It’s retro, creepy, pathetic, and needs to stop.
Q: If spoken about or dealt with, what do you think would make sexual relationships stronger in our society?
Stombler: If we focused more on sexual pleasure, prioritizing communication, honesty, and expressing or fulfilling desire. I’d like to have sexual pleasure taught in the schools. We have to confront the unequal power structures in our society where men dominate women and where the sexualities of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and queer students are stigmatized. We need to destroy the old Victorian sexual script that assumes that women are less sexual, men have unending sexual appetites, and that women’s job is to say no to men’s advances before ultimately accepting. We need new scripts that acknowledge women’s interest in sex. These scripts would integrate clearer communication to assure that sex is truly consensual. If people could be comfortable in their bodies, sex would be better for everyone. There is so much body shaming in this culture and it inhibits sexual pleasure.
Q: Before two people (or maybe more) decide to have sex, what is the best advice before anything happens?
Stombler: They should establish consent regarding all that will take place.
Q: What do you want college students to learn of sex?
Stombler: I’d like to have every student get exposed to a sex-positive perspective on sexuality. Students think they know a lot about sex, but when they come to class they realize that in understanding the big social picture about sex, they’re quite the novices.