The Center for Positive Sexuality is strengthened and enriched by each of our board members, researchers, interns, and volunteers. This month’s Spotlight interviewee is no exception.
Dr. Jeremy N. Thomas, PhD, Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Positive Sexuality, received his Ph.D. from Purdue University and is currently Director of Gender and Sexuality Studies at Idaho State University (ISU). He is also Associate Professor of Sociology in the Department of Sociology, Social Work, and Criminology at ISU as well. His research on sexuality, deviance, and the body dives deep into experiences, meanings, and identities surrounding pornography and sex work, BDSM, kink, fetish, sexual consent, abuse, assault, rape, murder, body modification, ritual violence, self injury, and more.
As we see in this interview leading with a sex positive perspective does meet with challenges but his focus and determination secure Dr. Thomas’ place at the forefront of sexual research and understanding.
What led you to your sex positive perspective and work?
I grew up in a conservative religious setting where I often saw and experienced very negative attitudes toward sexuality and especially any expression of sexual diversity. The stigma, judgment, and emotional anguish that some people went through because of their non-traditional identities or practices eventually led me to seek out different ideas about sexuality, and ultimately I came to embrace a positive sexuality perspective that has influenced and guided me both professionally and personally for quite a while now.
What are you currently working on in regards to your sex positive work?
I just recently published an article on “BDSM as Trauma Play” in the journal Sexualities in which I look at how some persons use BDSM activities and relationships as tools to help them work through past traumas. I also have papers in progress considering sex positive perspectives on pornography and religion and sexual orientation; and then, this fall, I plan to get some new work started, including a research study on students who have consensual sexual relationships with their professors as well as persons who use BDSM activities as an alternative to self-injury.
In the 2019 evaluation of the Journal of Positive Sexuality it noted that there is a frustrating disconnect between “academic, professional, and community study and practice of sexuality”. Could you speak further about the current state of understanding sexuality, and the gifts and challenges of studying sexuality?
One of the things that is both a gift and a challenge with understanding and studying sexuality is that sexuality is deeply personal. In spite of this (and because of it), academic, professional, and community perspectives on sexuality have often been divorced from one another so that people and organizations in these different domains have historically operated in silos with limited contact with one another. Part of the explanation here is that the personal nature of sexuality has typically been regulated and managed through the practice of privacy with the result being that there has been limited cross-talk between these different domains. To bring these domains together requires individuals and groups to be willing to recognize that sexuality is not only deeply personal but also is intrinsically public (and political). When people open up about their sexuality, they are better able to bridge these domains and effect positive change.
What advice would you give those interested in doing sex positive study or work?
Be fearless and bold. To the extent you can, live out and open. Bring curiosity to your study and work, and stay open to new ideas and perspectives. And when people get judgmental, defensive, or controlling, don’t spend too much time reacting in anger, but rather enjoy the work. Be in sync personally and professionally.
The Center for Positive Sexuality would like to thank Dr. Thomas for taking time to share his experience with us and for his continued research and support.
You can learn more about Dr. Jeremy Thomas, PhD and his research at www.jeremythomas.org.
Thank you to intern Emily June who conducted this interview.