Lawmakers Assail NIH Funding for Sexual-Arousal Conference

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Byline: Robert Stacy McCain, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The National Institutes of Health continues to fund sex studies despite protests from members of Congress who say projects such as paying women to watch pornography take taxpayer dollars away from potentially lifesaving research.

The critics' latest target of outrage: $26,000 in federal funds for a conference on sexual arousal next month at the Kinsey Institute in Bloomington, Ind.

Discussion topics will "include the relationship ... between sexual motivation and arousal," and development of "guidelines for ... measurement of sexual response," the conference organizer wrote in his grant application.

"If this conference needs funding, they ought to hit up [pornographer] Larry Flynt, not taxpayers," said Rep. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican.

NIH documents obtained by The Washington Times show that the Bethesda-based federal agency's grant-review panel "unanimously and enthusiastically" endorsed next month's conference where Northwestern University psychology professor J. Michael Bailey will be a featured speaker.

It was a $147,000 NIH grant for a Bailey project paying women to view pornography while using an instrument called a plethysmograph to measure their sexual responses that prompted 20 Republican members of Congress to sign a letter to the agency's director, demanding an explanation for what they called "a bizarre spending decision."

"With the current state of the economy and government deficits, federal funds must be spent responsibly," Mr. Flake and his House colleagues wrote in a March letter to NIH Director Dr. Elias Adam Zerhouni. "We request an explanation of the criteria used for making project funding decisions. Specifically, we wish to know why funding for viewing pornography takes priority over funding for disease research."

Mr. Bailey, whose latest book, "The Man Who Would Be Queen," examines homosexuality and other aspects of sexual identity, is scheduled to participate in a panel about "Gender, Age & Sexual Orientation" on July 15, the final day of the four-day conference. …