Academic journal article Canadian Psychology

Psychology Is from Mars, Sexology Is from Venus: Can They Meet on Earth?

Academic journal article Canadian Psychology

Psychology Is from Mars, Sexology Is from Venus: Can They Meet on Earth?

Article excerpt

Abstract

Mainstream psychologists have not pursued sexology with the enthusiasm aimed at other areas of psychological research. Ambivalence is evident in the ideological marginalization of sexology by mainstream psychology. The authors argue that scientific conflicts between the disciplines in part reflect divergent interpretations of how each discipline approaches the scientific method. By aligning psychology with positivism and sexology with postpositivism, a discussion of cultural, scientific, and normative conflicts between the two disciplines is presented as evidence for these differences in scientific ideology. To address these conflicts, future directions for scientific progress are proposed for sexology and psychology. Specifically, by capitalizing on the strengths of each discipline, collaboration can lead to the validation of sexology as a science and the enhancement of both disciplines.

Despite the fact that the majority of North American sexologists are psychologists or have significant psychological training, there is growing ambivalence between mainstream psychology and sexology. Sex is a basic public and human concern, yet this is not reflected in psychology. This ambivalence is reflected in a variety of ways. For example, introductory psychology textbooks spend approximately four times the amount of space discussing sensation and perception than they spend on sex and gender (Koenig, Daly, Griggs, Marek, & Christopher, 2004). There are far more graduate training opportunities in psychology departments for the study of depression than for the study of sexual disorders. This is surprising considering the high prevalence of sexual dysfunction compared to that of depression (Canadian Psychiatric Association, 2001; Laumann, Paik, & Rosen, 1999). Although there are notable societal deterrents to the study of sexology, which have no doubt discouraged many psychologists, we argue that marginalization of sexology by mainstream psychology can be understood in terms of how each discipline pursues scientific knowledge. The aim of this discussion is to offer insight into how and why sexology has become estranged from mainstream psychology, and what sexologists can do to correct this ideological schism.

Psychology is generically defined as the study of mind and behaviour, and mainstream psychology can be defined in any number of ways depending on what is measured and how those measurements are interpreted. Extraordinary personalities such as William James and Wilhelm Wundt laid the foundations for modern psychology; however, this discussion will focus on how psychology has matured as a science. For these reasons we choose to align mainstream psychology within the framework of empirical science, specifically positivism. In its current form, positivism relies on the generation of falsifiable hypotheses, direct observations, operational constructs, generalizability of causal relationships through theory, and experimental replication with the aim of uncovering the universal truth about a thing (Kuhn, 1962; Popper, 1963). The positivist foundations of modern psychology are rooted in Descartes' emphasis on empirically based knowledge and the Kantian tradition of a priori logic (McLaren, 1999). G. T. Fechner established the foundations of quantitative psychology in the late 19th century (Fechner, 1887/1987), and shortly thereafter Edward Thorndike further adapted empirical science to psychology by arguing for the statistical analysis of reliable, quantitative measurements (Thorndike, 1904). Mainstream psychology has since evolved in the tradition of a "quantitative imperative" (Michell, 1990). Critics have even suggested that psychology emphasizes factual information at the expense of scientific development (Machado, Lourenço, & Silva, 2000).

The scientific divide between the positivist ideals of psychology and the value-laden science of sexuality has reinforced the differences between these two disciplines. …

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