Sciographies is a radio show and podcast about the people who make science happen, presented by The Faculty of Science and campus-community radio station CKDU. This article is the first in a series that will feature excerpts from each new episode released this fall.
Natalie Rosen’s interest in sexual health began when she first heard Dr. Sue Johanson — a famous Canadian broadcaster, sex educator and counsellor — on the radio.
Today Dr. Rosen is an associate professor in Dalhousie’s Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, as well as the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. She runs the Couples and Sexual Health Research Laboratory, where her team is focused on understanding how individuals and couples cope with sexual problems or changes to their sexual relationships, such as sexual dysfunction or the transition to parenthood. The ultimate goal of Dr. Rosen’s research is to inform the development of better treatment options for affected women and couples.
Dr. Rosen is also a clinical psychologist with a private practice that offers couples and sex therapy.
In this week’s episode of Sciographies, host David Barclay sits down with Dr. Rosen to talk about her upbringing in Ottawa, her path through university and grad school, and insights from her research and knowledge mobilization campaigns.
Here are some excerpts from the episode, edited for length and format.
Finding inspiration from Dr. Sue Johanson…
Barclay: You became interested in sexual health. You mentioned Dr. Sue?
Rosen: She was so accessible and would normalize everything. She would talk about things that I had no idea about; it was educational, but also really fascinating. I wondered what jobs would be related to this topic. If you were to ask my parents, they would say, ‘Yes, she had it in her mind that maybe she’d be a sex therapist one day’.”
Building her research program…
Barclay: So, you get the job [at Dalhousie]. You’re set, you’re made in the shade. You knew where you wanted to go [with research] and you ran with it?
Rosen: Yes. My first client during my clinical training at a sex therapy clinic was a young woman who was having pain during sex. She was diagnosed with a condition called provoked vestibulodynia, or PVD, which is chronic vulvar pain upon penetration. It’s a cause of sexual dysfunction, but it’s also pain that could be caused by trying to insert a tampon or ride a bicycle — anything with touch and pressure to that area. She had a [sexual] partner at the time and we started talking about how her partner responds to the pain. I went to look at the literature to understand better how couples cope in situations like this and there was nothing. Nothing to inform how to help a couple navigate the problem. Now I would say the fundamental thing about my research program [at Dalhousie] is to look at sexual problems from a couple’s perspective.
Sharing research findings with the public…
Barclay: [Your research] is on a topic that all of us want to know more about.
Rosen: It’s sort of this interesting juxtaposition. Everyone’s interested in it — it’s a sexy topic — but on the other hand, it’s hard to talk about. It’s still an area where there’s a lot of stigma, and a lot of misinformation still persists. As a scientist, I think it’s our responsibly to correct myths and misinformation.
Barclay: And you’ve made some efforts in that area?
Rosen: Yes, with PostBabyHankyPanky.com! I mean, everyone faces this with their research. You do the research, you write the paper, you do the conference presentations, and then what? I guess in my field, where I’m really trying to have an impact on people’s sexual relationships, I was concerned that the research I was doing wasn’t getting out to the public. With the Post Baby Hanky Panky initiative, I had done a series of couples-based studies that were the first about the transition to parenthood and changes to a couple’s sexual relationship. We asked, “what are the sexual problems that new mothers and fathers are having, how common are they, and are they the same?” It turns out that over 90 per cent of new parents report between 10-16 sexual concerns that are specific to the postpartum period.
I wanted to do something fun [with these findings]; something I could get out there to new parents to help raise awareness and try to spark some conversation. We made these videos and launched a campaign to get them seen because this is a topic that new parents don’t talk a lot about, but it’s hugely common for there to be new sexual concerns after having a baby.
Listen to the entire 30-minute episode of Sciographies at 4 PM today (Thursday) on CKDU 88.1 FM in Halifax or find it on Apple Podcasts and other podcasting platforms. You can also listen to all Sciographies episodes to date at soundcloud.com/sciographies or dal.ca/sciographies.
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