Friday Faculty Focus: Sofia Jawed-Wessel


August 25th, 2017

Dr. Sofia Jawed-Wessel poses for a photo. (photo by Brandon McDermott)

It’s time again for Friday Faculty Focus. This week, KVNO’s student reporter, Brandon McDermott speaks with assistant professor at the School of Health and Kinesiology at UNO, Dr. Sofia Jawed-Wessel.

Brandon McDermott: Dr. Sofia Jawed-Wessel, thanks for coming on the show.

Dr. Sofia Jawed-Wessel: Thank you for having me.

McDermott: You’re in human sexuality research — what interests you the most about this field of study?

Dr. Jawed-Wessel: I think what draws me the most is how much we don’t know. It is a very young field. It’s not a field I thought I was going to go into when I was an undergraduate student. I was at Indiana University and IU houses the Kinsey Institute which has a long wonderful history of doing some of the first sex studies that we know of.

I didn’t get fully into my specific area and fully into the human sexuality world until I worked with this group of new mothers — I was helping to facilitate a new moms group — they had lots of questions about me motherhood and I couldn’t get over how many times they asked me a question about sexuality like “Sofia, you’re in public health, you’ve done sexual health work, you might know about this…” and I would go to the science, I’d get on my computer be like “oh yeah, I’m going to come back tomorrow and have all the answers for them!” and every single time I had zero answers for them and it became really frustrating both for myself and for them, for me to come back as an expert and not be able to help them — from an evidence based perspective.

So that’s really how I got into sexual health during pregnancy and postpartum specifically. I did not realize that was going to be one of my passion areas, but I loved working with this population and there is so much left to do it’s a very understudied population within the field of sexual health and sexuality. We’ve very much largely ignored pregnant women and new parents.

McDermott: What do we understand about postpartum, and it can be different for any mother?

Dr. Jawed-Wessel: That’s a huge question. In terms of like sexuality and sexual health, I can tell you that a lot of it has been focused on problems. It was largely focused on how often are they not having sex as opposed to “what kind of sex are they having?”—“What kind of intimacy are they are the engaging in? — It was more about “what are they not doing?” – “What has what has changed in a negative manner, what has stopped?”

We also assumed when we looked at this these behaviors that if something is going away or something is decreasing that it’s a bad thing — that something bad is happening with this couple and we need to help them in some capacity. Very few of us have stopped to be like well “Did we ask them if they’re having less sex, if they’re bothered by that? Is this a problem?” Because I’m kind of guessing it’s probably not as huge of a problem as the rest of us onlookers think that it is.

McDermott: Your research focuses on understanding and improving the sexual health of women in couples as they transition into parenthood. Can you talk about the importance of this?

Dr. Jawed-Wessel: In terms of the importance of this area – it’s understudied in my opinion — for a sexist reason. I think that we really disconnect parents, parenthood — motherhood specifically — and pregnancy from sexuality, we don’t think that the two jive really. The other piece that I’m very intrigued by is I’m really interested in how our culture views sexuality in terms of the reasons why people have sex.

There are tons and tons of reasons in any given situation why somebody might choose to have sex and at that given moment, but we can kind of lump all of those categories into reproductive reasons and then everything else. With pregnant couples – they are already pregnant — they cannot be having sex for reproductive reasons. So, it allows me to really explore all the other reasons we have sex. I’m getting to see a direct eye into all the other reasons why they’re having sex. So, exploring their sexuality is just really fascinating to me.

McDermott: When it comes to comprehensive sex education do you think educating these kids more letting your children know what sex actually is will then take away from some of the misunderstanding from a daughter or a son?

Dr. Jawed-Wessel: Absolutely. I mean think about this: if a parent is starting a conversation with like “Don’t have sex,” or “if you have sex in some way, I’m going to disappointed in you,” or “I’m going to see you differently,” or “I’m going to be ashamed of you,” or “you should feel shame,” in any way, if they extend those messages — if that if that child does choose to have sex, don’t those parents want that child to come to them with questions and (to have) conversations about this?

But if that your parent is going to be disappointed in you, going to be ashamed of you — I wouldn’t go talk to my parents about that — in fact I didn’t. My parents made it very clear to me that if I was involved in anything sexual — I mean that was like the worst thing I could ever. That they wouldn’t be to look me in the eye ever again and “no daughter of mine would do that!” So if I did have questions about (sex) they were last people I would go.

When I see my children, I want them to always know that that they can always come to me, with the worst thing that they’ve ever done or the best thing ever they have ever done — they can always come to me, if I don’t have the answers for them, I can help them navigate it. We can do it together. I don’t think parents realize that when they when they frame the conversation around shame in that way, that they’re cutting their child off.

McDermott: Dr. Sofia Jawed –Wessel, thanks for coming on.

Dr. Jawed-Wessel: Thank you.

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