A Q&A with Human Sexuality Professor Dr. Ryan Watson

Dr. Ryan Watson, a professor with Human Development and Family Studies, has focused his work on human sexuality. (Photo Illustration/Francesca Colturi)

The plethora of experts and scholars who work on the UConn campus are rarely utilitzed by students other than during classes. But these minds can tell us more than math, engineering and chemistry -- especially Dr. Ryan Watson, who tried to answer our questions. Waston works in the human development and family studies department and has a doctorate in HDFS from the University of Arizona. He studies the intersections of family, school and sexuality, sexual/gender minority youth and young adult health, as well as hooking up and sexual health.

Daily Campus: How would you describe sexuality?

UConn human sexuality professor Dr. Ryan Watson: Sexuality, and more specific to what I study - sexual orientation - is really three components of our identity - attraction, identity, and behavior. That is, some people identify as a gay or lesbian person, and have attractions to the same gender, and have sex with the same gender. However, sometimes these components are not always aligned. That is, a person might identify as heterosexual but still have sex with the same gender. Many people think that sexuality is fluid, and so we do not necessarily experience sex or our identity the same way across the lifespan, and it is not necessarily static. 

DC: How many sexual orientations are there?

Watson: This is a tough one, and as you know, something that has changed over time. In the old days, it used to be “sodomite” vs. “heterosexual”. In the not too distant past, we begin to recognize lesbian, gay and bisexuals as distinct orientations. Today, we have even more words to describe sexual orientation, such as queer, pansexual, and more! In general, I try not to count orientations, but instead use the term “queer” to encompass all non-heterosexual identities.

DC: What do you study regarding hooking up and sexual health?

Watson: Hooking up is more common today in college than ever before, so my research team looks at the motivations and outcomes related to hooking up. We specifically look at LGBT people - who don’t typically meet in the “normal” places we think of to hookup, like a frat party. Instead, these young people use apps to help them locate sexual partners, and I am interested in whether or not these applications lead to better or worse sexual encounters.

DC: How would you define hook-up culture in the U.S.?

Watson: Unlike most scientists that find this problematic, I try to look at the upside of hooking up, which is pleasure and exploration. After all, we all embrace sexuality in different ways today, from recreation and pleasure paradigms, and so I define it as a way to explore our sexualities in a meaningful and important developmental time period.

DC: Do you think college hook-up culture is different from, say 10 years ago?

Watson: Not too much, just that it is more accepted today and there are many more ways for people to meet partners (think: Tinder, Grindr, OkCupid, etc).

DC: Is there a normal number of sexual partners for college-age kids in the US to have?

Watson: “Normal” is not a word I would apply to this — but research shows that the typical college senior has about six sexual (hookup) partners. This varies widely by sexual orientation, geography and other sociodemographic characteristics of college students. 

DC: Do you believe humans are naturally monogamous?

Watson: This is a hard question, and not my specialty, but I would encourage people to read many books on this topic that discuss it. I think the answer to this question will differ from queer people to heterosexual people as well. If we are comparing ourselves to animals (which, after all, there is reason to given evolution), then I would argue that we’re not necessarily wired to be monogamous for our entire lives. And an answer of “no” is more socially acceptable as time has gone on.


Francesca Colturi is associate life editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at francesca.colturi@uconn.edu.