As a Sex Researcher and Educator, Last Night's Election was Terrifying

As I watched last night’s U.S. election results come in, I was stunned and shocked. When I work up this morning, I was terrified.

These feelings are, in part, a function of my personal politics—the details of which I’ll spare you. However, I also feel these very same emotions in my capacity as a sex researcher and educator—and that’s what I’d like to talk about for a few moments. Here’s why what happened last night at all levels of government scares me.

Early in the evening, I saw Eric Holcomb get elected to the office of Governor in my current home state of Indiana. This is a man who, when running for a seat in the Indiana State House in 2000, attacked his opponent for using taxpayer money to “collect pornography and conduct studies on bestiality, homosexuality and pedophilia.” Holcomb’s line of attack stemmed from his incumbent opponent’s previous vote in support of the Indiana state budget. That budget, in part, provides funding for Indiana University, which some of you may know is home to the Kinsey Institute.

This was an unfair attack, to be sure, and it was roundly criticized. However, it was revealing of how Holcomb feels about sex research and whether he thinks the government should be in the business of supporting it. Having Holcomb as Governor poses potential danger to the Kinsey Institute, not to mention everyone—like me—who makes a living in Indiana by researching sex at a public university.

Holcomb is honestly the least of my worries, though. Much later last night, I learned that Indiana’s current Governor, Mike Pence, will soon become Vice President. Last year, Pence signed the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act into Indiana law—a bill that, among other things, would have provided legal cover to businesses that discriminate against sexual minorities. Pence defended this law vigorously, even as it provoked a national outcry. Eventually—and under enormous political pressure—Pence signed off on a “fix” for the bill to clarify that it could not be used as a basis for discrimination. However, the backlash the original law brought has irreparably damaged our state’s reputation.

But it’s not just that—as Governor, Pence actively ignored science at the expense of Indiana residents’ health. As I wrote previously on this blog, Indiana suffered a major outbreak of HIV last year in several counties, stemming from needles being shared by injection drug users. There’s an abundance of public health research showing that needle exchange programs are a cheap and highly effective way of battling HIV epidemics. Pence’s response?

"I don't believe that effective anti-drug policy involves handing out paraphernalia to drug users by government officials," he said. "I reject that."

In other words, this is a man whose personal opinion trumps science. As a scientist myself, I think you can understand why it frightens me to have someone like this just a heartbeat away from the Presidency.

Finally, and scariest of all, there’s Donald Trump—the man who will become the next U.S. President. The things this man has said about women. The things he has allegedly done to women. And that's just the start. There’s a whole litany of other offenses—offenses we have all been made painfully, painfully aware of over the last year.

The President of the United States is someone who is supposed to be a role model for children and adults alike. Given the way he treats other people, this man is no role model—not in any sense of the word.

Trump, like his soon-to-be VP, is also a science-denier (after all, he has referred to climate change as a “hoax”), which bodes poorly for everything from government research funding to public policy.

As if all of that weren’t enough, there’s the fact that Trump has made no bones about wanting to appoint Supreme Court justices who would overturn landmark decisions on reproductive rights and marriage equality. If that ultimately happens, there will be devastating consequences for many Americans’ sexual health and their relationship happiness.

As a resident of Indiana, a citizen of the United States, and a sex educator and researcher, I can’t help but fear the next four years.

Let’s hope that in 2020, Americans respond by voting respect—respect for science. Respect for women. Respect for sexual and gender minorities. Respect for all.

Image Source: 123RF.com/Evgeny Gromov