Groundbreaking paper earns Vasey lab prestigious award

A pioneering research paper from Dr. Paul Vasey’s Laboratory of Comparative Sexuality at the University of Lethbridge has been recognized by the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality (SSSS) as the winner of the 2013 Ira and Harriet Reiss Theory Award for best theoretical paper in sexology.

Dr. Paul Vasey says the award is both gratifying and reflective of the nature of research being undertaken at the U of L. Photo by Mary Kavanagh

The paper, Male Androphilia in the Ancestral Environment: An Ethnological Analysis, examines the evolution of male same-sex sexuality.

“The paper conceptualizes and tests a model for the natural selection and persistence of male same-sex attraction based upon novel cross cultural data, and represents an important addition to knowledge in this area,” says Dr. William Fisher, Chair of the Ira and Harriet Reiss Theory Award Committee.

The manner in which male same-sex sexual attraction manifests publicly varies across cultures. Vasey says that in Euro-American societies, we are most accustomed to seeing the "gay" form, but in many non-Western cultures, a transgendered form exists. The group’s work indicates that the transgendered form likely evolved first.

“This finding is important because it suggests that the transgender form might be the best model when testing evolutionary theories for male same-sex sexuality,” says Vasey. “In this regard, we felt our paper was a bit of a game changer with respect to how research on this topic will be conducted in the future.”

The authors also demonstrate that elevated investment in kin by transgendered males may have played a role in the evolution of same-sex sexuality.

Vasey says the award is both gratifying and reflective of the nature of research being undertaken at the U of L.

“It's a great honour to share this award with my former doctoral student, Doug VanderLaan, and my former Honours student, Zhiyuan (Lance) Ren. We spent almost two years working on this paper together and I'm extremely proud of the final product,” says Vasey. “I think this work is a great example of how both graduate and undergraduate training is integrated into my lab’s research program, and is indicative of the high calibre of research being conducted at the U of L.”

Fisher explains that the purpose of the Ira and Harriet Reiss Theory Award is to encourage and support advances in the development of social science theory in the field of sexual science.

“The goal is to explain human sexuality so as to increase our knowledge and thereby our ability to handle the sexual problems we face in the U.S. and other societies,” he says. “The winner of the annual award is selected by reviewing the previous year’s published articles, chapters and books in which social science theoretical explanations of human sexual attitudes and behaviours are both developed and tested.”

The award selection was also approved by the Foundation for the Scientific Study of Sexuality (FSSS). The authors will present their work at the 2015 meeting of SSSS.