With one central question at the heart of his research, Dr. Paul Vasey has doggedly put together a body of research that places him among the elite sex researchers in the world. Recently, the Canadian Sex Research Forum (CSRF) recognized his significant input to the field of sex research with the CSRF Outstanding Contribution Award.
“Dr. Vasey is recognized as one of Canada's best sex researchers and his research is influential internationally,” says Dr. Lori Brotto, CSRF president and professor in the UBC Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. “Dr. Vasey has made fundamental discoveries related to sexual attraction, sexual identity and sexual orientations.”
Considered the premier honour for Canadian sex researchers, the CSRF award recognizes outstanding contributions to research, education, policy or clinical practice in human sexuality/sexology in Canada.
Vasey’s vast body of human research has stemmed from one fundamental question, how do genes related to male same-sex sexual attraction persist in the population over time? His work has literally taken him around the world, but the majority of his research over the past 15 years has centred on the fa’afafine community in Samoa and more recently, the muxe community in Juchitán, Mexico.
While the CSRF award is a lifetime achievement honour, Vasey is hardly interested in slowing down and feels a responsibility to continue to push his research forward.
“I think the trick is to remember that so many people slow down and rest on their laurels and their contributions taper off,” he says. “I’m really proud of the fact that I haven’t plateaued yet, and I take very seriously the responsibility of getting a lot of money from the government and the university to do my work. I try to honour that as much as possible by working hard.”
He says the accolades that go with such a significant award are validating, mainly because they come from people he holds in high esteem.
“There’s a handful of people I hold up as being academics who are making very valuable contributions to this field, and for them to say good things about my work, it means a lot,” he says. “I don’t sit around waiting for such accolades to come my way, but it sure is nice when it happens. I don’t think you can be really successful as an academic if you’re motivated by external validation. You have to have a certain kind of personality where you’re obsessed by certain problems and it is intrinsically motivating to get answers to those problems.”
Although Vasey keeps up a grueling work schedule that takes him around the globe, he feels extremely privileged.
“If you're doing what you love, it kind of becomes easy to live a life that outsiders might think of as arduous,” says Vasey. “I essentially get paid to do my hobby, to do research on the questions that interest me most in the world.”
Vasey hopes to head back to Mexico in February to collect more data on the muxe and to contribute to the ongoing recovery efforts in the wake of September’s earthquake in Central Mexico.