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Dr. Sofia Jawed-Wessel is an assistant professor within the School of Health and Kinesiology, the Associate Director of Midlands Sexual Health Research Collaborative and she specializes in a unique area of study.
Jawed-Wessel’s research focuses on understanding the sexual health of women and couples as they transition into parenthood by documenting sexual behaviors, sexual function, relationship adjustment and sexual changes during pregnancy and after childbirth.
“As an undergrad in college I never would have thought that this would be my line of work,” Jawed-Wessel said. “I knew I was interested in sexuality-related research after working on a few studies as an undergrad, and, as a PH student, my internship was with an organization that worked with pregnant, post-partum moms.”
Jawed-Wessel said that her primary assignment was to facilitate the mom’s support group, and they had a lot of questions concerning sexuality and relationships after having their first baby.
“Being the nerd that I was, I would go into the literature to see how I could help them because I didn’t really know the answers. I found that there was very little scientific information to provide advice with.”
This gap in information led Jawed-Wessel to her research topic.
“I started thinking about how sexuality during pregnancy is a feminist issue in a lot of ways because of the way we desexualize pregnant women and mothers,” Jawed-Wessel said.
A published study of Jawed-Wessel’s, The Relationship Between Body Image, Female Genital Self-Image, and Sexual Function Among First-Time Mothers, really dives into the topics that Jawed-Wessel had been asked about. Topics like how body-image and genital self-image impact sexual function.
The study ultimately found that a relationship exists between body image, female genital self-image, and sexual function among sexually active post-partum women. Compared to previous studies, Jawed-Wessel’s study found that women’s post-partum levels of body dissatisfaction and self-consciousness are relatively low.
While Jawed-Wessel’s research topic is a bit unique, she offered some advice that can be useful to any researcher just starting out.
“If you’re a curious person, research should be fun for you, it’s fun for me. Each individual study is not going to be like the ‘end-all-be-all’ study,” Jawed-Wessel said. “You have to have a trajectory, you have to think about your goal, but you’re not going to be able to answer that big question with just one study. Know which questions you have to answer first before you can answer that big question.”