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2019 SMF Research Symposium

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Toni Serafini
Associate Professor
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2019 SMF Research Symposium
Each year, the SMF Research Symposium offers an opportunity for students, faculty, and community members to present their research and engage in critical discussions about important issues in the relationships and sexuality fields. These critical discussions often take on a practical or applied focus – how research translates into practice in the human services fields.
The 2019 SMF Research Symposium features a keynote address by Dr. Karen Blair  "Why We Need More Research at the Nexus of Sexualities, Relationships, and Families", a Critical Close-up "Femme Theory: Using marginalized femininities to understand gender and power" presented by Dr. Rhea Ashley Hoskin, and eight research presentations covering a variety of sexuality and relationship topics.
Click here for the conference agenda.
See below for more information about the conference presentations.
Keynote Speaker

Why We Need More Research at the Nexus of Sexualities, Relationships, and Families
Presented by Karen Blair, PhD

Do you ever notice how the relationships conferences fail to give adequate attention to sexual diversity or even sexual activity? Or how the sexuality conferences seem to abscond with the notion of non-sexual relationship dynamics? Or how nearly all conferences have a pittance of attention paid to non-traditional relationships and sexualities? I am not the first to notice that only a small subset of researchers frequent both the major sexuality and relationships conferences, neither of which provide adequate space for dissecting the role that broader family connections play in navigating issues of sexuality, sexual identity or relationship functioning beyond the age of adolescence. Yet, despite our tendencies to sometimes study and discuss these topics in isolation, in reality they share dynamic connections that are constantly in flux and rarely simple. In this talk, I will explore some of the ways that my research has explored how sexualities, relationships, and families interconnect with each other (for better, or for worse) to produce the reality of our day-to-day experiences in any one of these domains. In particular, I will discuss two areas of research that touch on how opinions from those outside of our relationships (e.g., family members’ opinions) are related to both our individual and relationship well-being, and how these processes differ as a function of sexual identity.


About the Speaker

Media Folder: 
Karen L. Blair, PhD., is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia, Canada, and the director of the KLB Research Lab. Dr. Blair studies the role that social support for relationships plays in the development, maintenance and dissolution of relationships, LGBTQ Psychology, and the connections between relationships, social prejudices and health.
Critical Close-up

Femme Theory: Using marginalized femininities to understand gender and power

Dr. Rhea Ashley Hoskin
Postdoctoral Researcher
Departments of Psychology & Gender Studies
Queen’s University


The devaluing of femininity is a social problem that has serious consequences. Two of the largest massacres in Canada over the last 40 years have been explicitly misogynistic attacks: the Montreal Massacre and the van attack in Toronto. During the same time period, serial killers Colonel Russell Williams and Bruce McArthur targeted women and the gay men of Toronto’s LGBT+ village, respectively. Meanwhile, the highway of tears has become littered with the remnants of missing and murdered Indigenous women. Be it the alleged “Incel rebellion,” or the disappearance of Alloura Wells, a transgender woman of colour whose body was found in a Toronto ravine, I argue that these acts of violence can be connected through the same underlying social prejudice. This is not to say that these problems are not also fueled by sexism, transphobia, homophobia, and racism, but rather that there is an additional overlooked explanatory factor: the devaluation of femininity or femmephobia. Femmephobia refers to the systematic devaluation of femininity and gender policing that regulates deviations from intersecting feminine norms. This talk will highlight femininity as central to understanding the ebb and flow of power, particularly in relation to social inequalities, while proposing an intersectional approach that not only includes race, gender, and class, but also gender expression and femininity.

Research Presentations

The following list of research presentations is listed in the order that they appear during the conference. Click here for the conference agenda.


Lusting Against Type: Sexual Agency vs Gender Stereotypes in Comics
J. Andrew Deman
Department of English
St. Jerome’s University at the University of Waterloo


My paper will look at the popular comics character Storm’s transition from a passive sexual fantasy object to a dynamic character with sexual agency, and how this transition provides important insights into the role of sexual agency when it comes to the depiction of women in popular culture.


Recent studies of Chris Claremont’s writing for Uncanny X-men (Fawaz, Cocca, Powell, Darowski) have revealed a complex series of subversive messages about female sexuality within a patriarchal culture. Storm is the first female superhero team leader and the first black superhero team leader (Darowski 78), while Carolyn Cocca refers to her as the “first major black superheroine” (125). Despite this position of prominence, Storm did not always live up to expectations for progressive representation, and it was her tendency to conform to the sexual fantasies of the comics readership that restricted her potential. 


Comics had a tendency of placing female superheroes into subservient roles (often of a domestic nature) (Robinson 88-94), and Storm falls into this tendency in her early appearances in X-men comics. Richard Reynolds notes that Storm is “asexual” and her “exotic sexuality is offered in the context of family and domestic life: the family being in this case the X-men themselves” (94). Visually, however, Storm’s depiction falls into Lupoff’s definition of “good girl art.” For Reynolds, this paradox is commonly used to resolve “the amalgam of sexual fear and desire” (84) held by the majority comics readership at the time. Ultimately, it is through her dawning sexual agency and the reconfiguration of the power dynamics inherent in her earlier depictions, that Storm, Uncanny X-men, and superhero comics themselves, all mature together.



“u looking?” Hookup app use, sex, and intimacy among men seeking men
Harrison Oakes
Department of Psychology
University of Waterloo


Geosocial networking apps (GSNAs) like Grindr and SCRUFF are changing dating and sexual practices among men seeking men (MsM). Boasting millions of users around the world, GSNAs are now the most frequent method MsM use to meet partners (Hergovich et al., 2018). Despite their popularity, though, limited academic work exists on GSNAs’ impact on sexual practices. Worse, the existing work disproportionately adopts a problematizing and medicalized discourse of sexual risk, particularly around HIV transmission in the context of MsM’s use of GSNAs. Consequently, our understanding of the role of GSNAs in the sexual lives of MsM is very limited. To advance our understanding and guide future research, we need a bottom-up examination of how MsM take up GSNAs in the expression of their sexual identity. To this end, we conducted 10 in-depth narrative interviews with MsM who used GSNAs. Guided by critical interpretivist theory, we found that most, but not all, men who used GSNAs to find sexual partners preferred some form of interpersonal connection with a partner before engaging in sexual activity. This connection, however, differed in kind, depth, and time taken to develop it across all participants, but also across each participant’s hookups. Further disrupting casual sex scripts, most of our participants discussed experiencing and pursuing intimacy in casual sex, though intimacy was differentially defined across men. We conclude by calling for more nuanced research on MsM’s use of GSNAs, both generally and in expression of their sexual identity.


Transgressing the (trans)Norm: Analyzing Trans Identities in Medicine and the Dominant Sex/Gender System
Sophia Kudriavstev
Department of Sexuality, Marriage, and Family Studies
St. Jerome’s University/University of Waterloo


As discussions around trans identities move to the forefront of popular culture, it is important to be critical of the discourse surrounding transition, and the way trans bodies are made visible. Through an exploration of the medical institution’s approach to understanding and treating the trans body, this research aims to highlight how the transnormative narrative which has emerged surrounding transition, negatively impacts trans individuals. Despite improvements to guidelines for Ontario practitioners, the lived experiences of trans individuals seeking medical transitions indicate that the transnormative narrative continues to be upheld in professionals’ actual practice. Further, the continued reliance on a diagnosis of Gender Dysphoria is problematic, as it labels trans individuals as othered, locating these identities within the body rather than a product of social and cultural factors. This narrative places trans identities back into a binary gender system, rather than prompting a re-evaluation of the binary gender system based on trans identities



What are the Barriers to Safer Sex Communication? Comparing the Role of Emotional Avoidance, Communication Skills Deficits, and STI knowledge
Uzma S. Rehman
Department of Psychology
University of Waterloo

(Rehman, U.S. and Tran, V.)


Safer Sex Communication (SSC) is the interpersonal process by which partners discuss and negotiate safer sex practices such as condom use to prevent STIs or unwanted pregnancy. Although such communication is critical, there is consistent evidence demonstrating that people tend to avoid safer sex communication (Coleman & Ingham, 1999; Byers, 2011). Thus, the aim of the current study was to examine how three specific factors (STI knowledge, safer sex communication skill, and emotional avoidance) influence a woman’s safer sex communication. In the current study, we focused specifically on women’s discussions of condom use with their partner. We recruited a sample of 189 adult female participants who completed an online survey via Qualtrics. The results underscore the importance of emotional factors, such as fears about relationship dissolution, in preventing individuals from expressing their sexual preferences. Further, our results showed that emotional avoidance plays a larger role in women’s avoidance of safer sex communication, as compared to communication skills deficits or STI knowledge. This is the first known study to examine STI knowledge, safer sex communication skill, and emotional threats simultaneously and provides further insight into what influences women’s safer sex communication. 


Relationship and Sexual Satisfaction: A Developmental Perspective on Bidirectionality and the Longitudinal Effects of Personality
Christopher Quinn-Nilas
Department of Family Relations and Applied Nutrition
University of Guelph


Does sexual satisfaction influence relationship satisfaction, does relationship satisfaction influence sexual satisfaction, or are they connected bidirectionally? Answers to these questions have wide ranging implications for both sexual and relationship researchers, scholars in related fields, and for sex and couples’ therapists and educators. Researchers have investigated the directionality between relationship and sexual satisfaction; however, there remains no definitive conclusion. Previous longitudinal studies neglected to conceptualize relationship and sexual satisfaction as systematic developmental processes and have focused on predicting scores at later timepoints. Instead, researchers should be concerned with understanding longitudinal trajectories rather than assessing different unidirectional relationships between these two processes. This presentation will summarize theoretical and methodological considerations surrounding questions of unidirectionality and bidirectionality, and present empirical evidence supporting a new conceptual direction for longitudinal research in this area. Multivariate latent growth curve modeling of 1,456 midlife Americans married for 20 years from the MIDUS study was used to: (a) compare directionality models, and (b) assess the role of the Big Five personality traits for relationship and sexual satisfaction longitudinally. A correlated bidirectional parallel process model fit the data best, supporting a bidirectional change process between relationship and sexual satisfaction. Sexual satisfaction also protected against declines in relationship satisfaction. Findings expand on personality research by showing the ubiquitous negative effects of neuroticism, the beneficial effect of agreeableness on relationship satisfaction, and the complex time-dependent beneficial effects of conscientiousness and extraversion. 



How Disclosure and Non-Disclosure of Problem Gambling in Interpersonal Relationships Impacts Problem Gambling Intervention Outcomes
Anna Dawczyk, PhD
Research Associate
Department of Recreation and Leisure
University of Waterloo

(Dawczyk, A., Pickering, D., Blaszczynski, A., & Maitland, S. B.)


Existing research has examined how dysfunctional interpersonal relationships can lead to the development of problem gambling, conversely, how the nature and severity of problem gambling can have a detrimental impact on interpersonal relationships, and the need to integrate interpersonal relationships in interventions for gambling disorders. Data collected for research on interpersonal relationships is typically elicited from the perspective of family members and friends of problem gamblers. To date, there is a lack of research investigating the differential effect of problem gamblers either disclosing, or continuing to conceal excessive gambling behaviours on their compliance with problem gambling interventions, and on the quality of their interpersonal relationships. This qualitative study involved 20 interviews with problem gamblers and was designed to explore these issues in detail. Interviews were transcribed verbatim and analyzed using Thematic Analysis. Most participants disclosed problem gambling to family and/or friends, although the degree of disclosure varied across participants. Family and friends were on a continuum ranging from being supportive (e.g., provided verbal encouragement) to unsupportive (e.g., suggested going to a gaming venue where the person was banned from) resulting in enhanced or compromised intervention compliance. In a few cases, family and/or friends thought they were being helpful but paradoxically, achieved counterproductive outcomes (e.g., partner paid the full rent thereby problem gambler could secretly spend wages on gambling). These findings highlight the need to conduct individual evaluations of interpersonal relationships when evaluating the need to involve family and/or friends in the process of problem gambling recovery.



Emotional Avoidance as a Mediator Between Childhood Maltreatment and Relationship Quality in Adulthood
Julia McNeil
Department of Psychology
University of Waterloo, 

(McNeil, J. and Rehman, U., University of Waterloo)


Up to 33% of adults have experienced some form of childhood maltreatment and abuse (CMA) when growing up (for a review see: Colangelo, & Keefe-Cooperman, 2012). Research has shown that these early childhood experiences are associated with a variety of interpersonal difficulties in adult romantic and sexual relationships (for a review see: Maniglio, 2009). In 1995 Polusny and Follette suggested that these negative long-term effects are the result of emotional avoidance strategies that individuals use to cope with thoughts, feelings, and memories associated with the sexual assault. The present study tested this model with a sample of 150 participants who experienced CMA, all of whom were currently in long-term relationships. Participants completed a variety of questionnaires designed to assess the how often they experienced CMA, and a scale assessing their fear of their own emotions. Additionally, participants completed a variety of measures assessing the quality of their sexual and romantic relationship. Our results partially replicated previous findings, showing that CMA was associated with lower satisfaction with communication, and more problems in both the romantic and sexual domains. However, we did not find an association between CMA and sexual or romantic satisfaction. In regard to our mediational hypothesis, we also found evidence that an individual’s fear of their own emotions mediated this association. The implications of this finding suggest that treatments targeting these affective issues may be particularly important for helping victims of CMA.



Grindr and Emotional Affordances and Discontents: An Investigation into Gay Male Social Networking Applications and Emotional (Dis)Connection
Adam Davies
Ontario Institute for Studies in Education
University of Toronto


For gay, bisexual, and queer men, finding casual sex, “hook-ups”, or anonymous “no strings attached” sex through gay networking applications is considered a normative sexual practice (Aunspach, 2015; Roth, 2016; Tziallas, 2015; Yeo & Fung, 2017). Considering recent contestations over sexual health education in Ontario, discussions of gay men’s sexualities are largely absent from formal school curriculum, leading gay, bisexual, and queer men to learn about normative gay sexual scripts, sexual health, and behaviours online (Brennan et al., 2015; Jaspal, 2017; Jenkins Hall et al., 2017). However, research demonstrates how users of gay networking applications experience negative feelings online, including anxiety, loneliness, and isolation (Gibbs & Rice, 2016; Miller, 2015) as structures of gay masculinities and whiteness privilege white heteromasculine bodies and transactional sexualities (Bonner-Thompson, 2017; Goldberg, 2018; Riggs, 2017) while pathologizing emotional connection (de Oliveira, 2013; Elder, Morrow, & Brooks, 2015; Sánchez, Greenberg, Liu, & Vilain, 2009). Drawing from qualitative ethnographic data from 30 semi-structured interviews with gay, bisexual, and queer identified men who utilize gay networking applications and gay social service providers, this presentation will focus on the discursive norms which produce normative notions of emotional (dis)connection online and the construction of emotional attachment and negative emotions on gay networking applications.



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