Dr. Samantha Dawson is ready to tackle important sexual health questions and make an impact

After a cross country academic journey, Dr. Samantha Dawson joins UBC Psychology as assistant professor in the clinical area.

Dr. Dawson’s research focuses on informing better sexual health education and developing interventions for individuals and couples. As the field of sexuality research is still growing, she is interested in exploring this topic further and making an impact.

In a Q&A, Dr. Dawson takes the time to share her research, her hobbies and her excitement in conducting research in this relatively unexplored area of sexual health.

First of all, can you tell us a little about yourself?

I grew up in Australia and ended up in Canada when I decided not to return home after a 12-month gap year. My academic journey has taken me across Canada. I completed my undergraduate and Masters degrees at the University of Lethbridge (Alberta), my Ph.D. from Queen’s University (Ontario), and my postdoctoral training at Dalhousie University (Nova Scotia). I am absolutely thrilled to be ending this journey by settling in beautiful Vancouver.

What kinds of questions do you try to answer through your research?

Sex is one of the most basic and universal human experiences and is linked with better physical and mental health, as well as overall quality of life. Despite the importance of sex for individuals and couples, the field of sexuality is relatively new and there remains lots of unanswered questions and things we don’t know. The overarching goal of my multi-method research program is to identify factors that promote sexual health and function, and then use these to develop empirically-supported interventions for individuals and couples experiencing sexual dysfunction.

Can you give us an example of this in our daily lives? 

A lot happens when we have sex or encounter a sexual stimulus (e.g., an attractive person). Our bodies show signs of physiological arousal, we experience different emotions (e.g., excitement, fear), and we pay attention to a lot of different information (e.g., the sensations we are experiencing, what our partner looks like). In my research, I am really interested in the integration of these different components, how do they work together (or perhaps not in the case of sexual dysfunction) to produce the overall experience of arousal and desire. For example, for someone who is experiencing sexual dysfunction, do they attend more to negative cues during sex (e.g., signs of partner disinterest, distracting thoughts about their body, or thinking what to make for dinner) and then does this contribute to poorer arousal and lower desire.

How did you become interested in this line of research?

I first became interested in this line of research when I heard a graduate student present her research on gender differences in patterns of sexual response. I was instantly fascinated by the idea that perhaps women’s and men’s sexualities are organized differently, and that we have methodologies to assess this objectively in the laboratory. I then began working with this graduate student on some of her projects (we continue to collaborate) and have since incorporated other methodologies into my research program to more fully understand and capture the complexities of women’s and men’s sexual response.

Can you tell us about any new research that you are particularly excited about?

One of the biggest perks of being a sexuality researcher is that there is still so much about sexual health and well-being that we still don’t know, and so when we conduct research into these previously unexplored areas it tends to not only have a big impact in the field, but more importantly on people’s lives as well. I recently launched a new study examining factors contributing to new parents’ sexual well-being during pregnancy and postpartum, a period of known vulnerability for sexual problems. I am really excited about the potential to use this data to inform better sexual health education for expectant couples, as well as develop interventions to protect against these expected declines.

Do you have a motto?

I don’t know if I have a motto, but my dad has always said “The cream always rises” and that has always stuck with me.

What do you like to do in your free time?

In my free time, I love to travel, whether it be exploring a new place close to home or planning an overseas trip. I also love to dance (I was a ballerina in a former life) and enjoy spending time with family and friends.