Focusing on sex: Using focus groups in sex research.
Frith, H. (2000). Focusing on sex: Using focus groups in sex research. Sexualities, 3(3), 275-297.
In this article, Hannah Frith points out that, despite the fact that much sexual research is done in the form of large-scale quantitative surveys, qualitative research is also becoming more popular in the field as of 2000. In this vein, Frith examines the ways in which the increased use of focus groups as a qualitative method could help advance sex research. Mostly using her own research, she illustrates a number of advantages of using focus groups in sex studies, and thus encourages more researchers to use it.
After reviewing the literature on sex and focus-group based research, Frith explains a series of advantages that focus groups can yield sex studies largely by relying on excerpts from interactions that she recorded during her own research using this method. Frith suggests that, while focus groups can sometimes encourage group members to respond only in socially desirable ways, by focusing on the interactions between members—particularly during arguments between them–researchers can often glean contested and more robust understandings of (even socially ‘undesirable’) sexual phenomena. Specifically, however, Frith find the following three advantages to using focus groups in sex research: “1. focus groups are useful for exploratory research into under-researched topics and for speedy policy analysis, 2. focus groups can enable the researcher to learn the language and vocabulary typically used by respondents in talking about their sexual activities, and 3. focus groups provide conditions under which people feel comfortable discussing sexual experiences and which encourage people to talk about sex” (Frith, 2000, p. 277).
Frith’s article challenges the use of traditional methods in sexual studies. By suggesting not only that the field can be benefited by more qualitative studies, but that focus groups may be a particularly useful form of such studies—Frith reconceptualizes the use of qualitative methodologies. Specifically, instead of suggesting that focus groups simply offer a good way to specify language in quantitative surveys, Frith notes that the interactive dialogues that occur within focus group interactions can be useful on their own merit. For, unlike purely quantitative methods, such focus group interactions can mimic the dynamic of meaning-making, and thus offer researchers valuable insights on the social construction of sexuality.