Fifty years in sex research, 1961 -
Sonenschein has academic training and professional field experience in anthropology, sociology, and psychology. He has had academic minor concentrations in philosophy and comparative religion as well.
His primary areas of scholarship have been sex research and American popular culture,
and his writings have appeared in such publications as Anthropological Quarterly,
Social Forces, Psychiatric Opinion, The Journal of Sex Research, The Journal of Popular
Culture, The Journal of American Culture, Sexual Behavior, Medical Aspects of Human
Sexuality, Public Opinion Quarterly, and others. He has served on editorial boards
of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality, the American Studies Association
of Texas (ASAT), and the National Coalition of Independent Scholars (NCIS). He is
currently Book Review Editor for The Independent Scholar, the on-
Sonenschein has taught university courses in Introductory Anthropology, Culture and Personality, Contemporary American Society, and Human Sexualities. He fled the academia in 1973 but continues research, writing, and publishing as an independent scholar.
Sonenschein is primarily known for ethnographic research on male homosexual culture
and relationships, and for his sociocultural approach to pornography. His years of
sex research, begun in 1961, include several years (1966-
In 1969, he was requested by the President's Commission on Obscenity and Pornography
to do a study of women's erotica which was published in their 1972 reports as “The
Romance Magazine.” One of the first works to critically examine the child sex abuse
hysteria appeared as a solicited chapter, “Children, Sex, and the Media,” in the
book Forbidden Fruits: Taboo and Tabooism in Popular Culture, edited by Ray B. Browne
of the Center for the Study of Popular Culture. His 1998 two volume study of the
panic, Pedophiles on Parade, was called “the definitive study” by one reviewer. His
published projects have included a study of Madalyn Murray O'Hair's “nut mail,” documentary
book publication of pre-
Sonenschein has specialized in ethnographic studies, that is, the direct observation and questioning of groups and individuals in lived social contexts, and in the analysis of cultural artifacts, images, and texts. He has become known for his critical research of important but volatile issues, and for his challenges to irrational popular moral panics concerning human sexualities. In the contexts of a steadily degenerating political environment and a moribund scientific establishment, such empirical work has demanded a parallel level of data driven rational activism, and he continues to counter homophobia and the child sex abuse hysteria. Now largely retired from active field research, he continues to present occasional professional papers and book reviews.
What Others Have Said About His Work...
“Sonenschein ‘broke the silence’ as never before by arguing explicitly for the value
of an ethnographic approach to the study of homosexuality.” -
“His analysis of the homosexual’s language is brilliant. ... [He] reveals two important
facts about homosexual slang largely ignored in previous research.” -
“Some of our most powerful taboos center on children and sex, and David Sonenschein’s
essay (‘Breaking the taboo of sex and adolescence: children, sex, and the media’
[in Forbidden Fruits, ed. Ray Browne, 1984] is one of the most provocative in this
rich collection.” -