MODERATOR: Andrew Solomon
PARTICIPANTS: Meredith Chivers, Jim Pfaus, Paul Vasey, Marc Breedlove
PROGRAM DATE: Saturday, June 4, 2011

Sexuality and gender play a profound role in shaping identity, but for much of human history how they are determined has remained obscure. How does sexual orientation develop? What is it? Can it be changed? What is the relationship between sexuality and gender? How do biology and culture interact to produce it? Why does homosexuality defy evolution’s dictate for reproduction? The long list of questions that has spanned centuries may finally be getting answers.
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Writer, Activist

Andrew Solomon’s most recent book, The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression, won the 2001 National Book Award, and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; it has received 14 additional national awards and is published in 24 languages. Solomon is a lecturer in Psychiatry at Weill-Cornell Medical College, and has lectured on depression around the world. He is a contributing editor at Travel and Leisure, and writes for The New York Times and The New Yorker, among others. He is currently working on a book entitled, Far from the Tree: A Legacy of Love, in which he studies family dynamics and extraordinary children; he is also working on a PhD at Cambridge University. He serves on numerous philanthropic boards in the fields of mental health, the arts, and gay rights, and is a fellow of Berkeley College at Yale University and the New York Institute for the Humanities. He lives in New York and London with his husband and children.



Meredith Chivers is an Assistant Professor and Director of the Sexuality & Gender Laboratory in the Psychology Department at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. She received her PhD in clinical psychology from Northwestern University in 2003 and, from 2004 to 2009, completed post-doctoral research training at the University of Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. She joined the Psychology faculty at Queen’s University in the spring of 2009 as a Queen’s National Scholar, an award aimed at recruiting junior faculty who demonstrate outstanding achievement in research and scholarship. Her groundbreaking program of research, featured in the New York Times Magazine cover story What Women Want in 2009, examines gender differences in sexual psychophysiology and sexual orientation, with a focus on women’s sexuality.

Psychologist, Neuroscientist

Jim Pfaus has sex on the brain. An internationally known expert in the neurobiology of sexual behavior, Pfaus has authored over 150 publications and chapters that examine how the brain’s neurochemical and neuroanatomical systems are organized for sexual arousal, desire, pleasure, and inhibition. His work focuses on the role played by stimuli associated with sexual reward in priming sexual responses, and reveals a strong effect of experience with sexual pleasure on the crystallization of sexual attraction, preference, and performance. His laboratory has also played a major role in the preclinical development of drugs to treat sexual arousal and desire disorders. His research has been reported worldwide in the popular media, and he has been interviewed for Time, Newsweek, CBC, BBC, ABC’s Nightline. His work has also been featured in episodes of the Discovery Channel’s Sex Files and he has been interviewed in several documentaries, including the joint HBO-BBC documentary Middle Sex.

Pfaus received his Ph.D. in Psychology and Behavioral Neuroscience from the University of British Columbia in 1990. After postdoctoral training in molecular biology at The Rockefeller University in the laboratory of Dr. Donald Pfaff, Pfaus was hired in the Center for Studies in Behavioral Neurobiology, Department of Psychology, at Concordia University in Montréal in 1992, where he is now a professor. He holds joint appointments in the graduate Departments of Biology, Chemistry and Biochemistry, and Exercise Science. His research is funded by grants from the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) of Canada, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse, NIH, USA. Pfaus has served on the editorial boards of a number of scientific journals, and is an Associate Editor of the Journal of Sexual Medicine. He serves on the Board of Directors of the International Society for the Study of Women’s Sexual Health, and on the Standards Committee of the International Society for Sexual Medicine.

Behavioral Neuroscientist

If reproduction is the engine that drives evolution, why engage in non-conceptive sex? In his attempt to tackle this question, Paul Vasey employs concurrent cross-species and cross-cultural perspectives. For the past decade he has conducted research on the development and evolution of female homosexual behavior in free-ranging Japanese macaques at Arashiyama, Japan. He also studies the development and evolution male same-sex sexual attraction in humans at fieldsites in Samoa, Japan and Canada. Since 2003, he has worked in Samoa with members of the fa’afafine community—biological males who live “in the manner of a woman.” Dr. Vasey is a member of the Editorial Board of the Archives of Sexual Behavior. His work has also been the subject of various documentaries on television (National Geographic’s Ultimate Explorer, Discovery Channel) and the radio (U.S National Public Radio, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Radio Netherlands).


Marc Breedlove, the Rosenberg Professor of Neuroscience at Michigan State University, has written over 100 scientific articles investigating the role of hormones in shaping the developing and adult nervous system, publishing in journals including Science, Nature, and Nature Neuroscience, as well as two textbooks, Biological Psychology and Behavioral Endocrinology. He has been widely interviewed about his research by periodicals including the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times, and Newsweek, as well as broadcast programs such as All Things Considered, Good Morning America, and 60 Minutes.

Breedlove has active grant support from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes, the National Institute of Mental Health, and the National Science Foundation. He is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the Association for Psychological Science.