Northwestern professor John Michael Bailey is unquestionably the most well-known expert on human sexuality on campus. But Hector Carrillo, Associate Professor of Sociology and Gender Studies at Northwestern, has also dedicated his career to studying sexuality.
Carrillo was, naturally, involved with this year’s Sex Week, helping lead a discussion after a screening of Capturing the Friedmans, a documentary following what happens when a father and teenage son are both accused of child molestation. Bailey and Jesse Friedman, the son featured in the film, also participated in the event.
“I’m excited to have an opportunity to play a role in a conversation that is student driven,” says Carrillo, who has been at Northwestern for two years. “Sex and sexuality are topics that a lot of people don’t learn too much about before coming to college, so I think it’s great that students have opportunities to explore a topic that, for a variety of reasons, teens and children are not taught a lot about.”
Before coming to Northwestern, Carrillo taught at both San Francisco State and University of California San Francisco, where he developed his academic passions.
Carrillo originally became interested in studying sexuality due to the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. At the time, there were a number of questions about how to stop the spread of the disease, as well as how to deal with its cultural ramifications.
“[Sexuality] tells us a lot about cultural differences, and teaches us about social disparities like differences in class, race and urban or rural locations,” he said.
Carrillo is now working on multiple research projects including HIV in Latino populations, circumcision as an HIV prevention tool and heterosexual men who are attracted to other men.
“There has been quite a bit of discussion among ethnic and racial groups about the need to adapt public health methods for sexual health for different cultural groups,” the Mexican-born professor says.
Besides focusing on how race interacts with sexuality, Carrillo is also one of two founders of a new initiative called The Sexualities Project (TSP) at Northwestern. Directed by Carrillo and fellow Northwestern professor Steven Epstein, TSP was founded last September and provides research funds to faculty studying sexuality issues and fellowships to graduate students. Starting next year, the program will also bring two recent doctorate recipients to campus as postdocs, who will teach classes in Sociology and History as well as participate in other activities.
“It provides both resources for education and research related activities on the topic of sexualities and orientation broadly speaking, which we trust will help further solidify the kind of work that is needed in these areas,” Carrillo says.
This new program will bring sexuality-related classes into many different departments next fall. According to Carrillo, the study of sexuality will help provide new perspective in other fields.
“Sexuality is such a fundamental aspect of human life,” he says. “It can be a loaded topic in many cultures, so by studying sex we learn a lot about society.”