Jessie Ford

Assistant Professor of Sociomedical Sciences

What are some of the major projects that you're currently working on or some of the ideas you have for future research? 

Currently I am working on two projects that both focus on inequality and stigma as they relate to risk behaviors and sexual health outcomes. The first is an NIAAA funded K01 study examining high rates of sexual assault associated with hazardous drinking among bisexual women. Today, 8-14% of women identify as bisexual and these numbers are growing. Across studies, bisexual women report the highest levels of sexual assault of both women and men coupled with higher rates of alcohol use. Presently, the mechanisms that lead to this dual risk are poorly understood. This study will focus on how alcohol interacts with other social forces to create risk with the goal of preventing sexual assault among this growing demographic group. This research will utilize a series of unique data sets enhanced by mixed methods approaches to understand how factors at the individual-level (e.g., sexual-identity-development), interpersonal-level (e.g., interpersonal discrimination), and structural-level (e.g. social policies targeting bisexual people) work together to create risk for bisexual women. A second project of mine focuses on structural stigma and HIV funded through NIMH (PI: Mark Hatzenbuehler). This longitudinal study utilizes qualitative interviews with gay and bisexual men in combination with 5 waves of survey data to better understand the lived experiences of gay men in different locations dealing with structural stigma. For both studies, the objective is to extend theoretical understandings while improving sexual health outcomes for stigmatized populations. 

how does your research fit into the larger landscape of public health research, and more specifically into sociomedical sciences? 

Many people may not think of sexuality, gender inequality, or social interactions as directly relevant to public health. These are exactly the social forces that I have sought to better understand in terms of their impact on health and wellbeing. What produces a “healthy” sexual interaction? Why do people have condomless sex? When does an experience shift over into sexual assault? Why do statistics show persistently high rates of sexuality-related morbidities worldwide?

My research fits into sociomedical sciences because I love bringing sociology together with public health. As a sociologist, my rigorous training in gender inequality and social interactions gives me an innovative lens for understanding and tackling the unequal distribution of sexual health outcomes. For example, my research has consistently found that more “mundane” social interaction behaviors such as trying to avoid conflict or attempting to “perform” one’s gender can have profound effects for sexual health, as well as overall health. While sociology, as a field, is really good at providing theoretical frameworks for understanding the unequal arrangement of social outcomes, public health provides frameworks for doing something about these disparities. 

With this background, I strive to build a research program engaged in both social theory and real-world public health application. For instance, in my recent article titled: “Why Pleasure Matters: Its Global Relevance for Sexual Health, Sexual Rights and Wellbeing,” we directly engage with the importance of sexual pleasure: an often overlooked or stigmatized dimension of health. We present a framework for addressing sexual pleasure in law, policy, advocacy, public health and clinical practice, which might reduce sexual health disparities.

what do you hope to accomplish in the next year? 

In the coming year, I’ll be working with the World Association for Sexual Health (WAS) to support their recent Declaration on Sexual Pleasure. I’ve been putting together a Special Issue on Sexual Pleasure (as an Associate Editor at the International Journal of Sexual Health), as well as working on an upcoming technical document. Further, I will initiate my K01 research by investigating multi-level determinants of bisexual women’s alcohol use and sexual health risk behaviors. I look forward to bringing social theories such as those on sexual scripts, sensation-seeking and the reproduction of gender inequality to the analysis of the data. Finally and perhaps most importantly, I am eager to engage with the diverse and talented population of SMS students.

what is your favorite thing about teaching or mentoring? 

I believe that I can best mentor students by modeling and demanding that they ask questions, no matter how simple or complex because questions are the start of any interesting research.    It is also important for students to see how the use of empirical data can lead to successful  intervention strategies. Thus, I bring my research into the classroom as the starting point for practicing these important skills. I find this pedagogical approach pushes me as well to ask new questions about my research findings and interpretations. The classroom is a place where  we can re-visit and re-learn research and theory, and to also remain open to different interpretations, doubts and lived experiences present there. In this way, we arrive together at new understandings of what it means to do public health relevant to all.

what is your favorite thing about teaching or mentoring?  do you have any hobbies? what might your colleagues not know about you? 

Yes! I love biking – any type of biking: citibiking, road biking, mountain biking and even spin. I live in Brooklyn and often ride my bike all the way to our campus. I love the views of the city and river. What my colleagues might not know is that when I graduated from college, I worked with friends to organize a 2000 mile bike ride from southern China to Cambodia. This ride was difficult and beautiful through the mountains in Laos and through parts of Vietnam where few people had actually interacted with Westerners, let alone Westerners in full spandex bike gear. I did this ride in collaboration with the Save the Children and sponsored by DHL. Through the ride, we raised enough money to build a school in Gansu province, China.