- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 9, 2003

House Republicans are considering an effort to limit funding for projects such as a three-year study of sexual arousal that is set to receive more than $700,000 from the National Institutes of Health.

Members of Congress plan to raise the issue of federal grants for sex research today when the House debates an appropriations bill for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), according to congressional staffers.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is budgeted to receive $27.6 billion for fiscal 2004 in the bill coming to the House floor today.

Psychologist Erick Janssen has already received $237,000 from NIH for the first year of his study on how emotional mood affects “sexual risk taking,” the latest federally funded sex-research project to draw criticism from Capitol Hill.

“In a series of laboratory studies, mood and sexual arousal will be induced and their individual and combined effects on sexual risk taking will be examined,” Mr. Janssen wrote in describing his project, which congressional staffers estimated would receive more than $711,000 in NIH funds through April 2005.

Asking taxpayers to foot the bill for such research is ridiculous, said one congressional critic.

“The important work of NIH ought to focus, as it usually does, on finding cures for the innumerable devastating illnesses affecting Americans,” said Rep. Patrick J. Toomey, Pennsylvania Republican. “This just goes to prove that no matter how ridiculous your idea is, Congress just might fund it.”

In a statement yesterday, NIH officials said of the Janssen project: “This research will rely on careful laboratory measurements to gain an understanding of how mood and desire interact to compromise sound decision making regarding sexual behavior.

“The study results will be useful for designing programs to encourage abstinence among teens and to help individuals avoid risky activity that increases their chances of acquiring HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.”

“The NIH seems to be outdoing itself when it comes outrageous funding,” said Rep. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican.

Mr. Flake is one of 20 House Republicans who signed a letter in March questioning what they called “a bizarre spending decision” by NIH to sponsor Northwestern University professor J. Michael Bailey’s study that paid women to watch pornography.

“With the current state of the economy and government deficits, federal funds must be spent responsibly,” Mr. Flake and his colleagues wrote to NIH Director Dr. Elias Adam Zerhouni.

NIH awarded a $147,000 grant for Mr. Bailey’s project, in which women viewed pornographic images while instruments were used to measure their sexual responses.

“How does anyone even think that up?” Mr. Toomey asked of the Bailey study.

Mr. Bailey will be a featured speaker at a four-day conference on sexual arousal this weekend at the Kinsey Institute in Bloomington, Ind. That conference — organized by Mr. Janssen, who is affiliated with the Kinsey Institute — is sponsored by a $27,000 NIH grant that was also criticized by House Republicans, who say such funding drains federal dollars from potentially lifesaving medical research.

NIH documents show that the Bethesda-based federal agency’s grant-review panel “unanimously and enthusiastically” endorsed the conference.

Federal sex research has been repeatedly questioned in recent months. In May, House Republicans complained about a $137,000 grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development — a division of NIH — to study the sex habits of old men.

In a letter to HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson, a subcommittee of the House Government Reform Committee asked “how this provocative data about aging men’s sexual fantasies and activities will benefit hapless children afflicted with pediatric diseases.”

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