On Valentine’s Day 2021, Erasmus University Rotterdam will open the Erasmus Love Lab (ELL), a unique interdisciplinary research lab where researchers affiliated with the Erasmus School of Social and Behavioural Sciences will unite their academic expertise on investigating intimate relationships, love, and sexuality. The ELL has its own space within the Erasmus Behavioural Lab (EBL) where relevant scientific research on these ‒sometimes sensitive topics‒ can take place in a homely and safe atmosphere.
Research on intimate relationships, love, and sexuality conducted by social and behavioural scientists is of major significance to both science and society. Relational and sexual health –in a broad sense– plays a large role in our physical, mental and social well-being. This is true for youth as well as adults.
“The launch of the Erasmus Love Lab shows that intimacy or sexuality are not something exotic”, says pedagogical scientist/sociologist dr. Daphne van de Bongardt, researcher and project leader of the ELL. “These are very normal and also extremely important aspects of ‘being human’. It is not surprising that new words like ‘skin hunger’ and ‘cuddle buddy’ emerge during the COVID-19 pandemic. People who are more satisfied in their intimate relationships and have healthy sex lives, are often found to be mentally and physically healthier, and to even live longer, than people who don’t have this. Moreover, a healthy start in this area is very important for intimate relationships throughout the life course. That is why studying youth is essential.”
“Alternatively, unhealthy and unsafe intimate relationships and sexuality –at all life stages– can harm our health and well-being”, adds cultural sociologist Dr Samira van Bohemen, one of the other ELL researchers. “Thereby, they can also increase social inequalities. We know, for instance, that the prevalence of sexual violence and sexually transmitted infections is higher among certain social groups. These patterns are important to investigate.”
A peek into the Erasmus Love Lab
Homely and safe environment
The designers of the Erasmus Love Lab have explicitly strived to establish the right atmosphere to minimise potential barriers when conducting social and behavioural scientific research on sensitive themes, such as intimate relationships, love, and sexuality. Special attention was paid to ensuring optimal privacy and safety of research participants. “We have created a pleasant ‘living room’ ambiance, where people feel comfortable. This makes it easier to discuss sensitive topics, as compared to a very clinical atmosphere. We are convinced that the Erasmus Love Lab contributes to the quality of this type of research and consequently to improved insights”, Van de Bongardt states.
Moreover, ELL’s multifunctional lab space offers facilities for various types of research, for instance via questionnaires, experimental computer tasks, observations and interviews. These methods can be used to studies with individual participants or groups, but also with partner couples.
Erasmus Love Lab’s interdisciplinary research team consists of researchers from various disciplines (Pedagogical Sciences, Psychology, Sociology). They study different types of questions related to intimate relationships, love, and sexuality in various populations (including adults, youth, persons with autism spectrum disorder). Examples of current projects include a study on subconscious attitudes toward sexual violence and sexual pleasure, and a study on how love and sex affect each other in young adults’ romantic relationships.
The Erasmus Love Lab’s design and mission are unique in the Netherlands, and also internationally, there are very few comparable labs for social and behavioural scientific research on these topics. Expansion and collaboration are high on the agenda for the ELL. The Erasmus Love Lab’s doors are (virtually) open to researchers, students, and other interested parties within and outside Erasmus University Rotterdam.
In the media
Erasmus Magazine - New Erasmus Love Lab designed for research into intimate topics