This Erasmus researcher got a Veni for her research project called 'Lovely sex or sexy love?'

We’re very proud to introduce Dr. Daphne van de Bongardt, from the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences, who was awarded a Veni grant (€250,000) by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). The Veni grant provides highly promising young scientists with the opportunity to further elaborate on their research ideas for a period of three years. Van de Bongardt’s research investigates bi-directional links between love and sex in the intimate relationships of youth.

Congratulations! Can you tell us something about your research?

‘Thanks! I’m going to investigate how sex and love are intertwined in youth’s intimate relationships. Because, strangely enough, we know very little about this. What we do know is that for most young people, sex and love are connected. Most young people have sex within the context of a romantic relationship.

'But our research field is characterised by a focus on either love or sex, not on the combination of the two. The same holds true for the media, which pays a lot of attention to casual sex. And that is also interesting and it also happens, but that focus is not in line with the reality of what most youths experience. The balance is off.

‘My project is called "Lovely sex or sexy love", meaning: are young people doing well on a sexual level because they’re doing well on a relational level, or vice versa? I expect both to be true.’

How will you go about this research?

‘I will follow 30 young heterosexual couples between 18 and 25 years of age. Both partners will be interviewed, fill out longitudinal questionnaires, complete daily diaries for one week, and perform interaction tasks with each other and their best friends, which will be observed to assess how positive and negative experiences with peers, love, and sex are connected, and linked with their general wellbeing.’

Why is this research so important?

‘Because we know so little about how young people experience the combination between love and sex, it is hard for parents and teachers to educate their children on these subjects. We know, for example, that the issue of safe sex is a lot more complicated than you would think, when you look at the relationship context.

'It’s not just about having the knowledge about how to avoid sexually transmitted infections or unwanted pregnancy anymore. For instance, American research has shown that teenage girls often stop using condom-protection as their romantic relationship evolves, because they consider that as a symbol for the trust they have in their boyfriend. That’s interesting and important to know, because it may change the way we educate youths about safe sex.

‘Furthermore, this research doesn’t just focus on potential risks, but also on the positive sides of sex and relationships. Healthy, affectionate relationships and healthy, pleasant sex can really positively affect young people’s well-being, physically, mentally, and socially. In sexuality education, there’s often still too little focus on that positive side.

‘Because we know way too little about this subject and because this specific field of research is so young, fundamental research is needed. Therefore my research is partly exploratory, for as in every field, we need basic data before we can start conducting more in-depth or broader research. An important direction for follow-up research could include also looking at same-sex couples, for example. But there is so much more to investigate, I’ll never be able to retire!’

What does the Veni grant mean to you?

‘The Veni is one of the most prestigious grants you can get as a junior researcher in the Netherlands. Receiving this grant within the highly competitive environment of the academic world –internationally and nationally – is a great appreciation for one’s research ideas and one’s qualities as a researcher. But I do want to emphasise that precisely this competitiveness also means that many of the young researchers that have tried and didn’t get the grant, are very talented and promising.

'Unfortunately, there is just not enough money for all those great research ideas. But for me, it’s fantastic that I will be able to conduct this beautiful and important research.’