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Paul Abramson: The Sexpert

PHOTO BY KEVIN SCANLON

Maybe you are a Catholic priest who strung young boys up on a cross, naked except for a loincloth. Or maybe you are Michael Jackson, accused of molesting a 13-year-old. Or maybe you are a policewoman who let her boyfriend repeatedly rape her 6-year-old daughter. If you are caught doing something sexual and illegal, as in the aforementioned true-life situations, chances are that Professor Paul Abramson will be there to testify at your court case.

Abramson, who sometimes refers to himself as "the sexpert witness," teaches human sexuality in the psychology department at UCLA. In his 30 years at the university, he has testified and consulted on hundreds of sex-related cases. He is the go-to guy for high-profile cases in particular: President Clinton, during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. The largest preschool child-pornography case in the country. Abramson could go on and on. And he does for as long as you can bear it, if you don't stop him.

While his current focus is on the hazy intersection of sex and the law, his research into why people do what they do in bed is wide in scope. In the late 1970s, he was one of the first people to study the psychology of sexuality.

In the mid-1990s, at the height of the AIDS crisis, when everybody was looking to develop a vaccine, Abramson was one of the first to focus on behavior. HIV was originally discovered at UCLA, and the question among scientists was, "How is this problem going to grow?" Abramson scrutinized condom use. Which is more likely to get you infected, using condoms and having sex with a bunch of people, or being monogamous and never using a condom? The latter, it turns out. Even though promiscuity increases your chances of coming into contact with the virus, the faithfully monogamous but unprotected person is still at greater risk of becoming infected. His work in this area for the World Health Organization changed the way the problem was addressed in the field.

Though it hasn't changed the approach of Uncle Sam. "Billions are spent on developing an AIDS vaccine," Abramson says. "Why not spend a tiny fraction on making condoms better? On making them more pleasurable to use?"

Recently, he has been involved in creating a constitutional foundation for our sexual rights. "If there's a quintessential right retained by the people, it's the right to have sex," Abramson says. "Because without sex, there'd be no people."

Even more recently, the lanky, articulate professor with the soulful eyes has been singing in a punk-rock band, Crying 4 Kafka. He also writes the lyrics. Their songs, no surprise, are about vanquishing psychological demons. What is a surprise is that bearing witness to the darkness of the human psyche and the evil that people are capable of in the name of lust hasn't warped his view of mankind. "The closest comparison is to the emergency-room physician," he says. "If something terrible happens, I just take care of it."


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