Faculty Focus – Sara Chadwick

Dr. Sara Chadwick
Dr. Sara Chadwick

Name: Dr. Sara B. Chadwick

Title: Assistant Professor of Gender & Women’s Studies and Psychology

Hometown: West Bloomfield, Michigan 

Educational/professional background: I completed my undergraduate degree at the University of Michigan, where I majored in Brain, Behavior, and Cognitive Science (Psychology) and minored in LGBTQ and Sexuality Studies. I then returned to the University of Michigan to complete my PhD in the joint Psychology and Women’s and Gender Studies Program. After finishing my PhD, I completed dual postdocs at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, FL, and the University of Victoria in Victoria, British Columbia. I then began my position here at UW-Madison in August 2022! 

How did you get into your field of research? I am a feminist psychologist who broadly studies gender and sexuality with particular interests in gray-area experiences of coercion. I first realized that I could integrate my interests in feminism and psychology to study sexuality when I was an undergraduate at the University of Michigan and took my first Psychology of Human Sexuality course. That course sparked my interest in understanding how gender shapes sexuality at the individual, interpersonal, and cultural levels. My research was also greatly shaped by the #MeToo movement, which called for increased attention to negative and coercive sexual experiences that go unnoticed because there are no existing frameworks for understanding them. 

What attracted you to UW-Madison? I’m very excited about UW-Madison’s enthusiasm for interdisciplinary research. As a social scientist who works at the intersection of Psychology, Gender and Women’s Studies, and Public Health, it was really important to me to join an institution that values and supports my sometimes unconventional questions and methods.  

What was your first visit to campus like? The first time I visited Madison, it was May, and I thought it was cold! While I spent most of my life in Michigan, I had been living in Orlando, FL, so I lost my sense of what pleasant weather in the Midwest means. It was probably between 50-60 degrees in Madison, and everyone was so excited that it was “warm” outside! Now that I have been here through the winter though, I’m pretty excited for when it finally hits 50 degrees again. 

Favorite place on campus? I love the path that runs along Lake Mendota! There is an entrance relatively close to my office, so it’s easy access to the Terrace after a long day of research and teaching. 

What are you looking forward to the most this academic year? I am really looking forward to getting my lab up and running so that I can collaborate with undergraduate and graduate students on research.  

How does your work relate to the Wisconsin Idea? It is my hope that my research will impact how individuals think about and understand sexuality, policies related to gender and sexuality, and public health interventions. Specifically, my work on gray-area experiences of coercion is grounded in the notion that many people have problematic sexual experiences, but that it can be difficult to identify these experiences or their negative impacts when there is very little research on or public acknowledgment of these topics.   

What’s something interesting about your area of expertise that you can share with us that will make us sound smarter at parties?  

Much of my recent work has focused on orgasms, and specifically, a behavior that I call orgasm coercion. Orgasm coercion occurs when someone pressures a sexual partner to orgasm by implying that there will be negative consequences (e.g., insisting on a partner’s orgasm when they do not necessarily want to, repeatedly asking someone to orgasm, pouting or getting angry when a partner does not orgasm, etc.). First, I think that many people are surprised to learn that orgasm coercion is a real behavior, but it is! Also, a lot of people seem to think that pressuring a partner to orgasm is not a big deal, or that it’s just a well-intended but perhaps poorly executed behavior. But, it’s actually quite negative! People do not enjoy being pressured and it is actually one of the reasons that many people fake orgasms. 

Hobbies/Other Interests: I love hanging out with my two cats, making my own ice cream (or just eating ice cream in general!), and thrifting old furniture and giving it new life!