ERC Starting Grant Awarded to ’BADSEX’ Research Project at Freie Universität Berlin

European Research Council to provide social psychologist Verena Klein with funding for her research project on the gray zones of sexuality

The European Research Council (ERC) is funding a new research project led by the psychologist Verena Klein through an ERC Starting Grant. The European Research Council uses ERC Starting Grants worth up to 1.5 million euros to support early-career scholars who wish to carry out pioneering research in Europe as "Principal Investigators" while building up their own independent research group. The goal is to support researchers who have already produced excellent supervised work and help them make the transition to carrying out independent research. The project titled "Investigating Bad Sex in Its Socio-Legal Contexts - BADSEX" will be based at the Margherita von Brentano Center for Gender Studies and seeks to investigate the gray zones of sexual experiences that lie outside the remit of criminal law and tend to disproportionally affect women.

"What counts as sexual assault is one of today’s most burning social issues," says Dr. Verena Klein. "Sex is primarily conceptualized as either consensual and wanted or nonconsensual and unwanted." Within the framework of her research project, the psychologist wants to think beyond this dichotomy by asking the question of whether sexual experiences can be harmful despite being consensual. Klein’s research is based on recent public discussions of troubling sexual experiences that lie outside the remit of criminal law and as such are typically referred to as "bad sex."

Very little research has been carried out on these gray zones of sexual experiences thus far. With the "BADSEX" project, Klein wants to fill this research gap by taking an interdisciplinary approach rooted in sexuality research, psychology, and law. "BADSEX" will analyze the relevant cultural and legal contexts as well as how cultural and socio-legal factors shape "bad sex" experiences. "We want to take an intercultural approach to all of the studies we have planned so that a diverse range of perspectives is represented in our research," adds Klein. The project aims to achieve a better understanding of the grayer zones of sexuality. Four researchers will be involved in the "BADSEX" project, which will be carried out over the course of five years.

Verena Klein completed her diploma degree program at Ruprechts-Karls-Universität Heidelberg and received her doctorate from Universität Hamburg with a dissertation on the "Perception of Female Sexual Script Deviation." She has undertaken research stays at institutions such as Columbia University (New York, USA), the University of Zagreb (Croatia), and Tel Aviv University (Israel), and was also a post-doctoral research fellow at the Institute for Sex Research and Forensic Psychiatry at the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf. From 2019 to 2022 she was a Marie Sklodowska-Curie Fellow at the Department of Psychology and Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Michigan (USA). Klein is currently an assistant professor at the School of Psychology at the University of Southampton (UK), where she teaches and carries out research.