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Porn site funds UM student’s research on monogamous rodents

Apr 21, 2017

Like any researcher, Natalie Nevarez was looking for funding. She ended up finding it in the most unlikely of places: a pornography website.

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Nevarez, the daughter of Mexican migrant workers, found herself a college graduate at the age of 19 and became a PhD candidate at the University of Michigan. Her research involved studying the unusual prairie vole, a mouse-like creature that is one of the few mammals in the world that develops monogamous relationships

"I look at how ... the neurotransmitter dopamine regulates the development of these monogamous bonds in rodents and I also look at the brain changes that happen after that," Nevarez explained.

To put it simply, she was studying prairie voles in an effort to figure out what makes them develop these monogamous bonds.

Nevarez stumbled upon an article that said the porn website Pornhub was offering scholarship money, and with grant money at a premium, she decided to apply.

To her delight, she was awarded $25,000.

Despite an odd benefactor, her colleagues shared in her joy. 

"The only negative responses that I've gotten have really just been random comments on the internet from people saying, maybe she got it because of her looks ... which I think is actually a great example of what happens to women in STEM," Nevarez said.

In fact, Nevarez and her contemporaries saw the news of this story as not where the funding came from, but more about where the funding is not coming from.

"I think that the response from the science community has been amazing," Nevarez said. "They've all pretty much expressed that they think this brings attention to the fact that our government has changed its priorities for research funding right now so we all need to be more open-minded about where that money is coming from."

Of course, Pornhub is a website where people can go to watch other people engage in sexual activities. Nevarez was quoted in the Washington Post saying “I look at animals have sex all day … so many hours of my life. It gets tedious.”

Considering the source of her funding, the irony is not lost on Nevarez. 

Listen to the full interview above. You'll hear about any reservations Nevarez had accepting money from the porn industry, which is largely exploitative of women. 

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