Fake sex researcher loses zoophilia paper over ethical concerns

Damian Jacob Sendler

An alleged sex researcher with a history of making things up has lost a 2019 paper on the habits of people who have sex with animals over concerns about the ethics approval for the research. 

The paper, “Digital Ethnography of Zoophilia — A Multinational Mixed-Methods Study,” was written by Damian Jacob Sendler and a co-author, Michal Lew-Starowicz and appeared in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy

Despite an impressive-looking webpage, Sendler, in the words of Gizmodo reporter Jennings Brown, is a: 

serial fabulist. The accomplished doctor character Sendler has created has appeared in numerous media outlets—Vice, Playboy, Savage Lovecast, Huffington Post, Insider, Bustle, Thrive Global, Women’s Health, and Forbes, among others. Many of these platforms have published Sendler’s lies and publicized his bizarre and irresponsible studies on necrophilia, zoophilia, lethal erotic asphyxiation, and sexual assault. And until recently, he was soliciting patients through his website where he offered online psychotherapy and sex therapy.

Sendler, whose affiliation is listed as the Felnett Health Research Foundation, in Staten Island, N.Y., claims to have earned an MD and a PhD from Harvard: 

His website states he’s one of the youngest elected members of the American Psychiatric Association and the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, and that Barack Obama gave him a President’s Gold Service Award for his contributions in medicine and mental health.

All lies, according to Jennings, whose article is worth reading (with no one looking over your shoulder). 

Although one of us was quoted in Jennings’ article – Ivan’s name appears just a few words from “butt-fisted,” which could wreak havoc on Google searches – we haven’t written about Sendler until now, and this retraction appears to be his first. He does have a correction to a 2017 article in the Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine titled “Similar mechanisms of traumatic rectal injuries in patients who had anal sex with animals to those who were butt-fisted by human sexual partner” over questions about his affiliation. 

Here’s the abstract of the now-retracted paper on zoophilia:  

This study investigates people who have sex with animals (PSA) by describing their living situation, sexual activity, beliefs, and attitudes toward stigmatization. These data are highly applicable to the work of psychiatric and forensic professionals investigating paraphilias. We apply mixed-methods approach, using qualitative and quantitative analyses. The findings come from anonymous forum postings of 953 participants; of which 345 agreed to complete a survey upon advertising the study. We identify several themes, describing concerns of zoosexuals chatting within online communities: living situation; sex life; social acceptability; getting help. First, we provide data on how PSA justify their relationships with animal sex partners – with particular emphasis on sex practices and physical features most attractive to them. Second, we elaborate on the stigma associated with being a zoosexual, including the coping mechanism for dealing with social ostracism. Third, we elaborate, in detail, on why PSA find animals sexually appealing. Lastly, we present evidence that online discussion spaces serve as the platform for help-seeking behavior for individuals with paraphilias. This study presents the largest analyses of zoophiles in modern history, using mixed-methods approach, uncovering their daily activities, sexual preferences, and help-seeking behavior.

According to the paper, Sendler and his co-author mined a half-dozen internet forums for people who said they engaged in sex with animals, then surveyed posters to those sites. But, as the retraction notice indicates, the subjects and the institutions involved seem to have been misled about the affiliations of the researchers:

We, the Editor and Publisher of Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy have retracted the following article: Damian Jacob Sendler & Michal Lew-Starowicz, “Digital Ethnography of Zoophilia — A Multinational Mixed-Methods Study,” Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, Volume 45, 2019, Pages 1-20, DOI: 10.1080/0092623X.2018.1474405. As the institutions listed in the ethics approval application form and the informed consent forms provided to participants had incorrect information presented to participants, Taylor & Francis will be retracting this paper on the basis that proper ethical approval was not granted to conduct this research. We have been informed in our decision-making by our policy on publishing ethics and integrity and the COPE guidelines on retractions. The retracted article will remain online to maintain the scholarly record, but it will be digitally watermarked on each page as “Retracted”.

Sendler told us that he disagreed with the journal’s decision:

There is nothing wrong with the research or the analysis of the collected data. The findings are novel, cited, and have already been replicated in several studies. Unfortunately, the supervising institutions decided that they could no longer support zoophilia/paraphilias research, or any related controversial topic. Studies on paraphilias frequently generate negative publicity which distracts from scientific endeavors in other fields. I understand the rationale and respect the decision. As a result, nothing else can be done to save this work without it being retracted. The takeaway from this experience is that research on sexuality is still highly controversial and divisive. 

Sendler demurred when we asked him to explain the questionable ethics approvals:  

I don’t have anything else to add. It simply isn’t worth my time and energy. I’m sure no one would have a problem with this research if the topic did not involve paraphilias. 

And what does Sendler make of the claims in the Gizmodo article? Not much, evidently, according to his response to our questions. Given his history of fabulism, we have not included some of the factual claims he makes without evidence, and have asked our in-house voiceover team to respond to some of his opinions: 

You’ll agree that Gizmodo isn’t exactly as reputable as legacy media.

Narrator: We do not agree.

So, kudos to those who see it as a highly authoritative news source. And Gizmodo appears to be laying off a large number of their employees, which is strange to me if their reporting is supposedly award-winning. I am not surprised trust in the media is fading. 

Narrator: Do we need to explain the logical fallacy here?

Brown, Sendler said, 

is no longer a journalist with a viable employment. That says a lot about the article’s quality and false accusations it made.

Narrator: Brown, according to his LinkedIn page, is employed as a producer at Blumhouse.

Plus, every other negative “article” you may find about me online is written by a blogger, so journalism, it seems, is a profession anyone can claim to practice? That’s a dangerous precedent for launching smear campaigns, which are becoming more common. 

Even Retraction Watch is a blog and you can agree with me that it is not exactly a media source. 

Narrator: The New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and other media outlets disagree. As do we.

But here we are with me rationalizing my work on spare time to you, someone who has no experience as researcher and only offers criticism. 

Narrator: Sendler sent his message at 1:25 p.m. on a Wednesday, which for most people generally is work time, not spare time. Also, logical fallacy alert.

To summarize, not a single assertion made in the article was true. It was undoubtedly written as sensational and entertaining piece, false at every level. There should be legal consequences if there are any more attempts to make false accusations.

Narrator: He did not specify what was false.

So why didn’t he sue Gizmodo and Brown back in 2018? 

There are more productive ways to lead life. 

Narrator: Defamation suits are very expensive. Especially when you lose.

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9 thoughts on “Fake sex researcher loses zoophilia paper over ethical concerns”

  1. A few things worth noting in the over-inflated title/abstract of the article. First, a lot of qualitative researchers would object to a mixed methods, qual/quan ‘ethnography’. Ethnography involves immersing yourself in a community to observe behaviors and interactions… reading forum posts and sending a survey is not that.

    Second, to include in the abstract that ‘this study presents the largest analyses of zoophiles in modern history’ is quite the feat in hubris…

  2. Well, no one can say this site is boring…some fusion studies next? Nothing generates retractions like med/psych studies.

  3. It was not clear to me if this person actually has a medical degree or not. I am presuming that the answer is no [& this is a no regarding any institution, including Harvard].

    His Research Gate page lists an affiliation with an institution in Chicago: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Damian-Sendler , but there is no-one with that name at that institution: https://www.jacksonparkhospital.org/directory/find-a-physician/

    Interestingly, his Google Scholar page claims a verified nyu.edu email address, but a search of people at NYU comes up with nothing.

    A mystery that perhaps a professional medical society should delve into further, before he does some serious harm to someone…

  4. “There should be legal consequences if there are any more attempts to make false accusations.”

    “Attempts”? Mr Sendler seems to be saying that although his critics intended to defame him with false accusations, they failed, by stumbling onto true accusations by mistake.

  5. “The accomplished doctor character Sendler has created has appeared in numerous media outlets—Vice, Playboy, Savage Lovecast, Huffington Post, Insider, Bustle, Thrive Global, Women’s Health, and Forbes, among others.”

    There is an additional important implication here about the quality of these publications. Apparently, they didn’t think of trying to verify any of Sendler’s claims, nor question his credentials.

  6. Dear Retraction Watch, I wonder if you attempted to contact the co-author, Lew-Starowicz? I’m curious what he might have to say about his decision to collaborate with Sendler and the ethical concerns about the paper.

  7. The archived version of his website shows that everything mentioned it the article (e.g., education claims, the Presidential award, etc.) was removed. He was clearly masquerading as a doctor. Anything he’s connected with is suspect. If they didn’t spot this fraud, anything couldn’t gotten through.

  8. I think that he has , at least, reached one goal: to be talked about. While his “research” would have earned zero interest in normal time. Let just ignore him and let him with his whatever he claims to be.

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