Phoenix Comicon distributes ASU sex and cosplay survey to email list, apologizes

Phoenix Comicon 2016
Phoenix Comicon 2016

An email that went out to subscribers of Phoenix Comicon’s marketing updates on Thursday afternoon raised a few eyebrows.

The email contained a link to a survey being conducted by researchers at Arizona State University’s Hugh Downs School of Human Communication, Department of Psychology and Barrett Honors College. The topic? “Dress for success: How cosplay affect relates to commitment in romantic relationships.”

The study’s description said respondents must be in a committed relationship and over the age of 18 to take the survey, but this isn’t really enforceable, and the link to the questions was freely available to anyone who had signed up for Phoenix Comicon updates by email. The email also contains a lot of careless template gibberish — a bit more on that below.

As of 3:45 p.m. Arizona time on Friday, the survey at that link was no longer active. It’s not clear that absolutely everyone who signed up for Phoenix Comicon email updates received it, but judging from responses on social media and blogs, many did (as did we).

Survey questions, of which there were many, and which often relied on stereotypical depictions of cosplayers, include:

  • “Are you currently in an exclusive romantic relationship that involves either you or your partner engaging in cosplay?”
  • “Are you currently in a sexual partnership (i.e., friends-with-benefits) where you or your partner engages in cosplay? You or your partner may cosplay inside or outside the actual partnership, not only during sexual activity.”
  • “With your most recent partner, have/had you ever engaged in sexual activity that involves/d costumes, lingerie, or roleplay?”
Phoenix Comicon’s response

When I reached out to convention director Matt Solberg by email Friday morning, he replied quickly with a statement about the cosplay survey that was contrite and also explained how the survey became associated with the convention’s brand.

My questions: Did Phoenix Comicon just send it out on the researchers’ behalf, or did they have access to the convention’s database of email addresses? Did Phoenix Comicon see the questions in advance of sending the email? Do the convention have any concerns about the content of the questions? (The same questions were posed to the research team, just from their perspective.)

Solberg’s answers:

I made a mistake.   I apologize for the survey sent yesterday and if you were upset, offended, or put off by it. I was trying to help a former long-time volunteer who is an ASU student with a research project.  To my understanding, it is one of the first studies into cosplay behavior as it impacts social and romantic relationships.  I rushed the decision without fully thinking through its implications and I rushed sending the webmail, as is evident by forgetting to remove the templates.

It was never, and will never be, my intent to subject minors to explicit material or to offend anyone.

While I still want to offer help to our friends and supporters whenever possible, I realize this was the wrong way to do it.   I hope that you can forgive my mistake and trust that my intentions were not as they appeared.

I want to assure you that your email address was not distributed to any third-party and no personal information was released. I will be much more careful in the future.

I’d like to say this was me trying to do a good deed that sadly backfired.

I have contacted the ASU researchers responsible for the survey, and will update if they choose to respond.

UPDATE: A researcher responds

Researcher behind cosplay sex survey emailed by Phoenix Comicon speaks

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