Every year, Sydney Writers’ Festival brings a week-long celebration of writing, books, ideas and inspiration to Sydney. 

People come from far and wide to hear about the latest releases and discuss and learn in an engaging series of panels and workshops. 

UNSW Sydney is the exclusive university sponsor and proud Premier Partner of the Sydney Writers’ Festival. Featuring UNSW academics and researchers on Sydney Writers’ Festival stages, and events at the UNSW Kensington Campus each year, this special partnership brings together a shared vision of creativity, curiosity and thought leadership.

This year, two UNSW Science academics featured in SWF talks including Scientia Professor Robert Brooks, who led a discussion on the history of sex, and Professor Joel Pearson, who delved into his lab-based research on intuition.  

The History of Sex with Rob Brooks

How did sex begin? How has sex changed and remained the same throughout history? And what could sex look like for future generations? 

All of this and more was covered in this hot and heavy, thought-provoking panel hosted by evolutionary biologist Professor Rob Brooks from the School of Biological, Earth & Environmental Sciences

The blush-worthy panel discussion featured sex historian Esmé Louise James and historian David Baker. Esmé adapted her wildly popular TikTok series into a book, Kinky History: The Stories of Our Intimate Lives, Past and Present, and David’s Sex: Two Billion Years of Procreation and Recreation charts sex’s evolution from early life to sexbots. 

Together, Prof. Brooks, Esmé and David’s discussion spanned 13.8 billion years of evolutionary history, countless human instincts and cultural practices to touch on some of the conversations we are currently having about sexuality, as well as the vulnerable parts of human history. 

The panel took a reflective approach to help understand current conversations society is having about sex. “Conversations around sexual identity have been happening for many thousands of years,” says Esmé, “We can learn from the past about the conversations we are already having.” 

As well as detailing the origin of sex, which occurred during a ‘snowball earth phase’, when microbes began eating each other, the panel discussed the way in which sex is changing, from the rise of traditional or ‘trad’ gendered roles on social media, to the way that young people are approaching dating. 

Joel Pearson on Intuition 

As part of the Sydney Writers' Festival Curiosity Lecture Series, Professor Joel Pearson from the School of Psychology took a magnifying glass to the mysteries of human consciousness and intuitive thinking.

With his team at the Future Minds Lab, Prof. Pearson has been building a science around intuition to better understand why we feel ‘gut responses’ and how we can learn to harness them.

"Intuition is dynamic and it's based on learning," says Prof. Pearson. "Your body is tapping into your prior learning while you are not aware, and you feel it in your body."

Prof. Pearson presented five scientifically solid strategies from his book The Intuition Toolkit, called the SMILE rules, which outline when to trust your intuition and when to rethink. 

“Sometimes we can trust intuition and sometimes we can’t. And for some topics we can trust intuition and other topics we can’t,” says Prof. Pearson.

Through the SMILE rules, Prof. Pearson explained why instincts, arousal, addictions and emotional states are easily confused with a sense of intuition and the importance of being aware of your environment – both the external context and your internal state – when making intuitive decisions.