How A Fake Sexologist Tricked Everyone In The Media

Photographed by Megan Madden.
Dr. Damien Jacob Markiewicz Sendler, a prominent sexologist who’s been featured everywhere from Forbes to Dan Savage’s Savage Love podcast, is not a sexologist after all, according to an investigation published by Gizmodo. Reporter Jennings Brown found that despite his prevalence in the media, the majority of Sendler’s claims about his education, research, and medical background appear to be fabricated.
According to Gizmodo, Sendler never attended Harvard Medical School, despite saying he graduated with both a PhD and an MD; he’s not a member of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, despite claiming he is; he isn’t licensed to practice as a psychologist, psychoanalyst, or mental health counsellor in New York, despite saying he does so; and the foundation where he claims to be the chief of sexology appears to be entirely made up. After Brown told Sendler about what he'd discovered, Sendler told Gizmodo that he actually got his MD from the Medical University of Warsaw, but Brown was not able to verify that.
Sendler made a name for himself by presenting studies about topics that are “practically tailor-made for outlets that cover taboo sex news,” writes Gizmodo. VICE interviewed him about his study on bestiality; Playboy quoted from his paper on necrophilia; MEL Magazine covered his study comparing the "traumatic rectal injuries" in humans who practiced anal fisting — or, as Sendler put it, “butt-fisting” — to those who "had anal sex with animals." He also presented himself as an expert on autoerotic asphyxiation to Dan Savage's Savage Lovecast, and on women who fall in love with serial killers to Forbes. His coverage extended outside sex, too; Sendler told Gizmodo that he currently has a paper under review about teenagers attempting to live-stream suicide on Facebook.
However, Gizmodo notes that at least one of these studies — the one on necrophilia — was never actually published, and the studies that were published often have serious ethical or factual issues. A psychologist, David Ley, told Gizmodo that the “butt-fisting” article is “commingling paraphilias and kink — treating basically all people who are interested in kink as though they have sexual disorders,” and that the necrophilia article is “extremely implausible...the sexual elements read more like Penthouse Letters than clinical narratives.” Gizmodo also points out that much of the language Sendler used to discuss suicide goes against guidelines set forth by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the National Institute of Mental Health.
After Gizmodo published their report, the Cut notes, Sendler removed all the content on his website and replaced it with a statement calling the Gizmodo article a “great work of fiction writing" and that Brown is "biased against me because of my European heritage and ability to work multidisciplinarily and to live in the US as well as Poland." This statement has since been removed (though it lives on in screenshots on Twitter) and replaced with another, in which Sendler says that the reporters who interviewed him did not read his papers thoroughly enough, and that “Twitter and other social media tend to get explosive with jumping into conclusions.”
In a Psychology Today article about his involvement with the Gizmodo report, Ley examines how Sendler was able to trick so many people. “Our media, in a time of clickbait journalism, is desperately hungry for sensational, controversial soundbites,” Ley writes. “Sendler weaponised this, telling Jennings: ‘I ask myself usually: Is this the weirdest thing I have done in terms of scientific inquiry?’... Sadly, it appears that our academic press, with peer-reviewed journals and editorial boards, fared no better.” He offers a list of ways to fact-check self-presented experts’ claims, writing, “there needs to be a lot more on a sexpert than just their website.”
The reporters who were duped by Sendler appear to agree; Salon notes that many have either added updates to their articles, or removed the pieces entirely. “This was Savage Love-bait,” Dan Savage told Gizmodo of his decision to interview Sendler about autoerotic asphyxiation on his podcast. “Clearly, we’re going to have to add a layer of vetting that we haven’t had in the past.”

More from Sex & Relationships

R29 Original Series