Monday, May 16, 2016

Why is female sexuality more flexible than male sexuality?


A new evolutionary theory argues that women may have been evolutionarily designed to be sexually fluid--changing their sexual desires and identities from lesbian, to bisexual, to heterosexual and back again--in order to allow them to have sex with their co-wives in polygynous marriages, therefore reducing conflict and tension inherent in such marriages while at the same time successfully reproducing with their husbands in heterosexual unions.
The theory may also help explain a number of puzzles in human sex research, including differences in female and male homosexuality, male arousal to lesbian sex, and menstrual synchrony.
"The theory suggests that women may not have sexual orientations in the same sense as men do," said Dr. Satoshi Kanazawa, author of the Biological Reviews article. "Rather than being straight or gay, to whom women are sexually attracted may depend largely on the particular partner, their reproductive status, and other circumstances."



Thursday, April 28, 2016

Does frequent sex lead to better relationships? Depends on how you ask

Newlywed couples who have a lot of sex don't report being any more satisfied with their relationships than those who have sex less often, but their automatic behavioral responses tell a different story, according to new research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.
"We found that the frequency with which couples have sex has no influence on whether or not they report being happy with their relationship, but their sexual frequency does influence their more spontaneous, automatic, gut-level feelings about their partners," says psychological scientist Lindsey L. Hicks of Florida State University, lead author on the research.
"This is important in light of research from my colleagues demonstrating that these automatic attitudes ultimately predict whether couples end up becoming dissatisfied with their relationship."
From an evolutionary standpoint, frequent sex confers several benefits, improving chances of conception and helping bond partners together in relationships that facilitate child-rearing. But when researchers explicitly ask couples about their relationship satisfaction, they typically don't find any association between satisfaction and frequency of sex.
"We thought these inconsistencies may stem from the influence of deliberate reasoning and biased beliefs regarding the sometimes taboo topic of sex," explains Hicks.
Because our gut-level, automatic attitudes don't require conscious deliberation, Hicks and colleagues hypothesized, they might tap into implicit perceptions or associations that we aren't aware of. The researchers decided to tackle the question again, assessing partners' relationship satisfaction using both standard self-report measures and automatic behavioral measures.
In the first study, 216 newlyweds completed survey-style measures of relationship satisfaction. Participants rated various qualities of their marriage (e.g., bad-good, dissatisfied-satisfied, unpleasant-pleasant); the extent to which they agreed with different statements (e.g., "We have a good marriage"); and their overall feelings of satisfaction with their partner, their relationship with their partner, and their marriage.
Then, they completed a computer classification task: A word appeared on-screen and they had to press a specific key to indicate whether the word was positive or negative. Before the word appeared, a photo of their partners popped up for 300 ms.
The rationale behind this kind of implicit measure is that participants' response times indicate how strongly two items are associated at an automatic level. The faster the response time, the stronger the association between the partner and the word that appeared. Responding more slowly to negative words than to positive words that followed the picture of the partner would signify generally positive implicit attitudes toward the partner.
The researchers also asked each partner in the couple to estimate how many times they had had sex in the last four months.
Just as in previous studies, Hicks and colleagues found no association between frequency of sex and self-reported relationship satisfaction.
But when they looked at participants' automatic behavioral responses, they saw a different pattern: Estimates of sexual frequency were correlated with participants' automatic attitudes about their partners. That is, the more often couples had sex, the more strongly they associated their partners with positive attributes.
Importantly, this finding held for both men and women. And a longitudinal study that tracked 112 newlyweds indicated that frequency of sex was in fact linked with changes in participants' automatic relationship attitudes over time.
"Our findings suggest that we're capturing different types of evaluations when we measure explicit and automatic evaluations of a partner or relationship," says Hicks. "Deep down, some people feel unhappy with their partner but they don't readily admit it to us, or perhaps even themselves."
The researchers note that participants' reports of how often they remember having sex may not be the most precise measure of sexual frequency. And it remains to be seen whether the findings are applicable to all couples or specific to newly married couples like those they studied.
Taken together, the findings drive home the point that asking someone about their feelings or attitudes isn't the only way to measure how they feel.
"These studies illustrate that some of our experiences, which can be either positive or negative, affect our relationship evaluations whether we know it or not," Hicks concludes.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Older men who purchase sex do so more frequently as they age


Older American male customers of sex workers pay for more sex as they age. These findings are reported in a study which surveyed older American men who frequent sex work websites and discussion boards. It was conducted by Los Angeles-based psychotherapist Christine Milrod and sociologist Martin Monto of the University of Portland in the US and published in Springer's journal Archives of Sexual Behavior. 
The participants were 208 men between the ages of 60 and 84 years old from 36 American states who posted or read reviews or comments on female sex work review websites and discussion boards. They were asked 129 questions about their sexual health, behaviors and preferences. More than two-thirds (68.5 percent) were married, and most wanted to keep their activities secret. Over 85 percent of participants held at least a Bachelor's or graduate degree and enjoyed an annual income above that of the average American household. The primary sex partner of about 40 percent of the married or partnered men had a health condition (often sexually related such as being postmenopausal or suffering from vaginal dryness) that limited her engagement in sexual activities.
According to Milrod, there is an almost universal perception that older men do not pay for sex or even regularly engage sexually. "It was therefore extremely surprising to see that the advancing age of the men in our sample was associated with a higher frequency of buying sex," she explains. 
Compared with other, more general and inclusive populations of sex buyers, the survey participants were much more active in purchasing sex, with more than half reporting that they had paid for sex between 13 and 24 times during the last 12 months.
Participants most often engaged in fellatio without a condom and penile-vaginal intercourse with a condom, preferably with a White provider aged between 26 and 45 years old. Almost one-third of the men saw one sex provider exclusively, while 44 percent had at some stage become emotionally attached or fallen in love with a provider. 
Men were willing to pay for more than just sex. Married men often sought the so-called "girlfriend experience," while other high-income earners with no spouse or partner enjoyed non-sexual activities with a provider, such as dining out, attending cultural events or going on vacation together.
"These encounters appear to be a reliable outlet for sexual contact and physical intimacy sometimes not available in their primary relationships, partly due to a reduced pool of female partners available for sexual experiences," Monto explains.
Over half of the sample reported having talked with their doctor about sex after turning 60, and 80 percent said they initiate the topic. The findings highlight that medical practitioners should not assume that old age is a barrier to paying for sex.
"The uncomplicated and reliable access to willing sexual partners, even if remunerated, seems to ensure that our participants can choose to participate in sexual activities as long as they are physically and financially able," says Milrod.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

High standards produce mixed effects on marriages

 There is a tension between what spouses demand from their marriages and what they are capable of attaining from those marriages, according to recent psychology research. The results are published in the April issue of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. 


High standards, whether in caring, support, or independence, improve satisfaction only in strong marriages. For less strong marriages, such as those involving higher levels of indirect hostility or more severe problems, high standards further erode the relationship. 
"Some people demand too much from their marriages because they are requiring that their marriages fulfill needs that they are not capable of achieving, either because they have limited time, energy, effort, or skills to apply to their marriages," says Dr. James McNulty, Professor of Psychology at Florida State University and author of the study. 
"But other people demand too little from their marriages. Their marriage is a potential source of personal fulfillment that they are not exploiting," says McNulty. "Ultimately, spouses appear to be best off to the extent that they ask of their marriages as much as, but not more than, their marriages are able to give them."
The researchers utilized data from 135 newlywed couples living in eastern Tennessee. To start, each partner separately completed surveys to measure several aspects of their own standards as well as the severity of relationship problems and marital satisfaction. 
The newlyweds also participated in marital discussions that were video recorded, where researchers studied various aspects of verbal communication to assess the couple's indirect hostility with each other. The couples continued to report their marital satisfaction via a questionnaire every six months for four years. 
"When it comes to verbal problem-solving, indirect hostility is more destructive than direct hostility," says McNulty. "Prior work by our lab and others indicates that direct hostility, such as blaming the partner for a problem and demanding that the partner change, can have important benefits to some couples, specifically those who need to change. The key is that direct hostility communicates that there is a need for change and even how each partner wants things to change. Our prior research indicates indirect hostility is harmful for all couples." 
As newlyweds, husbands and wives reported being relatively satisfied with their marriages and relatively high standards. Yet their reports also indicated that some couples were less happy and demanded less than others. Initially, spouses were observed to have engaged in relatively low levels of indirect hostility on average, yet there was substantial variability in these, as well.
The extent to which spouses' standards were associated with changes in satisfaction over time depended on the couples' tendencies to engage in indirect hostility. Couples that worked well together, as indicated by low levels of indirect hostility, were better able to meet higher standards and thus showed high satisfaction to the extent that they held such standards, but lower satisfaction to the extent that they held lower standards. 
The opposite was true for couples that didn't work well together. Those couples did poorer to the extent that they held high standards because they were unable to meet them, but better to the extent that they held lower standards that they were able to meet. 
"Each marriage is different; people differ in their compatibility, their skills, and the external stressors they face," says McNulty. "All of these play an important role in determining how successful a marriage will be and thus how much people should demand from it." 
"This research suggests people need to have some idea of what they can get from marriage before they get it. That is obviously difficult, which may explain why couples experience a mismatch between what they demand and what they can actually attain," says McNulty.
Although high standards may motivate partners to work to improve or maintain their relationships, this research highlights the fact that various constraints prevent some spouses from meeting higher standards despite even the highest motivations; indeed, some relationships face larger obstacles to success than do others and some spouses possess more and better interpersonal skills than do others. 
"Couples need to realize their strengths and weaknesses and calibrate their standards accordingly," advises McNulty.


Monday, March 14, 2016

College graduates have different marriage, divorce, cohabitation, and childbearing patterns than everybody else


The last 60 years have seen the emergence of a dramatic socioeconomic gradient in marriage, divorce, cohabitation, and childbearing. The divide is between college graduates and others: those without four-year degrees have family patterns and trajectories very similar to those of high school graduates.  

A new paper documents these trends and shows that, compared with college graduates, less-educated women are more likely to enter into cohabiting partnerships early and bear children while cohabiting, are less likely to transition quickly into marriage, and have much higher divorce rates.


There are two broad sets of explanations for these differences. Conventional explanations focus on the diminished economic prospects of less-educated men. The authors propose an alternative explanation focusing on educational differences in demand for marital commitment. As the gains from traditional gender-based specialization have declined, the value of marriage has decreased relative to cohabitation, which offers many of the gains of co-residence with less commitment. 

The paper argues that college graduate parents use marriage as a commitment device to facilitate intensive joint investments in their children. For less educated couples for whom such investments are less desirable or less feasible, commitment and, hence, marriage has less value relative to cohabitation. The resulting socioeconomic divergence has implications for children and for future inequality. 

Friday, March 4, 2016

Online Dating in Middle and Later Life


Gendered Expectations and Experiences

  1. Summer McWilliams1
  2. Anne E. Barrett1
  1. 1Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL, USA
  1. Summer McWilliams, Department of Sociology, Florida State University, 526 Bellamy Building, Tallahassee, FL 32306, USA. Email: smcwilliams@fsu.edu

Abstract

Rising numbers of single middle-aged and older adults encouraged a proliferation of online dating websites targeting this population. However, few studies examine aging adults’ involvement in online dating. This study uses semistructured interviews with 18 online daters aged 53 to 74 and 2 romance coaches to examine how aspects of their online expectations and experiences are shaped by age and gender. Analyses reveal that men seek committed relationships, whereas women desire companionship without demanding caring roles. Different barriers to dating increase the appeal of online strategies: Men face narrow social networks, while women face competition from younger women and friendship norms limiting the pool of eligible partners. Both genders screen for youthful characteristics and attempt to convey youthful images of themselves. Men’s criteria center on physical attractiveness, whereas women’s focus is on abilities. In constructing profiles, women focus on their looks and sociability and men on their financial and occupational successes.                   

Friday, February 26, 2016

Women who feel more at risk of crime also prefer physically dominant partners


Women who prefer physically formidable and dominant mates (PPFDM) tend to feel more at risk of crime regardless of the situation or risk factors present, according to research from the University of Leicester.
Previous research suggests that women who grow up in high-crime areas and perceive they are at risk of criminal victimisation find dominant men more appealing, perhaps because of the protection they can offer. 
However, the University of Leicester team suggests that women who are attracted to dominant men generally feel more at risk of victimisation, even when their risk of victimisation is actually low. 
PhD researcher Hannah Ryder from the University of Leicester's Department of Neuroscience, Psychology and Behaviour, explained: "PPFDM appears to be associated with women's self-assessed vulnerability. Women with strong PPFDM feel relatively more at risk, fearful, and vulnerable to criminal victimisation compared to their counterparts, regardless of whether there are situational risk factors present.
"Our research suggests that the relationship between feelings of vulnerability, as measured by fear of crime, and women's preference for physically formidable and dominant mates is stable, and does not update according to environmental circumstances or relative level of protection needed."
The study involved assessing whether the relationship between fear of crime and PPFDM was higher for crimes that cause relatively higher physical and psychological pain, such as sexual assault.
Across two studies in the lab and field, women observed images and real life situations that varied in the risk of crime, such as crime hotspots and safespots, and were asked to rate their perceived risk of victimisation - a measure of fear of crime - of various crimes. 
This included male - and female - perpetrated physical assault and robbery and male-perpetrated rape. 
In both studies, the research team also administered a scale that measured women's PPFDM, and assessed the association between women's PPFDM score and their risk perception scores. 
The study found that women's fear of crime significantly differed in response to crime cues - for example location and time of day - and that overall fear of crime was related to PPFDM. 
However, the relationship between PPFDM and fear did not vary in relation to risk situation, perpetrator gender, or crime type, suggesting that the psychological mechanisms underlying the relationship between perceived risk of victimisation and PPFDM are general in nature. 
The research was undertaken as part of Hannah's PhD project at the University of Leicester and was funded by a Psychology Postgraduate Affairs Group (PsyPAG) research grant. 
Study co-authors include Dr Heather Flowe from Loughborough University, Dr John Maltby and Lovedeep Rai from the University of Leicester and Dr Phil Jones from the University of Birmingham. 
The study, 'Women's fear of crime and preference for formidable mates: How specific are the underlying psychological mechanisms?' published in the journal Evolution and Human Behaviour is available here: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1090513816300034