Thursday, July 21, 2016

There are ways that couples can sustain -- or relight -- their passion


Many couples find that their sexual desire has dwindled over time. It's not unusual for partners who could not keep their hands off each to gradually lose interest. But new research indicates that there are ways that couples can sustain -- or relight -- their passion.

"Our research shows that partners who are responsive to each other outside the bedroom are able to maintain their sexual desire," says Gurit Birnbaum, psychology professor at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzliya, Israel. Birnbaum and her coauthors also found that women's desire is more strongly affected by their partner's responsiveness than men's desire -- although men report a boost, as well.

"Responsiveness -- which is a type of intimacy -- is so important in a relationship because it signals that one is really concerned with the welfare of the other, but in a way that is truly open and informed about what the other cares about and wants," says Birnbaum. Responsive partners are willing to invest resources in the relationship, and show understanding at a deep level. They make the relationship feel special -- that their relationship is unique -- which is, at least in Western societies, what people seek from their romantic relationships.

Resolving the intimacy-desire paradox

In a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Birnbaum and coauthor Harry Reis, professor of psychology at the University of Rochester, report that their new study was, in part, prompted by a concept psychologists know as the "intimacy-desire paradox."

The core of the paradox lies in the contradiction between intimate and familiar relationships that many people strive for, and the limitations of such bonds for facilitating desire. Some scholars have argued that long-term intimacy may actually inhibit rather than increase sexual desire. For example, the need for security may clash with the sense of novelty and uncertainty that can often fuel desire.
But previous research has not provided conclusive evidence for whether increased sense of intimacy actually promotes or undermines sexual desire.

And Birnbaum and Reis's new study suggests that, under certain circumstances, there may not be a paradox.

Valued and desirable

What determines whether intimacy prompts or inhibits desire is not its mere existence, but its meaning in the larger context of a relationship, they argue. Responsiveness is most likely to encourage desire. That's because it conveys the impression that the partner is worth pursuing and thus engaging in sex with such a desirable partner is likely to promote an already valuable relationship.
As part of the study, the researchers conducted three experiments, one of which consisted of 100 couples who kept a diary for six weeks. Both partners reported on their own level of sexual desire each day as well as their perceptions of their partner's responsiveness. They also reported their own levels of feeling special and perceptions of their partner's mate value.

The results indicated that when men and women perceive their partners as responsive, they feel special and think of their partner as a valuable mate, which boosted sexual desirability.

Birnbaum notes that partner responsiveness had a significantly stronger effect on women's perceptions of themselves and others, suggesting that women experienced higher levels of desire for their responsive partner because they were more likely than men to feel special and value their partner as a result of the partner's responsiveness.

"'Being nice' and things like that are not necessarily based on who the partner is and what the partner really wants," Birnbaum says. "When a mate is truly responsive, the relationship feels special and unique and he or she is perceived as valued and desirable.

"Sexual desire thrives on increasing intimacy and being responsive is one of the best ways to instill this elusive sensation over time; better than any pyrotechnic sex," Birnbaum says.


Thursday, July 14, 2016

Opposites attract -- unless you're in a relationship



If we are in a relationship we are more likely to be attracted to faces resembling our own, but for single people, opposites attract.
Relationship status affects who and what we find attractive, found a study published in Frontiers in Psychology.
Dr Jitka Lindová of Charles University in the Czech Republic and her team showed a series of photographs of faces to university students and asked them to rate their attractiveness. The photographs were digitally manipulated so that the resemblance to the student was modified.
Images were of an individual of the opposite sex, whose face had been manipulated to look either more or less similar to the student. They were also presented with images of a same-sex individual manipulated in the same way.
"We found that single participants, those not in relationships, rate dissimilar faces as more attractive and sexy than self-resembling faces;" stated Lindová.
This was observed when participants rated both same-sex and opposite-sex faces.
"For the first time, we have observed how our partnership status affects who we find attractive;" she added.
"Our interpretation is that attractiveness perception mechanisms that give us a preference for a genetically suitable partner may be suppressed during romantic relationships," explained Lindová; "This might be a relationship maintenance strategy to prevent us from finding alternatives to our own partner, or perhaps self-resemblance becomes more important in terms of the social support we expect receive from relatives, which are known as kinship cues."
Little research has been carried out about how our perceptions change when we enter a relationship. These findings have important sociological and biological implications that require further study.
In addition, Lindová pointed out that this work may be of interest to the applied psychological sciences.
"For example, as those not in a relationship were not influenced by kinship cues and our findings might help to explain social phenomena such as parent and adolescent disaffection;" she said.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Faking to finish -- women feign sexual pleasure to end 'bad' sex

When talking about troubling sexual encounters some women mention faking sexual pleasure to speed up their male partner's orgasm and ultimately end sex.
This is one of the findings of a qualitative study by Emily Thomas (Ryerson University, Canada) Monika Stelzl, Michelle Lafrance (St. Thomas University, Canada) that will be presented today, Friday 8 July 2016, at the British Psychological Society's Psychology of Women annual conference in Windsor. 
Emily said: "While some women spoke about faking orgasm in positive ways, for instance, as a pleasurable experience that heightened their own arousal, many talked about feigning pleasure in the context of unwanted and unpleasurable sexual experiences. Within these accounts, we were struck by the degree to which women were connecting the practice of faking orgasm to accounts of unwanted sex."
In the study 15 women (aged 19 -28) who had been sexually active for at least one year were interviewed to talk about experiences of feigning sexual pleasure. Despite being recruited to talk about consensual sex, all women spoke explicitly of a problematic sexual experience. Interviews were analysed to explore how these women negotiate and account for experiences of problem sex in the context of exaggerating sexual pleasure and faking orgasm.
Analysis showed that the women never used terms such as rape and coercion to refer to their own experiences - despite their descriptions of events that could be categorised as such. Instead, women described their experiences of unwanted sex in indirect ways. For example, women used the term 'bad' to describe sex that was both unwanted and unpleasurable. 
The women spoke of faking orgasm as a means to ending these troubling sexual encounters. In other words, faking orgasm provided a solution for ending sex where, culturally, not many options are available. 
""It appears that faking orgasm is both problematic and helpful at the same time. On one level faking an orgasm may be a useful strategy as it affords some control over ending a sexual encounter. We are not criticizing faking practice on an individual level. We want to focus on the problems with our current lack of available language to describe women's experiences that acknowledges, names and confronts the issues women spoke of in our interviews."

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.