Monday, September 12, 2016

Women find beardedness attractive when judging long-term relationships


New research suggests that women tend to find beardedness attractive when judging long-term relationships, perhaps as a signal of formidability among males and the potential to provide direct benefits, such as enhanced fertility and survival, to females.

For the study, investigators used computer graphic manipulation to morph male faces varying in facial hair from clean-shaven, light stubble, heavy stubble, and full beards, with additional differences in brow ridge, cheekbones, jawline, and other features so that the same man appeared more or less masculine.

When women viewed the images, masculinized and, to an even greater extent, feminized faces were less attractive than unmanipulated faces when all were clean-shaven. Stubble was judged as most attractive overall and received higher ratings for short-term relationships than full beards, which were more attractive for long-term relationships. Extremely masculine and extremely feminine-looking males were least attractive, irrespective of relationship context.

"Sexual selection via female choice has shaped the evolution of male ornamentation in many species," wrote the authors of the Journal of Evolutionary Biology study.



Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Link between young women's beliefs on alcohol use and sex



It may come as little surprise that alcohol use is widespread among young adults. In the U.S., 70 percent of adults aged 18 to 24 drink alcohol, with 40 percent of women imbibing over the recommended daily limit of 3 drinks per day. Add that to preconceived notions that alcohol-related behavior results in sexual risk-taking, and it may point to why young women are experiencing an increased prevalence of sexually-transmitted infections.

New research from the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine shows that just over two-thirds (66.9 percent) of college-aged women engaged in unprotected sex during their last sexual encounter involving alcohol.

The study, published online in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine, set out to understand how one's beliefs about alcohol and sex affect condom use during sexual encounters involving alcohol. Based on participants surveyed, sex without a condom was significantly and positively related to both one's motivation for sexual activity to satisfy personal physical needs and stronger beliefs that alcohol promotes sexual risk-taking.

"Understanding the factors that may underlie the association between alcohol and condomless sex among young women is of considerable public health importance," says Jennifer Brown, PhD, lead author and associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience at the UC College of Medicine. "Particularly because incident HIV infections and other sexually transmitted infections are on the rise among women, and the majority of these are transmitted via heterosexual contact."

Among the characteristics of reported sexual encounters, most women in the study consumed more than 3 to 5 drinks and described themselves and their partner as being "moderately intoxicated."

"Most young women reported levels of heavy drinking prior to sex, which can impair their cognitive functioning and decision-making. These findings underscore the need to examine the associations between alcohol consumption and sexual risk-taking," says Brown, whose research in the Addiction Sciences Division focuses on substance use and sexual health. Brown adds, "Within this context, beliefs that drinking could result in sexual risk-taking may account for why motives for sex to satisfy personal physical needs relate to decreased condom use."

Study participants consisted of 287 college-age females, primarily Caucasian, who anonymously self-reported on their most recent sexual activity involving alcohol. Participants were surveyed to examine their associations between alcohol use and sexual behavior and to self-report events of sexual encounters after drinking alcohol within the last 30 days.

"Relative to older women, young women engage in an elevated rate of alcohol use and are at increased risk for adverse sexual health outcomes. Interventions that target beliefs around alcohol use, which could assist young women to increase condom usage, could show benefit in the reduction of HIV and other sexually-transmitted infections, as well as unintended pregnancies," says Brown.


Monday, August 8, 2016

Comparing sexual experiences related to alcohol and marijuana use


A new study, published in Archives of Sexual Behavior by researchers affiliated with New York University's Center for Drug Use and HIV Research (CDUHR), compared self-reported sexual experiences related to use of alcohol and marijuana. Since marijuana has increased in popularity in the U.S., the researchers examined if and how marijuana use may influence risk for unsafe sexual behavior.

"With marijuana becoming more accepted in the U.S. along with more liberal state-level policies," notes Joseph J. Palamar, PhD, MPH, an affiliate of CDUHR and an assistant professor of Population Health at NYU Langone Medical Center (NYULMC), "it is important to examine users' sexual experiences and sexual risk behavior associated with use to inform prevention and harm reduction."

In this study, the researchers interviewed 24 adults (12 males and 12 females, all self-identified as heterosexual and HIV-negative) who recently used marijuana before sex. Compared to marijuana, alcohol use was more commonly associated with social outgoingness and use often facilitated connections with potential sexual partners; however, alcohol was more likely than marijuana to lead to atypical partner choice or post-sex regret.

Alcohol was commonly used as a social lubricant to meet sexual partners, and this was related, in part, to alcohol being readily available in social gatherings.

"Interestingly, some users reported that the illegality of marijuana actually facilitated sexual interactions," notes Dr. Palamar. "Since smoking marijuana recreationally is illegal in most states and smoking it tends to produce a strong odor, it usually has to be used in a private setting. Some individuals utilize such private or intimate situations to facilitate sexual encounters".

While users often described favorable sexual effects of each drug, both alcohol and marijuana were reportedly associated with a variety of negative sexual effects including sexual dysfunction. For example, marijuana use was linked to vaginal dryness and alcohol was commonly described as increasing the likelihood of impotence among males.

The researchers noted that the sexual effects tended to be similar across males and females, and both alcohol and marijuana were generally associated with loss of inhibitions. Both drugs appear to be potentially associated with increased feelings of self-attractiveness, but possibly more so for alcohol, and participants reported feelings of increased sociability and boldness while consuming alcohol.

While some participants reported that marijuana use made them more selective in choosing a partner, many participants-- both male and female--felt that their "standards" for choosing a partner were lowered while under the influence of alcohol.

"It wasn't surprising that alcohol use reportedly led to less post-sex satisfaction than marijuana," said Dr. Palamar. "Participants reported feelings of regret more frequently after sex on alcohol, but compared to alcohol they generally didn't report poor judgment after using marijuana."

When smoking marijuana, participants tended to reported increased feelings of anxiety or a sense of wariness in unfamiliar situations that they did not generally seem to experience after using alcohol. Therefore, these drugs appear to have different effects with regard to socialization that may precede a sexual encounter.

"Sexual encounters on marijuana tended to be with someone the individual knew," comments Dr. Palamar. "Sex on alcohol was often with a stranger so the situation before sex may be much more important than the drug used."

Marijuana and alcohol are associated with unique sexual effects, with alcohol use reportedly leading to riskier sexual behavior. Both drugs appear to potentially increase risk for unsafe sex.

"Research is needed continue to study sexual effects of recreational drugs to inform prevention to ensure that users and potential users of these drugs are aware of sexual effects associated with use," emphasizes Dr. Palamar. "Our results can inform prevention and harm reduction education especially with regard to marijuana, since people who smoke marijuana generally don't receive any harm reduction information at all. They're pretty much just told not to use it."

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Millennials less sexually active than Gen-X peers




Since time immemorial, older generations have fretted over the sexual habits of young people. In today's world, however, elders might just be wondering why young people are having so little sex, according to a new study by San Diego State University psychology professor Jean M. Twenge.

A research team also including Ryne Sherman from Florida Atlantic University and Brooke Wells from Widener University analyzed data from 26,707 respondents to the General Social Survey, a nationally representative survey of U.S. adults that includes members of the current millennial generation and its predecessor, Generation X. The researchers found that today's young people are less likely to have had sex since turning 18.

According to Twenge, author of the book "Generation Me," 15 percent of 20- to 24-year-olds born in the 1990s reported having no sexual partners since age 18, compared to only 6 percent of Generation X'ers when they were young adults. This sexual inactivity stands in stark contrast to the so-called "hookup culture" reportedly pervasive among Millennials: More are not having sex at all, much less hooking up with multiple partners.

"Online dating apps should, in theory, help Millennials find sexual partners more easily," she said. "However, technology may have the opposite effect if young people are spending so much time online that they interact less in person, and thus don't have sex."

Concerns over personal safety and a media landscape saturated with reports of collegiate sexual abuse might also contribute to millennials' sexual inactivity compared to previous generations, Twenge continued.

"This generation is very interested in safety, which also appears in their reduced use of alcohol and their interest in 'safe spaces' on campus," she said. "This is a very risk-averse generation, and that attitude may be influencing their sexual choices."

Other factors contributing to fewer millennials having sex could include the widespread availability of pornography, the historically high number of young adults living with their parents, the later age at first marriage, and increased access to instant entertainment online. The researchers published their findings this week in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior.

Today's teens also appear to be less sexually active. According to the Centers for Disease Control's Youth Risk Behavior Survey, the percentage of U.S. high school students who have ever had sex dropped from 51 percent in 1991 to 41 percent in 2015.

"This generation appears to be waiting longer to have sex, with an increasing minority apparently waiting until their early twenties or later," said Twenge. "It's good news for sexual and emotional health if teens are waiting until they are ready. But if young adults forgo sex completely, they may be missing out on some of the advantages of an adult romantic relationship."


Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Regardless of age, health conditions, many seniors not retired from sex


 Despite societal perceptions that older adults' love lives are ancient history, many seniors are anything but retired from sex, a new study suggests.
Many seniors consider sexual activity essential to their well-being, happiness and quality of life. And some of these vivacious seniors are finding their golden years to be an optimal time for exploring new dimensions of their sexuality, said researcher Liza Berdychevsky, a professor of recreation, sport and tourism at the University of Illinois.
Berdychevsky and co-author Galit Nimrod of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel, examined the importance of and constraints on sexuality in older adulthood - as well as people's strategies for staying sexually active throughout their later years. The researchers analyzed a full year of conversations about sex that occurred on 14 leading online communities that target people age 50 and over. The study sample included English-speaking websites based in Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the U.S.
Older adults' discussions of their experiences and perspectives about sexual matters were wide-ranging and diverse. While some seniors were content with retiring from sex, many others emphasized that they "remained sexually able, interested and active," the researchers found.
"Although some older adults reported abstaining from sexual activity due to health conditions or loss of interest, others refused to renounce sexual activity. Their health problems or society's ageist stereotypes that portray seniors as asexual were not going to become excuses to give up on life - or sex," Berdychevsky said.
A sense of impending mortality inspired some older adults to cast aside sexual inhibitions or stereotypes that constrained their behavior when they were younger and to begin exploring new activities or aspects of their sexuality, according to the study.
Rather than diminishing with age, some seniors' libidos caught fire and sexual activity took on greater importance with their abundance of leisure time in later life. For these seniors, their sexual explorations affirmed their ongoing engagement with life and continuing personal growth, Berdychevsky said.
While people may have greater opportunity and perceived freedom to explore their sexuality later in life and might benefit the most from it, they also are confronted with numerous cultural, social, psychological and biological constraints, Berdychevsky said.
"But not everybody perceived these constraints as verdicts. Many seniors were willing to negotiate these constraints, resist them and find various cognitive and behavioral strategies to continue having sex," Berdychevsky said.
Ageist stereotypes that older adults are - or should be - asexual frequently encroached on seniors' sex lives. In the online forums, some seniors recounted incidents of health care workers dismissing their concerns about their sexual health or functioning. Likewise, some seniors reported that their lifestyles elicited disapproval from their adult children or staff members in their living facilities, Berdychevsky said.
How to continue enjoying one's sexuality after the loss of a spouse or partner and the risks associated with dating and sexual relationships in later life were popular discussion topics. While some seniors swapped advice about finding new partners and trying new sexual activities such as sex toys, less progressive older adults wrote that embarrassment and fear of social stigma prevented them from trying these activities.
Although health conditions sometimes constrained older adults' physical abilities, their willingness to reappraise and adapt their sexual activities - rather than surrender to their physical limitations - determined whether they continued to enjoy fulfilling sex lives, the researchers concluded in the paper, published in the journal Leisure Sciences.
Learning to appreciate what they had - whether it was enjoying foreplay in lieu of intercourse, focusing on quality instead of quantity, or finding mental richness and life experience as arousing as a youthful physique - enabled some older adults to adjust their sexual expectations to the realities of aging and their health conditions, Berdychevsky said. 
Like other leisure pursuits, sexual activity served as an important adjustment strategy, helping some seniors cope with life transitions such as ending their careers and moving into retirement communities or health care facilities, the researchers wrote.
Other seniors, however, indicated they were happy to forgo sex, the researchers found. Youth-oriented depictions of "positive" or "successful" aging that implied ongoing sexual activity, which are used frequently in marketing sex-enhancement products, were distressing to these seniors and perceived as sensationalistic.
"These stereotypes caused performance anxiety in some older men, and some older women believed that both partners should have a say in whether sex enhancement drugs are prescribed," Berdychevsky said.
Sexual education programming that addresses the variety of physical and psychosocial risks that sexually active older adults face is much needed, according to the researchers. Likewise, health care providers and residential facility staff members must be encouraged to shed ageist stereotypes about older adults' sexuality, respect their rights to privacy and sexual activity, and be sensitive to their concerns.


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.