Thursday, December 21, 2017

Interest in sex rises at Christmas, with more births nine months later


It's often wryly observed that birth rates peak in September, with many studies citing seasonal changes in human biology to explain this post-holiday "baby boom." But new research from scientists at Indiana University and the Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência in Portugal finds that spikes in pregnancies are actually rooted in society, not biology.

The evidence was discovered in the "collective unconscious" of web searches and Twitter posts that researchers now use to reveal our hidden desires and motivations.

"The rise of the web and social media provides the unprecedented power to analyze changes in people's collective mood and behavior on a massive scale," said Luis M. Rocha, a professor in the IU School of Informatics, Computing and Engineering, who co-led the study. "This study is the first 'planetary-level' look at human reproduction as it relates to people's moods and interest in sex online."

The study, which appears Dec. 21 in the journal Scientific Reports, draws upon data from nearly 130 countries that included sex-related Google search terms from 2004 to 2014 and 10 percent of public Twitter posts from late 2010 to early 2014.

The analysis revealed that interest in sex peaks significantly during major cultural or religious celebrations -- based upon a greater use of the word "sex" or other sexual terms in web searches. These peaks broadly corresponded to an increase in births nine months later in countries with available birth-rate data.

Moreover, the effect was observed in two different cultures, with the greatest spike occurring during major holiday celebrations: Christmas in Christian-majority countries and Eid-al-Fitr, the celebration that marks the end of Ramadan, in Muslim-majority countries.

The use of data from the Northern and Southern hemispheres is notable since past analyses tended to focus on smaller geographic areas in the Western and Northern hemispheres. The case of Eid-al-Fitr is significant because the holiday does not occur on the same day each year, but the measured effect still shifts accordingly, following a clear cultural pattern.

Because the seasons are reversed on opposites sides of the globe, and peak birth rates and online interest in sex did not change based on geography, the researchers concluded the relationship between these effects is unrelated to biological shifts caused by changes in daylight, temperature or food availability.

"We didn't see a reversal in birth rate or online interest in sex trends between the Northern and Southern hemispheres -- and it didn't seem to matter how far people lived from the equator," Rocha said. "Rather, the study found culture -- measured through online mood -- to be the primary driver behind cyclic sexual and reproductive behavior in human populations."

To understand the higher interest in sex during holidays, the researchers also conducted a sophisticated review of word choices in Twitter posts -- known as a "sentiment analysis" -- to reveal that, collectively, people appear to feel happier, safer and calmer during the holidays.

When these collective moods appear on other occasions throughout the year, the analysis also found a corresponding increase in online interest in sex. Interestingly, Thanksgiving and Easter did not generate the same mood and online interest in sex.

"We observe that Christmas and Eid-Al-Fitr are characterized by distinct collective moods that correlate with increased fertility," Rocha said. "Perhaps people feel a greater motivation to grow their families during holidays when the emphasis is on love and gift-giving to children. The Christmas season is also associated with stories about the baby Jesus and holy family, which may put people in a loving, happy, 'family mood.'"

The study's results are notable for reasons beyond curiosity about the rise in babies born nine months after the holidays. For example, Rocha said the findings could help public health researchers pinpoint the best dates to launch public awareness campaigns encouraging safe sex in developing countries lacking in reliable birth-rate data.

"The strong correlation between birth rates and the holidays in countries where birth-rate data is available -- regardless of hemisphere or the dominant religion -- suggests these trends are also likely to hold true in developing nations," he added. "These types of analyses represent a powerful new data source for social science and public policy researchers."

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Beauty is in the eye of the beer holder



Men under the influence of alcohol are more likely to see women as sexual objects. This is according to a study which moves beyond the mere anecdotal to investigate some of the circumstances and factors that influence why men objectify women. The research is published in Springer's journal Sex Roles and is led by Abigail Riemer of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in the US.

The study involved 49 men in their twenties and was conducted in the safe space of a college laboratory. Of the 49 subjects, 29 received two alcoholic drinks to mildly intoxicate them, and the rest received placebo drinks. All were shown photographs of 80 undergraduate women dressed to go out, and were asked to rate the women's appearances and personality. The women's photos were previously rated by an independent panel on how much warmth, good-naturedness, friendliness, competence, intelligence, confidence, and attractiveness they exuded. Eye-tracking technology noted which part of the women's bodies men were looking at when they were shown the images.

When the men assessed a photographed woman based on her appearance, the instruction most often triggered objectifying gazes from them. They spent less time looking at faces and focused far longer on chests and waists. This was particularly true when viewing women who had been rated high in attractiveness. It happened to a lesser degree when viewing women who exuded warmth and competence, especially when men were slightly drunk. The findings suggest that whether a man will sexually objectify a woman depends on the alcohol intoxication of the man, as well as how attractive, warm and competent a woman is perceived to be.

"The sum of these results supports the notion that being perceived as high in humanizing attributes, such as warmth and competence, or being average in attractiveness provides a buffer that protects women from sexual objectification," says Riemer.

"Environments in which alcohol is present are ripe with opportunities for objectifying gazes," adds Riemer, who says that the only other study previously done on the link between alcohol and objectification by men relied on self-reports from women. "Adopting objectifying gazes toward women leads perceivers to dehumanize women, potentially laying the foundation for many negative consequences such as sexual violence and workplace gender discrimination."

She hopes findings from the study will help to challenge specific maladaptive beliefs held by some men that it is OK and acceptable to direct objectifying gazes toward women, especially those who are not typically considered to be attractive or who are not perceived as being competent or to have a warm personality.

"Understanding why the objectifying gaze occurs in the first place is an initial step toward stopping its incidence and its damaging effects," says Riemer, who believes that there might be value in mindfulness-based interventions to help men reflect on how they perceive women. "This may inform primary prevention programs to reduce the continuum of sexual violence that women disproportionately experience."

Monday, December 18, 2017

Bullies have more sex

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Adolescents who are willing to exploit others for personal gain are more likely to bully and have sex than those who score higher on a measure of honesty and humility. This is according to a study in Springer's journal Evolutionary Psychological Science which was led by Daniel Provenzano of the University of Windsor in Canada.

Researchers believe that bullying might be more than just objectionable behaviour. It might, in fact, have evolved as a way for men to show dominance and strength, and to signal to women that they are good breeding stock, able to protect their offspring and provide for their needs. From an evolutionary perspective, a man's dominance may make him more attractive to his potential sexual partners, as well as scaring off potential rivals.

Provenzano and his colleagues investigated individual personality differences that might make one person more willing and able to use bullying tactics when competing for sexual partners than others. Two sets of participants were recruited: 144 older adolescents (with a mean age of 18.3) and 396 younger adolescents (with a mean age of 14.6). Participants had to fill in questionnaires about their sex life and number of sexual partners, as well as frequency of bullying perpetration.

Through another questionnaire, the researchers learnt more about six different aspects of the participants' personality, such as their willingness to cooperate with others, or to exploit and antagonise others. The latter is measured by looking at how agreeable and emotionally in tune someone is, as well as how honest and humble they are. Those who do not score high in these latter measures tend to display antisocial personality traits and to subsequently be bullies.

Provenzano's team found that younger people who scored lower in "Honesty-Humility" were more likely to use bullying tactics to pursue more sexual partners than others.

"Younger adolescents lower in 'Honesty-Humility' may therefore strategically manipulate others in a variety of ways to obtain more sexual partners," says Provenzano. "Our findings indirectly suggest that exploitative adolescents may have more sexual partners if they are able to strategically use exploitative behaviour like bullying to target weaker individuals."

According to Provenzano, adolescents lower in "Honesty-Humility" may also use bullying as an intersexual strategy to display traits such as strength and dominance to attract the opposite sex. They might also use bullying to put their rivals in a bad light, or to threaten rivals into withdrawing from intra-sexual competition in order to gain advantage when it comes to potential sexual partners.

"Our results suggest that both research and intervention efforts with older and younger adolescents need to recognize and respond to the relationships between personality, sex and bullying," explains Provenzano.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Taking a spouse's surname can define power in marriage


The pending nuptials of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have royal watchers brushing up on royal naming practices and asking 'what's in a name?'

A new study led by a UNLV psychology professor shows that a wife's choice of surnames may influence perceptions of her husband's personality and the distribution of power in the marriage.
In a three-part study conducted in the U.S. and the U.K., Rachael Robnett and her coauthors concluded that men whose wives retain their own surnames after marriage are seen as submissive and less powerful in the relationship.

The study, published on Nov. 21, is the first to examine whether perceptions of a man's personality vary depending on whether his wife takes his name or retains her own.

"The marital surname tradition is more than just a tradition. It reflects subtle gender-role norms and ideologies that often remain unquestioned despite privileging men," said Robnett, an assistant professor of psychology at UNLV.

Using a variety of research methods, researchers found a connection between gender-typed personality traits and perceived power dynamics. Traditionally, instrumentality or aggressive and dominant traits are associated with higher status and power and are often ascribed to men.

Expressivity or more loving and nurturing traits tend to be associated with lower status and power and are often ascribed to women. However, findings in Robnett's study show perceptions of these gender norms change based on a woman's surname choices.

"Our findings indicate that people extrapolate from marital surname choices to make more general inferences about a couple's gender-typed personality traits," she said.

In study 1, the researchers surveyed U.S. undergraduates and asked them to characterize a man whose wife retains her surname after marriage. Respondents described the man using expressive traits and commented that he was "caring," "understanding," "timid," and "submissive."

In study 2, participants in southeast England read a vignette about a fictional engaged couple and took a survey about their perceptions of the woman's surname choices. Respondents perceived the man as higher in expressive traits and lower in instrumental traits when the woman retained her own surname.

In study 3, also conducted with U.S. undergraduates, the researchers examined whether hostile sexism, or an antagonistic attitude toward women, helps to explain individual differences in participants' responses to questions of power in a fictional marriage. Respondents who held firmly to traditional gender roles and can be described as hostile sexists perceived a man whose wife retained her surname as being disempowered.

"We know from prior research that people high in hostile sexism respond negatively to women who violate traditional gender roles," Robnett said. "Our findings show that they also apply stereotypes to nontraditional women's husbands."

Women's sexual orientation linked to attitude about birth


Unhappiness about a pregnancy or birth has been associated with negative health outcomes for mothers and babies. Yet, unhappiness about a pregnancy or birth has been understudied, particularly among sexual minority (non-heterosexual) women. George Mason University's Dr. Lisa Lindley and her colleagues at the University of South Carolina published findings of their new study in Perspectives on Reproductive and Sexual Health, "Sexual Orientation Concordance And (Un)Happiness About Births."

As Lindley explains, "To our knowledge, this is the first investigation of birth happiness by sexual orientation discordance across sexual orientation measures using a nationally representative sample of women of reproductive age. Previous research has focused exclusively on heterosexual women, or assumed that the women were heterosexual."

Lindley and colleagues examined birth happiness among women by sexual orientation discordance using data from the 2006-2015 National Survey of Family Growth. Birth intention, male partnership context (marital/relationship status, wanting to have a child with the father, and father's feeling about the pregnancy), and sociodemographic covariates (race/ethnicity, mother's education, household income, etc.) were included to determine whether they mediated the relationship between birth happiness and sexual orientation discordance.

Sexual orientation was measured using the combination of sexual identity, sexual attraction, and sexual behavior variables. Sexual orientation "concordance" was defined as consistency across these three dimensions. For example, a woman who identified as lesbian, reported only same sex attractions, and engaged only in same-sex behaviors would be considered "concordant," while a woman who identified as heterosexual but reported same-sex attractions or behaviors would be considered "discordant."

Heterosexual-discordant women were of particular interest in this study as they are more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors and have unintended pregnancies than their heterosexual-concordant counterparts. Consistent with their previous research, Lindley and colleagues also found that heterosexual-discordant women were significantly less happy about their births than heterosexual-concordant women. The fact that births were less likely to be intended and that relationships with male partners were less favorable for births among heterosexual-discordant women partially explained this association.

Lindley pointed out that other factors likely contributed to birth unhappiness among heterosexual-discordant women but were not assessed in the National Survey of Family Growth. According to Lindley, "heteronormative expectations for women, including the pressure to be in a relationship with a man and to have children, may have contributed to their birth unhappiness. This would be especially true if heterosexual-discordant women preferred to be in a relationship with a woman and/or did not want to have a child, or if they had a child to conceal their same-sex attractions and behavior."

Additionally, the survey did not ask women about their pregnancy happiness, or their partner's favorability about the pregnancy, but rather assessed their happiness/favorability about the birth. Thus, the researchers were unable to compare happiness levels by sexual orientation discordance for pregnancies that did not end in birth (i.e., ended in miscarriage or abortion).

Despite strong evidence of risky sexual behaviors, unintended pregnancies, and unhappiness about births occurring among sexual minority women, particularly among heterosexual-discordant women, these concerns are simply not being addressed. Lindley and colleagues point to a gaping hole in the research literature about how best to reach and educate sexual minority women and how best to tailor services and programs for them. They strongly suggest additional efforts in these areas to identify best practices.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Regular marijuana use linked to more sex


The jury's still out on rock 'n' roll. But the link between sex and at least one drug, marijuana, has been confirmed.
A study by investigators at the Stanford University School of Medicine indicates that, despite concerns among physicians and scientists that frequent marijuana use may impair sexual desire or performance, the opposite appears more likely to be the case.
The findings, to be published online Oct. 27 in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, are based on an analysis of more than 50,000 Americans ages 25-45. And they're unambiguous.
"Frequent marijuana use doesn't seem to impair sexual motivation or performance. If anything, it's associated with increased coital frequency," said the study's senior author, Michael Eisenberg, MD, assistant professor of urology. The lead author is Andrew Sun, MD, a resident in urology.

Hint of a causal connection

The study does not establish a causal connection between marijuana use and sexual activity, Eisenberg noted. But the results hint at it, he added. "The overall trend we saw applied to people of both sexes and all races, ages, education levels, income groups and religions, every health status, whether they were married or single and whether or not they had kids."
The study is the first to examine the relationship between marijuana use and frequency of sexual intercourse at the population level in the United States.
"Marijuana use is very common, but its large-scale use and association with sexual frequency hasn't been studied much in a scientific way," Eisenberg said.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than 20 million adult Americans are current marijuana users. With the drug's legalization for medical or recreational use in 29 states, that number is climbing. But despite marijuana's growing status as a recreational drug, its status as a procreational drug remains ambiguous: On one hand, there are reports of erectile dysfunction in heavy users, and rigorous studies have found reduced sperm counts in men who smoke it; on the other hand, experiments conducted in animal models and humans indicate that marijuana stimulates activity in brain regions involved in sexual arousal and activity.

Looking at survey responses

To arrive at an accurate determination of marijuana's effect on intercourse frequency, Eisenberg and Sun turned to the National Survey of Family Growth, sponsored by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The survey, which provides data pertaining to family structures, sexual practices and childbearing, reflects the overall demographic features of the U.S. population. Originally conducted at regular intervals, the survey is now carried out on an annual basis. It explicitly queries respondents on how many times they've had intercourse with a member of the opposite sex in the past four weeks, and how frequently they've smoked marijuana over the past 12 months.
The investigators compiled answers to those questions for all years since 2002, when the survey first began collecting data on men as well as women. They included data from respondents ages 25-45 and excluded a small percentage (fewer than 3 percent) of respondents who had failed to answer one or more relevant questions.
In all, Eisenberg and Sun obtained data on 28,176 women averaging 29.9 years of age and 22,943 men whose average age was 29.5. They assessed these individuals' self-reported patterns of marijuana use over the previous year and their self-reported frequency of heterosexual intercourse over the previous four weeks.
Some 24.5 percent of men and 14.5 percent of women in the analysis reported having used marijuana, and there was a positive association between the frequency of marijuana use and the frequency of sexual intercourse. This relationship applied to both sexes: Women denying marijuana use in the past year, for example, had sex on average 6.0 times during the previous four weeks, whereas that number was 7.1 for daily pot users. Among men, the corresponding figure was 5.6 for nonusers and 6.9 for daily users.
In other words, pot users are having about 20 percent more sex than pot abstainers, Eisenberg noted.

Positive association is universal

Moreover, Eisenberg said, the positive association between marijuana use and coital frequency was independent of demographic, health, marital or parental status.
In addition, the trend remained even after accounting for subjects' use of other drugs, such as cocaine or alcohol. This, Eisenberg said, suggests that marijuana's positive correlation with sexual activity doesn't merely reflect some general tendency of less-inhibited types, who may be more inclined to use drugs, to also be more likely to have sex. In addition, coital frequency rose steadily with increasing marijuana use, a dose-dependent relationship supporting a possible active role for marijuana in fostering sexual activity.
Nevertheless, Eisenberg cautioned, the study shouldn't be misinterpreted as having proven a causal link. "It doesn't say if you smoke more marijuana, you'll have more sex," he said.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Online Dating Is Changing the Nature of Society


Dating websites have changed the way couples meet. Now evidence is emerging that this change is influencing levels of interracial marriage and even the stability of marriage itself.

Match.com went live in 1995. A new wave of dating websites, such as OKCupid, emerged in the early 2000s. And the 2012 arrival of Tinder changed dating even further. Today, more than one-third of marriages start online.

Clearly, these sites have had a huge impact on dating behavior. But now the first evidence is emerging that their effect is much more profound. 
The way people meet their partners has changed dramatically in recent years
For more than 50 years, researchers have studied the nature of the networks that link people to each other. These social networks turn out to have a peculiar property.

One obvious type of network links each node with its nearest neighbors, in a pattern like a chess board or chicken wire. Another obvious kind of network links nodes at random. But real social networks are not like either of these. Instead, people are strongly connected to a relatively small group of neighbors and loosely connected to much more distant people.

These loose connections turn out to be extremely important. “Those weak ties serve as bridges between our group of close friends and other clustered groups, allowing us to connect to the global community,” say Josue Ortega at the University of Essex in the U.K. and Philipp Hergovich at the University of Vienna in Austria.

Loose ties have traditionally played a key role in meeting partners. While most people were unlikely to date one of their best friends, they were highly likely to date people who were linked with their group of friends; a friend of a friend, for example. In the language of network theory, dating partners were embedded in each other’s networks.

Indeed, this has long been reflected in surveys of the way people meet their partners: through mutual friends, in bars, at work, in educational institutions, at church, through their families, and so on.

Online dating has changed that. Today, online dating is the second most common way for heterosexual couples to meet. For homosexual couples, it is far and away the most popular.

That has significant implications. “People who meet online tend to be complete strangers,” say Ortega and Hergovich. And when people meet in this way, it sets up social links that were previously nonexistent.

The question that Ortega and Hergovich investigate is how this changes the racial diversity of society. “Understanding the evolution of interracial marriage is an important problem, for intermarriage is widely considered a measure of social distance in our societies,” they say.

The researchers start by simulating what happens when extra links are introduced into a social network. Their network consists of men and women from different races who are randomly distributed. In this model, everyone wants to marry a person of the opposite sex but can only marry someone with whom a connection exists. This leads to a society with a relatively low level of interracial marriage.

But if the researchers add random links between people from different ethnic groups, the level of interracial marriage changes dramatically. “Our model predicts nearly complete racial integration upon the emergence of online dating, even if the number of partners that individuals meet from newly formed ties is small,” say Ortega and Hergovich.

And there is another surprising effect. The team measure the strength of marriages by measuring the average distance between partners before and after the introduction of online dating. “Our model also predicts that marriages created in a society with online dating tend to be stronger,” they say.

Next, the researchers compare the results of their models to the observed rates of interracial marriage in the U.S. This has been on the increase for some time, but the rates are still low, not least because interracial marriage was banned in some parts of the country until 1967.

But the rate of increase changed at about the time that online dating become popular. “It is intriguing that shortly after the introduction of the first dating websites in 1995, like Match.com, the percentage of new marriages created by interracial couples increased rapidly,” say the researchers.

The increase became steeper in the 2000s, when online dating became even more popular.  Then, in 2014, the proportion of interracial marriages jumped again. “It is interesting that this increase occurs shortly after the creation of Tinder, considered the most popular online dating app,” they say.
Tinder has some 50 million users and produces more than 12 million matches a day.

Of course, this data doesn’t prove that online dating caused the rise in interracial marriages. But it is consistent with the hypothesis that it does.

Meanwhile, research into the strength of marriage has found some evidence that married couples who meet online have lower rates of marital breakup than those who meet traditionally. That has the potential to significantly benefit society. And it’s exactly what Ortega and Hergovich’s model predicts.

Of course, there are other factors that could contribute to the increase in interracial marriage. One is that the trend is the result of a reduction in the percentage of Americans who are white. If marriages were random, this should increase the number of interracial marriages, but not by the observed amount. “The change in the population composition in the U.S. cannot explain the huge increase in intermarriage that we observe,” say Ortega and Hergovich.

That leaves online dating as the main driver of this change. And if that’s the case, the model implies that this change is ongoing.

That’s a profound revelation. These changes are set to continue, and to benefit society as result.