Friday, May 25, 2007

Most teens' mental health unhurt by nonmarital sex

Youngest teens who lose virginity most susceptible to depression if in uncommitted relationship

For a decade, the legislative push for "abstinence only" sex education has suggested that nonmarital sex negatively affects a teen's mental health. But a new study shows that the negative mental side effects of a teen's loss of virginity are confined to a small proportion of those who have sex -- specifically, young girls and both boys and girls who have sex earlier than their peers and whose relationships are uncommitted and ultimately fall apart.

Using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, Ann Meier, University of Minnesota assistant professor of sociology, studied 8,563 seventh- through 12th-graders over an 18-month period, measuring for depression and low self-esteem. Meier compared the mental health of teens who didn’t have sex to teens who were virgins at the beginning of the study, but who lost their virginity during the 18-month period.

She found that while the majority of teens did not experience depression as a result of first-time sex, some did -- those being the youngest teens (girls who had sex before age 15 and boys who had sex before 14) and whose relationship was not emotionally close and dissolved after sex. Girls in this group were particularly vulnerable to depression.

Meier believes it’s the combination of these factors that make young teens most vulnerable to depression or low self-esteem after first-time sex. "Being female or younger than the average age at first-time sex among your peers increases the chance of depression, as does a lack of commitment or intimacy within the relationship and what happens to the relationship after first-time sex," said Meier. "For girls in uncommitted relationships, ending a relationship with sex has more of an impact on mental health than ending that same relationship if it did not involve sex."

The risk of suffering mental health problems from having sex as a teen is relatively low, but Meier said low risk still represents a large group of teens affected, as half the teen population is having sex. She cautioned that the study does not suggest that positive effects result from first-time sex among teens and said she hopes it will help policy-makers focus help on those most vulnerable rather than promoting a one-size-fits-all approach.

Sexual orientation affects how we navigate

Sexual orientation affects how we navigate and recall lost objects, but age just targets gender

Researchers at the University of Warwick have found that sexual orientation has a real effect on how we perform mental tasks such as navigating with a map in a car but that old age does not discriminate on grounds of sexual orientation and withers all men’s minds alike just ahead of women’s.

The University of Warwick researchers worked with the BBC to collect data from over 198,000 people aged 20–65 years (109,612 men and 88,509 women). As expected they found men outperformed women on tests such as mentally rotating objects (NB the researchers’ tests used abstract objects but the skills used are also those one would use in real life to navigate with a map). They found that women outperformed men in verbal dexterity tests, and remembering the locations of objects. However for a number of tasks the University of Warwick researchers found key differences across the range of sexual orientations studied.

For instance in mental rotation (a task where men usually perform better) they found that the table of best performance to worst was:

Heterosexual men
Bisexual men
Homosexual men
Homosexual women
Bisexual women
Heterosexual women

In general, over the range of tasks measured, where a gender performed better in a task heterosexuals of that gender tended to perform better than non-heterosexuals. When a particular gender was poorer at a task homosexual and bisexual people tended to perform better than heterosexual members of that gender.

However age was found to discriminate on gender grounds but not sexual orientation. The study found that men’s mental abilities declined faster than women’s and that sexual orientation made no difference to the rate of that decline either for men or women.

Want to Improve Your Relationship?

Want to Improve Your Relationship? Do the Dishes Because You Really Want To

If you do something positive for your mate, does it matter why? The answer is yes, according to new research from University of Rochester research assistant professor Heather Patrick. She will unveil a study at a Toronto conference later this month that shows both small sacrifices, like doing the dishes for your partner, and big ones, like moving across the country for a new job he or she really wants, mean more if you do them because you genuinely want to.

Patrick will be one of more than 300 researchers from 25 countries at the University of Toronto this weekend sharing their work within Self-Determination Theory, a groundbreaking psychological theory of human motivation developed by Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, University of Rochester professors of Psychology.

To answer one of the most common conundrums of romantic relationships, Patrick asked 266 men and women in relationships to document either their own or their partner's pro-relationship behaviors (PRB) for two weeks. Pro-relationship behavior can be any sacrifice or accommodation made out of consideration for one's partner or one's relationship.

Patrick found that partners who engaged in PRB because they wanted to—not because they felt pressured or obligated to—were more satisfied in their relationships, more committed to them, and felt closer to their mates following PRB experiences.

But she also found that people who simply perceived that their partners engaged in PRB because they wanted to were also more satisfied and committed to their relationship after a partner's PRB.

Patrick says her research has practical applications. She sees it being used for individual and couples therapy. She says this new information gives couples and psychology professionals insight into why some relationships aren't fulfilling even when everything looks OK on the surface.

"It's important to understand what makes positive relationships positive and what might undermine positive experiences,'' Patrick said.

Along with Patrick, Ryan, who is a professor of psychology, psychiatry and education, and Deci, the Gowen Professor in the Social Sciences, a fourth Rochester researcher, Dr. Geoffrey Williams, associate professor of medicine at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, will present at the conference. He will unveil new findings that demonstrate patient involvement in a quit plan leads to smokers who are more motivated to quit because they genuinely want to, not because they are being nagged or bullied into kicking the habit. Williams said the method has also proved successful for patients managing diabetes, weight loss, and dental care.

Both Patrick's and Williams' research illustrates the crux of Self-Determination Theory: A self-motivated person derives more satisfaction in completing a given task, and is more likely to do it well. The research presented at the conference will explore motivation in human development, education, work, relationships, sports, health, medicine, virtual environments, psychotherapy, and cross-cultural applications.