Tuesday, April 22, 2008

College Men Hear 'Yes' When Women Mean 'No'

Faulty male introspection may explain why men so often misinterpret women's indirect messages to stop or slow down the escalation of sexual intimacy, according to new research by UC Davis communication professor Michael Motley.

"When she says 'It's getting late,' he may hear 'So let's skip the preliminaries,'" Motley says. "The problem is that he is interpreting what she said by trying to imagine what he would mean -- and the only reason he can imagine saying 'It's getting late' while making out is to mean 'Let's speed things up.'"

Motley calls it the "introspection" explanation: "Males' inferred meanings for women's indirect sexual resistance messages are more similar to the meanings males would have intended by those same messages than to the meanings women intend."

The research appears in "Studies in Applied Interpersonal Communication" (Sage Publications, 2008), a new book edited by Motley. The book is due on academic bookshelves soon.

Previous research has found that up to 85 percent of college women have had at least one experience in which a man attempts to escalate physical intimacy beyond the point that she has said "stop," experiences they usually regard as unpleasant.

Motley's research during the past decade suggests miscommunication is a significant reason for the problem in many cases. (The research does not address rape or other situations in which a man indeed understands "no" but ignores it.)

In one study, Motley gave 30 female and 60 male UC Davis undergraduates a multiple-choice questionnaire that asked about 16 common "female resistance messages." The messages ranged from very direct -- "Let's stop this" -- to very indirect -- "I'm seeing someone else." Four potential interpretations were listed for each message; only one was "stop."

For "I'm seeing someone else," for example, the following four interpretations were listed:

a) You want to go further but you want him to know that it doesn't mean that you're committed to him;

b) You want to go further but you want him to be discreet, so that the other guy doesn't find out;

c) You want to go further but you want him to realize, in case you end up "going together," that you may do this with someone else while you're seeing him;

d) You don't want to go further.

The women in the study were asked to recall a time when they used one of the messages, and to choose the answer that best matched what they meant when they said it. Half of the men were asked to recall a time when they were with a woman who communicated each message, and to choose the interpretation that best matched what they thought the woman meant when she said it. The other 30 men were instructed to choose the interpretation that best matched what they would mean if they were to communicate the messages.

The questionnaire study showed that men were accurate at interpreting direct resistance messages like "Let's stop this." But they were as apt to interpret "Let's be friends" to mean "keep going" as to mean "stop." And few of them would mean "stop" if they were to deliver any of the indirect messages themselves.

In related studies, Motley has also shown that most women use indirect messages out of concern that men will be offended or angered by direct messages -- but that most men actually accept direct resistance messages easily and without negative reactions.

"Studies in Applied Interpersonal Communication" also reports Motley's research into the behaviors and conditions that determine the fate of platonic friendships when one party develops unrequited romantic feelings for the other. Chapters by other researchers explore such topics as interpersonal guilt, how to give advice so people will listen to it, and what constitutes effective emotional support.

While intended as an academic text, the book contains practical conclusions and recommendations. For example, Motley's chapters lay out these lessons from his research into unwanted escalation of sexual intimacy:

- Men need to be aware of the many ways that women may say "stop" without using the word "stop."

- When a man asks himself during intimacy, "Why did she say that?" he should not try to answer the question by imagining what he would mean if he said the same thing.

- When in doubt, ask. "So it's getting late; does that mean we should stop?"

- Women should use direct messages.

- A woman who cannot be direct should at least work a direct message into the indirect one: "It's getting late, so I'd like to stop."

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

CAUSES OF SEXUAL DIFFICULTIES IN WOMEN

Researchers at the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction are shedding light on why some women experience sexual problems and others do not.

A study published in the April issue of the journal "Archives of Sexual Behavior" found connections between personality traits such as sexual inhibition and sexual problems.

While previous studies have explored the role demographics such as age, education and socio-economic status play in sexual functioning among women, few have explored the role differences in personality play in predicting current and lifetime sexual problems. In this study, women's sexual inhibition tendencies were more important than other factors in predicting sexual problems.

"Although further research is needed to confirm these findings with other samples, particularly clinical samples of women seeking help for sexual problems, these findings suggest that high scores on sexual inhibition may help predict which women are vulnerable to experience sexual problems," said Cynthia Graham, research fellow at the Kinsey Institute and co-author of the paper. "They may also be used as prognostic factors in treatment studies."

Researchers studied the responses of 540 women on the Sexual Excitation/Sexual Inhibition Inventory for Women that rated current and sexual problems, lifetime arousal difficulty and lifetime problems with low sexual interest. The strongest predictors of reports of sexual problems were women's sexual inhibition scores. Below are some of the findings:

Sexual inhibition scores were the strongest predictor of current and past sexual problems including lifetime arousal difficulty and low sexual interest. They were better predictors than demographic and background factors such as age, socio-economic status, and whether or not women were in a sexual relationship.
"Arousal Contingency" or the ease with which arousal can be disrupted by situational factors, and "Concerns about Sexual Function" were the two most predictive of women's sexual problems.
The Kinsey Institute has been developing, testing and fine-tuning the dual control model of sexual response, which is the basis for the Sexual Excitation/Sexual Inhibition Inventory for Women used in this study. This theoretical model reflects the idea that sexual response in individuals is the product of a balance between excitatory and inhibitory processes. Researchers believe these two systems operate somewhat independent of each other and are different in each person.

Researchers are using the dual control model to better understand such complex issues as sexual difficulties, sexual compulsivity and high-risk sexual behaviors. Prior studies have found that while sexual inhibition plays an important protective role in restraining sexual responses, individuals who score highly in inhibition might be more likely to experience sexual problems.

This particular study aimed to gain insight into the role of inhibition and excitation proneness in predicting sexual problems in a non-clinical sample of women.

SOME MEN ARE FROM MARS, OTHERS FROM VENUS

WHEN IT COMES TO SEX, SOME MEN ARE FROM MARS, OTHERS FROM VENUS

A study by researchers at the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction at Indiana University finds that men report a variety of different experiences involving sexual desire and arousal.

Men participating in focus groups expressed a range of experiences and feelings relating to such matters as the relationship between erections and desire, the importance of scent and relationships, and a woman's intelligence. The Kinsey Institute study, appearing in the April issue of the journal "Archives of Sexual Behavior," is unique because few studies so far have examined how closely the findings of decades of laboratory studies on sex actually reflect the experiences of men.

"We have a lot of assumptions about how men think and feel and behave sexually," said Erick Janssen, associate scientist at the Kinsey Institute. "We use all kinds of methods to measure men's sexual responses; in addition, we use questionnaires and surveys to ask about sexual behaviors. It's less common to sit down with men and ask them to talk about their experiences."

The focus groups involved 50 men divided into three groups based on their age (18-24 years, 25-45 years and 46 and older). Below are some examples of the different experiences reported by the men:

Some factors, such as depression or a risk of being caught having sex, were reported by some men as inhibiting sex, while other men found that they can enhance their desire and arousal.
An erection is not the main cue for men to know they are sexually aroused. Most of the men responded that they can experience erections without feeling aroused or interested, leading researchers to suggest that erections are not good criteria for determining sexual arousal in men.
Many men found it difficult to distinguish between sexual desire and sexual arousal, a distinction prominent in most sexual response models used by researchers and clinicians.
The changes in the quality of older men's erections had a direct effect on their sexual encounters, including, for some, a shifting focus to the partner and her sexual enjoyment. Older men also consistently mentioned that as they aged, they became more careful and particular in choosing sexual partners.
The sexual history of women also mattered to the men -- but differently for different age groups. Sexually experienced women were considered more threatening by younger men, who had concerns about "measuring up," but such women were considered more arousing for older men.
Janssen and his colleagues at the Kinsey Institute have been working for more than 10 years on a theoretical model that focuses on sexual excitation and sexual inhibition. They refer to this as the dual control model of sexual response. It holds that separate and relatively independent activating and suppressing sexual systems exist within the central nervous system and that the balance between these two systems determines a person's sexual response in any particular situation. Janssen relates this to the gas and break pedals in a vehicle -- both can influence a car's behavior (you can slow down by letting go of the gas or by pressing the brake) but they do so in different ways.

This model is used around the world by sex researchers in studies on topics as varied as sexual dysfunction and sexual risk taking. To measure the propensity for sexual excitation and inhibition, the researchers designed a questionnaire.

The original questionnaire was developed for men, leading researchers at the Kinsey Institute to conduct focus groups with women in an effort to create a similar questionnaire that would be more relevant for women. Janssen said the success of women's focus groups led him and his colleagues to conduct the focus groups with men.

The findings of this latest study ultimately could lead to a more effective questionnaire for the dual control model but also can inform research efforts to better understand the variability in sexual behavior.

"One of the main conclusions of the focus group study is that, just like women, men are different," Janssen said. "Sex researchers tend to focus a lot on differences between men and women, while not giving as much attention to the differences that exist among men, and women. This research is part of a larger agenda at the Kinsey Institute of looking at individual differences. This dates back to Alfred Kinsey's original research, but in our current research we not only try to capture the variations in men and women's sexual experiences -- we also try to understand better what explains variations in those experiences."

Friday, April 11, 2008

People trade sex for resources

Just like penguins and other primates, people trade sex for resources

Female penguins mate with males who bring them pebbles to build egg nests. Hummingbirds mate to gain access to the most productive flowers guarded by larger males.

New research shows that even affluent college students who don't need resources will still attempt to trade sexual currency for provisions, said Daniel Kruger, research scientist at the University of Michigan School of Public Health.

The exchange of resources for sex---referred to by scientists as nuptial gifts---has occurred throughout history in many species, including humans, Kruger said. The male of the species offers protection and resources to the female and offspring in exchange for reproductive rights. For example, an arranged marriage can be considered a contract to trade resources.

However, the recent findings suggest that such behaviors are hard wired, and persist no matter how much wealth, resources or security that people obtain.

"It's remarkable to find these patterns in the students in the study," Kruger said. "We have seen many examples where people do this out of necessity, but we still see these tendencies in people who are already well provided for."

In addition, there are predictable, sexual differences in the types of exchanges attempted. Men are more likely to attempt to exchange investment for sex, females were more likely to attempt to exchange sex for investment, Kruger said.

For the study, researchers interviewed 475 U-M undergraduate students to discover if they attempted exchanges in reproductively relevant currencies outside of dating or formally committed relationships, and if they were aware of attempts others tried with them. While the study population was limited to students, these types of exchanges happen all over the world in different cultures and species, he said.

The majority of students were well aware of their own attempts to trade reproductive currency, Kruger said. However, if they were in committed relationships, they did not view the partnership as trading in reproductive currencies, he said.

Overall, the strategy of attempting to exchange investment for sex is only successful about 25 percent of the time, the paper found. Some of the attempted trades included: tickets to the U-M versus Ohio State game; studying assistance; laundry washed; a Louis Vuitton bag; and voice lessons among other things.

Students in the study were 18-26 years old. For exchange attempts made, 27 percent of men and 14 percent of women reported attempts to trade investment for sex, 5 percent of men and 9 percent of women reported attempts to trade sex for investment. Of exchange attempts initiated by others, 14 percent of men and 20 percent of women reported that someone else attempted to trade investment for sex with them, and 8 percent of men and 5 percent of women reported that someone else attempted to trade sex for their investment.

A sample of older individuals, especially one that is more representative of the general population, would likely report higher frequencies of experiences, Kruger said. The assumption is an older population would have more unmet needs and would be more sexually active.

In fact, Kruger said the findings were remarkable in that any exchanges were reported at all, considering the subjects' youth and affluence---in other words, they don't want for much yet they still attempt these exchanges.

"The confirmation of hypothetical predictions regarding these exchanges once again demonstrates the power of an evolutionary framework for understanding human psychology and behavior," Kruger said.

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The paper "Young Adults Attempt Exchanges in Reproductively Relevant Currencies," appears this month in the Journal of Evolutionary Psychology.

Monday, April 7, 2008

How much housework does a husband create?

Having a husband creates an extra seven hours a week of housework for women, according to a University of Michigan study of a nationally representative sample of U.S. families.

For men, the picture is very different: A wife saves men from about an hour of housework a week.

The findings are part of a detailed study of housework trends, based on 2005 time-diary data from the federally-funded Panel Study of Income Dynamics, conducted since 1968 at the U-M Institute for Social Research (ISR).

"It's a well-known pattern," said ISR economist Frank Stafford, who directs the study. "There's still a significant reallocation of labor that occurs at marriage—men tend to work more outside the home, while women take on more of the household labor. Certainly there are all kinds of individual differences here, but in general, this is what happens after marriage. And the situation gets worse for women when they have children."

Overall, the amount of housework done by U.S. women has dropped considerably since 1976, while the amount of housework done by men has increased, according to Stafford. In 1976, women did an average of 26 hours of housework a week, compared with about 17 hours in 2005. Men did about six hours of housework a week in 1976, compared with about 13 hours in 2005.

But when the researchers looked at just the last 10 years, comparing how much housework single men and women in their 20s did in 1996 with how much they did in 2005 if they stayed single versus if they got married, they found a slightly different pattern.

Both the men and the women who got married did more housework than those who stayed single, the analysis showed. "Marriage is no longer a man's path to less housework," said Stafford, a professor in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts.

For the study, researchers analyzed data from time diaries, considered the most accurate way to assess how people spend their time. They supplemented the analysis with data from questionnaires asking both men and women to recall how much time they spent on basic housework in an average week, including time spent cooking, cleaning and doing other basic work around the house. Excluded from these "core" housework hours were tasks like gardening, home repairs, or washing the car.

The researchers also examined how age and the number of children, as well as marital status and age, influenced time spent doing housework.

Single women in their 20s and 30s did the least housework—about 12 works a week on average, while married women in their 60s and 70s did the most—about 21 hours a week. Men showed a somewhat different pattern. Older men did more housework than younger men, but single men did more in all age groups than married men.

Married women with more than three kids did an average of about 28 hours of housework a week. Married men with more than three kids, by comparison, logged only about 10 hours of housework a week.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Confusing sexual interest with friendliness

New research from Indiana University and Yale suggests that college-age men confuse friendly non-verbal cues with cues for sexual interest because the men have a less discerning eye than women -- but their female peers aren't far behind.

In the study, appearing in the April issue of the journal Psychological Science, men who viewed images of friendly women misidentified 12 percent of the images as sexually interested. Women mistook 8.7 percent of the friendly images for sexual interest.

Both men and women were even more likely to do the opposite -- when viewing images of sexually interested women, men mistakenly called 37.8 percent of the images "friendly." Women mistook 31.9 percent of the sexual interest cues for friendliness.

Scientist have long known that young men are more likely than women to confuse friendly non-verbal cues with cues for sexual interest but the explanation for the gender difference has been less clear. The more popular of two competing theories attributes this to a tendency by young men to over-sexualize their social environment. The less popular theory -- and the one supported by this new study -- claims that women have an advantage when it comes to interpreting facial expressions and body language expressing a variety of emotions, thus are more likely to accurately ID cues for sexual interest. Young men are simply less literate when it comes to non-verbal cues.

"Relative to women, men did not oversexualize the image set in our study," said lead author Coreen Farris, a doctoral student in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at IU Bloomington. "Both men and women were reluctant to state that ambiguous cues were 'sexual interest.' In fact, men and women utilized nearly identical thresholds for the degree of sexual interest that must be perceived before they were willing to go out on a limb and state that the nonverbal cues were sexual in nature."

Farris said it is interesting that their study found no evidence to support the first theory.

"In many ways, the results point to a more general explanation for why young men make the decisions they make," she said. "The observed advantage among women in ability to discriminate between friendliness and sexual interest extends to processing of sad and rejecting cues. This suggests that the increased tendency among young men to incorrectly read sexual interest rather than friendliness may simply be an extension of a general disadvantage in reading nonverbal cues, rather than a process unique to sexual signaling."

The study involved 280 heterosexual college-age men and women, average age of 19.6. Seated in a private computer room, the men and women each categorized 280 photo images of women (full body, fully clothed) into one of four categories -- friendly, sexually interested, sad or rejecting. Images were selected for each of the categories based on an extensive validation process.

The study found that both men and women were least accurate at correctly identifying the photos indicating sexual interest. Farris, whose research focuses on sexual aggression in men, noted that the results reflect average differences.

"The data don't support the idea that all men are bad at this or that all women are great at this," she said. "It's a small difference."

The authors wrote in Psychological Science that in most cases, the "negative consequences of sexual misperception will not extend beyond minor social discomfort." However, among a small group of men, sexual misperception is linked to sexual coercion, and thus, is an important process to understand in order to improve rape prevention efforts on university campuses. Farris said studies such as this should help establish a better understanding and a baseline for young men's perceptions of sexual intent and contribute to efforts aimed at preventing sexual aggression.