Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Hookups Can Turn Into Meaningful Relationships

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Relationships that start with a spark and not much else aren't necessarily doomed from the get-go, new University of Iowa research suggests.

In an analysis of relationship surveys, UI sociologist Anthony Paik found that average relationship quality was higher for individuals who waited until things were serious to have sex compared to those who became sexually involved in "hookups," "friends with benefits," or casual dating relationships.

But having sex early on wasn't to blame for the disparity. When Paik factored out people who weren't interested in getting serious, he found no real difference in relationship quality. That is, couples who became sexually involved as friends or acquaintances and were open to a serious relationship ended up just as happy as those who dated and waited.

"We didn't see much evidence that relationships were lower quality because they started off as hookups," said Paik, an assistant professor in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. "The study suggests that rewarding relationships are possible for those who delay sex. But it's also possible for true love to emerge if things start off with a more 'Sex and the City' approach, when people spot each other across the room, become sexually involved and then build a relationship."

Published this month in the journal Social Science Research, the study analyzed surveys of 642 heterosexual adults in the Chicago area. Relationship quality was measured by asking about the extent to which each person loved their partner, the relationship's future, level of satisfaction with intimacy, and how their lives would be different if the relationship ended. The survey also asked when participants became sexually involved with their partners.

So if not the context of sexual involvement, what is behind the lower quality scores for relationships initiated as hookups? Paik points to selection: Certain people are prone to finding relationships unrewarding, and those individuals are more likely to form hookups.

"The question is whether it's the type of relationship that causes lower quality or whether it's the people," he said. "The finding is that it's something about the people."

People with higher numbers of past sexual partners were more likely to form hookups, and to report lower relationship quality. Through the acquisition of partners, Paik said, they begin to favor short-term relationships and find the long-term ones less rewarding.

It's also likely that people who are predisposed to short-term relationships are screened out of serious ones because they don't invest the time and energy to develop long-term ties, Paik said.

The research showed that plenty of people date even if they aren't interested in a long-term relationship. It's a bit surprising, Paik said, since dating falls under the romance category, while "friends with benefits" and hookups do not.

"While hookups or friends with benefits can turn into true love, both parties typically enter the relationship for sex and the expectations are fairly low," Paik said. "In the casual dating category, some people think they're headed for a long-term relationship, but there are also people who are only in it for sex. It basically brings 'players' and 'non-players' together. As a consequence, it raises the question of whether casual dating is a useful institution. This paper would suggest not really, because it doesn't screen out the non-romantic types."

In conducting the study, Paik controlled for several factors known to influence relationship quality, such as marital status, children and social embeddedness. Consistent with prior research, he found that unmarried couples and those with children had lower relationship quality, but couples with positive ties to each other's relatives had higher relationship quality.

While this study found that nonromantic sexual relationships can become something special, they can also be risky. Paik's earlier studies indicate that people involved in hookups are more likely to have concurrent sexual partners, which can increase the risk of sexually transmitted diseases.

In a study of Chicago-area adults published earlier this year, Paik reported that being involved with a friend increased the likelihood of non-monogamy by 44 percent for women and 25 percent for men. Involvement with an acquaintance or stranger increased the odds by 30 percent for women and 43 percent for men.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Men more likely to cheat if they are economically dependent on their female partners

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Economic dependency has the opposite effect on women


The more economically dependent a man is on his female partner, the more likely he is to cheat on her, according to research to be presented at the 105th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association.

"But for women, economic dependency seems to have the opposite effect: the more dependent they are on their male partners, the less likely they are to engage in infidelity," said Christin Munsch, a sociology Ph.D. candidate at Cornell University, and author of the study, "The Effect of Relative Income Disparity on Infidelity for Men and Women."

According to the study, which examined 18- to 28-year-old married and cohabitating respondents who were in the same relationship for more than a year, men who were completely dependent on their female partner's income were five times more likely to cheat than men who contributed an equal amount of money to the partnership. The relationship between economic dependence and infidelity disappeared when age, education level, income, religious attendance, and relationship satisfaction were taken into account.

"One or more of these variables is impacting the relationship," Munsch said. "For example, it may be that men who make less money than their partners are more unhappy and cheat because they are unhappy, not necessarily because they make less money."

Ironically, men who make significantly more than their female partners were also more likely to cheat. "At one end of the spectrum, making less money than a female partner may threaten men's gender identity by calling into question the traditional notion of men as breadwinners," Munsch said. "At the other end of the spectrum, men who make a lot more money than their partners may be in jobs that offer more opportunities for cheating like long work hours, travel, and higher incomes that make cheating easier to conceal."

Men were the least likely to cheat when their partners made approximately 75% of their incomes.

Putting all of these numbers in context, Munsch said that very few people cheat on their partners (or report doing so in a survey). An average of approximately 3.8% of male partners and 1.4% of female partners cheated in any given year during the six-year period studied.

The study also found that women who were financially dependent on their male partners were less likely to cheat than women who made the same as or more than their male partners. For example, women who were completely dependent on their male partner's income were 50% less likely to cheat than women who made the same amount of money as their partner, and 75% less likely than women who contributed most or all of the household income. This relationship holds true even when taking into account age, education level, income, religious attendance, and relationship satisfaction.

"For women, making less money than a male partner is not threatening, it is the status quo," said Munsch. "More importantly, economically dependent women may encounter fewer opportunities to cheat, and they may make a calculated decision that cheating just isn't worth it. If they get caught, their livelihood is at risk."

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Study shows behaviors and attitudes towards oral sex are changing

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University of Alberta researcher Brea Malacad says results from a study on oral sex indicate there is little doubt that oral sex is becoming a more common activity for young women. Study results show the act has become a fundamental part of what Malacad calls the "sexual revolution of the 21st century". And she concludes that researchers, sex educators and marketers of safer-sex paraphernalia need to catch up with the trend.

"From my study, all of the women who had engaged in sexual intercourse had also engaged in oral sex as well," said Malacad, who recently published the findings in the European Journal of Contraception and Reproductive Health Care. "This data tells us that oral sex is becoming very much a part of most young people's sexual repertoire."

Viral urban myths such as rainbow parties (an alleged group-sex event where women, all wearing different colored lipstick, perform oral sex on men) and media reports of the "exploitation and over-sexualization of young women," as Malacad explains it, was part of the decision to undertake the study to understand what young women are really doing and what it means for the teens, parents and for sex education in general.

Malacad's findings reveal that behaviours and attitudes towards oral sex are changing. Her research shows that while 50 per cent of respondents viewed oral sex as a less intimate activity than intercourse, 41 per cent believe oral sex to be as intimate an act as intercourse and the remaining nine per cent view it as more intimate than intercourse. And while Malacad's findings indicate that certainly oral sex has become more accepted, she says the act is hardly the "new goodnight kiss" among young people as has been suggested in some media reports.

The participants' emotional response to oral sex was also something that surprised her.

"Both intercourse and oral sex were associated with mostly positive emotions overall, which suggests that most young women are engaging in these activities because they enjoy them," said Malacad. "Based on the results of my study, there is a percentage of women (just over 30 per cent) who feel powerful when performing fellatio. Apparently some women find it empowering and believe that it can wield a lot of power."

There is an air of caution, she notes, before parents start locking up their daughters to protect them from rampant sexual behaviour. Of a sample of the 181 participants of Malacard's study who were aged 18 to 25, many had only one sexual partner after becoming sexually active. And 25 per cent of participants had not engaged in any sexual activity at all.

Malacad says that the media sends mixed messages to teenage girls about sexuality. On the one hand, young women are criticized for being oversexualized, and on the other, they are encouraged to freely express their sexuality. She refers to Kim Catrall's character Samantha in the Sex and the City television series, a woman who was strong, independent, empowered and who very sexually aggressive, as being a role model for women to be accepted as sexual beings.

"I guess, depending on the perspective, young women's sexuality can be seen as a positive, empowering thing for women or a very negative thing," she said.

This mainstreaming of oral sex is a change in the tide of sexual behaviour; it also means that sex educators need to catch up to the trends, noted Malacad. With many young people still ignorant to the fact that sexually transmitted infections can just as easily be passed orally, a whole new topic of discussion needs to appear in the safer sex curriculum delivered to students. The results of her study also show that there is a seemingly untapped market for makers of safe-sex products, too.

"Eighty-two per cent of respondents said that they never used protection when engaging in oral sex, compared to only seven per cent for intercourse; it's almost like it didn't occur to them to protect themselves when having oral sex," said Malacad, who teaches the sex-ed teacher delivery course in the Faculty of Education. "I don't think young people are aware that infections can be spread this way and there are options in terms of protecting oneself."

Malacad says that while parents should be a child's first sex educators, not all are comfortable talking about it with their kids, or are ill-informed about the current realities of teens and sex. She says Alberta still leads many provinces in having a mandatory sex education program, and she would like to see a parent component of the program to educate them as well. First, however, that requires educating teachers and pre-service teachers about how—and what—to teach the teens. That talk, she says, goes far beyond basic anatomy.

"In order to provide relevant sex education, we need to get into these difficult topics that have to be talked about: the uncomfortable things that teens really need to know about—sexually transmitted infections and transmission of disease, particularly through oral sex, as well as the social and emotional implications of sexual activity," said Malacad. "We need to be giving them (the most) honest and reliable information in the classroom (possible)."

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Women more attracted to men in red

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Effect replicated across cultures, new research finds

It's a symbol of courage and sacrifice, of sin and sexuality, of power and passion – and now new research demonstrates that the color red makes men more alluring to women.

In the United States, England, Germany and China, women found men more appealing when they were either pictured wearing red or framed in red, compared with other colors. The finding is reported in the August issue of the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, published by the American Psychological Association.

"Red is typically thought of as a sexy color for women only," said Andrew Elliot, PhD, of the University of Rochester and University of Munich. "Our findings suggest that the link between red and sex also applies to men."

Twenty-five men and 32 women briefly viewed a black-and-white photo of a Caucasian man in a polo shirt, surrounded by a red or white matte. Using a nine-point scale, they answered three questions: "How attractive do you think this person is?" "How pleasant is this person to look at?" and "If I were to meet the person in this picture face to face, I would think he is attractive."

Red warmed up women only. Women who looked at a man surrounded by red or white rated the man surrounded by red a little over one point higher on a nine-point scale of attractiveness, a statistically significant bump.

Another experiment featured a man in a color photo, dressed in either a red or a green shirt. A pool of 55 women rated the man in red as significantly more attractive -- on average, nearly one point higher on the same nine-point scale. They also thought he was more desirable, according to a second, five-item measure that asked viewers to rate, for example, the likelihood that they'd want to have sex with him.

Although red means different things in different cultures, the finding of women (but not men) drawn to men in red was consistent across countries.

And it's true about red power ties: Women in a follow-up study perceived men wearing red T-shirts to be significantly more likely to be high in status than men wearing blue T-shirts, in addition to the men in red seeming more generally and sexually attractive. Five smaller studies (20-38 participants) comparing women's responses to men in red or gray, including their sense of the men's status, established a chain of evidence that red may enhance sexual attractiveness because red is a status symbol, according to the authors.

The power of red holds throughout the primate world. Female primates (including women) are "extremely adept at detecting and decoding blood flow changes in the face," the authors wrote, "and women have been shown to be more sensitive to the perception of red stimuli than are men."

Are men aware that red may work in the bedroom as well as the boardroom? The authors suggest red might make men more likely to strut their stuff. "A man who wears red may feel dominant," they added, "which influences his self-confidence and behavior and in turn may impress women."