Thursday, September 30, 2010

Study Offers Evolutionary Perspective on After-Sex Behaviors

Ω

There’s evolution at work when she wants to cuddle after sex (and he, well, doesn’t).

That’s the conclusion of a new study, “Sex Differences in Post-Coital Behaviors in Long- and Short-Term Mating: An Evolutionary Perspective,” appearing in an upcoming issue of The Journal of Sex Research.

“The vast majority of the research on the evolutionary psychology of human reproduction focuses on what’s before and leading up to sexual intercourse,” says Susan Hughes, associate professor of psychology at Albright College in Reading, Pa. and author of the study. “But reproductive strategies don’t end with intercourse; they may influence specific behaviors directly following sex.”

There are a number of elements of reproduction happening after the act itself, she points out, including bonding, future relationship intentions (and possible continued sexual activities), sperm retention and competition, mate guarding and the possibility of fertilization.

“We predicted that post-coital considerations are experienced quite differently by men and women due to divergent adaptive reproductive strategies,” she says.

The study, which examined the responses to an online questionnaire given to 170 people, found that women were more likely than men to initiate and place greater importance on behaviors linked to intimacy and bonding with both long and short-term partners. Men were more likely to engage in behaviors that were “extrinsically rewarding” or increased the likelihood of further coital acts.

“Females placed an overall great importance than did males on all five items measured: intimate talking, kissing, cuddling and caressing, professing their love for their partner and talking about the relationship after sex,” says Hughes. “In contrast, men placed more importance on gaining extrinsic rewards after sex (e.g. drinking or smoking, eating, or asking partner for favors). Men also placed more importance on continuing sexual activity than did females.”

Some other highlights of the study:

• Men were more likely to initiate kissing before sex, while women were more likely to initiate kissing after sex. “Kissing is used for both bonding and to increase sexual arousal,” says Hughes. “Men may initiate kissing before intercourse to guarantee sexual access, whereas women may use kissing after sex to help secure the relationship.”

• Sanitary practices after sex (showering, for example) were far more likely to occur with short-term partners than long-term ones. “In terms of evolutionary theory, it’s possible that these are attempts on the part of the female to not retain the sperm for a short-term mate,” she says.

• Females thought intimate talking and discussing the relationship was more important before sex than after. Men’s opinions remained constant for both before and after sex. “This may be a woman’s attempt to assure commitment and investment from her partner before consenting to sex.”

One thing both men and women could agree on? The importance of saying “I love you” to a long-term partner after sex.

“Of all the items measured, it was the only one that didn’t yield any significant sex differences,” says Hughes. “It makes sense that if both a man and a woman want a long-term relationship, they both understand that after sex may be a time of bonding and expressing their love for each other. Men who are in love might realize it’s especially important to their partner that they show their devotion.”

Predicting divorce: U-M study shows how fight styles affect marriage

Ω

It's common knowledge that newlyweds who yell or call each other names have a higher chance of getting divorced. But a new University of Michigan study shows that other conflict patterns also predict divorce.

A particularly toxic pattern is when one spouse deals with conflict constructively, by calmly discussing the situation, listening to their partner's point of view, or trying hard to find out what their partner is feeling, for example—and the other spouse withdraws.

"This pattern seems to have a damaging effect on the longevity of marriage," said U-M researcher Kira Birditt, first author of a study on marital conflict behaviors and implications for divorce published in the current issue (October 2010) of the Journal of Marriage and Family. "Spouses who deal with conflicts constructively may view their partners' habit of withdrawing as a lack of investment in the relationship rather than an attempt to cool down."

Couples in which both spouses used constructive strategies had lower divorce rates, Birditt found.

The data are from the Early Years of Marriage Study, supported by funding from the National Institute of Aging and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. It is one of the largest and longest research projects to look at patterns of marital conflict, with 373 couples interviewed four times over a 16-year period, starting the first year of their marriages. The study is also one of just a few to include a high enough proportion of Black couples that researchers can assess racial differences in conflict strategies and their effects.

The researchers looked at how both individual behaviors and patterns of behavior between partners affected the likelihood of divorce. They also examined whether behavior changed over time, and whether there were racial or gender differences in behavior patterns and outcomes.

Astonishingly, the researchers found that 29 percent of husband and 21 percent of wives reported having no conflicts at all in the first year of their marriage—1986. Nonetheless, 46 percent of the couples had divorced by Year 16 of the study—2002. Interestingly, whether or not couples reported any conflict during the first year of marriage did not affect whether they had divorced by the last year studied.

Overall, husbands reported using more constructive behaviors and fewer destructive behaviors than wives. But over time, wives were less likely to use destructive strategies or withdraw, while husbands' use of these behaviors stayed the same through the years.

"The problems that cause wives to withdraw or use destructive behaviors early in a marriage may be resolved over time," Birditt said. "Or, relationships and the quality of relationships may be more central to women's lives than they are to men. As a result, over the course of marriage, women may be more likely to recognize that withdrawing from conflict or using destructive strategies is neither effective nor beneficial to the overall well-being and stability of their marriages."

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Placebo Effect Significantly Improves Women's Sexual Satisfaction,

Ω

Many women with low sex drives reported greater sexual satisfaction after taking a placebo, according to new psychology research from The University of Texas at Austin and Baylor College of Medicine.

The study was conducted by Cindy Meston, a clinical psychology professor at The University of Texas at Austin, and Andrea Bradford, a 2009 University of Texas at Austin graduate and postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. They found that opening a new line of communication about sex can have a positive effect in many women with low libidos.

The researchers examined data from a previous clinical trial that followed 200 women over a 12-week period. Fifty of those women, ages 35-55, were randomly chosen to receive a placebo instead of a drug treatment for low sexual arousal. None of the participants knew which treatment they were given. To measure the effect of the treatment, women were asked to rate symptoms of sexual dysfunction such as low sexual desire, low sexual arousal and problems with orgasm.

The findings, available online in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, show that on average, one in three of the women who took a placebo showed an overall improvement. Most of that improvement seemed to happen during the first four weeks.

Symptom changes were measured by the frequency of satisfying sexual encounters that the women reported during the treatment. Many women reported they received more stimulation during sexual activity while they participated in the trial, even though their partners were not given any special instructions.

All women taking the placebo talked to a health provider about their difficulties and monitored their sexual behaviors and feelings regularly.

"The findings from our study show how a woman's expectations to improve sexually can have a substantial positive effect on her sexual well-being without any actual drug treatment," Meston says. "Expecting to get better and trying to find a solution to a sexual problem by participating in a study seems to make couples feel closer, communicate more and even act differently towards each other during sexual encounters."

Friday, September 10, 2010

Romantic partner may play role in reducing vulvovaginal pain

Ω



An investigation published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine has found that male partners who express greater support, attention and sympathy to women's chronic vulvovaginal pain may trigger more pain, but also increase sexual satisfaction in female partners. Women who took part in the study, conducted by the University of Montreal and University of Montreal Hospital Research Centre, suffer from a condition called provoked vestibulodynia (PVD). A condition that affects 12 percent of premenopausal women, PVD can impair sexual functioning as well as diminish sexual desire, arousal, sexual satisfaction, orgasmic capacity and frequency of intercourse.

“An overly concerned partner may lead a woman to avoid sexual intercourse or exacerbate her pain by increasing her anxiety, hyper-vigilance and negative thoughts about the pain, which can in turn increase her pain during intercourse,” says lead author, Dr. Natalie O. Rosen, a University of Montreal post-doctoral fellow in psychology. “If a man avoids sexual intercourse with a partner with PVD, then he may also reinforce her negative pain appraisals and that can lead to increased pain during intercourse.”

At the same time, the researchers found that a more concerned attitude in partners was linked to greater sexual satisfaction in women with PVD. “It's likely that women interpret the attention from their partner as a greater sensitivity and understanding of her pain during sexual activity and that results in greater sexual satisfaction,” says Rosen.

For couples affected by PVD, the key to decreasing pain and bolstering sexual satisfaction may be to shift the focus away from vaginal intercourse without avoiding sexual activity altogether. “Couples can focus on pleasurable sexual activities other than penetration, or on the emotional benefits of sexual activity such as intimacy and closeness,” says Rosen.

As part of the study, 191 heterosexual couples affected by PVD completed questionnaires about the condition. Following their participation, couples received a 30-minute telephone psychological consultation about PVD.

“This study furthers our understanding of the importance of how couples communicate about PVD in predicting pain and sexual satisfaction in women,” says Sophie Bergeron, a University of Montreal psychology professor. “The more the partner is overly concerned, from the perspective of the woman and her partner, the more her pain intensity may increase during intercourse. Results of our study can help in the development of targeted psychological interventions to assist couples in coping with PVD.”

About provoked vestibulodynia:

Provoked vestibulodynia (PVD) results in significant sexual dysfunction, psychological distress and reduced quality of life. PVD, for which there are no relevant visible findings or clinically identifiable neurologic disorder, is characterized by discomfort or a burning pain specific to the vestibule. The chronic and recurrent condition causes vulvovaginal pain that is triggered mainly through sexual contact, but also via tampon insertion and gynecological examination.