Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Study: Couples who delay having sex get benefits later

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While there are still couples who wait for a deep level of commitment before having sex, today it's far more common for two people to explore their sexual compatibility before making long-term plans together.

So does either method lead to better marriages?

A new study in the American Psychological Association's Journal of Family Psychology sides with a delayed approach.

The study involves 2,035 married individuals who participated in a popular online marital assessment called "RELATE." From the assessment's database, researchers selected a sample designed to match the demographics of the married American population. The extensive questionnaire includes the question "When did you become sexual in this relationship?"

A statistical analysis showed the following benefits enjoyed by couples who waited until marriage compared to those who started having sex in the early part of their relationship:

Relationship stability was rated 22 percent higher
Relationship satisfaction was rated 20 percent higher
Sexual quality of the relationship was rated 15 percent better
Communication was rated 12 percent better
For couples in between – those that became sexually involved later in the relationship but prior to marriage – the benefits were about half as strong.

"Most research on the topic is focused on individuals' experiences and not the timing within a relationship," said lead study author Dean Busby, a professor in Brigham Young University's School of Family Life.

"There's more to a relationship than sex, but we did find that those who waited longer were happier with the sexual aspect of their relationship," Busby added. "I think it's because they've learned to talk and have the skills to work with issues that come up."

Sociologist Mark Regnerus of the University of Texas at Austin, who was not involved with this research, read the study and shared his take on the findings.

"Couples who hit the honeymoon too early – that is, prioritize sex promptly at the outset of a relationship – often find their relationships underdeveloped when it comes to the qualities that make relationships stable and spouses reliable and trustworthy," said Regnerus, author of Premarital Sex in America, a book forthcoming from Oxford University Press.

Because religious belief often plays a role for couples who choose to wait, Busby and his co-authors controlled for the influence of religious involvement in their analysis.

"Regardless of religiosity, waiting helps the relationship form better communication processes, and these help improve long-term stability and relationship satisfaction," Busby said.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

New Study Explores How Partners Perceive Each Other’s Emotion During A Relationship Fight

Some of the most intense emotions people feel occur during a conflict in a romantic relationship. Now, new research from Baylor University psychologists shows that how each person perceives the other partner’s emotion during a conflict greatly influences different types of thoughts, feelings and reactions in themselves.

Dr. Keith Sanford, a clinical psychologist and an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor, College of Arts and Sciences, and his research team studied 105 college students in romantic relationships as they communicated through different arguments over an eight-week period. Sanford focused on how emotion changed within each person across episodes of relationship conflict. They found demonstrated links between different types of emotion, different types of underlying concern, and different types of perceived partner emotion.

Sanford distinguished between two types of negative emotion as "hard" and "soft." "Hard" emotion is associated with asserting power, whereas "soft" emotion is associated with expressing vulnerability. Sanford’s research also identified a type of underlying concern as “perceived threat,” which involves a perception that one’s partner is being hostile, critical, blaming or controlling. Another type of concern is called “perceived neglect,” which involves a perception that one’s partner is failing to make a desired contribution or failing to demonstrate an ideal level of commitment or investment in the relationship.

Sanford said the results show that people perceive a threat to their control, power and status in the relationship when they observe an increase in partner hard emotion and they perceive partner neglect when they observe an increase in partner flat emotion or a decrease in partner soft emotion. Both perceived threat and perceived neglect, in turn, are associated with increases in one’s own hard and soft emotions, with the effects for perceived neglect being stronger than the effects for perceived threat.

“In other words, what you perceive your partner to be feeling influences different types of thoughts, feelings and reactions in yourself, whether what you perceive is actually correct,” Sanford said. “In a lot of ways, this study confirms scientifically what we would have expected. Previously, we did not actually know that these specific linkages existed, but they are clearly theoretically expected. If a person perceives the other as angry, they will perceive a threat so they will respond with a hard emotion like anger or blame. Likewise, if a person is perceived to be sad or vulnerable, they will perceive a neglect and will respond either flat or soft.”

The study appeared in the journal Personal Relationships.

Sanford said some of the most interesting results in the study pertain to a complex pattern of associations observed for soft emotion. As expected, partner soft emotion was associated with decreased concerns over neglect, whereas self soft emotion was associated with increased concerns over neglect. Sanford said this is consistent with the idea that soft emotion is a socially focused emotion, often triggered by attachment-related concerns, and that expressions of soft emotion signal one’s own desire and willingness to invest in a relationship.



Thursday, December 9, 2010

Study examines effect of water-based and silicon-based lubricant

A new study by sexual health researchers at Indiana University found that women who used lubricant during sex reported significantly higher levels of satisfaction and pleasure.

The study, involving 2,453 women, is the largest systematic study of this kind, despite the widespread commercial availability of lubricant and the gaps in knowledge concerning its role in alleviating pain or contributing to other health issues.

"In spite of the widespread availability of lubricants in stores and on the Internet, it is striking how little research addresses basic questions of how personal lubricants contribute to the sexual experience," said Debby Herbenick, associate director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion. "These data clearly show that use of the lubricants in our study was associated with higher ratings of sexual pleasure and satisfaction and low rates of genital symptoms."

While these findings, reported in the November issue of the "Journal of Sexual Medicine," involve the use of water-based and silicone-based lubricant, researchers also found that study participants reported fewer genital symptoms -- and, in particular, fewer reports of genital pain -- when they used a water-based lubricant.

Michael Reece, director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion and co-author of the study, said public health professionals have long recommended the use of lubricants as an important safer sex tool, particularly when used with latex condoms.

"These findings help us to reinforce to sexually active individuals that not only are lubricants important to safer sex but that they also contribute to the overall quality of one's sexual experiences," he said.

Here are some of the findings:

More than 70 percent of the time that lubricant was used for vaginal or anal intercourse, study participants indicated that they did so in order to make sex more pleasurable; more than 60 percent of women indicated this was the case during masturbation.
More than one third of the time that lubricant was used for vaginal sex, anal sex or masturbation, women indicated that they used lubricant because it was fun to do so.
Sizable proportions of women also indicated that they chose to use lubricant in order to reduce the risk of tearing, particularly for anal intercourse.
For the study, "Association of Lubricant Use with Women's Sexual Pleasure, Sexual Satisfaction, and Genital Symptoms: A Prospective Daily Diary Study," 2,453 women ages 18-68 participated in an Internet-based, double-blind assessment of the use of six lubricants during solo masturbation and partnered sexual activities. Women were randomly assigned to use one of six lubricants, four of which were water-based lubricants and two of which were silicone-based lubricants, during two weeks of a five-week study period.

Analyses of more than 10,000 acts of penile-vaginal intercourse, and more than 3,000 masturbation experiences, showed that participants' ratings of sexual pleasure and sexual satisfaction were significantly higher when a water-based lubricant or silicone-based lubricant was used compared to sex without a lubricant. Far fewer penile-anal intercourse events occurred; however, ratings of sexual pleasure and satisfaction were significantly higher when water-based lubricant was used during anal intercourse as compared to sex without a lubricant.

For all types of sex, genital symptoms were rarely reported and were generally less likely to occur when lubricant was used. More than half of the time that women used lubricant, they applied it to their own or their partner's genitals, or directly to their fingers and in about 10 percent of instances of vaginal intercourse, lubricant was applied directly to a sex toy.

"These findings demonstrate how lubricant can be used during foreplay or sex play with a partner, and incorporated into a couple's sexual experience," Herbenick said.

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The water-based lubricants were, in alphabetical order, Astroglide® (Biolm, Inc.), Just Like Me® (Pure Romance), K-Y Liquid® (Johnson & Johnson) and Sweet Seduction® (Pure Romance). The silicone-based lubricants were Pure Pleasure® (Pure Romance) and Wet Platinum® (Trigg Laboratories).

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Frequent sex protects marital happiness for neurotic newlyweds

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People who are neurotic often have more difficulty with relationships and marriage. But if neurotic newlyweds have frequent sexual relations, their marital satisfaction is every bit as high as their less neurotic counterparts, according to a study in the current Social Psychological and Personality Science (published by SAGE).

Neuroticism is the tendency to experience negative emotion, and people who are high in it get upset and irritated easily, change their mood often, and worry frequently. People who score high in neuroticism are less satisfied in romance and relationships, and when they get married they are more likely to divorce. "High levels of neuroticism are more strongly associated with bad marital outcomes than any other personality factor," said Michelle Russell and James McNulty of the University of Tennessee, authors of the study.

But sex in marriage seems to make people happy—other research has shown that sexual interactions improved the next day's mood. Russell and McNulty wanted to know if frequent sexual activity would erase the negative effects of neuroticism. They followed 72 newlywed couples over the first four years of their marriage; both spouses reported—separately and privately—on their marital satisfaction and sexual frequency every six months.

On average, couples reported sexual intercourse about once a week during the first six months of marriage, and about 3 times a month by the fourth year of marriage. Couples were considered satisfied when they agreed that they "have a good marriage" and "My relationship with my partner makes me happy."

Marital satisfaction was not associated with sexual frequency—not at the start of the marriage, or four years later. Highly satisfied marriages sometimes had high levels of sexual activity, and sometimes low levels—sexual contact alone was not a good indicator of marital satisfaction.

But Russell and McNulty found one important exception. For spouses with high levels of neuroticism, frequent sexual intercourse improved their marital satisfaction. The effect of frequent sexual activity was enough to completely wipe away the "happiness deficit" that neurotic spouses usually have. "Frequent sex is one way that some neurotic people are able to maintain satisfy relationships," the authors write. The newlywed period is a time when sexual relations are particularly important, and for some—but not all—frequent sex improves their happiness with the marriage. This happiness-by–sex effect occurred regardless of how strong or happy the marriage was at the beginning of the study—frequent sex protects marital happiness for neurotic newlyweds.

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The article "Frequent Sex Protects Intimates from the Negative Implications of Their Neuroticism" in Social Psychological and Personality Science is available free for a limited time at http://spp.sagepub.com/content/early/2010/10/09/1948550610387162.full.pdf+htm

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

New Study Suggests That a Propensity for One-Night Stands, Uncommitted Sex Could be Genetic

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So, he or she has cheated on you for the umpteenth time and their only excuse is: “I just can’t help it.” According to researchers at Binghamton University, they may be right. The propensity for infidelity could very well be in their DNA.

In a first-of-its-kind study, a team of investigators led by Justin Garcia, a SUNY Doctoral Diversity Fellow in the laboratory of evolutionary anthropology and health at Binghamton University, State University of New York, has taken a broad look at sexual behavior, matching choices with genes and has come up with a new theory on what makes humans ‘tick’ when it comes to sexual activity. The biggest culprit seems to be the dopamine receptor D4 polymorphism, or DRD4 gene. Already linked to sensation-seeking behavior such as alcohol use and gambling, DRD4 is known to influence the brain’s chemistry and subsequently, an individual’s behavior.

“We already know that while many people experience sexual activity, the circumstances, meaning and behavior is different for each person,” said Garcia. “Some will experience sex with committed romantic partners, others in uncommitted one-night stands. Many will experience multiple types of sexual relationships, some even occurring at the same time, while others will exchange sex for resources or money. What we didn’t know was how we are motivated to engage in one form and not another, particularly when it comes to promiscuity and infidelity.”

Gathering a detailed history of the sexual behavior and intimate relationships of 181 young adults along with samples of their DNA, Garcia and his team of investigators were able to determine that individual differences in sexual behavior could indeed be influenced by individual genetic variation.

“What we found was that individuals with a certain variant of the DRD4 gene were more likely to have a history of uncommitted sex, including one-night stands and acts of infidelity,” said Garcia. “The motivation seems to stem from a system of pleasure and reward, which is where the release of dopamine comes in. In cases of uncommitted sex, the risks are high, the rewards substantial and the motivation variable – all elements that ensure a dopamine ‘rush.’”

According to Garcia, these results provide some of the first biological evidence that at first glance, seems to be somewhat of a contradiction: that individuals could be looking for a serious committed long-term relationship, but have a history of one-night stands. At the same time, the data also suggests it is also reasonable that someone could be wildly in love with their partner, commit infidelity, and yet still be deeply attached and care for their partner. It all came back to a DRD4 variation in these individuals. Individual differences in the internal drive for a dopamine ‘rush’ can function independently from the drive for commitment.

“The study doesn’t let transgressors off the hook,” said Garcia. “These relationships are associative, which means that not everyone with this genotype will have one-night stands or commit infidelity. Indeed, many people without this genotype still have one-night stands and commit infidelity. The study merely suggests that a much higher proportion of those with this genetic type are likely to engage in these behaviors.”

Garcia also cautions that the consequences of risky sexual behavior can indeed be extreme.

“One-night stands can be risky, both physically and psychologically,” said Garcia. “And betrayal can be one of the most devastating things to happen to a couple. These genes do not give anyone an excuse, but they do provide a window into how our biology shapes our propensities for a wide variety of behaviors.”

At this point, very little is known about how genetics and neurobiology influence one’s sexuality propensities and tendencies but Garcia is hopeful that this study will add to the growing base of knowledge - in particular, how genes might predispose individuals to pursue sensation seeking across all sorts of domains – from substance use to sexuality. This study also provides further support for the notion that the biological foundations for sexual desire may often operate independently from, although absolutely linked to, deep feelings of romantic attachment.

As Garcia points out, he and his team of study co-authors have only just begun to explore the issue and plan on conducting a series of follow-up and related studies.

”We want to run a larger sample of men and women to replicate these findings and check for several other possible genetic markers,” said Garcia. “We will also be conducting a number of behavioral and biological studies to better understand what kinds of associated factors motivate uncommitted sexual behavior. Most importantly, we want to explore the receiving end of infidelity by looking at how people respond to cases of uncommitted sex and infidelity.“

A detailed report can be found in the current issue of Public Library of Science’s PLoS ONE journal. The article, “Associations between Dopamine D4 Receptor Gene Variation with Both Infidelity and Sexual Promiscuity,” can be found at http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0014162