Thursday, December 29, 2011

Connection: relationship satisfaction and oral contraception

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Dr Craig Roberts of Scotland's University of Stirling has published research concluding that the use of oral contraception by women influences their choice of partner, in a paper published on 12 October in the Royal Society journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Dr Roberts and seven colleagues investigated whether the use of oral contraception influenced who women choose to be the father of their children. They found that women who use the pill when they meet their partner are less sexually satisfied or attracted to their partners but more satisfied with other aspects of the relationship and so less likely to separate.

Dr Roberts says: “Our results show some positive and negative consequences of using the pill when a woman meets her partner. Such women may, on average, be less satisfied with the sexual aspects of their relationship, but more so with non-sexual aspects.

“Overall, women who met their partner on the pill had longer relationships - by two years on average - and were less likely to separate. So there is both good news and bad news for women who meet while on the pill. One effect seems to compensate for the other.”

Previous research by Dr Roberts found that pill use alters women’s preference for men’s body odour. Instead of preferring genetically different men, when women go on the pill their preference switches towards the odour of more genetically similar men. This might mean that women using the pill choose different men than they would otherwise choose.

“Women tend to find genetically dissimilar men attractive because resulting babies will more likely be healthy,” says Dr Roberts. “It’s part of the subconscious ‘chemistry’ of attraction between men and women.

“Similarly, women’s preferences subconsciously change over time so that during non-fertile stages of the menstrual cycle they are more attracted to men who appear more caring and reliable – good dads.

“The hormonal levels of women using the pill don’t alter much across a month and most closely reflect those typical of the non-fertile phases of the menstrual cycle. It seems that our preferences are shaped by these hormonal levels, so preferences of women on the pill don’t change around ovulation in the way seen in normally-cycling women.”

Dr Roberts concludes: “Choosing a non-hormonal barrier method of contraception for a few months before getting married might be one way for a woman to check or reassure herself that she’s still attracted to her partner.”

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Young Couples Aren’t Getting Married – They Fear Divorce

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With the share of married adults at an all-time low in the United States, new research by demographers at Cornell University and the University of Central Oklahoma unveils clues why couples don’t get married – they fear divorce.

Among cohabitating couples, more than two-thirds of the study’s respondents admitted to concerns about dealing with the social, legal, emotional and economic consequences of a possible divorce.

The study, “The Specter of Divorce: Views from Working and Middle-Class Cohabitors,” is published in the journal Family Relations (December 2011) and is co-authored by Sharon Sassler, Cornell professor of policy analysis and management, and Dela Kusi-Appouh, a Cornell doctoral student in the field of development sociology.

Roughly 67 percent of the study’s respondents shared their worries about divorce. Despite the concerns, middle-class subjects spoke more favorably about tying the knot and viewed cohabitation as a natural stepping stone to marriage compared to their working-class counterparts. Lower-income women, in particular, disproportionately expressed doubts about the “trap” of marriage, fearing that it could be hard to exit if things go wrong or it would lead to additional domestic responsibilities but few benefits.

The study also found working-class cohabitating couples were more apt to view marriage as “just a piece of paper,” nearly identical to their existing relationship. They were twice as likely to admit fears about being stuck in marriage with no way out once they were relying on their partners’ share of income to get by.

The authors hope that their findings could help premarital counselors to better tailor their lessons to assuage widespread fears of divorce and to target the specific needs of various socioeconomic classes.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Men think women are interested when they’re not

Does she or doesn’t she . . .? Sexual cues are ambiguous, and confounding. We—especially men—often read them wrong. A new study hypothesizes that the men who get it wrong might be the ones that evolution has favored. “There are tons of studies showing that men think women are interested when they’re not,” says Williams College psychologist Carin Perilloux, who conducted the research with Judith A. Easton and David M. Buss of University of Texas at Austin. “Ours is the first to systematically examine individual differences.” The findings will appear in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science, a journal published by the Association for Psychological Science.

The research involved 96 male 103 female undergraduates, who were put through a “speed-meeting” exercise—talking for three minutes to each of five potential opposite-sex mates. Before the conversations, the participants rated themselves on their own attractiveness and were assessed for the level of their desire for a short-term sexual encounter. After each “meeting,” they rated the partner on a number of measures, including physical attractiveness and sexual interest in the participant. The model had the advantage of testing the participants in multiple interactions.

The results: Men looking for a quick hookup were more likely to overestimate the women’s desire for them. Men who thought they were hot also thought the women were hot for them—but men who were actually attractive, by the women’s ratings, did not make this mistake. The more attractive the woman was to the man, the more likely he was to overestimate her interest. And women tended to underestimate men’s desire.

A hopeless mess? Evolutionarily speaking, maybe not, say the psychologists. Over millennia, these errors may in fact have enhanced men’s reproductive success.
“There are two ways you can make an error as a man,” says Perilloux. “Either you think, ‘Oh, wow, that woman’s really interested in me’—and it turns out she’s not. There’s some cost to that,” such as embarrassment or a blow to your reputation. The other error: “She’s interested, and he totally misses out. He misses out on a mating opportunity. That’s a huge cost in terms of reproductive success.” The researchers theorize that the kind of guy who went for it, even at the risk of being rebuffed, scored more often—and passed on his overperceiving tendency to his genetic heirs. The casual sex seekers “face slightly different adaptive problems,” says Perilloux. “They are limited mainly by the number of consenting sex partners—so overestimation is even more important.” Only the actually attractive men probably had no need for misperception.

The research contains some messages for daters of both sexes, says Perilloux: Women should know the risks and “be as communicative and clear as possible.” Men: “Know that the more attracted you are, the more likely you are to be wrong about her interest.” Again, that may not be as bad as it sounds, she says—“if warning them will prevent heartache later on.”

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Family Formations in Young Adulthood

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For many, an important marker of adulthood is forming a family, whether it’s having a child, getting married or cohabiting with a romantic partner. Researchers at Bowling Green State University’s National Center for Family and Marriage Research’s (NCFMR) say a majority (61 percent) of young adults have formed a family by age 25.

Using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997, researchers looked at the different pathways to family formation. The results are the latest in a five part series from the NCFMR, “On the Road to Adulthood,” which looks at the experiences of young adults through age 25.

According to the research, over two-thirds of women (69 percent) have formed a family in early adulthood compared to just over half of men (53 percent). Education also plays an integral part in how a family is formed, in sometimes unexpected ways. Family formation in early adulthood was most prevalent among young adults with a GED diploma, at 81 percent. Those with at least a bachelor’s degree were least likely to form a family before age 25 (44 percent).

“Increasingly, young adults are spending more time in school as they pursue college and advanced degrees,” said Dr. Susan Brown, co-director of the NCFMR and a professor of sociology. “This tends to delay family formation—whether childbearing, cohabitation, or marriage—as most people aim to achieve financial security prior to starting a family.”

Marriage in Early Adulthood

Researchers found over a quarter of young adults married prior to their 25th birthday. Over a third of them followed a direct or “traditional” pathway into marriage, meaning they did not live with their partner or have a child before getting married. Men were more likely than women to follow this “traditional” pathway, and it was more prevalent among Hispanics and less so among African-Americans. Only 26 percent of African-Americans who married in early adulthood did not live with their partner or have a child before getting married.

Young adults with at least a bachelor’s degree were most likely to follow a “traditional” marriage path at 55 percent, while those with a GED or without a high school diploma were more likely to cohabit or have a child before marriage.

According to Sociologist Dr. Wendy Manning, co-director of the NCFMR, these patterns showcase the educational divide in family patterns in the United States. “Young adults with the lowest economic prospects are least likely to follow the traditional family patterns.”

Cohabitation in Early Adulthood

Researchers found the most common family formation experience was cohabitation, but with considerable variation. Thirty-seven percent of young adults with cohabitation experience have only lived with their significant other. One-half have cohabited and had a child, 36 percent have lived together and married, and nearly a quarter have experienced parenthood, marriage and cohabitation. Of those who cohabited and had a child, the majority first lived together, then became parents.

It turns out living together is a strong pathway to marriage. Among young adults who got married, over three-fifths cohabited before tying the knot. Women are also more likely than men to live with someone before marriage (63 percent versus 57 percent).

“Today, most marriages are preceded by cohabitation,” Brown said. “It’s really become a stage in the courtship process. It’s unusual for couples to marry without first cohabiting.”

Cohabitation before marriage is more prevalent among whites than African-Americans or Hispanics. Factoring in education, those with a GED most often lived together before marriage while those with at least a bachelor’s degree were least likely to.

Parenthood in Early Adulthood

The NCFMR found one-third of young adults have had a child and over one in three of them did so before cohabitation or marriage. One-third of African-Americans have a child before entering a union— a rate that is over twice that of Hispanics and almost five times that of whites.

At only 2 percent, it’s rare for young adults with at least a bachelor’s degree to have a child pre-union. In contrast, about one-fifth of young adults without a diploma or degree or with a GED have had a pre-union birth before age 25.

One in seven young adults who had a child went from cohabitation to marriage and then parenthood by age 25._This project was supported by a grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation. For additional details about the study, visit http://ncfmr.bgsu.edu/pdf/family_profiles/file102409

Monday, November 28, 2011

STUDY DEBUNKS STEREOTYPE THAT MEN THINK ABOUT SEX ALL DAY LONG

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Men may think about sex more often than women do, but a new study suggests that men also think about other biological needs, such as eating and sleep, more frequently than women do, as well.

And the research discredits the persistent stereotype that men think about sex every seven seconds, which would amount to more than 8,000 thoughts about sex in 16 waking hours. In the study, the median number of young men’s thought about sex stood at almost 19 times per day. Young women in the study reported a median of nearly 10 thoughts about sex per day.

As a group, the men also thought about food almost 18 times per day and sleep almost 11 times per day, compared to women’s median number of thoughts about eating and sleep, at nearly 15 times and about 8 1/2 times, respectively.

The college-student participants carried a golf tally counter to track their thoughts about either eating, sleep or sex every day for a week. Each student was assigned to just one type of thought to record. Before receiving the tally counter, they had completed a number of questionnaires and were asked to estimate how often they had daily thoughts about eating, sleeping and sex.

Overall, a participant’s comfort with sexuality was the best predictor for which person would have the most frequent daily thoughts about sex.

“If you had to know one thing about a person to best predict how often they would be thinking about sex, you’d be better off knowing their emotional orientation toward sexuality, as opposed to knowing whether they were male or female,” said Terri Fisher, professor of psychology at Ohio State University’s Mansfield campus and lead author of the study. “Frequency of thinking about sex is related to variables beyond one’s biological sex.”

Correcting this stereotype about men’s sexual thoughts is important, Fisher noted.

“It’s amazing the way people will spout off these fake statistics that men think about sex nearly constantly and so much more often than women do,” she said. “When a man hears a statement like that, he might think there’s something wrong with him because he’s not spending that much time thinking about sexuality, and when women hear about this, if they spend significant time thinking about sex they might think there’s something wrong with them.”

The study appears online and is scheduled for publication in the January issue of the Journal of Sex Research.

The study involved 163 female and 120 male college students between the ages of 18 and 25 who were enrolled in a psychology research participation program. Of those, 59 were randomly assigned to track thoughts about food, 61 about sleep and 163 about sex. Most students were white and self-identified as heterosexual. The college-student sample made it comparable to previous research and involved an age group at which gender differences in sexuality are likely at their peak.

Before the thought-tracking began, the participants completed a number of questionnaires. These included a sexual opinion survey to measure a positive or negative emotional orientation toward sexuality (erotophilia vs. erotophobia); a sociosexual orientation inventory measuring attitudes about sex and tracking sexual behavior and levels of desire; a social desirability scale to measure respondents’ tendency to try to appear socially acceptable; and an eating habits questionnaire and sleepiness scale. They also were asked to estimate how many times in an average day that they thought about sleeping, eating and sex.

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“If you had to know one thing about a person to best predict how often they would be thinking about sex, you’d be better off knowing their emotional orientation toward sexuality, as opposed to knowing whether they were male or female.”

Researchers then gave each student a tally counter device and told those assigned to the sexual thoughts condition to click the device to maintain a count their of thoughts about sex. They were told to count a thought about any aspect of sex: sexual activity of any kind, fantasies and erotic images, sexual memories and any arousing stimuli.

Others were instructed to use the device to record thoughts about eating that included food, hunger, cravings, snacking or cooking, and thoughts about sleep that included dreaming, sleeping, napping, going to bed or needing rest.

The questions about food and sleep were designed to mask the true intent of the study’s focus on thoughts about sex, Fisher said. However, the results about these additional thoughts provided important information about differences in thinking among males and females.

“Since we looked at those other types of need-related thoughts, we found that it appears that there’s not just a sex difference with regard to thoughts about sex, but also with regard to thoughts about sleep and food,” she said. “That’s very significant. This suggests males might be having more of these thoughts than women are or they have an easier time identifying the thoughts. It’s difficult to know, but what is clear is it’s not uniquely sex that they’re spending more time thinking about, but other issues related to their biological needs, as well.”

And when all of those thoughts were taken into account in the statistical analysis, the difference between men and women in their average number of daily thoughts about sex wasn’t considered any larger than the gender differences between thoughts about sleep or thoughts about food.

In raw numbers, male participants recorded between one and 388 daily thoughts about sex, compared to the range of female thoughts about sex of between one and 140 times per day.

“For women, that’s a broader range than many people would have expected. And there were no women who reported zero thoughts per day. So women are also thinking about sexuality,” Fisher said.

The questionnaire data offered some additional clues about the influences on sexual thoughts. When all participants were analyzed together, those measuring the highest in erotophilia – or comfort with their sexuality – were the most likely to think more frequently about sex.

But when the analysis considered males and females separately, no single variable – erotophilia score, unrestrictive attitudes about sex or a lack of desire to be socially acceptable – could be defined as a predictor of how often men think about sex.

But for women, the erotophilia score remained a good predictor of more frequent sexual thoughts. On the other hand, women who scored high on the desire to be socially acceptable were more likely to think less frequently about sex.

“People who always give socially desirable responses to questions are perhaps holding back and trying to manage the impression they make on others,” Fisher explained. “In this case, we’re seeing that women who are more concerned with the impression they’re making tend to report fewer sexual thoughts, and that’s because thinking about sexuality is not consistent with typical expectations for women.”

The participants’ estimates about how often they thought each day about eating, sleeping and sex were all much lower than the actual number of thoughts they recorded. This suggested to Fisher that previous research in this area – especially on thoughts about sex – was weak because almost all previous studies were based on participants’ retrospective estimates about how often they thought about sex.

“There’s really no good reason that our society should have believed that men are thinking so much more about sex than women. Even the research that had been done previously doesn’t support the stereotype that men are thinking about sex every seven seconds,” she said.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Study finds sex a significant predictor of happiness among married seniors

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The more often older married individuals engage in sexual activity, the more likely they are to be happy with both their lives and marriages, according to new research presented in Boston at The Gerontological Society of America's (GSA) 64th Annual Scientific Meeting.

This finding is based on the 2004 General Social Surveys, a public opinion poll conducted on a nationally representative sample of non-institutionalized English and Spanish-speaking person 18 years of age or older living in the U.S. The data analysis was conducted by Adrienne Jackson, PT, PhD, MPA, an assistant professor at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University.

"This study will help open the lines of communication and spark interest in developing 'outside the box' approaches to dealing with resolvable issues that limit or prevent older adults from participating in sexual activity," said Jackson. "Highlighting the relationship between sex and happiness will help us in developing and organizing specific sexual health interventions for this growing segment of our population."

Based on the survey responses of 238 arried individuals age 65 years or older, Jackson discovered that frequency of sexual activity was a significant predictor of both general and marital happiness. The association even remained after accounting for factors such as age, gender, health status, and satisfaction with financial situation.

Whereas only 40 percent of individuals who reported no sexual activity in the last 12 months said they were very happy with life in general, almost 60 percent who engaged in sexual activity more than once a month said they were very happy. Similarly, while about 59 percent of individuals who reported no sexual activity in the last 12 months said they were very happy with their marriage, almost 80 percent who had sex more than once a month said they were very happy. To assess frequency of sexual activity, respondents were asked the following question: "About how many times did you have sex during the last 12 months? By 'sex' we mean vaginal, oral, or anal sex." To assess general happiness, respondents were asked the following question: "Taken all together, how would you say things are these days — would you say that you are very happy, pretty happy, or not too happy?" To assess marital happiness, respondents were asked the following question: "Taking things all together, how would you describe your marriage? Would you say that your marriage is very happy, pretty happy, or not too happy?"

Monday, November 14, 2011

Do you really know what you want in a partner?

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Study says romantic preferences fall by wayside once you meet a potential dating partner

So you're flocking to online dating sites with a wish list of ideal traits that you desire in a mate. Not so fast!

Once you actually meet a potential dating partner, those ideals are likely to fall by the wayside, according to new research from Northwestern University and Texas A&M University.

People liked potential partners that matched their ideals more than those that mismatched their ideals when they examined written descriptions of potential partners, but those same ideals didn't matter once they actually met in person, according to a new study by psychologists Paul W. Eastwick, Eli J. Finkel and Alice H. Eagly.

"People have ideas about the abstract qualities they're looking for in a romantic partner," said Eastwick, assistant professor of psychology at Texas A&M University and lead author of the study. "But once you actually meet somebody face to face, those ideal preferences for traits tend to be quite flexible."

Say you prefer a partner who, online or on paper, fits the bill of being persistent. "After meeting in person, you might feel that, yeah, that person is persistent, but he can't compromise on anything. It's not the determined and diligent kind of persistent that you initially had in mind," Eastwick said.

The idea is that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, said Finkel, associate professor of psychology at Northwestern University and co-author of the study.

"People are not simply the average of their traits," he said. "Knowing that somebody is persistent, ambitious and sexy does not tell you what that person is actually like. It doesn't make sense for us to search for partners that way."

"Thinking about this or that feature of a person apart from taking the whole person into account doesn't predict actual attraction," Eagly said. "While some online dating sites have video features that provide some context, generally people are matched on their answers to specific questions that do not capture the whole person."

Scores from answers to questions such as "How much money do you earn?" or "Are you extroverted?" provide two-dimensional facts rather than three-dimensional humanness, Finkel said.

For those seeking prospective partners, don't be surprised if you end up ignoring your preconceived notions about what would make an ideal mate.

"Based on those ideals, you might end up liking a person upon meeting face to face, or you might have the opposite reaction," Finkel said. As Eastwick notes, it is not uncommon for someone to say, 'If you had tried to set me up with this guy, I would never have gone out with him, but I'm so glad I did!'"

Monday, September 19, 2011

Political preferences play different role in dating, mating

New research suggests that individuals attempting to attract a mate often avoid advertising their political leanings. The findings, co-authored by political scientists Rose McDermott of Brown University, Casey A. Klofstad of the University of Miami, and Peter K. Hatemi, a genetic epidemiologist at Pennsylvania State University, are published in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior.

“Because we know that long-term mates are more politically similar than random attachment might predict, we were interested to see how people seeking a mate end up with people who share their political values,” said McDermott. “This is particularly important because political ideology appears to be in part heritable, and so mates pass their ideology on to their children.”

For their study, titled “Do bedroom eyes wear political glasses? The role of politics in human mate attraction,” the research team randomly sampled 2,944 profiles from a popular Internet dating site and examined whether people indicated an interest in politics or selected a specific political view. They found that only 14 percent of online daters included “political interests” in their profile, which ranked 23rd out of 27 interest categories — just below “video games” and above “business networking” and “book club.”

To put this in perspective, the authors write, “When asked to describe their body type, a larger proportion of our sample voluntarily described themselves as either ‘heavy set,’ having ‘a few extra pounds,’ or ‘stocky’ (17%) than listed ‘politics’ as one of their interests.

Other findings:

- Few individuals were willing to express a definitive political preference. Of those that listed politics as an interest, the majority — 57 percent — reported that their politics were “middle of the road.”
- Women were 8 percent less likely to report being interested in politics.
- A higher income, education, and degree of civil engagement (i.e., volunteerism) increased the likelihood of listing politics as an interest.
- Older daters and those with higher education levels were more willing to express a definitive political preference, such as “very liberal” or “ultra conservative.”

Politics in dating vs. mating

The researchers note that the apparent reluctance to reveal political preferences is interesting because previous studies have shown that spouses share political views more than almost any other trait, with religious affiliation being the exception. They ask, “What steps between mate selection and actual mating occur that drive politically similar people to long-term partnership?”

They point to two possible explanations. First, that humans desire compatibility in their long-term relationships, which, from an evolutionary perspective, should increase the likelihood of being able to raise offspring successfully. Perhaps individuals are not choosy about politics at the outset of the relationship, but are likely to pursue long-term commitments with individuals who share political attitudes. Second, people could be making long-term choices based on nonpolitical characteristics that correlate with political leanings, such as religion, thus unintentionally sorting on politics.

“At some point in the dating process we somehow filter out people who do not share our political preferences,” said Klofstad. “Our best guess is that in the short-run most people want to cast as wide a net as possible when dating. However, in the long-run shared political preferences become a critical foundation of lasting relationships, despite the fact that many Americans are not even interested in politics.”

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Adolescent Girls and Unwanted Unprotected Sex

Partner abuse leads to HIV infection, and black women are most at risk. A new study at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing has found that 46 percent of African-American adolescent girls report that their partner did not use a condom the last time they had sex -- often because of partner abuse. The girls described physical and sexual abuse and threats as preventing them from having their partner use condoms. The relationship between HIV and partner abuse is significant: In the U.S., at least 12 percent of HIV infections among women are a result of partner abuse.

Getting out of an abusive relationship should be considered an HIV prevention strategy, according to Anne M. Teitelman, assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, who published the study in the journal “Advances in Nursing Science.” Dr. Teitelman and her co-authors advocate the need for novel strategies to increase condom use among adolescents. The co-authors are Julie Tennille, MSW, LSW; Julia M. Bobinski, BSN, MS; Loretta S. Jemmott, PhD, RN, FAAN; and John B. Jemmott III, PhD.

“Promoting healthy relationships among youth and preventing partner abuse in adolescent relationships should become a public health priority,” writes Dr. Teitelman. “This is necessary for primary prevention of the intersecting epidemics of partner abuse and HIV/STIs [sexually transmitted infections].”

The study of 64 African-American adolescent girls, aged 14 to 17, illuminates the pressure a male partner may exercise to encourage girls to forgo condom use.
Understanding the practice, which the authors term “condom coercion,” can inform more tailored prevention methods and interventions for adolescent girls at high risk for HIV and STIs, the authors report. Forms of condom coercion include physical and sexual abuse and threats, emotional manipulation, and condom sabotage, as when a male partner surreptitiously removes a condom.

Of the sample, 59 percent of girls experienced partner abuse that was physical, verbal, or threatening. Nearly 30 percent reported having unwanted vaginal sex and about 9 percent reported having unwanted anal sex. More than half the girls indicated they had experienced vaginal sex without a condom when they wanted their partner to use one.

When faced with partners trying to dissuade them from using condoms, girls may also feel pressures that silence them from even raising the topic of condom use. In the study, 25 percent of participants responded affirmatively to the question: “Have you ever wanted to talk with your sexual partner about using a condom during vaginal sex, but were not able to?”

This comment addresses the issue of “silencing condom negotiation,” which the authors define as girls’ reluctance to voice an interest in condom use at the risk of losing the relationship or facing other negative consequences.

As one study participant reported: “If we talk about just STIs and HIV, we’re not addressing the whole picture. . . . I’m easily pressured into doing things that I don’t want to do and it’s hard to sit back at the time and ask myself, ‘Is this something that I really want to do?’ . . . oftentimes it’s what he wants, but what I want . . . you don’t want a baby, you don’t want a STD, you don’t want HIV. . . . do you want him to beat you up? . . . Don’t let anybody tell you it’s not about what you want, and he’s going to be telling you that. There’s always a way out of things, always.”

The impact of sexualized lyrics on adolescent behaviors and attitudes

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Do sexualized lyrics in popular music have an impact on the sexual behavior and attitudes of adolescents? Researchers Cougar Hall, Joshua H. West, and Shane Hill from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, take a look at the trend of increasing use of sexually explicit lyrics in music. Their findings, published online in Springer’s journal Sexuality & Culture, provide food for thought for educators whose focus is to promote healthy sexual development.

Cougar Hall explained, “Considering previous research establishing an association between sexualized music lyrics and adolescent sexual behavior, our findings unfortunately offer sexuality educators a stormy forecast.”

The amount of music that 8-18 year olds listen to has increased by 45 percent in recent years, rising dramatically with the popularity of MP3 players, such as iPods. Previous research has indicated that there is a strong link between exposure to sexual media (on screen and in music) and sexual activity. Teens tend to overestimate the sexual activity of their peers and one source of this misperception is the entertainment media.

In this study, the researchers analyzed the lyrics from the top 100 songs in the Billboard Hot 100 year-end most popular songs every decade from 1959 to 2009. They found that male and non-White artists were more likely to write songs with sexual lyrics in the past two decades and that there were more sexual references overall in 2009 than in 1959.

The authors point out that not all sexual references are equal, and degrading and sexualized music can have a deleterious effect on teens. For girls in particular, this can lead them to judge their personal worth on a sexual level only, leading to poor body image, depression, eating disorders, and substance abuse.

The authors advise that their findings raise serious concerns related to the promotion of unhealthy sexual messages in music. They conclude: “Popular music can teach young men to be sexually aggressive and treat women as objects while often teaching young women that their value to society is to provide sexual pleasure for others. It is essential for society that sex education providers are aware of these issues and their impact on adolescent sexual behavior.”

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Friends' behavior and parental values influence rates of unprotected vaginal intercourse among teens



The attitudes of both friends and parents towards contraception and vaginal intercourse have an impact on later adolescent sexual behavior, according to a new study. This is important information because, in 2001, unintended pregnancies accounted for more than 75 percent of all pregnancies in women under 24 years old. Furthermore, a 1-year delay is typical between when adolescent girls begin sexual activity and when they seek out contraceptive services. The researchers analyzed factors influencing a main outcome of unprotected vaginal intercourse, based on two sets of interviews a year apart (mean age 15.7 years for the first interview and 16.3 years for the second).

A teen who reported at the initial interview having a friend who engaged in sexual intercourse, either with or without protection against pregnancy, doubled the risk that the teen would report at follow-up having had unprotected vaginal intercourse versus never having had intercourse. Teens who had a distant relationship with their fathers were 2.4 times more likely than those with a close paternal relationship to report at follow-up having had unprotected intercourse versus never having had intercourse.

Parental attitudes towards teens having intercourse or towards use of contraception did not significantly influence the behavior of teens at follow-up at 16 years of age. This is consistent with the hypothesis that parental attitudes were most influential before the teens reached 15 years of age. Nor was there a significant effect on the risk of having had unprotected intercourse by follow-up of teens' own attitude towards adolescent pregnancy or their confidence in being able to use contraception. The findings were based on analysis of data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, with baseline interviews of 6,649 teens conducted in 1995 and follow-up interviews with 3,899 teens in 1996. The study was funded in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HS15491).

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Sexual satisfaction tied to overall 'successful aging' as reported by women age 60 to 89

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A study by researchers at the Stein Institute for Research on Aging at the University of California, San Diego finds that successful aging and positive quality of life indicators correlate with sexual satisfaction in older women. The report, published online in the August edition of the Journal of the American Geriatric Society, also shows that self-rated successful aging, quality of life and sexual satisfaction appear to be stable even in the face of declines in physical health of women between the ages of 60 and 89.

The study looked at 1,235 women enrolled at the San Diego site of the Women's Health Initiative (WHI) study, a major ongoing research program funded by the National Institutes of Health which, since 1993, has addressed causes of death, disability and quality of life in more than 160,000 generally healthy, post-menopausal women.

As the researchers expected, sexual activity and functioning (such things as desire, arousal and ability to climax) were negatively associated with age, as were physical and mental health. However, in contrast to sexual activity and functioning, satisfaction with overall sex life was not significantly different between the three age cohorts studied: age 60 to 69; 70 to 70; and 80 to 89. Approximately 67 percent, 60 percent, and 61 percent of women in these three age groups, respectively, reported that they were "moderately" to "very satisfied" with their sex lives.

"Contrary to our earlier hypothesis, sexual satisfaction was not significantly associated with age," said Wesley K. Thompson, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry with the Stein Institute for Research on Aging at the UC San Diego School of Medicine, and co-lead author along with UC San Diego medical student Lindsey Charo, BA. "Although the levels of sexual activity and functioning did vary significantly, depending on the woman's age, their perceived quality of life, successful aging and sexual satisfaction remained positive."

Sexual activity was significantly lower in older age cohorts. Of the women who were married or in an intimate relationship, 70 percent of those aged 60 to 69, 57 percent of those aged 70 to 79, and 31 percent of those aged 80 to 89 reported having had some sexual activity in the previous six months. While women who were married or living in an intimate relationship engaged in higher rates of sexual activity than those who were not in such a relationship, sexual activity still decreased across age cohorts.

The findings of this study confirm earlier published research from the UCSD Stein Institute suggesting that self-rated health changes little with age even when objective health indicators show age-associated decline.

"What this study tells us is that many older adults retain their ability to enjoy sex well into old age," said Thompson. "This is especially true of older adults who maintain a higher level of physical and mental health as they grow older. Furthermore, feeling satisfied with your sex life - whatever your levels of sexual activity - is closely related to your perceived quality of life." He added that "while we cannot assess cause and effect from this study, these results suggest that maintaining a high level of sexual satisfaction may positively reinforce other psychological aspects of successful aging."

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

When erectile dysfunction isn't whole story


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For men with erectile dysfunction (ED), 65 percent are unable to have an orgasm and 58 percent have problems with ejaculation, according to new research led by physician-scientists at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center.

The study followed 12,130 men with mild to severe ED and is the largest-ever analysis of orgasmic and ejaculatory dysfunction. Results are published in today's edition of the British Journal of Urology International.

Approximately 30 million American men, or half of all men aged 40 to 70, have trouble achieving or sustaining an erection. "While medications like Viagra or Cialis have been successful in helping many of these men, our research suggests there are other common sexual issues that remain largely unaddressed," says Dr. Darius Paduch, the study's lead author; male sexual medicine specialist at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center; and assistant professor of urology and reproductive medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College.

"We must expand the definition of quality of life when it comes to sexual performance," Dr. Paduch adds. "For the last few decades, we have focused on penile rigidity, with erection as a synonym of normal sexual function. However, many patients say that problems with ejaculation -- like decreased force or volume or decreased sensation of orgasm -- are just as critical.

"Despite the frequency of these issues, non-erectile sexual dysfunction is underreported and undertreated due to social stigma and misunderstandings about the physiology of male sexual response and orgasmic dysfunction in particular. For decades it was believed that only women had problems with orgasm; our study shows that orgasmic dysfunction could be as prevalent among men as it is among women."

While severity of dysfunctional ejaculation and orgasm correlated with ED severity, says Dr. Paduch, these issues were still surprisingly common in men with very mild ED: Orgasm dysfunction was reported by 26 percent in this group, and ejaculation dysfunction by 18 percent. "This suggests that non-erectile sexual dysfunction is a regular occurrence even in men without ED."

The study reported factors associated with increased risk of ejaculatory and orgasmic dysfunction which includes commonly prescribed antidepressant medications. Ejaculatory and orgasmic dysfunction can be caused by low testosterone and minor brain injury such as that sustained by motor vehicle accident victims, football players suffering from concussion, or by soldiers with combat-related blast head injuries.

The most common ejaculatory dysfunction is premature ejaculation, but the condition also describes delayed ejaculation, inability to ejaculate, painful ejaculation, retrograde ejaculation, as well as a reduced volume of ejaculate or diminished force of ejaculation. Orgasm dysfunction is defined as absence of an orgasm.

In the current study, Dr. Paduch and Alexander Bolyakov, a research associate at Weill Cornell Medical College, in collaboration with a research team from Eli Lilly and Company, analyzed questionnaires from 28 clinical trials of men with mild to moderate erectile dysfunction from a diverse, international cohort of patients enrolled in clinical trials for tadalafil (Cialis).

The study was supported by an educational grant from Eli Lilly and Company. Dr. Paduch and Bolyakov are paid investigators and/or consultants/advisers/speakers for the study sponsor. Additional co-authors included Dr. Anthony Beardsworth and Steven D. Watts -- both from Eli Lilly.

Going forward, Dr. Paduch and Bolyakov will use uniquely specialized equipment available in their lab at Weill Cornell to measure biological and subjective changes that occur in men during orgasm and ejaculation. They will look at whether testosterone-replacement therapy can help men who suffer from non-erectile sexual dysfunction.

"Sexual satisfaction is known to be linked to the likelihood of orgasm, which in turn affects emotional intimacy and relationship satisfaction. The high prevalence of both orgasmic and ejaculatory dysfunction warrants further clinical and translational research into new treatments to improve sexual health and overall quality of life for hundreds of thousands of affected men and their loved ones," says Dr. Paduch.

Sexist men and women - made for each other

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Men with a preference for 'one-night stands' and negative sexist attitudes towards women are more likely to use aggressive courtship strategies. They compete with other men who are also interested in the woman, tease the woman, and isolate her away from her friends. In response, women with a preference for 'no strings attached' sex and negative attitudes towards other wom-en are more likely to respond to men's aggressive strategies. These findings by Jeffrey Hall and Melanie Canterberry, from the University of Kansas in the US, are published online in Springer's journal Sex Roles.
Hall and Canterberry set out to understand the characteristics of men who use aggressive court-ship strategies, based on speed seduction techniques described in the US bestseller "The Game" by Neil Strauss and the popular cable TV program "The Pickup Artist". They also studied the characteristics of women who find such strategies appealing.

The researchers conducted two surveys. The first pilot study surveyed a sample of 363 college students from a large Midwestern university in the US. The second, larger national study recruited 850 adult volunteers via the internet. The authors asked both male and female participants about their sexist attitudes toward women and whether they were willing to take part in uncommitted or short-term sex. They also asked about the extent to which men used assertive strategies to in-itiate relationships and the extent to which women found these approaches desirable.

The results showed that men who were keen on 'one-night stands' were more likely to use aggressive strategies when flirting with women, and women who were also open to casual sex were more likely to respond to this type of aggressive courtship. In addition, men with negative, sexist attitudes towards women, justifying male privilege, were more likely to use assertive strategies, which may serve to 'put women in their place' in a submissive or yielding role during courtship. Women with sexist attitudes towards members of their own gender were more likely to be responsive to men's assertive strategies. This suggests that they find men who treat them in a dominant way during courtship more desirable, because it is consistent with their sexist ideology.

Hall and Canterberry conclude: "Our results suggest that assertive courtship strategies are a form of mutual identification of similarly sexist attitudes shared between courtship partners. Women who adopt sexist attitudes are more likely to prefer men who adopt similar attitudes. Not only do sexist men and women prefer partners who are like them, they prefer courtship strategies where men are the aggressors and women are the gatekeepers."

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Friendship, timing key differences between US, Eastern European love

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The importance of friendship in romantic love and the time it takes to perceive falling in love are two key differences in how residents in the US, Lithuania and Russia see romantic love, according to a study recently published in Cross-Cultural Research, a SAGE journal: "Cross-Cultural Analysis of Models of Romantic Love Among U.S. Residents, Russians, and Lithuanians."

The study examined how men and women defined romantic love through the use of surveys and used the results to find some commonalities and differences among the countries. Researchers found that residents of all three countries listed "being together" as their top requirement of romantic love. From there, the notion of romantic love seemed to diverge with the US respondents having different views than Lithuanian and Russian counterparts.

"The idea that romantic love was temporary and inconsequential was frequently cited by Lithuanian and Russian informants," wrote authors Victor C. de Munck, Andrey Korotayev, Janina de Munck and Darya Khaltourina. "but not by U.S. informants. Furthermore, we noted that expressions of 'comfort /love' and 'friendship' were frequently cited by the U.S. informants and seldom to never by our Eastern European informants."

Additionally, the data looked at how long it took before respondents fell in love. Americans took longer than their Eastern European counterparts with more than 58 percent saying it look two months to a year. On the contrary, more than 90 percent of Lithuanians report falling in love within a month.


Monday, August 15, 2011

CONFLICT LEVELS DON’T CHANGE MUCH OVER COURSE OF MARRIAGE



Think about how much you fight and argue with your spouse today. A new study suggests that your current level of conflict probably won’t change much for the remainder of your marriage.

That may be good news for the 16 percent of couples who report little conflict or even the 60 percent who have only moderate levels of conflict. But it’s not such happy news for the 22 percent of couples who say they fight and argue with each other a lot.

The study followed nearly 1,000 couples over 20 years, from 1980 to 2000.

“There wasn’t much change in conflict over time,” said Claire Kamp Dush, lead author of the study and assistant professor of human development and family science at Ohio State University.


Claire Kamp Dush
“There was a very slight decrease in the amount of conflict reported in the final years of the study, which was slightly larger for the high-conflict couples. Still, the differences over time were small.”

Kamp Dush conducted the study with Miles Taylor of Florida State University. The results appear online in the Journal of Family Issues and will be published in a future print edition.

The researchers used data from the Marital Instability Over the Life Course survey, conducted by researchers at Penn State University. The telephone surveys started with 2,033 married people 55 years of age and younger in 1980, when the study began. Many of the same people were interviewed five more times through 2000. They were asked a variety of questions about the quality of their marriage and their relationship with their spouses, as well as demographic questions.

Marital conflict was measured by how often respondents said they disagreed with their spouse: never, rarely, sometimes, often or very often.

Based on these results, Kamp Dush and Taylor separated the respondents into high, middle and low conflict marriages.

The researchers found that people in low-conflict marriages were more likely than others to say they shared decision-making with their spouses.

“That’s interesting because you might think that making decisions jointly would create more opportunities for conflict, but that’s not what we found,” Kamp Dush said.

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“These couples believed in traditional gender roles and may have avoided conflict because of their beliefs in life-long marriage. These couples were also unlikely to divorce.”

“It may be that if both spouses have a say in decision making, they are more satisfied with their relationship and are less likely to fight.”

People in the low conflict group were also more likely than those who reported high levels of conflict to say that they believed in traditional, life-long marriage.

“People who believe marriage should last forever may also believe that fighting is just not worth it. They may be more likely to just let disagreements go,” Kamp Dush said.

These results suggest there may be two types of relatively low-conflict couples, she said. These categories were revealed when the researchers looked at how conflict was related to overall marital happiness.

They used a classification system developed by psychologists that classifies marriages into four general types: volatile, validator, hostile and avoider.

The lower conflict couples who had equal decision making tended to fall into the validator marriage category, who report high and middle levels of happiness and no more than middle levels of conflict. About 54 percent of couples were in this category, and had low levels of divorce.

“The validator marriages are often seen as positive because couples are engaged with each other and are happy. We found that in these marriages, each partner shared in decision making and in housework,” Kamp Dush said.

The other low conflict couples were in the avoider marriages, which included 6 percent of those studied. These couples had more traditional marriages in which husbands were not involved in housework and in which the participants believed in life-long marriage.

“These couples believed in traditional gender roles and may have avoided conflict because of their beliefs in life-long marriage. These couples were also unlikely to divorce.”

About 20 percent of those surveyed were in volatile marriages – high conflict and high or middle levels of happiness. The remaining participants were in hostile marriages, which were the most likely to divorce.

While couples in both validator and avoider marriages tended to have lower levels of conflict, validator marriages may be the healthiest for couples, Kamp Dush said.

“Avoiding conflict could lead couples to avoid other types of engagement with their spouse,” she said.

“A healthy marriage needs to have both spouses engaged and invested in the relationship.”

Monday, August 8, 2011

When a man's female partner becomes too buddy-buddy with his pals, his sex life may suffer


Researchers have found a potential new source for sexual problems among middle-aged and older men: The relationships between their female partners and the men's closest friends.

Cornell University and University of Chicago researchers have found a connection between erectile dysfunction and the social networks shared by heterosexual men and their partners. The researchers describe the situation as "partner betweenness." In such cases, a man's female partner has stronger relationships with his confidants than the man does — in effect, the romantic partner comes between the man and his friends.

"Men who experience partner betweenness in their joint relationships are more likely to have trouble getting or maintaining an erection and are also more likely to experience difficulty achieving orgasm during sex," write Benjamin Cornwell, Cornell professor of sociology and Edward Laumann, University of Chicago professor of sociology in the paper.

Cornwell and Laumann argue that partner betweenness undermines men's feelings of autonomy and privacy, which are central to traditional concepts of masculinity. This can lead to overt conflict or problems with partner satisfaction and attraction. They examined data from the National Social Life, Health and Aging Project, a comprehensive survey at the University of Chicago that included 3,005 people, from ages 57 to 85. The project is by supported by the National Institutes of Health.

The research, "Network Position and Sexual Dysfunction: Implications of Partner Betweenness for Men" is published online today, Aug. 8, 2011, in the current issue (dated July 2011) of the American Journal of Sociology. [NOTE: The paper issue of the journal will be published in late August 2011.]

Laumann said the study shows the value of understanding the connection between social relationships and health. "The results point to the importance of social network factors that are rarely considered in medical research — network structure and the individual's position within it."

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Trend in Young Adults' Dating Habits, Committed Relationships

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Changes in relationship formation and dissolution in the past 50 years have revealed new patterns in romantic relations among young adults. The U.S. Census indicates that young people are choosing to marry later and cohabitating more often than past generations. Now, a University of Missouri researcher has found that people in their 20s are redefining dating by engaging in "stayover relationships," spending three or more nights together each week while maintaining the option of going to their own homes.

"Instead of following a clear path from courtship to marriage, individuals are choosing to engage in romantic ties on their own terms -- without the guidance of social norms," said Tyler Jamison, a researcher in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies (HDFS). "There is a gap between the teen years and adulthood during which we don't know much about the dating behaviors of young adults. Stayovers are the unique answer to what emerging adults are doing in their relationships."

Jamison found that "stayover relationships" are a growing trend among college-aged couples who are committed, but not interested in cohabiting. However, little is known about the effects of stayovers on future commitment decisions or marriage.

"A key motivation is to enjoy the comforts of an intimate relationship while maintaining a high degree of personal control over one's involvement and commitment," said Larry Ganong, professor in HDFS. "We see this interest in personal control nationally in more single adult households, and in the growing phenomenon of 'living apart together' (middle-aged and older monogamous couples who maintain their own households). It may also help explain why marriage is on the decline, particularly among young adults."

Jamison conducted interviews among college-educated adults who were in committed, exclusive relationships. She found that although living together before marriage has become less taboo, many young adults want to avoid the potential negative social consequences of cohabitation.

"As soon as couples live together, it becomes more difficult to break up," Jamison said. "At that point, they have probably signed a lease, bought a couch and acquired a dog, making it harder to disentangle their lives should they break up. Staying over doesn't present those entanglements."

Jamison found that couples who had a stayover routine were content in their relationships, but did not necessarily plan to get married or move in together.

"Many college-aged adults are students who will soon be facing a transition point in their lives," Jamison said. "Most students do not have a definite plan for where they will live or work after graduation, and stayovers are a way for couples to have comfort and convenience without the commitment of living together or having long-term plans."

The study, "We're not living together: Stayover relationships among college-educated emerging adults," is in the current issue of the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Sexual Anxiety, Personality Predictors of Infidelity

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People with sexual performance anxiety are more likely to cheat on their partners. That’s just one of the curious findings of a new study by a University of Guelph professor on the factors that predict infidelity.

Men who are risk-takers or easily sexually aroused are also more likely to wander; for women, relationship issues are stronger predictors of unfaithfulness.

The study, published recently in the journal Archives of Sexual Behaviour, is the first to look at how demographics, interpersonal factors and sexual personality affect infidelity.

For both men and women, personality characteristics and interpersonal factors are more relevant predictors than are religion, marital status, education or gender.

“Few studies on infidelity have gone beyond exploring demographics,” said Robin Milhausen, a professor and sexuality researcher in Guelph’s Department of Family Relations and Applied Nutrition who conducted the study with Kristen Mark and Erick Janssen of Indiana University.

“This research shows that demographic variables may not influence decision-making as much as previously thought — that personality matters more, especially for men.”

The study involved 506 men and 412 women who reported being in monogamous sexual relationships lasting from three months to 43 years. Participants were asked to report on demographic variables such as religion, education and income. They also completed scales that measured sexual personality variables and answered questions about their relationships.

The study found little difference in rates of infidelity reported by men and women (23 and 19 per cent, respectively). But different things predicted the behavior for men and women.

For men, significant predictors of infidelity are personality variables, including propensity for sexual excitation (becoming easily aroused by many triggers and situations) and concern about sexual performance failure.

The latter finding might seem counterintuitive, Milhausen said, but other studies have also found this connection. “People might seek out high-risk situations to help them become aroused, or they might choose to have sex with a partner outside of their regular relationship because they feel they have an ‘out’ if the encounter doesn’t go well – they don’t have to see them again.”

For women, relationship happiness is paramount. Women who are dissatisfied with their relationship are more than twice as likely to cheat; those who feel they are sexually incompatible with their partners are nearly three times as likely.

“All kinds of things predict infidelity,” Milhausen said. “What this study says is that when you put all of those things together, for men, personality characteristics are so strong they bounce everything else out of the model. For women, in the face of all other variables, it’s still the relationship that is the most important predictor.”

Milhausen cautions against misinterpreting or overemphasizing the study’s findings. “Taken at face value, this research might seem to just support sexual stereotypes: Women are just concerned about the relationship, and, for men, once a cheater, always a cheater, regardless of their relationship. But the caveat is that there are a lot of variants and factors that are not explained here that might impact whether someone cheats.”

Still, knowing that sexual personality characteristics — and, for women, relationship factors — are strong predictors suggests directions for therapeutic interventions, she said.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Men, women report differences in relationship, sexual satisfaction

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Cuddling and caressing are important ingredients for long-term relationship satisfaction, according to an international study that looks at relationship and sexual satisfaction throughout committed relationships, but contrary to stereotypes, tenderness was more important to the men than to the women.

Also contrary to expectations of the researchers, men were more likely to report being happy in their relationship, while women were more likely to report being satisfied with their sexual relationship. The couples, more than 1,000 from the United States, Brazil, Germany, Japan and Spain, where together an average 25 years.

The study from the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University, published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, is the first to examine sexual and relationship parameters of middle-aged or older couples in committed, long-term relationships. Research efforts to understand the place of sexuality in human lives rarely involves intact couples in ongoing relationships.

"You hear repeated research and commentary about divorce; but it's important to note that though divorce rates are high in the U.S., couples tend to stay married -- more than 50 percent of U.S. couples remain in their first marriage, and that number goes up to 90 percent in Spain," said Julia Heiman, director of The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction and lead author of the article. "We know from other research that being in a long-term relationship has some value to health. Perhaps we can learn more about what makes relationships both sustainable and happy."

Participants in the study were 40- to 70-year-old men and their female partners, either married or living together for a minimum of one year. The study included around 200 couples from each country. The men and women answered gender-specific questionnaires and were assured that their responses would not be shared with their partner.

"This study on heterosexual couples provides a basis for future research on sex and gender, such as how same-sex couples may or may not show similarities and differences in relationship and sexual satisfaction," Heiman said.

RELATIONSHIP SATISFACTION

For men, relationship happiness was more likely if the man reported being in good health and if it was important to him that his partner experienced orgasm. Surprisingly, frequent kissing or cuddling also predicted happiness in the relationship for men, but not for women. Both men and women reported more happiness the longer they had been together, and if they themselves scored higher on several sexual functioning questionnaires.

Across all five nationalities, for both men and women, the Japanese were significantly happier with their relationships than Americans, and Brazilians and Spanish reported less relationship happiness than Americans.

SEXUAL SATISFACTION

Men and women both were likely to report sexual satisfaction if they also reported frequent kissing and cuddling, sexual caressing by the partner, higher sexual functioning, and if they had sex more frequently. On the other hand, for men, having had more sex partners in their lifetime was a predictor of less sexual satisfaction.

Men did report more relationship happiness in later years, whereas for women, their sexual satisfaction increased over time. Women who had been with their partner for less than 15 years were less likely to report sexual satisfaction, but after 15 years, the percentage went up significantly.

"Possibly, women become more satisfied over time because their expectations change, or life changes with the children grown," Heiman said. "On the other hand, those who weren't so happy sexually might not be married so long."

Compared with the U.S. men, Japanese men reported significantly (2.61 times) more sexual satisfaction in their relationships. For women, Japanese and Brazilian women were more likely to report being satisfied sexually than Americans.

"We recognize that relationship satisfaction and sexual satisfaction may not be the same thing for all couples, and in all cultures," Heiman said. "Our next step is to understand how one person's health, physical affection and sexual experiences relate to the relationship happiness or sexual satisfaction of his or her partner. So, we hope for more couple-centered than individual-centered understanding on relationship functioning and satisfaction."

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Does Driving a Porsche Make a Man More Desirable to Women?

New research by faculty at Rice University, the University of Texas-San Antonio (UTSA) and the University of Minnesota finds that men's conspicuous spending is driven by the desire to have uncommitted romantic flings. And, gentlemen, women can see right through it.

The series of studies, "Peacocks, Porsches and Thorstein Veblen: Conspicuous Consumption as a Sexual Signaling System," was conducted with nearly 1,000 test subjects and published recently in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

"This research suggests that conspicuous products, such as Porsches, can serve the same function for some men that large and brilliant feathers serve for peacocks," said Jill Sundie, assistant professor of marketing at UTSA and lead author of the paper.

Just as peacocks flaunt their tails before potential mates, men may flaunt flashy products to charm potential dates. Notably, not all men favored this strategy -- just those men who were interested in short-term sexual relationships with women.

"The studies show that some men are like peacocks. They're the ones driving the bright colored sports car," said co-author Vladas Griskevicius, assistant professor of marketing at the University of Minnesota.

According to the researchers, women found a man who chose to purchase a flashy luxury product (such as a Porsche) more desirable than the same man who purchased a non-luxury item (such as a Honda Civic). However, there was a catch: Although women found the flashy guys more desirable for a date, the man with the Porsche was not preferred as a marriage partner. Women inferred from a man's flashy spending that he was interested in uncommitted sex.

"When women considered him for a long-term relationship, owning the sports car held no advantage relative to owning an economy car," said co-author Daniel Beal, assistant professor of psychology at Rice. "People may feel that owning flashy things makes them more attractive as a relationship partner, but in truth, many men might be sending women the wrong message."

Though often associated with Western culture, extreme forms of conspicuous displays have been found in cultures across the globe and throughout history.

While finding that men may use conspicuous consumption as a short-term mating signal, the researchers discovered that women don't behave in the same manner and don't conspicuously spend to attract men.

"Obviously, women also spend plenty of money on expensive things," Sundie said. "But the anticipation of romance doesn't trigger flashy spending as it does with some men."

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Men and women are unconsciously attracted to the opposite sex when they wear red.

A new study, published in the latest issue of the journal Emotion, finds that when humans see red, their reactions become both faster and more forceful. And people are unaware of the color's intensifying effect.

The findings may have applications for sporting and other activities in which a brief burst of strength and speed is needed, such as weightlifting. But the authors caution that the color energy boost is likely short-lived.

"Red enhances our physical reactions because it is seen as a danger cue," explains coauthor Andrew Elliot, professor of psychology at the University of Rochester and a lead researcher in the field of color psychology. "Humans flush when they are angry or preparing for attack," he explains. "People are acutely aware of such reddening in others and it's implications."

But threat is a double-edged sword, argue Elliot and coauthor Henk Aarts, professor of psychology at Utrecht University, in the Netherlands. Along with mobilizing extra energy, "threat also evokes worry, task distraction, and self-preoccupation, all of which have been shown to tax mental resources," they write in the paper. In earlier color research, exposure to red has proven counterproductive for skilled motor and mental tasks: athletes competing against an opponent wearing red are more likely to lose and students exposed to red before a test perform worse.

"Color affects us in many ways depending on the context," explains Elliot, whose research also has documented how men and women are unconsciously attracted to the opposite sex when they wear red. "Those color effects fly under our awareness radar," he says.

The study measured the reactions of students in two experiments. In the first, 30 fourth-through-10th graders pinched and held open a metal clasp. Right before doing so, they read aloud their participant number written in either red or gray crayon. In the second experiment, 46 undergraduates squeezed a handgrip with their dominant hand as hard as possible when they read the word "squeeze" on a computer monitor. The word appeared on a red, blue, or gray background.

In both scenarios, red significantly increased the force exerted, with participants in the red condition squeezing with greater maximum force than those in the gray or blue conditions. In the handgrip experiment, not only the amount of force, but also the immediacy of the reaction increased when red was present.

The colors in the study were precisely equated in hue, brightness, and chroma (intensity) to insure that reactions were not attributable to these other qualities of color. "Many color psychology studies in the past have failed to account for these independent variables, so the results have been ambiguous," explains Elliot.
The study focused exclusively on isometric or non-directional physical responses, allowing the researcher to measure the energy response of participants, though not their behavior, which can vary among individuals and situations. The familiar flight or fight responses, for example, show differing reactions to threat.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

'Controlling' partners suffer more conflict with sexual desire

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People who feel secure in in their relationship with their partner have a more satisfactory sex life and are more able to be sensitive in the affection they give. However, people who are insecure, who tend towards anxiety or avoidance and are compulsive or controlling in their affection experience more conflict in their sexual desire and are less happy in their relationships, according to a study by the University of the Basque Country.

"Our results show that insecure people (anxious-ambivalent) tend to be compulsive in their care for their partners, while people prone to avoidance tend to be controlling and to exhibit greater conflict in their sexual desire", Javier Gómez Zapiain, a professor of the psychology of sexuality at the University of the Basque Country and lead author of the study, tells SINC.

Gómez Zapiain's research group studied the level of conflict in people's erotic desire, their degree of satisfaction with their sexual life and other factors related with sexual behaviour and care, based on a sample of 211 long-term couples in the Basque Country. They distributed individual questionnaires at random among various groups of professionals from the education, healthcare, public services and private business sectors.

"The objective of this study was to study the relationship between three essential relationships in human conduct – sexual, affective and caring behaviour. We tried to obtain empirical evidence that harmony between these three systems contributes to the quality of a couple's relationship", explains Gómez Zapiain.

The respondents were divided into two large groups according to their affective model – secure and insecure. The insecure people were then subdivided into anxious and ambivalent types.

"Anxious people react by clinging to their partner and caring for them compulsively, while avoidant types react by evading their relationship. Their philosophy is that 'it's better not to have than to have and to lose'. These people also have more problems in the area of intimacy", the researcher explains.

Out of all the respondents, 116 were women and 95 men, aged between 20 and 65, with an average age of 37.36. Some 44.3% of these people were single, while 46.7% were married, 4.9% in a relationship and 4.1% divorced. Out of the sample, 88.7% described themselves as heterosexual, 5.6% homosexual and 5.6% bisexual.

Out of the whole sample, 89.5% had a stable partner at the time of the study, with the average length of their relationships being 13.52 years. "It was very important for us that the people taking part should have an affective bond within a couple that had existed stably for a minimum period of time", adds Gómez Zapiain.

The most conflict-ridden couples – anxious vs. avoidant

The combination of different styles of affection in a couple can explain the degree of conflict within it. "Each partner must have the ability to support the other when they are feeling down and need emotional support. Similarly, they must be able to place themselves in what we call a 'position of dependency', in other words they must be able to recognise their own need for support and to express this in times of anxiety", the expert explains.

An individual who is psychologically healthy can change flexibly from one position to another. The experts hypothesise that people who display security in their affection are able to do this, but that insecure types (anxious-ambivalent or avoidant) are clearly incapable.

"It is very interesting, from the perspective of a couple, to see how styles of affection combine within the relationship. The most explosive combination occurs when one of the partners in the couple is anxious and the other avoidant. This combination has more likelihood of ending up with the couple seeking help, or even breaking up", says Gómez Zapiain.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Does Our Personality Affect Our Level of Attractiveness?

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Part of what determines how much success you will have in the dating world is whether you have a good sense of whether people find you attractive. A new study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, finds that certain personality traits contribute to being a good judge of whether someone else thinks you’re worth meeting again.

The study is one of a series to come out of a big speed-dating experiment held in Berlin about five years ago. “Most of the prior research had worked with hypothetical scenarios, where people are asked by a questioner, ‘What kind of people would you like to get to know?’ and so on,” says Mitja Back of the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz, who co-wrote the new paper with Lars Penke of the University of Edinburgh, Stefan Schmukle of Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster, and Jens Asendorpf of Humboldt University Berlin. The problem, of course, is that what people say they like—honesty, humor, and so on—may have little to do with what they actually like—for example hotness.

In this case, Back was interested in another question: is there’s something about personality that makes some people better at predicting whether others will want to meet them? In 17 groups, a total of 190 men and 192 women met members of the opposite sex—basically the standard speed dating routine, but this time, with psychologists collecting a lot of data. Among that data was personality information and the all-important question after each three-minute date: for each person you talk to, do you want to see that person again? They were also asked if they thought the other person would want to meet them.

On the whole, people are very bad at guessing how many of the other persons will want to meet them. Some people had no clue at all. But others did better. Success was correlated with particular traits that are stereotypically associated with the sexes: Men who have a more promiscuous orientation were better at guessing if a woman would want to meet them, and women whose personality was very agreeable were better at guessing if a man would meet them.

Back thinks men who are inclined toward casual sex are displaying behavior that’s very stereotypically associated with their sex; this may in turn evoke more typical behavior in the woman they’re talking to, which could make them more accurate at predicting whether the woman will be interested. Women who are agreeable, on the other hand, might make men more comfortable and more willing to flirt—which could make it easier to judge whether the man will want to meet them again.

“Speed dating is a very good context to study dating behavior” Back says. “It’s almost like psychologists could have invented this.”

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Happy guys finish last, says new study on sexual attractiveness

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Women find happy guys significantly less sexually attractive than swaggering or brooding men, according to a new University of British Columbia study that helps to explain the enduring allure of "bad boys" and other iconic gender types.

The study – which may cause men to smile less on dates, and inspire online daters to update their profile photos – finds dramatic gender differences in how men and women rank the sexual attractiveness of non-verbal expressions of commonly displayed emotions, including happiness, pride, and shame.

Very few studies have explored the relationship between emotions and attraction, and this is the first to report a significant gender difference in the attractiveness of smiles. The study, published online today in the American Psychological Association journal Emotion, is also the first to investigate the attractiveness of displays of pride and shame.

"While showing a happy face is considered essential to friendly social interactions, including those involving sexual attraction – few studies have actually examined whether a smile is, in fact, attractive," says Prof. Jessica Tracy of UBC's Dept. of Psychology. "This study finds that men and women respond very differently to displays of emotion, including smiles."

In a series of studies, more than 1,000 adult participants rated the sexual attractiveness of hundreds of images of the opposite sex engaged in universal displays of happiness (broad smiles), pride (raised heads, puffed-up chests) and shame (lowered heads, averted eyes).

The study found that women were least attracted to smiling, happy men, preferring those who looked proud and powerful or moody and ashamed. In contrast, male participants were most sexually attracted to women who looked happy, and least attracted to women who appeared proud and confident.

"It is important to remember that this study explored first-impressions of sexual attraction to images of the opposite sex," says Alec Beall, a UBC psychology graduate student and study co-author. "We were not asking participants if they thought these targets would make a good boyfriend or wife – we wanted their gut reactions on carnal, sexual attraction." He says previous studies have found positive emotional traits and a nice personality to be highly desirable in a relationship partners.

Tracy and Beall say that other studies suggest that what people find attractive has been shaped by centuries of evolutionary and cultural forces. For example, evolutionary theories suggest females are attracted to male displays of pride because they imply status, competence and an ability to provide for a partner and offspring.

According to Beall, the pride expression accentuates typically masculine physical features, such as upper body size and muscularity. "Previous research has shown that these features are among the most attractive male physical characteristics, as judged by women," he says.

The researchers say more work is needed to understand the differing responses to happiness, but suggest the phenomenon can also be understood according to principles of evolutionary psychology, as well as socio-cultural gender norms.

For example, past research has associated smiling with a lack of dominance, which is consistent with traditional gender norms of the "submissive and vulnerable" woman, but inconsistent with "strong, silent" man, the researchers say. "Previous research has also suggested that happiness is a particularly feminine-appearing expression," Beall adds.

"Generally, the results appear to reflect some very traditional gender norms and cultural values that have emerged, developed and been reinforced through history, at least in Western cultures," Tracy says. "These include norms and values that many would consider old-fashioned and perhaps hoped that we've moved beyond."

Displays of shame, Tracy says, have been associated with an awareness of social norms and appeasement behaviors, which elicits trust in others. This may explain shame's surprising attractiveness to both genders, she says, given that both men and women prefer a partner they can trust.

While this study focused on sexual attraction between heterosexual men and women in North America, the researchers say future studies will be required to explore the relationship between emotions and sexual attractiveness among homosexuals and non-Western cultures.

Overall, the researchers found that men ranked women more attractive than women ranked men.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Do Women Want Tall Men Because Can Fight Better?

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Standing Up to Fight: Does It Explain Why We Walk Upright and Why Women Like Tall Men?


Complete article

A University of Utah study shows that men hit harder when they stand on two legs than when they are on all fours, and when hitting downward rather than upward, giving tall, upright males a fighting advantage.

This may help explain why our ape-like human ancestors began walking upright and why women tend to prefer tall men.

"The results of this study are consistent with the hypothesis that our ancestors adopted bipedal posture so that males would be better at beating and killing each other when competing for females," says David Carrier, a biology professor who conducted the study. "Standing up on their hind legs allowed our ancestors to fight with the strength of their forelimbs, making punching much more dangerous."

"It also provides a functional explanation for why women find tall men attractive," Carrier adds. "Early in human evolution, an enhanced capacity to strike downward on an opponent may have given tall males a greater capacity to compete for mates and to defend their resources and offspring. If this were true, females who chose to mate with tall males would have had greater fitness for survival."

Carrier's new study is being published May 18 in the online Public Library of Science journal PLoS ONE.

The idea is not new that fighting and violence played a role in making human ancestors shift from walking on all fours to walking on two legs. But Carrier's new study physically demonstrates the advantage of fighting from an upright, two-legged posture.

Carrier measured the force of punches by male boxers and martial arts practitioners as they hit in four different directions: forward, sideways, down and up.

A punching bag fitted with a sensor measured the force of forward and sideways punches. For strikes downward and upward, the men struck a heavy padded block on the end of a lever that swung up and down because it was suspended from an axle.

In either case, the men struck the target as hard as they could both from a standing posture and on their hands and knees.

The findings: for all punching angles, men hit with far more force when they were standing, and from both postures they could hit over twice as hard downward as upward.

Humans: Two-Legged Punching Apes?

The transition from four-legged to two-legged posture is a defining point in human evolution, yet the reason for the shift is still under debate. Darwin thought that our ancestors stood up so they could handle tools and weapons. Later scientists have suggested that bipedalism evolved for a host of other reasons, including carrying food, dissipating heat, efficient running and reaching distant branches while foraging in trees.

"Others pointed out that great apes often fight and threaten to fight from bipedal posture," says Carrier. "My study provides a mechanistic explanation for why many species of mammals stand bipedally to fight."

Carrier says many scientists are reluctant to consider an idea that paints our ancestors as violent.

"Among academics there often is resistance to the reality that humans are a violent species. It's an intrinsic desire to have us be more peaceful than we are," he says.

Nevertheless, human males and their great ape cousins -- chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans -- frequently fight each other for territory and access to females.

The most popular theories about why we became bipedal are based on locomotor advantages -- increases in the efficiency of walking and running. However, research shows upright posture is worse for locomotion, contrary to what Carrier initially believed.

"If you're a chimpanzee- or gorilla-type ancestor that is moving on the ground, walking bipedally has a cost," he says. "It's energetically more expensive, it's harder to speed up and slow down, and there are costs in terms of agility. In every way, going from four legs to two is a disadvantage for locomotion. So the selective advantage for becoming bipedal, whatever it was, must have been important."

Nearly all mammals, including chimps and gorillas, move on all fours when they run or cover long distances on the ground. On the other hand, all sorts of four-legged animals stand up and use their front legs to fight. They include anteaters, lions, wolves, bears, wolverines, horses, rabbits and many rodents and primates.

Carrier believes that the usefulness of quadruped forelegs as weapons is a side effect of how forelegs are used for walking and running. When an animal is running with its body positioned horizontally, the forelegs strike down at the ground. By lifting the body to a vertical posture, animals can direct that same force toward an opponent.

In addition, quadrupeds are stronger pulling back with their forelimbs than pushing forward. That translates to a powerful downward blow when they rear up on their hind legs. These advantages, which grow directly out of four-legged movement, can be used most effectively by an animal that can stand easily on two legs.

Carrier predicted that animals would hit harder with their forelegs when their bodies were held upright than when they were horizontal, and that they would hit harder downward than upward. Although it would be ideal to test these hypotheses with four-legged animals, humans should still possess the advantages that led our ancestors to stand upright, and they are more practical test subjects.

The results were exactly what Carrier expected. Men's side strikes were 64 percent harder, their forward strikes were 48 percent harder, their downward strikes were 44 percent harder, and their upward strikes were 48 percent harder when they were standing than when they were on their hands and knees. From both postures, subjects delivered 3.3 times as much force when they hit downward rather than upward.

Do Women Want Men Who Can Fight?

While Carrier's study primarily deals with the evolution of upright posture, it also may have implications for how women choose mates. Multiple studies have shown that women find tall men more attractive. Greater height is also associated with health, social dominance, symmetrical faces and intelligence in men and women. These correlations have led some scientists to suggest that women prefer tall men because height indicates "good genes" that can be passed on to offspring. Carrier believes there is more to it.

"If that were the whole story, I would expect the same to be true for men -- that men would be attracted to tall women. But it turns out they're not. Men are attracted to women of average height or even shorter," he says.

The alternative explanation is that tall males among our ancestors were better able to defend their resources, partners and offspring. If males can hit down harder than they can hit up, a tall male has the advantage in a fight because he can punch down to hit his opponent's most vulnerable targets.

Carrier certainly isn't saying women like physically abusive men or those who get into fights with each other. He is saying that women like tall men because tallness is a product if the evolutionary advantage held by our ancestors who began standing upright to fight.

"From the perspective of sexual selection theory, women are attracted to powerful males, not because powerful males can beat them up, but because powerful males can protect them and their children from other males," Carrier says.

"In a world of automatic weapons and guided missiles, male physical strength has little relevance to most conflicts between males," he adds. "But guns have been common weapons for less than 15 human generations. So maybe we shouldn't be surprised that modern females are still attracted to physical traits that predict how their mates would fare in a fight."

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Spouses select partners based on social and political attitudes

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Though "variety is the spice of life" and "opposites attract," most people marry only those whose political views align with their own, according to new research from Rice University and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Political scientists found that political attitudes were among the strongest shared traits and even stronger than qualities like personality or looks.

In an article published in the April issue of the Journal of Politics, researchers examined physical and behavioral traits of more than 5,000 married couples in the United States. They found spouses in the study appeared to instinctively select a partner who has similar social and political views.

"It turns out that people place more emphasis on finding a mate who is a kindred spirit with regard to politics, religion and social activity than they do on finding someone of like physique or personality," said John Alford, associate professor of political science at Rice University and the study's lead author.

On a scale of 0 to 1, where 1 means perfectly matched, physical traits (body shape, weight and height) only score between 0.1 and 0.2 among spouse pairs. Personality traits, such as extroversion or impulsivity, are also weak and fall within the 0 to 0.2 range. By comparison, the score for political ideology is more than 0.6, higher than any of the other measured traits except frequency of church attendance, which was just over 0.7.

The study adds to recent "sorting research" that has uncovered a surprising level of uniformity in Americans' personal political communication networks -- where they live, with whom they socialize and where they work.

The new research shows that this sorting doesn't stop with the selection of neighborhoods or workplaces, however. It's also visible in choice of spouses, Alford said.

"It suggests that, perhaps, if you're looking for a long-term romantic relationship, skip 'What's your sign?' and go straight to 'Obama or Palin?'" Alford said. "And if you get the wrong answer, just walk away."

Alford and his co-authors noted that sorting is not the only reason for spouses' political uniformity, but it is clearly the most powerful. More traditional explanations for the political similarity of spouses turned out to have only modest effects and account for only about 10 percent of the similarity between long-term partners. Social homogamy -- or the tendency for people to choose a mate from within one's own religious, social, economic and educational surroundings -- played only a small role.

Similarly, the researchers found little support for interspousal persuasion, the notion that partners tend to adapt to one another's political beliefs over time – a discovery that could have implications on partisan politics for generations to come, the researchers said.

"We did expect to find a strong political bond between husbands and wives," said John Hibbing, a professor of political science at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a co-author of the study. "But we were surprised that political concordance seems to exist from the very early years in the marriage, instead of the folk wisdom of mates growing more alike politically as their relationship goes along."

The authors said this sorting can have a big impact on the future of American politics: If parents transmit political traits to their children, then the practice of liberals marrying liberals and conservatives marrying conservatives seems likely to increase political uniformity into the next generation.

"Obviously, parents are very influential in shaping the political beliefs of their children," Hibbing said. "If both parents are on the left or on the right, it makes it more difficult for a child to be something different. It may be part of the reason why we see such polarization."

This means that marriage -- a major means by which diversity enters into extended families --doesn't actually contribute much to the political "melting pot," Alford said.

"Instead, marriage works largely to reinforce the ongoing ideological polarization that we see so clearly today," he said.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

What can movie stars tell us about marriage?

That education matters, study finds

According to a study published in the Spring issue of the Journal of Human Capital, marriages among movie stars can help unravel the reasons why people tend to marry partners of similar education levels.

Social scientists have known for years that married people tend to be sorted by their levels of education, but the reasons for it have been elusive. It could be all about money. People may assume that a partner with similar education will have a salary that matches theirs. Or it could have to do with lifestyle factors. Similar education may lead to similar interests in books, music, and hobbies.

On the other hand, sociologists might argue that sorting by education has less to do with personal preference and more to do with who we're likely to meet. People often meet their future spouses in college or grad school. Also, people of similar educational backgrounds tend to end up side-by-side in the workforce, leading to ample opportunities to strike up romance.

Movie star marriages can help sort all this out, according to Gustaf Bruze, an economist at the Aarhus School of Business and Social Sciences in Denmark.

Bruze assembled a large data set of top movie stars' marriages, earnings, and education levels. He found that level of formal education has no correlation with a movie star's success, either in terms of box office earnings or the likelihood of winning an Oscar. Yet despite the disconnect between education and success, movie stars who marry each other still tend to have similar educational backgrounds, Bruze's analysis shows. His data also show that actors are unlikely to meet their spouses in school, or be cast together in movies due to their education level.

The findings suggest that sorting on education isn't all about the money or solely an artifact of professional affiliations. "What it says is that men and women have very strong preferences for nonfinancial partner traits correlated with education," Bruze said. "And educational sorting would remain even if the tendency of men and women to work with colleagues of a similar educational background were to disappear or if the role of educational institutions as a meeting place for future husbands and wives were to disappear."

It also means that if you're looking to marry actor and Ph.D. student James Franco, you might want to hit the books.