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!'"