Monday, December 10, 2012

"Commitment-Phobic" Adults Could Have Mom and Dad to Blame

Afraid to commit to a relationship? According to new research from Tel Aviv University, it could be just one more thing to blame on your parents. A study of the romantic history of 58 adults aged 22-28 found that those who avoid committed romantic relationships are likely a product of unresponsive or over-intrusive parenting, says Dr. Sharon Dekel, a psychologist and researcher at the Bob Shapell School of Social Work. Dr. Dekel and her fellow researcher, Prof. Barry Farber of Columbia University, found that 22.4 percent of study participants could be categorized as "avoidant" when it came to their relationships, demonstrating anxiety about intimacy, reluctance to commit to or share with their partner, or a belief that their partner was "clingy," for example. Overall, they reported less personal satisfaction in their relationships than participants who were determined to be secure in their relationships. The goal of the study, published in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, was to address the widespread research debate on "avoidant attachment" — whether such behavior is due to innate personality traits, such as being more of a loner, or is a delayed reaction to unmet childhood needs. Dr. Dekel and Prof. Farber found that while both secure and avoidant individuals expressed a desire for intimacy in relationships, avoidant individuals are conflicted about this need due to the complicated parent-child dynamics they experienced when young. Taking lessons from childhood The premise of their study, says Dr. Dekel, is based on attachment theory, which posits that during times of stress, infants seek proximity to their caregivers for emotional support. However, if the parent is unresponsive or overly intrusive, the child learns to avoid their caregiver. The researchers believe that adult relationships reflect these earlier experiences. When infantile needs are met in childhood, that person approaches adult relationships with more security, seeking intimacy, sharing, caring, and fun, says Dr. Dekel. The researchers labelled these relationships "two-adult" models, in which participants equally share desires with their partner. Avoidant individuals, however, are more likely to adopt an "infant-mother" intimacy model. When they enter relationships, there is an attempt to satisfy their unmet childhood needs, Dr. Dekel explains. "Avoidant individuals are looking for somebody to validate them, accept them as they are, can consistently meet their needs and remain calm — including not making a fuss about anything or getting caught up in their own personal issues." The tendency to avoid dependence on a partner is a defense mechanism rather than an avoidance of intimacy, she adds. Hope for the commitment-phobic? It's important to study this group further because beyond their severely diminished ability to conduct satisfying romantic relationships, they are also less happy in their lives and are more likely to suffer illnesses than their secure counterparts, notes Dr. Dekel. Psychologists need a better understanding of what these insecure individuals need, perhaps through more sophisticated neurological studies, she suggests. There is also the question of whether or not these attachment styles are permanent. Dr. Dekel believes that there are some experiences which can help people develop more secure relationship styles.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Navigating conflict when opposites attract

When it comes to conflict, some people follow the phrase you should "never go to bed angry” while others would rather get their beauty sleep.

Couples with mismatched conflict styles don’t necessarily suffer a hit in relationship quality according to a new study. Professors Dean Busby and Thomas Holman of Brigham Young University's School of Family Life gathered and analyzed data from nearly 2,000 couples and report their findings in the Nov. 25 issue of the academic journal Family Process.

“The concern with mismatched couples is that they will have problems that are just never quite resolvable,” Holman said. “But it’s really about getting to a point where a problem becomes less important to them than the relationship itself.”

The study participants completed a comprehensive relationship inventory called RELATE. The survey covers more than 300 areas known to be predictive of marital quality. Upon completion of the relationship inventory, the couple gets an 11 page report with charts and graphs illustrating the strengths and weaknesses of their relationship.

Just as many couples had mismatched conflict styles as had matching approaches (not counting couples considered to have an openly “hostile” dynamic). Depending on the type of mismatch, the data show that certain pairings present bigger red flags for relationship quality than others.

“There are several couples that work through it,” Busby said. “But we know that how couples manage conflict is one of those crucial factors that can lead to divorce.”

So what are the conflict styles and which one fits your personality? And how can you work through a mismatched pairing?

The “Avoidant”

Avoidant people minimize conflict as much as possible. They still interact with their spouse but avoid contentious issues. They think there is little to gain from getting openly angry, and that problems have a way of working themselves out if you just relax.

The “Validating”

Validating people make certain that both sides are heard and that their partner’s views are appreciated. They believe in remaining calm and displaying self-control. They spend equal amounts of time validating others and searching for a compromise.

The “Volatile”

Volatile people are usually more passionate, louder and more energetic; they don’t shy from a lively debate. They believe that differences are resolved by getting everything out in the open. Their intensity is often balanced with kind and loving expressions.

The “Hostile”

The only non-functional style, hostile people can be described as destructive. In conflict they try to tear the other person down and at times stonewall all contact with their spouse.

“It’s hard to recover from a hostile conflict without some help I believe,” Busby said. “Hostility gets to a place where you scar people.”

Worst (Functional) Conflict Pairing

The worst functional mismatched conflict style is the avoidant-volatile pair. The good news is that it was the least common pairing in the study, representing a little more than 1 in 10 couples.

Many couples in this situation fall into the trap of attributing their partner’s motives incorrectly. Sincere attempts to resolve a conflict and restore harmony can be construed as nagging.

Something that can help in this situation is to wait until the emotional flood subsides before trying to resolve the issue.

“One couple I taught this to were marathon runners and they would watch their wrist watches and saw that as soon as they started arguing their pulse rates jumped way up,” Holman said. “Once they had their pulse rates back down they would start the conversation again. They said it helped them to monitor their actual physiological reaction in a conflict.”

Best Conflict Pair

Several combinations promote relationship health, and the key is that at least one of the partners is the validating type. The researchers note that it’s a skill that can be learned.

“Validating types make sure that their partner feels understood and that both perspectives are attended to,” Busby said. “They are more likely to create a positive connection around that conflict.”

The researcher who pioneered these conflict styles, John Gottman, found that in a healthy conflict style there are five positive exchanges for every one negative exchange. In dysfunctional styles the negative exchanges outnumber the positive.

“The idea that we should never argue, is clearly not what we are talking about in this article,” Busby said. “It’s that you have to find a way to work together so that you can resolve problems with a style that fits for both of you.”

College students more eager for marriage than their parents

Reaching adulthood certainly takes longer than it did a generation ago, but new research shows one way that parents are contributing to the delay. A national study found that college students think 25 years old is the “right age” to get married, while a majority of parents feel 25 is still a little too soon. So it's no coincidence that when Justin Bieber said he'd like to wed by 25, Oprah Winfrey urged him to wait longer. “The assumption has been that the younger generation wants to delay marriage and parents are hassling them about when they would get married,” said Brian Willoughby, a professor at Brigham Young University and lead author of the study. “We actually found the opposite, that the parental generation is showing the ‘slow down’ mindset more than the young adults.” Willoughby and his co-authors in BYU’s School of Family Life gathered info from 536 college students and their parents from five college campuses around the country (BYU was not in the sample). As they report in The Journal of Social and Personal Relationships,the scholars found the hesitation is consistent across gender. “Initially we thought that this might be dads wanting their daughters to delay marriage,” Willoughby said. “Moms and dads trended together – gender wasn’t a factor.” One of the driving forces behind parents’ restraint is the feeling that their children should get an education first. While they generally feel marriage is important, parents think the “right age” is one year older than what their children say. Excluding teen marriages, research doesn’t support the notion that there is an optimal time to tie the knot. “I think parents have a lot of fear for their kids that makes them want to delay the transitions to adulthood,” Willoughby said. According to Census data, the median age for first marriages is 27. Willoughby says that what people say is the “right age” generally comes a few years before the actual marriage age. “What happens is that someone thinks that 25 is when they want to get married,” Willoughby said. “So at age 25, they start changing their patterns around dating, and it takes two or so years to make the transition.” Though BYU students weren’t in Willoughby’s sample, the university’s own records show about 25 percent of its students are married. Willoughby said that Mormon young adults typically marry about two years younger than their peers nationally and have risen in sync with national trends.

How Infidelity Helps Nieces and Nephews

Men May Share More Genes With Sisters' Kids Than Cheating Wife's Kids A University of Utah study produced new mathematical support for a theory that explains why men in some cultures often feed and care for their sisters' children: where extramarital sex is common and accepted, a man's genes are more likely to be passed on by their sister's kids than by their wife's kids. The theory previously was believed valid only if a man was likely to be the biological father of less than one in four of his wife's children -- a number that anthropologists found improbably low. But in the new study, University of Utah anthropology Professor Alan Rogers shows mathematically that if certain assumptions in the theory are made less stringent and more realistic, that ratio changes from one in four to one in two, so the theory works more easily. In other words, a man's genes are more likely to be passed by his sisters' children if fewer than half of his wife's kids are biologically his -- rather than the old requirement that he had to sire fewer than a quarter of his wife's kids, according to the study published online Nov. 28 in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. "Imagine a mutation that encourages its bearers, if they are men, to be helpful and invest resources in the children of their sisters," Rogers says. "If that man lives in a society where most of his wife's children were fathered by other men, then this gene may not be in many of his wife's children. A man really doesn't know if any of his wife's kids were fathered by him, but he knows he and his sister have the same mom. So this gene may, in fact, be in more of his sisters' children." "Thus, over time, the frequency of this gene increases because men are increasing the survival and fitness of their sisters' children -- the ones more likely to carry the gene," he adds. The new study "shows that it is much easier than we thought for your niece to be a closer relative than your wife's daughter," Rogers says. The research was funded by the University of Utah. Why Men Help their Sisters' Kids: Theory and Debate "Men invest in children in many ways; they care for them, feed them and leave them resources when the men die," Roger says. "But in some human societies, these are the children of sisters rather than those of wives. For decades, anthropologists have wondered why." Extramarital mating is common in some cultures, including in central Africa and South America, he says, but not in the U.S. or other Western societies where infidelity, as prevalent as seems, much is less common by comparison. "In some societies it is expected; it isn't seen as cheating," Rogers says. "And it isn't really just about promiscuity. Even where extramarital sex isn't common, women get divorced and remarried and have households with offspring from several men." Rogers says: "In many societies where extramarital mating is the norm, men may not share genes with the children of wives. There is less doubt about relatedness to sisters' children. This suggests an interesting hypothesis: perhaps natural selection has shaped this practice, by encouraging males to direct investment toward genetic relatives." "There was great enthusiasm for this idea during the 1970s, until a problem came to light," he continues. "Simple calculations suggested that the explanation collapses unless men father fewer than about one in four of their wife's children. Many have doubted that the number -- the paternity threshold number -- could really be this low." Rogers' new study shows it is much easier than that for the idea to be true -- for natural selection to favor men who help their sisters' kids. He shows the theory holds true if men father fewer than half their wife's kids rather than fewer than one-quarter of those kids -- something much more likely to happen in reality. The study shows this mathematically by relaxing assumptions previously made as part of the uncle-caretaker theory. Rogers says it isn't enough to take into account the probability of paternity -- the odds that a child's biological father also is his mother's husband. The new study shows that if the assumptions made in old studies are relaxed, another parameter also must be measured: "the probability a brother and sister had the same biological father. The higher that probability, the more closely related a man is to his sister and his sister's kids." Making Old Assumptions More Realistic Rogers examined four assumptions made in previous studies and changed them to be more realistic. In this more realistic theory, men are more likely to share genes with their sister's children than under the old theory. The first two assumptions of the existing theory were that "women are equally receptive to extramarital affairs and that each has an infinite number of paramours," says Rogers. "These assumptions both lower estimates of relatedness between men and the children of their sisters. Relaxing either assumption increases our estimate of the fitness payoff to men who invest in children of sisters." [Rogers notes the theory applies to a man's sisters' children, but not to his brothers' children "because your brother has no more confidence than you do about the paternity of his wife's children. Sisters are a better bet, because they know who their kids are."] "Previous calculations assume every woman in the population is equally promiscuous," Rogers says. "If you relax that assumption and instead assume some women are more promiscuous than others, it means men are more likely to share genes with their sisters' children." "The earlier theory also assumed women each woman had an infinite number of boyfriends," instead of a range from one to infinity, he adds. "It made the math simple -- and it gave you a wrong answer." The new study showed mathematically that a man's relatedness to his sister's kids increases if his wife has fewer rather than more extramarital partners and if she allocates sex -- and thus having children -- unevenly among them. A third problem with previous studies is that they assumed resources given to any child were equally valuable. Rogers says that didn't account for the fact that giving your wife's kids twice as many resources isn't necessarily twice as good -- once the kids have what they need -- but may be only half again as good for them. So the man may be better off also giving resources to his sisters' kids. "The old model didn't account for that, and because of that, it biased things in favor of the wife's children. When the nieces and nephews share fewer genes, they end up getting zero resources rather than some reduced share, as they should." The fourth problem with most previous calculations was that they didn't account for a simple reality: "The best thing for a man to do depends on how his wife is going to respond," Rogers says. "If wives punish their husbands one way or another for delivering goods to their nieces and nephews, it's not just the husband deciding what is best for the husband. Women have an active role in all of these decisions and that role was ignored in the previous model." Another study published recently took that into account, making it easier to understand how natural selection might favor men who invest in their sisters' offspring. Rogers believes that natural selection and genetics ultimately contributes to people helping their relatives in most cultures, even if the primary motivation may be tax breaks for those who provide cash gifts to relatives rather than passing on one's genes. "People are nice to relatives all over the world, and I think selection has something to do with that," he says.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

No Reversal in Decline of Marriage

The recent decline in the number of Americans getting married shows no signs of reversing. In 2011, 4.2 million adults were newly married, about the same number as in 2010 and sharply lower than the 4.5 million newlyweds estimated in 2008. These estimates come from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, which began asking respondents in 2008 whether they had been married, divorced or widowed in the previous 12 months. The decline in nuptials from 2008 to 2011 is in keeping with a general trend away from marriage in the U.S. Barely half of adults (51%) were married in 2011, according to ACS data, compared with 72% in 1960. Marriage increasingly is being replaced by cohabitation, single-person households and other adult living arrangements. The decrease in the number of newly married adults was apparent among nearly all education levels and ages. The only exception was among adults age 65 and older, where the number of newlyweds were roughly similar in 2011 (89,000) and 2008 (91,000). The decline in newlyweds from 2008 to 2011 could reflect population changes such as declines in the number of adults eligible to get married, but even when these factors are taken into account, the downward trend remains. Population change is factored in by creating a new-marriage rate in which the number of newlyweds is divided by the number of those eligible to marry (unmarried adults plus newly married adults). In 2011, there were an estimated 36.4 newlyweds per thousand unmarried or newly married adults ages 18 and older. This compares with an estimated new-marriage rate of 37.4 in 2010 and 41.4 in 2008. The new-marriage rate fell from 2008 to 2011 among all age and education groups, but was larger for less-educated Americans. Among adults who had not completed high school, an estimated 23.1 entered into marriage per thousand eligible in 2011, a 14% decline from the rate of 26.8 in 2008. Among adults who had completed at least a bachelor’s degree, an estimated 55.3 got married per thousand eligible in 2011, a 10% decline down from 61.5 in 2008.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Monogamy may not always be the best policy

Monogamy may not always be the best policy, according to a new review paper on the topic. Researchers explored the many long-believed benefits of monogamy, including sexual health and satisfaction, children's well-being, and relational adjustment and found no evidence to date to suggest the superiority of monogamy in those areas. They did, however, see a benefit for monogamy for avoiding stigma. Overall, they found that while monogamy may be an ideal choice for many individuals, consensual non-monogamy may be a viable alternative for those who choose it. "A Critical Examination of Popular Assumptions About the Benefits and Outcomes of Monogamous Relationships," Terri D. Conley et al., Personality and Social Psychology Review, scheduled to appear online in late-November 2012.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Oxytocin keeps flirting folks at arm's length

A team of researchers under the aegis of the University of Bonn tested the 'love hormone' on men Flirting brings women and men closer. But the "social distance" ensures that they will keep a certain spatial distance from each other. Researchers under the leadership of the University of Bonn studied whether this distance can be diminished by the so-called love hormone, oxytocin. The exact opposite turned out to be true – men who were in a committed relationship even maintained a greater distance from an attractive woman when under the influence of oxytocin than their control group. The study has just been published in the renowned "Journal of Neuroscience." When people approach each other, unconscious rules are at work. They will walk towards each other and will then talk while remaining at a very distinct distance, called "social distance" by scholars. "When they are approached beyond a certain distance, participants in a con-versation feel uncomfortable," said René Hurle¬mann, head of the research group that conducted the study at the Department of Psychiatry of the University of Bonn. A very sensitive case of social distance is the one between a woman and a man when flirting. "The magic of the initial encounter often decides what it will turn into," says Dr. Hurlemann. Major releases of oxytocin during sex and at childbirth Together with colleagues from the Universities of Bochum and Chengdu, his team studied the effect oxytocin, a neuro¬peptide, has on the social distance between women and men. "This neurotransmitter is often called the 'love hormone,' reports Professor Wolfgang Maier, Director of the Department of Psychiatry of the University of Bonn, who also performs research for the German research center of neurodegenerative diseases (DZNE). It has long been known that the release of oxytocin in the brain is particularly strong during sex, or in parents, after the birth of their child. "This hormone contributes to strong social attachment," adds Prof. Maier. Researchers applied the hormone as a nasal spray The researchers gave a total of 57 adult male subjects either oxytocin or a placebo in the form of a nasal spray. The experiment was conducted using an attractive female researcher as the experimenter. The subjects approached her and remained standing in front of her at a distance of about 60 centimeters. "We wanted to find out whether the social distance can be influenced by means of the hormone," report researchers Dirk Scheele and Dr. Nadine Striepens. They hypothesized that oxytocin would result in a diminished social distance in the subjects because this substance is reputed to promote social relationships. To their surprise, the exact opposite happened – the male test subjects who had received oxytocin as a nasal spray and were in a relationship with a woman kept a greater distance from the attractive female researcher than subjects who were single or came from the control group who did not receive the hormone. Oxytocin acts as a kind of "fidelity hormone" "Here, oxytocin acted as a kind of 'fidelity hormone,' Dr. Hurlemann sums up the results. Men with female partners increased the distance. Single men and control subjects who had not received oxytocin, however, were more exposed to the sexual attractiveness of the experimenter. An additional experiment yielded quite similar results. The researchers showed the subjects photos of attractive women. The test subjects had an option to zoom in on the images – i.e., to approach them more closely. When administered oxytocin, men in a relationship did this more slowly than single men. The hormone increases the chances of survival "This provided us with important insights into what makes men tick," Dr. Hurlemann sums it up. Oxytocin had a key role in Nature's mechanism for ensuring that both parents fully focus on their vulnerable offspring. "The fidelity hormone kept men from immediately turning to another woman, after impregnating the partner, which increased the chances of survival for human offspring in pre-civilization times." ### Publication: Oxytocin Modulates Social Distance between Males and Females, The Journal of Neuroscience, DOI:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2755-12.2012

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Snap Judgments During Speed Dating

For speed daters, first impressions are everything. But it's more than just whether someone is hot or not. Whether or not we like to admit it, we all may make snap judgments about a new face. Perhaps nowhere is this truer than in speed dating, during which people decide on someone's romantic potential in just a few seconds. How they make those decisions, however, is not well understood. But now, researchers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have found that people make such speed-dating decisions based on a combination of two different factors that are related to activity in two distinct parts of the brain. Unsurprisingly, the first factor in determining whether someone gets a lot of date requests is physical attractiveness. The second factor, which may be less obvious, involves people's own individual preferences -- how compatible a potential partner may be, for instance. The study, which is published in the November 7 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience, is one of the first to look at what happens in the brain when people make rapid-judgment decisions that carry real social consequences, the researchers say. "Psychologists have known for some time that people can often make very rapid judgments about others based on limited information, such as appearance," says John O'Doherty, professor of psychology and one of the paper's coauthors. "However, very little has been known about how this might work in real social interactions with real consequences -- such as when making decisions about whether to date someone or not. And almost nothing is known about how this type of rapid judgment is made by the brain." In the study, 39 heterosexual male and female volunteers were placed in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine and then shown pictures of potential dates of the opposite sex. They were given four seconds to rate, on a scale from 1 to 4, how much they would want to date that person. After cycling through as many as 90 faces, the participants then rated the faces again -- outside the fMRI machine -- on attractiveness and likeability on a scale from 1 to 9. Later, the volunteers participated in a real speed-dating event, in which they spent five minutes talking to some of the potential dates they had rated in the fMRI machine. The participants listed those they wanted to see again; if there were any matches, each person in the pair was given the other's contact information. Perhaps to no one's surprise, the researchers found that the people who were rated as most attractive by consensus were the ones who got the most date requests. Seeing someone who was deemed attractive (and who also ended up with more date requests) was associated with activity in a region of the rater's brain called the paracingulate cortex, a part of the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (DMPFC), which is an important area for cognitive control and decision making. The paracingulate cortex, in particular, has been shown to be active when the brain is comparing options. This phenomenon was fairly consistent across all participants, says Jeff Cooper, a former postdoctoral scholar in O'Doherty's lab and first author of the paper. In other words, nearly everyone considers physical attraction when judging a potential romantic partner, and that judgment is correlated with activity in the paracingulate cortex. "But that's not the only thing that's happening," Cooper adds. When some participants saw a person they wanted to date -- but who was not rated as very desirable by everyone else -- they showed more activation in the rostromedial prefrontal cortex (RMPFC), which is also a part of the DMPFC, but sits farther in front than the paracingulate cortex. The RMPFC has been previously associated with consideration of other people's thoughts, comparisons of oneself to others, and, in particular, perceptions of similarities with others. This suggests that in addition to physical attractiveness, the researchers say, people consider individual compatibility. While good looks remains the most important factor in determining whether a person gets a date request, a person's likeability -- as perceived by other individuals -- is also important. For example, likeability serves as a tiebreaker if two people have equal attractiveness ratings. If someone thought a potential date was more likeable than other people did, then that someone was more likely to ask for a date. "Our work shows for the first time that activity in two parts of the DMPFC may be very important for driving the snapshot judgments that we make all the time about other people," O'Doherty says. As for the results of the speed-dating event? A few couples were still together six weeks afterward, Cooper says, but the researchers have not followed up. The study was focused on the neural mechanisms behind snap judgments -- how those judgments relate to long-term romantic success, he says, is another question.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Are 'hookups' replacing romantic relationships on college campuses?

"Hooking up" has become such a trend on college campuses that some believe these casual, no-strings-attached sexual encounters may be replacing traditional romantic relationships. However, a new study by researchers with The Miriam Hospital's Centers for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine suggests college students are not actually hooking up as frequently as one might think. According to their study, published online by the Journal of Adolescent Health, romantic relationships are still the most common context for sexual behavior, at least among women in their first year of college. Researchers report romantic sex with a boyfriend or relationship partner was found to be twice as common as hookup sex in this particular group of students. "Hooking up is one way that young adults explore intimate relationships, but it's not the most common way, and it is often exploratory," said Robyn L. Fielder, M.S., a research intern at The Miriam Hospital's Centers for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine. "So while hooking up gets more attention in the media, college students continue to develop romantic relationships, which are actually the most common context for sexual behavior." "Hooking up" is a loosely defined term characterized by sexual intimacy, ranging from kissing to sexual intercourse, between partners who are not dating or in a romantic relationship and do not expect commitment. However, Fielder says little is known about the frequency of sexual hookups, how this prevalence changes over time and whether hookups are replacing romantic relationships among college students in general. Researchers surveyed 483 first-year female college students about their sexual behavior with hookup and romantic relationship partners during their freshmen year, as well as the summer after. They focused specifically on sexual behaviors, specifically oral or vaginal sex, that are most likely to have health consequences, such as sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) or pregnancy. Before starting college, one-third of incoming freshmen women reported having at least one hookup, while nearly 60 percent said they had sex at least once in the context of a romantic relationship. Forty percent reported sexual hookups during the first year of college, and less than one in five participants had a sexual hookup each month. However, more than half – 56 percent – engaged in oral and/or vaginal sex with a boyfriend or romantic partner during the year. The average number of sexual hookups per month ranged from one to three, suggesting that – for most women – hookups are experimental and relatively infrequent as opposed to a regular pattern of behavior. Specifically, the highest rate of sexual hookups took place at the beginning of the academic year (October) and the lowest rate was during the summer (June). Sexual hookups were also more common among Caucasian students than they were among Asian or African-American students. "These findings support what we know about the first year of college: That it is a time when we see increases in sexual behavior and substance use, as young people explore who they want to be and how they want to interact with others – especially romantic partners," said Fielder. "It's important that we gain a better understanding of students' sexual behavior, since it can potentially affect both their physical and mental health as well as their academic success." Fielder said the study's findings could guide university health promotion efforts, including the need for STD and pregnancy prevention, since many studies have shown that condom use among college students is inconsistent and, in fact, decreases over the first year of college.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Women with stable but not-so-sexy mates become more distant, critical during periods of high fertility

Long after women have chosen Mr. Stable over Mr. Sexy, they struggle unconsciously with the decision, according to a new study by UCLA researchers who look at subtle changes in behavior during ovulation. At their most fertile period, these women are less likely to feel close to their mates and more likely to find fault with them than women mated to more sexually desirable men, the research shows. "A woman evaluates her relationship differently at different times in her cycle, and her evaluation seems to be colored by how sexually attractive she perceives her partner to be," said Martie Haselton, a professor of psychology and communication studies at UCLA and senior author of the study. Nevertheless, the negative feelings appear fleeting, and they don't seem to affect a woman's long-term commitment to her romantic relationship, the study found. "Even when these women are feeling less positive about their relationship, they don't want to end it," said Christina Larson, the study's lead author and a doctoral candidate in social psychology at UCLA. The findings are scheduled to appear in the November issue of the peer-reviewed journal Hormones and Behavior. Through a series of high-profile studies, Haselton's lab has revealed telling changes that take place in women's behavior during ovulation. Possibly to increase the odds of attracting suitable mating partners, these behaviors include a tendency to dress up and to speak in a higher-pitched, more feminine voice and — in a potential inbreeding-avoidance mechanism — to refrain from contact with male kin. In addition, the lab has found that women whose mates are less sexy and masculine tend to be more attracted to other men during the few fertile days leading up to ovulation. "A lot of research has shown that women's preferences change over the course of the cycle, but this is the first time that these changes have been shown to have implications for relationship functioning," Larson said. She and Haselton began the study by pinpointing the ovulation cycles of 41 undergraduate women involved in long-term heterosexual relationships. They asked the women to rate the sexual attractiveness of their mates by answering such questions as "How desirable do you think women find your partner as a short-term mate or casual sex partner, compared to most men." They also asked the women a series of questions designed to measure their partner's stability or suitability as a long-term mate, including questions about how his present and future financial status compares with that of most men. Then at two different points in her monthly cycle — at high fertility (just before ovulation) and at low fertility — each woman was asked about the quality of her romantic relationship. The researchers, who used a questionnaire designed exclusively for the study, found no significant change across the cycle in how the women perceived their level of commitment to the relationship or, at least initially, in their satisfaction with it. But an exercise that required the women to rate how close they felt to their men yielded dramatic results. As women mated to less sexually attractive men moved from their least fertile to most fertile period, their closeness scores dropped one point on a seven-point scale. Women mated to the most sexually attractive men, meanwhile, experienced the opposite effect. As these women moved from their least to most fertile period, their closeness scores rose by a point. "Women with the really good, stable guy felt more distant at high-fertility periods than low-fertility periods," Haselton said. "That isn't the case with women who were mated to particularly sexually attractive men. The closeness of their relationships got a boost just prior to ovulation." To ensure that the findings were not an anomaly, Haselton and Larson repeated the experiment with 67 other co-eds in long-term relationships. This time, however, the researchers administered a better-recognized measure for relationship satisfaction than the one they originally used. They also administered a questionnaire aimed at illuminating a dimension not studied in the first round: pickiness. The questionnaire asked the women to rate how characteristic such faults as being moody, childish, emotional, thoughtless and critical were of their mate. The researchers found that women mated to the less sexually attractive men were significantly more likely to find fault with their partners and, again, feel less close to their partners during the high-fertility period than the low-fertility period. Women who rated their mates as more sexually attractive, meanwhile, did not exhibit these changes and instead reported being more satisfied with their relationship at high fertility than at low fertility. The researchers believe the findings shed light on a suite of conflicting behaviors that stem from mating strategies that might have provided an evolutionary benefit to women's female ancestors of long ago but today probably serve no other purpose than to stir the domestic pot. "Since our female ancestors couldn't directly examine a potential partner's genetic makeup, they had to base their decisions on physical manifestations of the presence of good genes and the absence of genetic mutations, which might include masculine features such as a deep voice, masculine face, dominant behavior and sexy looks," said Haselton, who is affiliated with UCLA's Center for Behavior, Evolution, and Culture. "It is possible that we evolved to feel drawn to these visible markers because, at least in the past, they proved to be indicators of good genes," she said. "Ancestral women who were attracted to these features could have produced offspring who were more successful in attracting mates and producing progeny." But as any mother with mounting bills and laundry can attest, women do not look only for good genes in a potential partner. "In the reproductive arena, women probably evolved to desire men who could contribute both quality care and good genes," Haselton said. "The problem is that there is a limited number of potential mates who are high in both. So many women are forced to make trade-offs." She calls the urge for a stable long-term partner along with the increased desire for a more sexually attractive mate during periods of high fertility the "dual mating hypothesis." Haselton and Larson next plan to look at whether fault-finding and the feelings of distance and dissatisfaction have any long-term destabilizing effects on the relationships of women with less sexually attractive men. They also plan to look into how, if at all, the behavior is perceived by the male partners of these women. "We don't know if men are picking up on this behavior, but if they are, it must be confusing for them," Larson said.

Friday, October 19, 2012

How to Prove a Sexual Addiction

The idea that an individual might suffer from a sexual addiction is great fodder for radio talk shows, comedians and late night TV. But a sex addiction is no laughing matter. Relationships are destroyed, jobs are lost, lives ruined. Yet psychiatrists have been reluctant to accept the idea of out-of-control sexual behavior as a mental health disorder because of the lack of scientific evidence. Now a UCLA-led team of experts has tested a proposed set of criteria to define "hypersexual disorder," also known as sexual addiction, as a new mental health condition. Rory Reid, a research psychologist and assistant professor of psychiatry at the Semel Institute of Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA, led a team of psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and marriage and family therapists that found the proposed criteria to be reliable and valid in helping mental health professionals accurately diagnose hypersexual disorder. The results of this study — reported in the current edition of the Journal of Sexual Medicine — will influence whether hypersexual disorder should be included in the forthcoming revised fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), considered the "bible" of psychiatry. The importance of the study, Reid said, is that it suggests evidence in support of hypersexual disorder as a legitimate mental health condition. "The criteria for hypersexual disorder that have been proposed, and now tested, will allow researchers and clinicians to study, treat and develop prevention strategies for individuals at risk for developing hypersexual behavior," he said. The criteria, developed by a DSM-5 sexual and gender identity disorders work group for the revised manual, establish a number of symptoms that must be present. These include a recurring pattern of sexual fantasies, urges and behaviors lasting a period of six months or longer that are not caused by other issues, such as substance abuse, another medical condition or manic episodes associated with bipolar disorder. Also, individuals who might be diagnosed with this disorder must show a pattern of sexual activity in response to unpleasant mood states, such as feeling depressed, or a pattern of repeatedly using sex as a way of coping with stress. Part of the criteria also states that individuals must be unsuccessful in their attempts to reduce or stop sexual activities they believe are problematic. "As with many other mental health disorders," said Reid, "there must also be evidence of personal distress caused by the sexual behaviors that interfere with relationships, work or other important aspects of life." In order to evaluate the criteria for hypersexual disorder, Reid and his colleagues conducted psychological testing and interviews with 207 patients in several mental health clinics around the country. All of the patients were seeking help for out-of-control sexual behavior, a substance-abuse disorder or another psychiatric condition, such as depression or anxiety. The researchers found that the proposed criteria for hypersexual disorder accurately classified 88 percent of hypersexual patients as having the disorder; the criteria were also accurate in identifying negative results 93 percent of the time. In other words, the criteria appear to do a good job of discriminating between patients who experience hypersexual behavior and those who don't, such as patients seeking help for other mental health conditions like anxiety, depression or substance abuse. "The results lead us to believe that the proposed criteria tend not to identify patients who don't have problems with their sexual behavior," Reid said. "This is a significant finding, since many had expressed concerns that the proposal would falsely classify individuals." Reid also noted that the ability of the criteria to accurately identify hypersexual disorder in these patients was quite high and compared favorably to other psychiatric diagnoses. Another significant finding of the study, he said, was that patients who met the criteria for hypersexual disorder experienced significantly greater consequences for their sexual activities, compared with individuals with a substance-abuse diagnosis or a general medical condition. Of the 207 patients they examined, 17 percent had lost a job at least once, 39 percent had a relationship end, 28 percent contracted a sexually transmitted infection and 78 percent had interference with healthy sex. "So an individual meeting the criteria for hypersexual disorder can experience significant challenges and consequences in their life," Reid said. "Our study showed increased hypersexual behavior was related to greater emotional disturbance, impulsivity and an inability to manage stress." Interestingly, the researchers found that 54 percent of the hypersexual patients felt their sexual behavior began to be problematic before the age of 18. Another 30 percent reported that their sexual behavior began to be problematic during their college-aged years, from 18 to 25. "This appears to be a disorder that emerges in adolescence and young adulthood, which has ramifications for early intervention and prevention strategies," Reid said. The study also examined the types of sexual behavior that hypersexual patients reported. The most common included masturbation and excessive use of pornography, followed by sex with another consenting adult and cybersex. The study noted that hypersexual patients had sex with commercial sex workers, had repeated affairs or had multiple anonymous partners — amounting to an average of 15 sex partners in the previous 12-month period. "It's not that a lot of people don't take sexual risks from time to time or use sex on occasion to cope with stress or just escape, but for these patients, it's a constant pattern that escalates until their desire for sex is controlling every aspect of their lives and they feel powerless in their efforts to change," Reid noted.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Age of First Sexual Experience Predicts Romantic Outcomes in Adulthood

It’s a common lament among parents: Kids are growing up too fast these days. Parents worry about their kids getting involved in all kinds of risky behavior, but they worry especially about their kids’ forays into sexual relationships. And research suggests that there may be cause for concern, as timing of sexual development can have significant immediate consequences for adolescents’ physical and mental health. But what about long-term outcomes? How might early sexual initiation affect romantic relationships in adulthood? Psychological scientist Paige Harden of the University of Texas at Austin wanted to investigate whether the timing of sexual initiation in adolescence might predict romantic outcomes – such as whether people get married or live with their partners, how many romantic partners they’ve had, and whether they’re satisfied with their relationship – later in adulthood. To answer this question, Harden used data from the National Longitudinal Study on Adolescent Health to look at 1659 same-sex sibling pairs who were followed from adolescence (around 16) to young adulthood (around 29). Each sibling was classified as having an Early (younger than 15), On-Time (age 15-19), or Late (older than 19) first experience with sexual intercourse. Her findings are reported in a new research article published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. As expected, later timing of first sexual experience was associated with higher educational attainment and higher household income in adulthood when compared with the Early and On-Time groups. Individuals who had a later first sexual experience were also less likely to be married and they had fewer romantic partners in adulthood. Among the participants who were married or living with a partner, later sexual initiation was associated with significantly lower levels of relationship dissatisfaction in adulthood. The association held up even after taking genetic and environmental factors into account and could not be explained by differences in adult educational attainment, income, or religiousness, or by adolescent differences in dating involvement, body mass index, or attractiveness. These results suggest that the timing of first experience with sexual intercourse predicts the quality and stability of romantic relationships in young adulthood. Although research has often focused on the consequences of early sexual activity, the Early and On-Time participants in this study were largely indistinguishable. The data suggest that early initiation is not a “risk” factor so much as late initiation is a “protective” factor in shaping romantic outcomes. According to Harden, there are several possible mechanisms that might explain this relationship. It’s possible, for example, that people who have their first sexual encounter later also have certain characteristics (e.g., secure attachment style) that have downstream effects on both sexual delay and on relationship quality. They could be pickier in choosing romantic and sexual partners, resulting in a reluctance to enter into intimate relationships unless they are very satisfying. It’s also possible, however, that people who have their first sexual encounter later have different experiences, avoiding early encounters with relational aggression or victimization that would otherwise have detrimental effects on later romantic outcomes. Finally, Harden explains that it’s possible that “individuals who first navigate intimate relationships in young adulthood, after they have accrued cognitive and emotional maturity, may learn more effective relationship skills than individuals who first learn scripts for intimate relationships while they are still teenagers.” Future research can help to tease apart which of these mechanisms may actually be at work in driving the association between timing of first sexual intercourse and later romantic outcomes. In previous studies, Harden and her colleagues have found that earlier sexual intercourse isn’t always associated with negative outcomes. For example, using the same sample from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, she found that teenagers who experienced their first sexual intercourse earlier, particularly those who had sex in a romantic dating relationship, had lower levels of delinquent behavior problems. She explains, “We are just beginning to understand how adolescents’ sexual experiences influence their future development and relationships.”

Friday, September 14, 2012

Should I marry him? If you're having doubts, don't ignore them


In the first scientific study to test whether doubts about getting married are more likely to lead to an unhappy marriage and divorce, UCLA psychologists report that when women have doubts before their wedding, their misgivings are often a warning sign of trouble if they go ahead with the marriage.

The UCLA study demonstrates that pre-wedding uncertainty, especially among women, predicts higher divorce rates and less marital satisfaction years later.

"People think everybody has premarital doubts and you don't have to worry about them," said Justin Lavner, a UCLA doctoral candidate in psychology and lead author of the study. "We found they are common but not benign. Newlywed wives who had doubts about getting married before their wedding were two-and-a-half times more likely to divorce four years later than wives without these doubts. Among couples still married after four years, husbands and wives with doubts were significantly less satisfied with their marriage than those without doubts.

"You know yourself, your partner and your relationship better than anybody else does; if you're feeling nervous about it, pay attention to that," he added. "It's worth exploring what you're nervous about."

The psychologists studied 464 newlywed spouses (232 couples) in Los Angeles within the first few months of marriage and conducted follow-up surveys with the couples every six months for four years. At the time of marriage, the average age of the husbands was 27, and the average age of the wives was 25. The research is published in the online version of the Journal of Family Psychology, published by the American Psychological Association, and will appear in an upcoming print edition.

When asked, "Were you ever uncertain or hesitant about getting married?" at their initial interview, 47 percent of husbands and 38 percent of wives said yes. Yet while women were less likely than men to have doubts, their doubts were more meaningful in predicting trouble after the wedding, the researchers found.

Among women, 19 percent of those who reported pre-wedding doubts were divorced four years later, compared with 8 percent of those who did not report having doubts. For husbands, 14 percent who reported premarital doubts were divorced four years later, compared with 9 percent who did not report having doubts.

Doubt proved to be a decisive factor, regardless of how satisfied the spouses were with their relationships when interviewed, whether their parents were divorced, whether the couple lived together before the wedding and how difficult their engagement was.

In 36 percent of couples, the husband and wife had no doubts about getting married. Of those couples, 6 percent got divorced within four years. When only the husband had doubts, 10 percent of the couples got divorced. When only the wife had doubts, 18 percent of couples got divorced. When both partners had doubts, 20 percent of the couples got divorced.

"What this tells us," Lavner said, "is that when women have doubts before their wedding, these should not be lightly dismissed. Do not assume your doubts will just go away or that love is enough to overpower your concerns. There's no evidence that problems in a marriage just go away and get better. If anything, problems are more likely to escalate."

Thomas Bradbury, a UCLA psychology professor and co-author of the study, compared the situation to finding something disturbing on your skin that you hadn't noticed before.

"If you see something unusual on your skin, should you ignore it and go to the beach, or see a doctor? Be smart and don't ignore it — and don't ignore your doubts either," said Bradbury, who co-directs the Relationship Institute at UCLA. "Have a conversation and see how it goes. Do you think the doubts will go away when you have a mortgage and two kids? Don't count on that."

The psychologists are not advising women with doubts to necessarily end the relationship, they say.

"Talk about it and try to work through it," Bradbury said. "You hope that the big issues have been addressed before the wedding."

Friday, September 7, 2012

Gender Equality Influences How People Choose Their Partners


Men and women clearly have different strategies for picking sexual partners, but the reason why differences exist is less clear. The classic explanation for these differences has been that men’s and women’s brains have evolved to make certain choices, but a new study in Psychological Science, a publication of the Association for Psychological Science, suggests that evolution is only part of the answer.

To be a ‘success’ in evolutionary terms, women need to have access to resources for raising offspring, and men need to have access to fertile females. Researchers have argued that women tend to prefer partners who have an ability to invest resources in their children (i.e., wealthy men), and men tend to prefer partners who appear fertile (i.e., young women) because evolutionary adaptations have programmed these preferences in our brains.

But in the modern world, ‘success’ is not necessarily tied to offspring, so researchers Marcel Zentner and Klaudia Mitura of the University of York in the UK hypothesized that the influence of evolutionary biases on mate choice would decline proportionally with nations’ gender parity, or the equality between men and women.

“There was accumulating evidence that gender differences in mental abilities, such as math performance, vanish in gender-equal societies,” said Zentner. But he and his fellow researchers wanted to see if they could observe the same trend for selecting sexual partners.

Zentner and Mitura had 3,177 respondents complete an online mate preference survey from 10 countries ranking from a low (Finland) to a high (Turkey) gender gap in terms of the Global Gender Gap Index (GGI) – a measure that was recently introduced by World Economic Forum to iron out shortcomings of earlier gender parity measures. The participants were asked in their native language whether certain criteria – such as as financial prospects and being a good cook – were important considerations when choosing a mate.

They found that the gender difference in mate preferences predicted by evolutionary psychology models “is highest in gender-unequal societies, and smallest in the most gender-equal societies,” according to Zentner.

These results were confirmed in a second study based on mate preferences reported by 8,953 volunteers from 31 nations. Again, Zentner and Mitura found that there were fewer differences between men and women’s preferences in more gender-equal nations compared to less gender-equal nations.

Because increasing gender equality reduces gender differences in mate selection, these studies indicate that the strategies men and women use to choose mates may not be as hardwired as scientists originally thought.

“These findings challenge the idea proposed by some evolutionary psychologists that gender differences in mate-preferences are determined by evolved adaptations that became biologically embedded in the male and female brain,” says Zentner.

But he also adds evolutionary roots shouldn’t be ruled out entirely.

“Indeed, the capacity to change behaviors and attitudes relatively quickly in response to societal changes may itself be driven by an evolutionary program that rewards flexibility over rigidity.”

Friday, August 3, 2012

Playfulness may help adults attract mates, study finds


Why do adults continue to play throughout their lives while most other mature mammals cease such behavior? According to researchers at Penn State, playfulness may serve an evolutionary role in human mating preferences by signaling positive qualities to potential long-term mates.

"Humans and other animals exhibit a variety of signals as to their value as mates," said Garry Chick, professor and head of the Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Management. "Just as birds display bright plumage or coloration, men may attract women by showing off expensive cars or clothing. In the same vein, playfulness in a male may signal to females that he is nonaggressive and less likely to harm them or their offspring. A woman's playfulness, on the other hand, may signal her youth and fertility."

Chick and colleagues Careen Yarnal, associate professor of recreation, park and tourism management, and Andrew Purrington, lecturer in the Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Management, expanded on a previous survey that included a list of 13 possible characteristics that individuals might seek in prospective mates. To that original list, they added three new traits: "playful," "sense of humor" and "fun loving." The authors gave the survey to 164 male and 89 female undergraduate students, ages 18 to 26.

Of the 16 items, "sense of humor," "fun loving" and "playful" ranked second, third and fourth, respectively, among traits that females sought in males. Males rated three traits--"physically attractive," "healthy," and "good heredity"--that are characteristic of female fertility as significantly more desirable than females rated them in males.

The team reported its results online in this month's issue of the American Journal of Play.

"The fact that the subjects tended to rank 'sense of humor,' 'fun loving' and 'playful' at or near the top of the list of 16 characteristics does not mean that the mates they have selected or will select will actually exhibit these traits," said Chick. "In addition, the results may be skewed by the fact that most of the study subjects were college students from a western culture. Despite these caveats, it seems to us that signaling one's virtues as a potential long-term mate through playfulness is not far-fetched. Our results suggest that adult playfulness may result from sexual selection and signal positive qualities to potential long-term mates."

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Friday, July 27, 2012

Alcohol/Energy Drink Mixes with Casual, Risky Sex


A new study from the University at Buffalo's Research Institute on Addictions (RIA) has found a link between the consumption of caffeinated energy drinks mixed with alcohol and casual -- often risky -- sex among college-age adults.

According to the study's findings, college students who consumed alcohol mixed with energy drinks (AmEDs) were more likely to report having a casual partner and/or being intoxicated during their most recent sexual encounter.

The results seem to indicate that AmEDs may play a role in the "hook-up culture" that exists on many college campuses, says study author Kathleen E. Miller, senior research scientist at UB's RIA.

The problem is that casual or intoxicated sex can increase the risk of unwanted outcomes, like unintended pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases, sexual assault and depression, says Miller. And previous research has linked energy drink consumption with other dangerous behaviors: drunken driving, binge drinking and fighting, for example.

"Mixing energy drinks with alcohol can lead to unintentional overdrinking, because the caffeine makes it harder to assess your own level of intoxication," says Miller.

"AmEDs have stronger priming effects than alcohol alone," she adds. "In other words, they increase the craving for another drink, so that you end up drinking more overall."

The good news: Miller's study found that consumption of AmEDs was not a significant predictor of unprotected sex. Drinkers were no less likely than nondrinkers to have used a condom during their most recent sexual encounter.

Regardless of their AmED use, participants in the study were more likely to use a condom during sex with a casual partner than during sex with a steady partner, consistent with previous research. A steady or committed partner is a less risky prospect than a casual partner whose sexual history is unknown, Miller notes, so using a condom may not feel as necessary.

To be published in the print edition of Journal of Caffeine Research and available online to subscribers of the journal, the study is part of a larger three-year research project by Miller, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

The research included 648 participants (47.5 percent female) enrolled in introductory-level courses at a large public university. They ranged in age from 18 to 40 but mostly clustered at the lower end of the age spectrum. More than 60 percent were younger than 21.

According to the study's findings, nearly one in three sexually active students (29.3 percent) reported using AmEDs during the month prior to the survey.

At their most recent sexual encounter, 45.1 percent of the participants reported having a casual partner, 24.8 percent reported being intoxicated and 43.6 percent reported that they did not use a condom.

According to Miller, drinking Red Bull/vodkas or Jagerbombs doesn't necessarily lead people to get drunk and become intimate with strangers, but it does increase the odds of doing so. But she points out that these drinks are becoming increasingly popular with college-age adults and should be considered a possible risk factor for potentially health-compromising sexual behaviors.

The findings may provide a basis for educational campaigns or consumer safety legislation, such as warning labels that advise against mixing energy drinks with alcohol, Miller says.

http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/pdfplus/10.1089/jcr.2012.0015


Thursday, July 12, 2012

For Romantic Partners Left Out of a Meal, Lunch Is Not ‘Just Lunch’



If you’re meeting an ex lover, plan on coffee instead of lunch if you’d like to keep the peace at home.

When it comes to consuming calories with a person of the opposite sex, sharing meals sparks significantly more jealousy than meeting that same person for coffee.

“Our research suggests that sharing lunch involves more than the physical consumption of calories,” conclude co-authors Kevin M. Kniffin, a postdoctoral researcher at Cornell University’s Dyson School of Applied Economics, and Brian Wansink, the director of Cornell’s Food and Brand Lab, in their new paper, “It’s Not Just Lunch: Extra-Pair Commensality Can Trigger Sexual Jealousy,” which appears in the peer-reviewed journal, PLoS ONE.

Research by Kniffin and Wansink measured the amount of jealousy reported by current romantic partners if one of them were contacted by an ex lover and subsequently engaged in several food- and drink-based activities.

“We consistently found that meals elicit more jealousy than face-to-face interactions that do not involve eating – such as having coffee,” Kniffin said. “These results are consistent for both men and women.”

For couples who are attuned to relationship risks, this study suggests that men and women who “do lunch” run the risk of a jealous spouse or partner at home.

“It’s key to remember that from your spouse’s perspective, it’s not ‘just lunch.’ While meals can strengthen social relationships, they can also destroy them,” Wansink said.

The full study can be viewed online at: http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0040445

Monday, July 9, 2012

Handlebar level can affect sexual health of female cyclists


A new study published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine reveals that handlebar position is associated with changes in genital sensation in female cyclists.

Led by Marsha K. Guess, MD, MS, of Yale University School of Medicine, researchers evaluated bicycle set-up in terms of the relationship between the seat and the handlebars. 48 competitive women cyclists were studied.

Researchers measured saddle pressures and sensation in the genital region to see if placing handlebars in different positions affects pressure and sensation in the genital region. Results showed that placing the handlebar lower than the seat was associated with increased pressure on the genital region and decreased sensation (reduced ability to detect vibration).

"Modifying bicycle set-up may help prevent genital nerve damage in female cyclists," Guess notes. "Chronic insult to the genital nerves from increased saddle pressures could potentially result in sexual dysfunction."

"There are a myriad of factors affecting women's sexual function. If women can minimize pressure application to the genital tissues merely by repositioning their handlebars higher, to increase sitting upright, and thereby maximize pressure application to the woman's sit bones, then they are one step closer to maintaining their very important sexual health," explained Irwin Goldstein, editor-in-chief of The Journal of Sexual Medicine.>

Friday, June 15, 2012

Many college students can’t track down credible emergency contraception information online


They seem to live their personal lives online, but when there is a glitch in the sex lives of college students, and emergency contraception is needed, many struggle to navigate the Web and find the information they need, according to a Northwestern University study.

The study was recently published online in the journal Policy & Internet.

The majority of the 210 first-year college students who participated in the study were unable to use websites and Internet search engines to identify the most efficient way to acquire emergency contraception pills (ECPs) in a time of need, said Eszter Hargittai, lead author of the study and associate professor of communication studies at Northwestern.

“These results suggest that despite their highly wired lifestyles, many young adults do not have the necessary skills to navigate the vast amounts of information available online with expertise,” Hargittai said. “We shouldn’t assume that every college student who walks into the classroom already has expert digital domain knowledge and web searching skills.”

In fall 2007 and winter 2008, as part of a larger research project, study participants from both a suburban and an urban college in the Midwest, were asked to perform a dozen information-seeking tasks on a network-connected computer while being observed by a researcher.

In one task, on which data from this study are based, students were given the following hypothetical scenario about ECPs and asked to search out answers online:

“You are at home in the middle of summer. A friend calls you frantically on a Friday at midnight. The condom broke while she was with her boyfriend. What can she do to prevent pregnancy? Remember, neither of you is on campus. She lives in South Bend, Indiana.”

The majority of the participants used a search engine (most often Google) to navigate to websites for information. Here are some of the websites they visited:
-1.
31 percent visited Planned Parenthood’s national or local website -1.
-1.
10 percent pulled up morningafterpill.org, a site by the American Life League -1.
-1.
8 percent went to Princeton University’s Office of Population Research website -1.
-1.
6 percent visited Wikipedia during their search -1.
-1.
4 percent looked at the Plan B emergency contraception pill manufacture’s website -1.
-1.
4 percent went to a topic-related site such as WebMD -1.

Through their web searching methods, two-thirds of the students were able to conclude that their friend should seek an ECP, according to the study. But, fewer than half, 40 percent, were able to give the ideal response: that the friend should purchase ECPs over the counter at a pharmacy.

“Students who did not seem to have prior knowledge of emergency contraception often used a variant of the search term ‘prevent pregnancy’ and did not do a very good job at locating information about emergency contraception,” Hargittai said. “Those who already knew the answer or had some knowledge came up with the search terms ‘the morning after pill’ or the drug ‘Plan B’ and did a better job of finding information.”

When looking through search engine results to assess site credibility, many students relied heavily on domain names ending with dot-org, which are not sanctioned any more than are dot-com sites, Hargittai said.

Some answers, each one provided by different respondents, included: “wait it out,” “wash genitals,” “adoption,” “RU-486,” “ascorbic acid,” visiting a gynecologist in the incorrect locale, taking a pregnancy test, and purchasing another condom. Three percent of the students were unable to come to any conclusion on the question.

The researchers purposely placed the hypothetical situation in South Bend, Indiana, because that city doesn’t have a Planned Parenthood clinic. They also made the time of day midnight to make it more difficult to obtain immediate information in any way other than online, Hargittai said.

The study was conducted within 14 months after the Federal Drug Administration’s ruling that allowed ECPs to be available for purchase at pharmacies, without a prescription. From 1999 until January 1, 2007, ECP use required a prescription from a doctor. The research shows that important changes to health-related regulations might not propagate quickly among young people, Hargittai said.

“Young adults are much more likely than older adults to turn to the Internet as a resource when seeking health information,” she said. “We need to incorporate into college curricula certain aspects of digital media usage, such as efficient searching and also credibility assessment of sources that people consult, to help young adults navigate the Internet with better expertise.”

The name of the study is: “Searching for a ‘Plan B’: Young Adults' Strategies for Finding Information about Emergency Contraception Online”. The research was based on a study funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Bisexuality Studies Focus on Health, Behavior and Identity



Bisexuality, often stigmatized, typically has been lumped with homosexuality in previous public health research. But when Indiana University scientists recently focused on the health issues and behaviors specific to behaviorally bisexual men and women, they found tremendous variety, and that commonly used labels, such as heterosexual and homosexual, can sometimes do more harm than good.

Bisexual, gay, lesbian, queer, men who have sex with men (MSM), women who have sex with women (WSW) -- these are just some of the terms commonly used to characterize sexual partnering and attraction in recent research. Behavioral science researchers have long known that socially constructed sexual identity "labels" (like "gay") are often not always reflective of the diversity and complexity of an individual's sexual behaviors. A study led by Vanessa Schick, assistant research scientist at the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at IU Bloomington, found that how women relate to their label could influence their health.

Schick's study involved 2,578 women who reported a history of attraction or sexual encounters with women. The Web-based survey asked about mental, physical and sexual wellness. In the paper "Bidentity: Sexual Behavior/Identity Congruence and Women's Sexual, Physical and Mental Well-Being," Schick reports finding that the women who identified themselves as bisexual or lesbian reported the best health when their sexual identity matched their recent sexual history.

Schick, however, warned against interpreting this as evidence that women should declare a sexual identity that corresponds to their sexual behavior. Instead, she points to the experiences of women who labeled themselves as "queer," a sexual identity that is sometimes endorsed by individuals who want to reject traditional labels that suggest the gender of their sexual partners.

"Unlike the other women in the study, the mental, physical and sexual well-being of queer-identified women was not related to the gender of their recent sexual partners," she said. "This suggests that, instead of encouraging women to adopt labels that are more descriptive of their behavior, we should be more flexible in the behavioral expectations that we attach to these labels."

For a variety of reasons, men and women often identify openly or just to themselves with a label that is different from their sexual history. One such reason is biphobia, the stigma and discrimination that bisexual individuals experience from both heterosexual and homosexual individuals.

Brian Dodge, associate professor in the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation and associate director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion, found in his study on sexual health among bisexual men that factors associated with biphobia contributed to feelings of isolation and social stress reported by many of his study participants. Dodge's qualitative study, which is funded by the National Institutes of Health, is based on in-depth interviews with 75 bisexual men from the Indianapolis area, ages 19 to 70, equally divided among Latino participants, non-Latino black participants and non-Latino white participants.

"There have been large quantitative studies that examined the mental health status of men who have sex with both men and women," Dodge said, "but no one has sat down and talked with these men about it. When we did, men were saying explicitly that being bisexual, not having a community to be involved with, not having people they could disclose to, homosexual or heterosexual, was tied to their experiences of adverse mental health."

These are just some of the findings in the special issue of Journal of Bisexuality, published last week. Guest edited by Dodge and Schick, the special issue includes articles that stray from the more typical focus on sexual risk and sexually transmitted infections and covering topics including physical health and wellness, sexual health, and mental health among people whose identities or behaviors indicate bisexuality. Researchers contributing to the issue come from such institutions as Emory University, George Mason University, Columbia University, George Washington University and the IU School of Medicine.

"The issue gives a nice snapshot of how diverse bisexuality is among both men and women," Dodge said.

Here are more findings from Dodge's and Schick's studies:

*Schick's paper "Variations in the Sexual Repertoires of Bisexually Identified Women in the United States and the United Kingdom" examined the diversity of sexual behavior reported by bisexual women. When looking at their recent sexual experiences, the women were divided almost evenly as having no recent sexual partners, having only a male sexual partner, only a female sexual partner, or both male and female sexual partners. This study involved 710 bisexually identified women, making it one of the largest studies of its kind. "Like all people, bisexual women are living their sexual lives in diverse ways," Schick said. "Some women may choose to have both male and female partners while others may engage in sexual behavior with only men or women. Other bisexually identified women may decide not to have any sexual partners at all. They don't simply fit into one mold. This contradicts the hypersexualized representations of bisexual women that we often find within the media."

*For both papers in the special issue, Schick and her research team gathered more detailed information than other studies because of the variety of questions asked. Instead of asking whether they used a sex toy, for example, they asked about five different kinds of toys. When they asked about behaviors such as oral sex, they asked who was giving and receiving separately for men and women. Overall, they found that bisexual women tended to engage in parallel behaviors with men and women. In other words, they were similarly as likely to engage in oral sex with a male partner as they were to engage in oral sex with a female partner.

*In Dodge's study, men were asked to report a wide range of sexual behaviors with both male and female partners based on measures developed for the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior, a recent study conducted by the Center for Sexual Health Promotion examining the sexual behaviors and experiences of a nationally representative sample of more than 6,000 individuals in the United States. Such detailed data on the specific oral, vaginal, anal and other sexual behaviors in which these men engage with both male and female partners have been absent from scientific literature. The paper "Sexual Behaviors and Experiences Among Behaviorally Bisexual Latino Men in the Midwestern United States: Implications for Interventions," written by postdoctoral research fellow Omar Martinez of the HIV Center for Clinical and Behavioral Studies at Columbia University, explores the unique sexual behaviors and experiences of bisexual Latino men in the study.

*In Dodge's paper "Individual and Social Factors Related to Mental Health Concerns Among Bisexual Men in the Midwestern United States," participants reported mental health concerns tied to both individual and social struggles associated with being bisexual, particularly the isolation and lack of support and perceived stigma associated with bisexuality among men. They reported feeling they would automatically receive negative reactions from both homosexual and heterosexual family, friends and other people in their social networks. As a result, participants were not likely to disclose their bisexuality, further increasing their invisibility and isolation.

*In large part, men in Dodge's study tended to use condoms with male partners for HIV/STI prevention purposes and with female partners for pregnancy prevention purposes. Women were seen as being "safer" in terms of STI transmission risk. In the paper "Subjective Sexual Experiences of Behaviorally Bisexual Men in the Midwestern United States: Sexual Attraction, Sexual Behaviors and Condom Use," authored by IU doctoral candidate Phillip Schnarrs, participants describe the patterns and meanings of their sexual repertoires with both male and female partners.

Dodge said a better understanding of men's sexual behaviors and experiences will lead to more effective health programming for bisexual men and their male and female sexual partners.

"Because the content of most current sexual health programs for gay and bisexual men focus only on their behaviors and experiences with male partners, interventions are urgently needed that are specifically tailored to the wide range of sexual behaviors and experiences which bisexual men share with both male and female partners," he said.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Ovulating Women Perceive Sexy Cads as Good Dads



Nice guys do finish last at least when it comes to procreation according to a study from The University of Texas at San Antonio that answers the question of why women choose bad boys.

Research from Kristina Durante, assistant professor of marketing at The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) College of Business, finds that hormones associated with ovulation influence women's perceptions of men as potential fathers.

"Previous research has shown in the week near ovulation women become attracted to sexy, rebellious and handsome men like George Clooney or James Bond," said Durante. "But until now it was unclear why women would ever think it's wise to pursue long-term relationships with these kinds of men."

In the first study women viewed online dating profiles of either a sexy man or a reliable man during periods of both high and low fertility. Participants were asked to indicate the expected paternal contribution from the men if they had a child together based on how helpful the man would be caring for the baby, shopping for food, cooking and contributing to household chores. Near ovulation women thought that the sexy man would contribute more to these domestic duties.

"Under the hormonal influence of ovulation, women delude themselves into thinking that the sexy bad boys will become devoted partners and better dads," explained Durante. "When looking at the sexy cad through ovulation goggles, Mr. Wrong looked exactly like Mr. Right."

In another study women interacted directly with male actors who played the roles of sexy cad and reliable dad once during ovulation and again at low fertility. Again, ovulating women thought that the sexy cad—but not the reliable dad—would contribute more to childcare, but only if she were his partner.

"When asked about what kind of father the sexy bad boy would make if he were to have children with another woman, women were quick to point out the bad boy's shortcomings," said Durante. "But when it came to their own child, ovulating women believed that the charismatic and adventurous cad would be a great father to their kids."

"While this psychological distortion could be setting some women up to choose partners who are better suited to be short-term mates, missing a mating opportunity with a sexy cad might be too costly for some women to pass up," said Durante. "After all, you never know if he could be the 'one'."

"Ovulation Leads Women to Perceive Sexy Cads as Good Dads," was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Durante's coauthors include the University of Minnesota's Vladas Griskevicius, Jeffry A. Simpson and Stephanie M. Cantú and Norman Li from Singapore Management University.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Study confirms anatomic existence of the elusive G-spot



For centuries, women have been reporting engorgement of the upper, anterior part of the vagina during the stage of sexual excitement, despite the fact the structure of this phenomenon had not been anatomically determined.

A new study published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine documents that this elusive structure does exist anatomically.

Adam Ostrzenski, M.D., Ph.D., of the Institute of Gynecology in St. Petersburg, FL, conducted a stratum-by-stratum anterior vaginal wall dissection on an 83-year-old cadaver. The dissection established the presence of the G-spot, a well-delineated sac structure located on the dorsal (back) perineal membrane, 16.5 mm from the upper part of the urethral meatus, creating a 35 degree angle with the lateral (side) border of the urethra.

Having 3 distinct regions, the G-spot emerged with dimensions of length (L) of 8.1 mm x width (W) 3.6 mm to 1.5 mm x height (H) 0.4 mm. Upon removal of the entire structure with the adjacent margin tissues, the G-spot stretched from 8.1 to 33 mm.

"This study confirmed the anatomic existence of the G-spot, which may lead to a better understanding and improvement of female sexual function," Ostrzenski concludes.

Irwin Goldstein, editor-in-chief of The Journal of Sexual Medicine believes that research in women's sexual health issues is important. "This case study in a single cadaver adds to the growing body of literature regarding women's sexual anatomy and physiology."

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A scarcity of college men leads women to choose briefcase over baby

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American women today are more likely to earn college degrees than men with women receiving 57 percent of all bachelor’s and 60 percent of all master’s degrees. But are there consequences to having more women than men in college?

Research from the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) and University of Minnesota has found the ratio of men to women dramatically alters women’s choices about career and family. When men are scarce, women delay having children and instead pursue high-paying careers.

“Most women don’t realize it, but an important factor in a woman’s career choice is how easy or difficult it is to find a husband,” said Kristina Durante, assistant professor of marketing at the UTSA College of Business. “When a woman’s dating prospects look bleak – as is the case when there are few available men – she is much more likely to delay starting a family and instead seek a career.”

In one study, the researchers examined the ratio of single men to single women in each U.S. state and Washington D.C. They found that as bachelors became scarce, the percentage of women in high-paying careers increased, women delayed having children, and had fewer kids when they finally decided to start a family.

In another study on college campuses, the researchers led women to believe that there were either more men or less men on campus by having participants read one of two news article about the student population. When women read that there were fewer men than women on campus, they became more motivated to pursue ambitious careers rather than start a family.

“A scarcity of men leads women to invest in their careers because they realize it will be difficult to settle down and start a family,” said study coauthor Vlad Griskevicius, assistant professor of marketing at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management. “In fact, the strongest effects were found for women who are least likely to secure a mate.”

“Women who judged themselves to be less desirable to men—those women who are not like Angelina Jolie—were most likely to take the career path when men became scarce,” added Durante.

This research highlights a sexual paradox associated with women’s economic and educational advancement. “As women pursue more education and more lucrative careers when they can’t find a husband, the ironic effect is that it will only get harder to find a husband as women become more educated and earn higher salaries,” said Durante. “This is because a woman’s mating standards keep increasing as she becomes more educated and wealthy, which further decreases the number of suitable mates. More than ever before, modern women are increasingly forced to make tough choices such as choosing briefcase over baby.”

“Sex Ratio and Women’s Career Choice: Does a Scarcity of Men Lead Women to Choose Briefcase Over Baby?” was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Durante and Griskevicius’s coauthors include the University of Minnesota’s Jeffry A. Simpson and Stephanie M. Cantú and Joshua M. Tybur (VU University Amsterdam).

Friday, March 23, 2012

How often does your doctor ask about your sexual life? Not enough

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How often does your doctor ask about your sexual life?

Unfortunately, the answer may be: not often enough. Leaving the subject off the check-up checklist could mean missing an important link to overall wellness.

Results of a comprehensive national survey of U.S. obstetrician-gynecologists regarding communication with patients about sex have found that too often doctors aren't having "the talk" with their patients. And when the topic of sex does find its way into a doctor's office or exam room, chances are the discussion only skims the surface.

The report, "What We Don't Talk about When We Don't Talk about Sex," uncovers the shortfalls in doctor-patient communication around sexual matters and examines the barriers that may be limiting the range of dialogue in a typical evaluation of a woman's general health. The study is being published today in the Journal of Sexual Medicine.

The survey, conducted by a team of University of Chicago researchers, found that while nearly two-thirds of OB-GYNs routinely inquire about patients' sexual activity, other aspects of female sexuality are not routinely addressed. Only 40 percent of those surveyed routinely ask questions to assess for sexual problems or dysfunction. Far fewer, 29 percent, routinely ask patients about satisfaction with their sexual lives and 28 percent routinely confirm a patient's sexual orientation.

Given the well-established link between a sexual function and overall health, the study's authors say their findings point to a clear need for stronger guidelines for doctors on conducting a thorough sexual history.

"As a practicing OB-GYN, many of my patients say I'm the first physician to talk with them about sexual issues," said Stacy Tessler Lindau, MD, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Chicago Medicine, and the study's lead author. "Sexuality is a key component of a woman's physical and psychological health. Obviously, OB-GYNs are well positioned among all physicians to address female sexual concerns. Simply asking a patient if she's sexually active does not tell us whether she has good sexual function or changes in her sexual function that could indicate underlying problems."

There is strong evidence of a high prevalence of sexual function concerns among women. Recent studies estimate that roughly a third of young and middle-age women and about half of older women experience some sort of sexual problem such as low desire, pain during intercourse or lack of pleasure.

For most, the concerns go beyond physical — in fact, the impact of sexual dysfunction can be far reaching. In addition to strained relationships, many women experience worry, shame, guilt and feelings of isolation. If the doctor doesn't ask, patients often assume the topic is not welcome for discussion.

"Many women are suffering in silence," Lindau said. "Patients are often reluctant to bring up sexual difficulties because of fear the physician will be embarrassed or will dismiss their concerns. Doctors should be taking the lead. Sexual history taking is a fundamental part of gynecologic care. Understanding a patient's sexual function rounds out the picture of her overall health and can reveal underlying issues that may otherwise be overlooked."

The study also takes a close look at whether factors such as gender, age, race, medical school location, immigration status, religious affiliation or type of practice play a role in the likelihood an OB-GYN will broach sexual matters. Not surprisingly, female doctors are more likely to address sexual activity with female patients. Doctors who see more patients for gynecology versus prenatal care tend to screen for sexual dysfunction more frequently than their colleagues. OB-GYNs age 60 and older are less likely to delve into a patient's sexual orientation or identity.

Generally, less than a third of all OB-GYNs surveyed routinely ask patients about their sexual orientation. Assuming heterosexuality can alienate a lesbian or bisexual patient and result in misinterpretation of symptoms and misdiagnosis. The report suggests this remains an important area for further research.

"One explanation for the findings may be a deficit in physician training about diagnosis and treatment of female sexual problems," said first author Janelle Sobecki, MA, a second-year medical student at Wayne State University. "Like patients, physicians may worry that raising the topic could offend or embarrass the patient. Physicians, especially OB-GYNs, are better positioned than patients to open the door for discussion."

For many women grappling with a sexual problem, the underlying cause may be treatment for another medical condition. Drugs regularly prescribed for conditions from depression to breast cancer can have a negative effect on sexual function in some women, including low libido. Patients may be better able to tolerate these side effects if they know to expect them.

An emerging area of concern for Lindau — a specialist in maintaining sexual function in cancer survivors — is prevention measures for patients at high risk for developing breast cancer. Drugs such as aromatase inhibitors and tamoxifen, which interfere with the activity of estrogen and therefore reduce breast cancer risk, are becoming more widely used, including among younger women.

"Women are not being counseled on the potential sexual side effects of these treatments, and we have limited data to appropriately counsel them," Lindau said. "For men with prostate cancer, in comparison, the impact of treatment on sexual function is typically discussed as part of deciding which therapy to try."

One reason doctors may feel more comfortable discussing sex with men is the availability of FDA-approved treatments for erectile dysfunction, while medical treatments for female sexual dysfunction are limited.

The good news is that women are seeking and demanding more information about their personal health, oftentimes turning to the anonymity of the Internet as a first resource. Ideally, Lindau adds, these women are empowered by reputable online and other media sources to know that they are not alone in their concerns and will gather the courage to begin a conversation with a physician.

"If you have a doctor you trust who has not brought this topic up, give it a try," Lindau adds. "If you are waiting for the doctor to start the conversation, it may never happen. Communication is key."

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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Women decrease condom use during freshman year of college

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Women gradually use condoms less frequently during their first year of college, according to a new study by researchers from The Miriam Hospital's Centers for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine. This was particularly true for women who binge drink, have lower grade point averages or come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.

The findings, published online in the Journal of Sex Research, offer some of the first clues to how condom use changes during the college years – a time when young people are sexually active and use condoms inconsistently.

"We know unprotected sex puts women at greater risk for unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases, yet there has been a gap in research specifically focusing on changes in condom use during women's college years," said lead author Jennifer Walsh, Ph.D., a researcher with The Miriam Hospital's Centers for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine. "Identifying the demographic and behavioral changes associated with decreases in condom use can eventually lead to more targeted educational and intervention efforts."

The study included 279 first-year female college students who provided monthly reports on condom use. Predictors of condom use were assessed at the beginning of the academic year and included questions about participants' high school GPA, religious beliefs, parents' education levels and whether the had smoked marijuana or engaged in binge drinking during the month prior to college entry (August). Nearly three-quarters of participants were Caucasian.

Using a statistical technique known as latent growth modeling, researchers observed a gradual decline in condom use over the course of the students' first year of college, as predicted. This included condom use with all partners and with romantic partners specifically.

However, the study revealed several unexpected predictors of initial condom use. African American women, women who did not smoke marijuana, women who said they are less likely to practice safe sex after drinking and women with more previous sexual partners were less likely to use condoms at the start of the study.

Changes in condom use during the course of the year were predicted by women's socioeconomic status, high school GPA and substance use.

"College women often engage in serial monogamy, resulting in multiple partners during the college years, and they are often unaware of their partners' risk. This makes continued condom use important for women's health," said Walsh.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Rekindling a Romance Often Extinguishes a Couple's Happiness

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Before renewing romance with an ex, it may be better to move on to the next.

Amber Vennum, assistant professor of family studies and human services at Kansas State University, is studying couples in cyclical relationships -- the term used for a couple who breaks up and then gets back together. She is looking at why couples reunite and how it affects the relationship.

"There has been very little research on this topic, but it turns out that cyclical relationships are quite prevalent," Vennum said. "With college-age kids, about 40 percent are currently in a relationship where they have broken up and then have gotten back together. That's shocking, especially when you factor in the outcomes of being in a cyclical relationship."

For her research, Vennum analyzed information that cyclical and noncyclical couples gave about their relationship and its characteristics. The information was evaluated using the relationship deciding scale, or RDS, which assesses relationship qualities and accurately predicts what the relationship will be like 14 weeks into the future.
While movies, books and TV shows may portray rekindling a relationship as romantic, Vennum found that the results of getting back together were less than desirable.
Findings showed that couples in a cyclical relationship tended to be more impulsive about major relationship transitions -- like moving in together, buying a pet together or having a child together -- than those not in a cyclical relationship. As a result, the couples in cyclical relationships tended to be less satisfied with their partner; had worse communication; made more decisions that negatively affected the relationship; had lower self-esteem; and had a higher uncertainty about their future together.

"The idea is that because people aren't making explicit commitments to the relationship, they are less likely to engage in pro-relationship behaviors, such as discussing the state of the relationship or making sacrifices for their partner," Vennum said. "The thought is that, 'I'm not committed to you, why would I work very hard for you?'"

The findings are in line with those from the only other U.S. research team to study cyclical couples, according to Vennum. That team studied the breakup strategies used by couples in cyclical relationships and their reasons for reuniting. The researchers found that couples said they got back together because they believed their partner had changed for the better or that communications had improved -- but the results indicated otherwise. Additionally, other couples stated that the relationship continued because it was unclear if they had actually ended their romance.

"When cyclical couples break up, they tend to be ambiguous about ending the relationship," Vennum said. "So it can be unclear to one or both partners if they broke up and why they broke up, which leads to them continuing the romantic relationship. Other times the breakup won't be unilateral, so one person pursues the other until they get back together."

Vennum also looked at the effect of premarital cyclicality on marriages.
She found that couples who were cyclical prior to marriage were more uncertain about getting married and began their marriages with lower satisfaction and higher conflict than noncyclical couples. Over time, satisfaction with the marriage continued to decrease for cyclical couples. Additionally, spouses who were cyclical before marriage were also more likely to experience a trial separation during the first three years of marriage.

"It really shows that those patterns of cyclicality tend to repeat," Vennum said. "If you tend to be cyclical while dating, you tend to be cyclical while married. The more you are cyclical, the more your relationship quality tends to decrease and that creates a lack of trust and uncertainty about the future of the relationship, perpetuating the pattern."

Vennum is currently putting together her findings for publication. She also has advice for couples who have broken up.

"Don't get back together," she said. "Study after study shows that when our relationships are poor, we don't function well. If it seems necessary to get back together, make sure the decision is carefully considered by both people and that specific efforts are made to establish clarity."