Newlywed couples who have a lot of sex don't report being any more satisfied with their relationships than those who have sex less often, but their automatic behavioral responses tell a different story, according to new research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.
"We found that the frequency with which couples have sex has no influence on whether or not they report being happy with their relationship, but their sexual frequency does influence their more spontaneous, automatic, gut-level feelings about their partners," says psychological scientist Lindsey L. Hicks of Florida State University, lead author on the research.
"This is important in light of research from my colleagues demonstrating that these automatic attitudes ultimately predict whether couples end up becoming dissatisfied with their relationship."
From an evolutionary standpoint, frequent sex confers several benefits, improving chances of conception and helping bond partners together in relationships that facilitate child-rearing. But when researchers explicitly ask couples about their relationship satisfaction, they typically don't find any association between satisfaction and frequency of sex.
"We thought these inconsistencies may stem from the influence of deliberate reasoning and biased beliefs regarding the sometimes taboo topic of sex," explains Hicks.
Because our gut-level, automatic attitudes don't require conscious deliberation, Hicks and colleagues hypothesized, they might tap into implicit perceptions or associations that we aren't aware of. The researchers decided to tackle the question again, assessing partners' relationship satisfaction using both standard self-report measures and automatic behavioral measures.
In the first study, 216 newlyweds completed survey-style measures of relationship satisfaction. Participants rated various qualities of their marriage (e.g., bad-good, dissatisfied-satisfied, unpleasant-pleasant); the extent to which they agreed with different statements (e.g., "We have a good marriage"); and their overall feelings of satisfaction with their partner, their relationship with their partner, and their marriage.
Then, they completed a computer classification task: A word appeared on-screen and they had to press a specific key to indicate whether the word was positive or negative. Before the word appeared, a photo of their partners popped up for 300 ms.
The rationale behind this kind of implicit measure is that participants' response times indicate how strongly two items are associated at an automatic level. The faster the response time, the stronger the association between the partner and the word that appeared. Responding more slowly to negative words than to positive words that followed the picture of the partner would signify generally positive implicit attitudes toward the partner.
The researchers also asked each partner in the couple to estimate how many times they had had sex in the last four months.
Just as in previous studies, Hicks and colleagues found no association between frequency of sex and self-reported relationship satisfaction.
But when they looked at participants' automatic behavioral responses, they saw a different pattern: Estimates of sexual frequency were correlated with participants' automatic attitudes about their partners. That is, the more often couples had sex, the more strongly they associated their partners with positive attributes.
Importantly, this finding held for both men and women. And a longitudinal study that tracked 112 newlyweds indicated that frequency of sex was in fact linked with changes in participants' automatic relationship attitudes over time.
"Our findings suggest that we're capturing different types of evaluations when we measure explicit and automatic evaluations of a partner or relationship," says Hicks. "Deep down, some people feel unhappy with their partner but they don't readily admit it to us, or perhaps even themselves."
The researchers note that participants' reports of how often they remember having sex may not be the most precise measure of sexual frequency. And it remains to be seen whether the findings are applicable to all couples or specific to newly married couples like those they studied.
Taken together, the findings drive home the point that asking someone about their feelings or attitudes isn't the only way to measure how they feel.
"These studies illustrate that some of our experiences, which can be either positive or negative, affect our relationship evaluations whether we know it or not," Hicks concludes.
Older American male customers of sex workers pay for more sex as they age. These findings are reported in a study which surveyed older American men who frequent sex work websites and discussion boards. It was conducted by Los Angeles-based psychotherapist Christine Milrod and sociologist Martin Monto of the University of Portland in the US and published in Springer's journalArchives of Sexual Behavior.
The participants were 208 men between the ages of 60 and 84 years old from 36 American states who posted or read reviews or comments on female sex work review websites and discussion boards. They were asked 129 questions about their sexual health, behaviors and preferences. More than two-thirds (68.5 percent) were married, and most wanted to keep their activities secret. Over 85 percent of participants held at least a Bachelor's or graduate degree and enjoyed an annual income above that of the average American household. The primary sex partner of about 40 percent of the married or partnered men had a health condition (often sexually related such as being postmenopausal or suffering from vaginal dryness) that limited her engagement in sexual activities.
According to Milrod, there is an almost universal perception that older men do not pay for sex or even regularly engage sexually. "It was therefore extremely surprising to see that the advancing age of the men in our sample was associated with a higher frequency of buying sex," she explains.
Compared with other, more general and inclusive populations of sex buyers, the survey participants were much more active in purchasing sex, with more than half reporting that they had paid for sex between 13 and 24 times during the last 12 months.
Participants most often engaged in fellatio without a condom and penile-vaginal intercourse with a condom, preferably with a White provider aged between 26 and 45 years old. Almost one-third of the men saw one sex provider exclusively, while 44 percent had at some stage become emotionally attached or fallen in love with a provider.
Men were willing to pay for more than just sex. Married men often sought the so-called "girlfriend experience," while other high-income earners with no spouse or partner enjoyed non-sexual activities with a provider, such as dining out, attending cultural events or going on vacation together.
"These encounters appear to be a reliable outlet for sexual contact and physical intimacy sometimes not available in their primary relationships, partly due to a reduced pool of female partners available for sexual experiences," Monto explains.
Over half of the sample reported having talked with their doctor about sex after turning 60, and 80 percent said they initiate the topic. The findings highlight that medical practitioners should not assume that old age is a barrier to paying for sex.
"The uncomplicated and reliable access to willing sexual partners, even if remunerated, seems to ensure that our participants can choose to participate in sexual activities as long as they are physically and financially able," says Milrod.