Thursday, December 21, 2017

Interest in sex rises at Christmas, with more births nine months later

It's often wryly observed that birth rates peak in September, with many studies citing seasonal changes in human biology to explain this post-holiday "baby boom." But new research from scientists at Indiana University and the Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência in Portugal finds that spikes in pregnancies are actually rooted in society, not biology.

The evidence was discovered in the "collective unconscious" of web searches and Twitter posts that researchers now use to reveal our hidden desires and motivations.

"The rise of the web and social media provides the unprecedented power to analyze changes in people's collective mood and behavior on a massive scale," said Luis M. Rocha, a professor in the IU School of Informatics, Computing and Engineering, who co-led the study. "This study is the first 'planetary-level' look at human reproduction as it relates to people's moods and interest in sex online."

The study, which appears Dec. 21 in the journal Scientific Reports, draws upon data from nearly 130 countries that included sex-related Google search terms from 2004 to 2014 and 10 percent of public Twitter posts from late 2010 to early 2014.

The analysis revealed that interest in sex peaks significantly during major cultural or religious celebrations -- based upon a greater use of the word "sex" or other sexual terms in web searches. These peaks broadly corresponded to an increase in births nine months later in countries with available birth-rate data.

Moreover, the effect was observed in two different cultures, with the greatest spike occurring during major holiday celebrations: Christmas in Christian-majority countries and Eid-al-Fitr, the celebration that marks the end of Ramadan, in Muslim-majority countries.

The use of data from the Northern and Southern hemispheres is notable since past analyses tended to focus on smaller geographic areas in the Western and Northern hemispheres. The case of Eid-al-Fitr is significant because the holiday does not occur on the same day each year, but the measured effect still shifts accordingly, following a clear cultural pattern.

Because the seasons are reversed on opposites sides of the globe, and peak birth rates and online interest in sex did not change based on geography, the researchers concluded the relationship between these effects is unrelated to biological shifts caused by changes in daylight, temperature or food availability.

"We didn't see a reversal in birth rate or online interest in sex trends between the Northern and Southern hemispheres -- and it didn't seem to matter how far people lived from the equator," Rocha said. "Rather, the study found culture -- measured through online mood -- to be the primary driver behind cyclic sexual and reproductive behavior in human populations."

To understand the higher interest in sex during holidays, the researchers also conducted a sophisticated review of word choices in Twitter posts -- known as a "sentiment analysis" -- to reveal that, collectively, people appear to feel happier, safer and calmer during the holidays.

When these collective moods appear on other occasions throughout the year, the analysis also found a corresponding increase in online interest in sex. Interestingly, Thanksgiving and Easter did not generate the same mood and online interest in sex.

"We observe that Christmas and Eid-Al-Fitr are characterized by distinct collective moods that correlate with increased fertility," Rocha said. "Perhaps people feel a greater motivation to grow their families during holidays when the emphasis is on love and gift-giving to children. The Christmas season is also associated with stories about the baby Jesus and holy family, which may put people in a loving, happy, 'family mood.'"

The study's results are notable for reasons beyond curiosity about the rise in babies born nine months after the holidays. For example, Rocha said the findings could help public health researchers pinpoint the best dates to launch public awareness campaigns encouraging safe sex in developing countries lacking in reliable birth-rate data.

"The strong correlation between birth rates and the holidays in countries where birth-rate data is available -- regardless of hemisphere or the dominant religion -- suggests these trends are also likely to hold true in developing nations," he added. "These types of analyses represent a powerful new data source for social science and public policy researchers."

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Beauty is in the eye of the beer holder

Men under the influence of alcohol are more likely to see women as sexual objects. This is according to a study which moves beyond the mere anecdotal to investigate some of the circumstances and factors that influence why men objectify women. The research is published in Springer's journal Sex Roles and is led by Abigail Riemer of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in the US.

The study involved 49 men in their twenties and was conducted in the safe space of a college laboratory. Of the 49 subjects, 29 received two alcoholic drinks to mildly intoxicate them, and the rest received placebo drinks. All were shown photographs of 80 undergraduate women dressed to go out, and were asked to rate the women's appearances and personality. The women's photos were previously rated by an independent panel on how much warmth, good-naturedness, friendliness, competence, intelligence, confidence, and attractiveness they exuded. Eye-tracking technology noted which part of the women's bodies men were looking at when they were shown the images.

When the men assessed a photographed woman based on her appearance, the instruction most often triggered objectifying gazes from them. They spent less time looking at faces and focused far longer on chests and waists. This was particularly true when viewing women who had been rated high in attractiveness. It happened to a lesser degree when viewing women who exuded warmth and competence, especially when men were slightly drunk. The findings suggest that whether a man will sexually objectify a woman depends on the alcohol intoxication of the man, as well as how attractive, warm and competent a woman is perceived to be.

"The sum of these results supports the notion that being perceived as high in humanizing attributes, such as warmth and competence, or being average in attractiveness provides a buffer that protects women from sexual objectification," says Riemer.

"Environments in which alcohol is present are ripe with opportunities for objectifying gazes," adds Riemer, who says that the only other study previously done on the link between alcohol and objectification by men relied on self-reports from women. "Adopting objectifying gazes toward women leads perceivers to dehumanize women, potentially laying the foundation for many negative consequences such as sexual violence and workplace gender discrimination."

She hopes findings from the study will help to challenge specific maladaptive beliefs held by some men that it is OK and acceptable to direct objectifying gazes toward women, especially those who are not typically considered to be attractive or who are not perceived as being competent or to have a warm personality.

"Understanding why the objectifying gaze occurs in the first place is an initial step toward stopping its incidence and its damaging effects," says Riemer, who believes that there might be value in mindfulness-based interventions to help men reflect on how they perceive women. "This may inform primary prevention programs to reduce the continuum of sexual violence that women disproportionately experience."

Monday, December 18, 2017

Bullies have more sex


Adolescents who are willing to exploit others for personal gain are more likely to bully and have sex than those who score higher on a measure of honesty and humility. This is according to a study in Springer's journal Evolutionary Psychological Science which was led by Daniel Provenzano of the University of Windsor in Canada.

Researchers believe that bullying might be more than just objectionable behaviour. It might, in fact, have evolved as a way for men to show dominance and strength, and to signal to women that they are good breeding stock, able to protect their offspring and provide for their needs. From an evolutionary perspective, a man's dominance may make him more attractive to his potential sexual partners, as well as scaring off potential rivals.

Provenzano and his colleagues investigated individual personality differences that might make one person more willing and able to use bullying tactics when competing for sexual partners than others. Two sets of participants were recruited: 144 older adolescents (with a mean age of 18.3) and 396 younger adolescents (with a mean age of 14.6). Participants had to fill in questionnaires about their sex life and number of sexual partners, as well as frequency of bullying perpetration.

Through another questionnaire, the researchers learnt more about six different aspects of the participants' personality, such as their willingness to cooperate with others, or to exploit and antagonise others. The latter is measured by looking at how agreeable and emotionally in tune someone is, as well as how honest and humble they are. Those who do not score high in these latter measures tend to display antisocial personality traits and to subsequently be bullies.

Provenzano's team found that younger people who scored lower in "Honesty-Humility" were more likely to use bullying tactics to pursue more sexual partners than others.

"Younger adolescents lower in 'Honesty-Humility' may therefore strategically manipulate others in a variety of ways to obtain more sexual partners," says Provenzano. "Our findings indirectly suggest that exploitative adolescents may have more sexual partners if they are able to strategically use exploitative behaviour like bullying to target weaker individuals."

According to Provenzano, adolescents lower in "Honesty-Humility" may also use bullying as an intersexual strategy to display traits such as strength and dominance to attract the opposite sex. They might also use bullying to put their rivals in a bad light, or to threaten rivals into withdrawing from intra-sexual competition in order to gain advantage when it comes to potential sexual partners.

"Our results suggest that both research and intervention efforts with older and younger adolescents need to recognize and respond to the relationships between personality, sex and bullying," explains Provenzano.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Taking a spouse's surname can define power in marriage

The pending nuptials of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have royal watchers brushing up on royal naming practices and asking 'what's in a name?'

A new study led by a UNLV psychology professor shows that a wife's choice of surnames may influence perceptions of her husband's personality and the distribution of power in the marriage.
In a three-part study conducted in the U.S. and the U.K., Rachael Robnett and her coauthors concluded that men whose wives retain their own surnames after marriage are seen as submissive and less powerful in the relationship.

The study, published on Nov. 21, is the first to examine whether perceptions of a man's personality vary depending on whether his wife takes his name or retains her own.

"The marital surname tradition is more than just a tradition. It reflects subtle gender-role norms and ideologies that often remain unquestioned despite privileging men," said Robnett, an assistant professor of psychology at UNLV.

Using a variety of research methods, researchers found a connection between gender-typed personality traits and perceived power dynamics. Traditionally, instrumentality or aggressive and dominant traits are associated with higher status and power and are often ascribed to men.

Expressivity or more loving and nurturing traits tend to be associated with lower status and power and are often ascribed to women. However, findings in Robnett's study show perceptions of these gender norms change based on a woman's surname choices.

"Our findings indicate that people extrapolate from marital surname choices to make more general inferences about a couple's gender-typed personality traits," she said.

In study 1, the researchers surveyed U.S. undergraduates and asked them to characterize a man whose wife retains her surname after marriage. Respondents described the man using expressive traits and commented that he was "caring," "understanding," "timid," and "submissive."

In study 2, participants in southeast England read a vignette about a fictional engaged couple and took a survey about their perceptions of the woman's surname choices. Respondents perceived the man as higher in expressive traits and lower in instrumental traits when the woman retained her own surname.

In study 3, also conducted with U.S. undergraduates, the researchers examined whether hostile sexism, or an antagonistic attitude toward women, helps to explain individual differences in participants' responses to questions of power in a fictional marriage. Respondents who held firmly to traditional gender roles and can be described as hostile sexists perceived a man whose wife retained her surname as being disempowered.

"We know from prior research that people high in hostile sexism respond negatively to women who violate traditional gender roles," Robnett said. "Our findings show that they also apply stereotypes to nontraditional women's husbands."

Women's sexual orientation linked to attitude about birth

Unhappiness about a pregnancy or birth has been associated with negative health outcomes for mothers and babies. Yet, unhappiness about a pregnancy or birth has been understudied, particularly among sexual minority (non-heterosexual) women. George Mason University's Dr. Lisa Lindley and her colleagues at the University of South Carolina published findings of their new study in Perspectives on Reproductive and Sexual Health, "Sexual Orientation Concordance And (Un)Happiness About Births."

As Lindley explains, "To our knowledge, this is the first investigation of birth happiness by sexual orientation discordance across sexual orientation measures using a nationally representative sample of women of reproductive age. Previous research has focused exclusively on heterosexual women, or assumed that the women were heterosexual."

Lindley and colleagues examined birth happiness among women by sexual orientation discordance using data from the 2006-2015 National Survey of Family Growth. Birth intention, male partnership context (marital/relationship status, wanting to have a child with the father, and father's feeling about the pregnancy), and sociodemographic covariates (race/ethnicity, mother's education, household income, etc.) were included to determine whether they mediated the relationship between birth happiness and sexual orientation discordance.

Sexual orientation was measured using the combination of sexual identity, sexual attraction, and sexual behavior variables. Sexual orientation "concordance" was defined as consistency across these three dimensions. For example, a woman who identified as lesbian, reported only same sex attractions, and engaged only in same-sex behaviors would be considered "concordant," while a woman who identified as heterosexual but reported same-sex attractions or behaviors would be considered "discordant."

Heterosexual-discordant women were of particular interest in this study as they are more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors and have unintended pregnancies than their heterosexual-concordant counterparts. Consistent with their previous research, Lindley and colleagues also found that heterosexual-discordant women were significantly less happy about their births than heterosexual-concordant women. The fact that births were less likely to be intended and that relationships with male partners were less favorable for births among heterosexual-discordant women partially explained this association.

Lindley pointed out that other factors likely contributed to birth unhappiness among heterosexual-discordant women but were not assessed in the National Survey of Family Growth. According to Lindley, "heteronormative expectations for women, including the pressure to be in a relationship with a man and to have children, may have contributed to their birth unhappiness. This would be especially true if heterosexual-discordant women preferred to be in a relationship with a woman and/or did not want to have a child, or if they had a child to conceal their same-sex attractions and behavior."

Additionally, the survey did not ask women about their pregnancy happiness, or their partner's favorability about the pregnancy, but rather assessed their happiness/favorability about the birth. Thus, the researchers were unable to compare happiness levels by sexual orientation discordance for pregnancies that did not end in birth (i.e., ended in miscarriage or abortion).

Despite strong evidence of risky sexual behaviors, unintended pregnancies, and unhappiness about births occurring among sexual minority women, particularly among heterosexual-discordant women, these concerns are simply not being addressed. Lindley and colleagues point to a gaping hole in the research literature about how best to reach and educate sexual minority women and how best to tailor services and programs for them. They strongly suggest additional efforts in these areas to identify best practices.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Regular marijuana use linked to more sex

The jury's still out on rock 'n' roll. But the link between sex and at least one drug, marijuana, has been confirmed.
A study by investigators at the Stanford University School of Medicine indicates that, despite concerns among physicians and scientists that frequent marijuana use may impair sexual desire or performance, the opposite appears more likely to be the case.
The findings, to be published online Oct. 27 in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, are based on an analysis of more than 50,000 Americans ages 25-45. And they're unambiguous.
"Frequent marijuana use doesn't seem to impair sexual motivation or performance. If anything, it's associated with increased coital frequency," said the study's senior author, Michael Eisenberg, MD, assistant professor of urology. The lead author is Andrew Sun, MD, a resident in urology.

Hint of a causal connection

The study does not establish a causal connection between marijuana use and sexual activity, Eisenberg noted. But the results hint at it, he added. "The overall trend we saw applied to people of both sexes and all races, ages, education levels, income groups and religions, every health status, whether they were married or single and whether or not they had kids."
The study is the first to examine the relationship between marijuana use and frequency of sexual intercourse at the population level in the United States.
"Marijuana use is very common, but its large-scale use and association with sexual frequency hasn't been studied much in a scientific way," Eisenberg said.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than 20 million adult Americans are current marijuana users. With the drug's legalization for medical or recreational use in 29 states, that number is climbing. But despite marijuana's growing status as a recreational drug, its status as a procreational drug remains ambiguous: On one hand, there are reports of erectile dysfunction in heavy users, and rigorous studies have found reduced sperm counts in men who smoke it; on the other hand, experiments conducted in animal models and humans indicate that marijuana stimulates activity in brain regions involved in sexual arousal and activity.

Looking at survey responses

To arrive at an accurate determination of marijuana's effect on intercourse frequency, Eisenberg and Sun turned to the National Survey of Family Growth, sponsored by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The survey, which provides data pertaining to family structures, sexual practices and childbearing, reflects the overall demographic features of the U.S. population. Originally conducted at regular intervals, the survey is now carried out on an annual basis. It explicitly queries respondents on how many times they've had intercourse with a member of the opposite sex in the past four weeks, and how frequently they've smoked marijuana over the past 12 months.
The investigators compiled answers to those questions for all years since 2002, when the survey first began collecting data on men as well as women. They included data from respondents ages 25-45 and excluded a small percentage (fewer than 3 percent) of respondents who had failed to answer one or more relevant questions.
In all, Eisenberg and Sun obtained data on 28,176 women averaging 29.9 years of age and 22,943 men whose average age was 29.5. They assessed these individuals' self-reported patterns of marijuana use over the previous year and their self-reported frequency of heterosexual intercourse over the previous four weeks.
Some 24.5 percent of men and 14.5 percent of women in the analysis reported having used marijuana, and there was a positive association between the frequency of marijuana use and the frequency of sexual intercourse. This relationship applied to both sexes: Women denying marijuana use in the past year, for example, had sex on average 6.0 times during the previous four weeks, whereas that number was 7.1 for daily pot users. Among men, the corresponding figure was 5.6 for nonusers and 6.9 for daily users.
In other words, pot users are having about 20 percent more sex than pot abstainers, Eisenberg noted.

Positive association is universal

Moreover, Eisenberg said, the positive association between marijuana use and coital frequency was independent of demographic, health, marital or parental status.
In addition, the trend remained even after accounting for subjects' use of other drugs, such as cocaine or alcohol. This, Eisenberg said, suggests that marijuana's positive correlation with sexual activity doesn't merely reflect some general tendency of less-inhibited types, who may be more inclined to use drugs, to also be more likely to have sex. In addition, coital frequency rose steadily with increasing marijuana use, a dose-dependent relationship supporting a possible active role for marijuana in fostering sexual activity.
Nevertheless, Eisenberg cautioned, the study shouldn't be misinterpreted as having proven a causal link. "It doesn't say if you smoke more marijuana, you'll have more sex," he said.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Online Dating Is Changing the Nature of Society

Dating websites have changed the way couples meet. Now evidence is emerging that this change is influencing levels of interracial marriage and even the stability of marriage itself. went live in 1995. A new wave of dating websites, such as OKCupid, emerged in the early 2000s. And the 2012 arrival of Tinder changed dating even further. Today, more than one-third of marriages start online.

Clearly, these sites have had a huge impact on dating behavior. But now the first evidence is emerging that their effect is much more profound. 
The way people meet their partners has changed dramatically in recent years
For more than 50 years, researchers have studied the nature of the networks that link people to each other. These social networks turn out to have a peculiar property.

One obvious type of network links each node with its nearest neighbors, in a pattern like a chess board or chicken wire. Another obvious kind of network links nodes at random. But real social networks are not like either of these. Instead, people are strongly connected to a relatively small group of neighbors and loosely connected to much more distant people.

These loose connections turn out to be extremely important. “Those weak ties serve as bridges between our group of close friends and other clustered groups, allowing us to connect to the global community,” say Josue Ortega at the University of Essex in the U.K. and Philipp Hergovich at the University of Vienna in Austria.

Loose ties have traditionally played a key role in meeting partners. While most people were unlikely to date one of their best friends, they were highly likely to date people who were linked with their group of friends; a friend of a friend, for example. In the language of network theory, dating partners were embedded in each other’s networks.

Indeed, this has long been reflected in surveys of the way people meet their partners: through mutual friends, in bars, at work, in educational institutions, at church, through their families, and so on.

Online dating has changed that. Today, online dating is the second most common way for heterosexual couples to meet. For homosexual couples, it is far and away the most popular.

That has significant implications. “People who meet online tend to be complete strangers,” say Ortega and Hergovich. And when people meet in this way, it sets up social links that were previously nonexistent.

The question that Ortega and Hergovich investigate is how this changes the racial diversity of society. “Understanding the evolution of interracial marriage is an important problem, for intermarriage is widely considered a measure of social distance in our societies,” they say.

The researchers start by simulating what happens when extra links are introduced into a social network. Their network consists of men and women from different races who are randomly distributed. In this model, everyone wants to marry a person of the opposite sex but can only marry someone with whom a connection exists. This leads to a society with a relatively low level of interracial marriage.

But if the researchers add random links between people from different ethnic groups, the level of interracial marriage changes dramatically. “Our model predicts nearly complete racial integration upon the emergence of online dating, even if the number of partners that individuals meet from newly formed ties is small,” say Ortega and Hergovich.

And there is another surprising effect. The team measure the strength of marriages by measuring the average distance between partners before and after the introduction of online dating. “Our model also predicts that marriages created in a society with online dating tend to be stronger,” they say.

Next, the researchers compare the results of their models to the observed rates of interracial marriage in the U.S. This has been on the increase for some time, but the rates are still low, not least because interracial marriage was banned in some parts of the country until 1967.

But the rate of increase changed at about the time that online dating become popular. “It is intriguing that shortly after the introduction of the first dating websites in 1995, like, the percentage of new marriages created by interracial couples increased rapidly,” say the researchers.

The increase became steeper in the 2000s, when online dating became even more popular.  Then, in 2014, the proportion of interracial marriages jumped again. “It is interesting that this increase occurs shortly after the creation of Tinder, considered the most popular online dating app,” they say.
Tinder has some 50 million users and produces more than 12 million matches a day.

Of course, this data doesn’t prove that online dating caused the rise in interracial marriages. But it is consistent with the hypothesis that it does.

Meanwhile, research into the strength of marriage has found some evidence that married couples who meet online have lower rates of marital breakup than those who meet traditionally. That has the potential to significantly benefit society. And it’s exactly what Ortega and Hergovich’s model predicts.

Of course, there are other factors that could contribute to the increase in interracial marriage. One is that the trend is the result of a reduction in the percentage of Americans who are white. If marriages were random, this should increase the number of interracial marriages, but not by the observed amount. “The change in the population composition in the U.S. cannot explain the huge increase in intermarriage that we observe,” say Ortega and Hergovich.

That leaves online dating as the main driver of this change. And if that’s the case, the model implies that this change is ongoing.

That’s a profound revelation. These changes are set to continue, and to benefit society as result. 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Why women become less sexually active as they age

 As women age, sexual activity typically declines. But that doesn't necessarily mean they are no longer interested in sex. The problem for many is physical. A new study demonstrates the impact on sexual activity of postmenopausal women as a result of vulvovaginal atrophy and lower urinary tract problems. The study results will be presented during The North American Menopause Society (NAMS) Annual Meeting in Philadelphia, October 11-14.

In recent years the medical community adopted the terminology "genitourinary syndrome of menopause" (GSM) to more accurately refer to the collective vaginal and bladder problems that affect many women during menopause. In simpler terms, GSM includes symptoms of painful sex as a result of a thinning of the vaginal walls, along with bladder problems that can lead to urine leakage during sexual activity, as well as during other unpredictable times. As part of this new study, researchers assessed the impact of these symptoms on a woman's ability to be sexually active and enjoy the sexual experience.

More than 1,500 women completed a questionnaire regarding their sexual activity. While both vulvovaginal atrophy and bladder problems negatively impacted sexual enjoyment and frequency of activity, the fear of experiencing pain during sex was reported as a reason for avoiding or restricting activity more often (20%) than bladder problems, such as fear of wetting the bed or having to interrupt activity to go to the bathroom (9%).

"Our findings underscore the need to further expand the sexual history after a woman reports that she is not currently sexually active," says Dr. Amanda Clark, lead author of the study from the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research in Portland, Oregon.

"This study provides just one more reason why healthcare providers need to have an open and honest discussion with peri- and postmenopausal women so that appropriate treatments options can be evaluated," says Dr. JoAnn Pinkerton, NAMS executive director.

Sexual fluidity

Are people's sexual attractions likely to change as they age? That's the question at the core of an ongoing debate as to whether or not sexuality remains stable throughout a person's life. An upcoming presentation at The North American Menopause Society (NAMS) Annual Meeting in Philadelphia October 11-14, will review the latest research on the prevalence of same-sex sexuality and sexual fluidity and their implications for healthcare providers.

Sexual fluidity is not a new concept, but has recently gotten a lot more attention because of high-profile celebrities openly announcing their change in sexual status, making it somewhat fashionable to change sides. That doesn't mean women are intentionally changing their sexual orientation, but for various reasons, such change is often happening later in women's lives and may actually change back-and-forth multiple times during different life stages throughout a woman's lifetime.

"We see a lot on the topic of sexual fluidity in the media, but it seems as if little of this information has trickled down into clinical practice," says Dr. Lisa Diamond from the University of Utah, who will be discussing lesbian sexuality and fluidity and their implications on women's healthcare at the NAMS Annual Meeting. "Healthcare providers need to recognize this new reality and incorporate it into their approaches to caring for their female patients."

"Women should always be encouraged to have an open dialogue with their healthcare providers about a wide array of health concerns and also feel comfortable in discussing any lifestyle changes. This presentation should remind us that we need to ask questions and not assume a patient's sexual orientation when discussing their concerns," says Dr. JoAnn Pinkerton, NAMS executive director.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

US women report diverse preferences related to sexual pleasure

Faculty members from the Indiana University School of Public Health-Bloomington and the school's Center for Sexual Health Promotion recently published a paper in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy focused on addressing gaps in scientific understanding of women's sexual pleasure. The study findings, from the research team's OMGYES Pleasure Report: Women and Touch, focused on orgasm and sexual pleasure as related to genital touch and stimulation. "There had been little known at the population level about detailed aspects of women's sexual pleasure and orgasm," said Debby Herbenick, lead author of the study and professor at the IU School of Public Health-Bloomington. "Most previous studies utilized clinical, college and convenience samples. We worked to change that with this research and provide data surveying a U.S. nationally representative probability sample of adult women."
Herbenick and her research team, including Brian Dodge, associate professor in the IU School of Public Health-Bloomington, conducted the OMGYES Sexual Pleasure Report: Women and Touch with a focus on discovering a greater understanding of women's sexual pleasure and orgasm.
"The study results challenge the mistaken, but common, notion that there are universal 'sex moves that work' for everyone," said Dodge. "On the other hand, the data also make clear that there are certain styles of touch that are more commonly preferred by women, emphasizing the value of studying sexual pleasure - and not just sexual problems."
The study found that the more than 1,000 women, ages 18 to 94, surveyed reported a diverse set of preferences for genital touch, location, pressure, shape and pattern. Further, 41 percent of women preferred just one specific style of touch, underscoring the value of couples having conversations about their preferences and desires.
This study provides the first U.S. nationally representative data on pathways to orgasm during intercourse, noting that nearly 75 percent of women reported that clitoral stimulation was either necessary for their intercourse-orgasms, or helped their orgasms feel better, while 18 percent noted that vaginal penetration alone was sufficient for orgasm.
Women's sexual health is one of several research areas focused on within the IU School of Public Health's Center for Sexual Health Promotion. The center, which is a collaborative of sexual health scholars from across the campuses of Indiana University and strategic partner academic institutions, also continually researches community based participatory research and sexual health, reproductive health, men's sexual health, health and well-being among sexual and gender minority communities, and global sexual health.
The IU School of Public Health-Bloomington is reimagining public health through a comprehensive approach that enhances and expands disease prevention and reshapes how parks, tourism, sports, leisure activities, physical activity and nutrition impact and enhance wellness. Unique in the nation, the school's multidisciplinary approach, history of community engagement and emerging strengths in epidemiology, biostatistics and environmental health bring new vigor and energy to the traditional concept of a school of public health.
OMGYES is a research company that partners with scientists to fill the gap in scientific and public understanding of sexual pleasure. It also operates a website,, to get the study findings to the public in relatable and refreshingly frank videos. They're currently studying the ways sexual pleasure changes during menopause as well as during pregnancy and postpartum.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Couples weather bickering with a little help from their friends


Every couple has conflict, and new research finds that having good friends and family members to turn to alleviates the stress of everyday conflict between partners. In fact, according to the study led by The University of Texas at Austin's Lisa Neff, social networks may help provide protection against health problems brought about by ordinary tension between spouses.
In a paper published this week in the online edition of Social Psychological and Personality Science, Neff and other researchers in UT Austin's Department of Human Development and Family Sciences found that "spouses who reported being more satisfied with the availability of friends and family, whom they knew they could connect with during times of marital conflict, experienced conflict as less physiologically stressful."
The paper is the first to look at the link between spouses' cortisol levels, which are an indicator of physiological stress, and marital conflicts occurring in the home. At a time when more couples in the U.S. are living in communities separate from where their families and friends reside, the research suggests there is a strong correlation between relationships like these outside of a marriage and people within the marriage experiencing lower risk factors for health problems such as weight gain, insomnia, depression and even heart disease.
"We found that having a satisfying social network buffers spouses from the harmful physiological effects of everyday marital conflicts," said Neff, an associate professor. "Maintaining a few good friends is important to weathering the storms of your marriage."
The research looked at 105 newlywed couples who kept daily records of marital conflict in their home environment and completed questionnaires about the number, quality and characteristics of their connections with friends and family. In addition, the couples participating in the study collected morning and evening saliva samples for cortisol testing every day for six days. Cortisol levels over the course of the day are a measure of the stress response.
The overall number of friends and family members that study participants reported having didn't appear to affect couples' ability to handle conflicts nearly as much as the quality of those outside relationships. Neff and her colleagues found that people who reported having even a few close friends or family members to talk to outside of their marriage experienced lower levels of stress when marital conflicts arose.
"Even everyday conflict takes a toll on people physiologically," Neff said. "But we found that the association between marital conflict and cortisol responses completely disappears when people are happy and satisfied with their available social network." 

How the shape and size of your face relates to your sexuality


Men and women with shorter, wider faces tend to be more sexually motivated and to have a stronger sex drive than those with faces of other dimensions. These are the findings from a study led by Steven Arnocky of Nipissing University in Canada. The research investigates the role that facial features play in sexual relationships and mate selection and is published in Springer's journal Archives of Sexual Behavior.
The study adds to a growing body of research that has previously shown that certain psychological and behavioral traits are associated with particular facial width-to-height ratios (known as FWHR). Square-faced men (who therefore have a high FWHR) tend to be perceived as more aggressive, more dominant, more unethical, and more attractive as short-term sexual partners than their thinner and longer-faced counterparts.
Researchers attributed differences in facial proportions to variations in testosterone levels during particular developmental periods, such as puberty. This hormone plays a role in forming adult sexual attitudes and desires.
In this paper, Arnocky and his colleagues report two separate studies conducted among students. In the first, 145 undergraduates who were in romantic relationships at the time completed questionnaires about their interpersonal behavior and sex drive. The researchers also used photographs of the participants to determine their facial width-to-height ratio. The second study involved 314 students and was an extended version of the first study, which included questions about participants' sexual orientation, the chances of them considering infidelity, and their sociosexual orientation. The latter is a measure of how comfortable participants are with the concept of casual sex that does not include love or commitment.
According to Arnocky, their findings suggest that FWHR can be used to predict a measure of sexuality in both sexes. Men and women with a high FWHR (therefore, square and wide faces) reported a greater sex drive than others.
"Together, these findings suggest that facial characteristics might convey important information about human sexual motivations" , says Arnocky.
It was also found that men with a larger FWHR not only have a higher sex drive than others, but also are more easy-going when it comes to casual sex and would consider being unfaithful to their partners. 

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Finding true love with online dating

Looking for love online? You are not alone. Nearly 50 percent of the American public knows someone who has used an online dating site and 5 percent of Americans who are married or in committed relationships today met their significant other online. But with so many different online dating platforms, how can users know which one will best meet their needs? According to a new study in the INFORMS journal Management Science, it all depends on if you are comfortable with rejection. If not, be prepared to pay more.

The study, "Competing by Restricting Choice: The Case of Search Platforms," explained that most sites, such as, compete by building the largest user base possible, and provide users with access to unlimited profiles on the platform. Others, such as, pursue user growth with the same intensity, but allow users to only view and contact a limited number of others on the platform. However, despite the limited choice, eHarmony's customers are willing to pay an average of 25 percent more than Match's customers.

The study authors, Hanna Halaburda of the Bank of Canada and New York University, Mikolaj Piskorksi of IMD Business School, and Pinar Yildirim of the University of Pennsylvania, created a stylized model of online, heterosexual dating which found that increasing the number of potential matches has a positive effect due to larger choice, but also a negative effect due to competition between users of the same sex.

Therefore by offering its members access to a large number of profiles, Match's users are also more likely to experience rejection, as each of their potential matches will have access to a larger number of options, increasing the competition among members. With access to only a limited number of profiles, eHarmony users are more likely to successfully and more rapidly identify a match with another user, who because of limited choice, is less likely to reject them.

"Online dating platforms that restrict choice, like eHarmony, exist and prosper alongside platforms that offer more choice, like," said Halaburda. "On a platform that offers more choice, agents also face more competition as their candidates also enjoy a larger choice set."

Ultimately, for online dating users who can tolerate rejection and aren't bothered by a potentially longer timeframe to identify a match, provides much greater choice of options. However, for users who are looking to more quickly identify a potential mutual match, eHarmony limits competition that may result in rejection.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Relationship science: How can couples keep moving forward

For some couples in romantic relationships, just staying together is good enough. But others want to see their relationship move forward--to get better and better--and are willing to put in the effort to get there.
Family studies researchers at the University of Illinois who study the science behind maintaining romantic relationships focus their work on the central organizing unit--the relationship--rather than on the individual. Through their work, they hope to find out what works and, maybe, what doesn't in keeping a relationship moving forward.
"We know relationships are key," says Brian Ogolsky, associate professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at U of I. "We spend all of our time in these relationships. Whether we are at home, with our siblings, our parents, or our colleagues, these are all extremely important. And consequently we spend very little time alone with our thoughts. So it's critical that we carefully and methodically understand what's going on in relationships and what is unique that two individuals bring that you can't get from studying person 'x' and person 'y' separately."
In a recent study published in the Journal of Family Theory and Review, Ogolsky and his research team discuss romantic relationship maintenance and the two primary motives behind a couple's attempts at staying together: threat mitigation and relationship enhancement.
Ogolsky calls these "macro-motives," or the main reasons people maintain their relationships. In their study, the researchers provide a visual framework of how relationships may be maintained by staving off threats or moved forward by relationship enhancement strategies, which involve putting effort into the relationship for the pleasure of it. For the most part, relationships include a combination of both.
"Threats to the relationship come from all kinds of different places," he explains. "Generally, there are many threats early in relationships that can cause problems, but that is not to say that these disappear later. We know couples cheat in the long-term, people end up in new work places and in new situations where possible alternative partners show up, conflicts arise, or a lack of willingness to sacrifice time for your partner emerges."
Some threat mitigation tactics can actually become enhancement strategies over time, Ogolsky says, but adds that the reverse is not usually true. "We get to a place where we are pouring energy into the relationship simply because we want to keep the relationship moving forward rather than just mitigating threats."
In their integrative model of relationship maintenance, the researchers also illustrate individual versus interactive components of maintenance. "This question of 'is this an individual thing or is this a couple-level thing' often goes unanswered. But as we were doing this review, we started noticing that there are ways to maintain the relationship that we can characterize as 'more or less in our own heads.' We are doing something to convince ourselves that this is a good relationship and therefore it's good for our relationship," Ogolsky explains. "Things like positive illusions, the idea that we can believe our relationship is better than it is or that our partner is better than he or she is. We can do that without our partner."
Mitigating conflict, however, is something that partners must do together. "Good conflict management or forgiving our partner for doing something wrong is an interactive process. When a threat comes in, we can do one of two things: we can ditch our partner or forgive them over time."
The same is true of enhancement strategies: partners can do things individually or interactively. "Individually, even the act of thinking about our relationship can be enhancing. Whereas engaging in leisure activities together, talking about the state of our relationship, these are all interactive," Ogolsky says.
But why study relationship maintenance as a science?
While Ogolsky rarely offers direct interventions to couples, he explains that he tends to study the positive side of relationships because of what can be learned from people who are going through what, he says, is inherently a very turbulent thing.
"Relationships have ups and downs. I never go into my work saying people should stay together or they should break up. Relationships are individualized, a unique pairing of people that comes with a unique history. What we are talking about here are processes that exist across different kinds of couples, some of which work very well for some people, some of which may not work for some people. I am interested in understanding processes that keep relationships moving."
For the review, Ogolsky and his team searched for previous research, regardless of discipline, dealing with relationship maintenance. They eventually discussed about 250 studies in the paper (reviewing more than 1,100) that deal with romantic relationships and that met their criteria. Ogolsky hopes the review will bring together relationship scholars from across many disciplines.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Formula to predict attraction is more elusive than ever

Dating websites often claim attraction between two people can be predicted from the right combination of traits and preferences, but a new study casts doubt on that assertion.

The study, which used speed dating data, found a computer could predict who is desirable and how much someone would desire others -- who's hot and who's not -- but it could not unravel the mystery of unique desire for a specific person.

"Attraction for a particular person may be difficult or impossible to predict before two people have actually met," said Samantha Joel, a University of Utah psychology professor and lead author. "A relationship is more than the sum of its parts. There is a shared experience that happens when you meet someone that can't be predicted beforehand."

The study, "Is Romantic Desire Predictable? Machine Learning Applied to Initial Romantic Attraction," was published today online by the journal Psychological Science. Co-authors on the paper are Paul W. Eastwick of the University of California, Davis, and Eli J. Finkel of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.

Joel also will present the findings at TEDxSaltLakeCity on Sept. 9 at Kingsbury Hall on the University of Utah campus.

The researchers used data from two samples of speed daters, who filled out questionnaires about more than 100 traits and preferences and then met in a series of four-minute dates. Afterward, the participants rated their interactions, indicating level of interest in and sexual attraction to each person they met.

Joel and her colleagues used a cutting-edge machine learning algorithm to test whether it was possible to predict unique romantic desire based on participants' questionnaire responses and before the individuals met.

The answer was no. They found it was possible to predict the overall tendency for someone to like and to be liked by others -- but not which two particular people were a match.

"We found we cannot anticipate how much individuals will uniquely desire each other in a speed-dating context with any meaningful level of accuracy," Joel said. "I thought that out of more than 100 predictors, we would be able to predict at least some portion of the variance. I didn't expect we would find zero."

It would be great if people were able to circumvent the hassle and heartache of the dating process by entering information into a computer and having it produce the perfect soul mate, Joel said.

"We tried to do it and we couldn't do it," Joel said. "Dating can be hard and anxiety provoking and there's a market there for a short cut. What if you didn't have to kiss all the frogs? What if you could skip to the part where you click with someone? But our data suggests that, at least with the tools we currently have available, there isn't an easy fix for finding love."

While online dating sites provide a valuable service by narrowing the field and identifying potential romantic prospects, "they don't let you bypass the process of having to physically meet someone to find out how you feel about them," Joel said.

The bottom line is relationship science still has a long way to go to decipher romantic attraction and what makes two particular people click, said co-author Eastwick.

"It may be that we never figure it out, that it is a property we can never get at because it is simply not predictable," Eastwick said. "Romantic desire may well be more like an earthquake, involving a dynamic and chaos-like process, than a chemical reaction involving the right combination of traits and preferences."

Monday, August 28, 2017

'Marrying up' is now easier for men, improves their economic well-being

As the number of highly educated women has increased in recent decades, the chances of "marrying up" have increased significantly for men and decreased for women, according to a new study led by a University of Kansas sociologist.

"The pattern of marriage and its economic consequences have changed over time," said lead author ChangHwan Kim, associate professor of sociology. "Now women are more likely to get married to a less-educated man. What is the consequence of this?"

Kim's co-authored the study with Arthur Sakamoto of Texas A&M University, and the journal Demography recently published their findings. They examined gender-specific changes in the total financial return to education among people of prime working ages, 35 to 44 years old, using U.S. Census data from 1990 and 2000 and the 2009-2011 American Community Survey.

The researchers investigated the return to education not only in labor markets but also in the marriage market.

"Previously, women received more total financial return to education than men, because their return in the marriage market was high. However, this female advantage has deteriorated over time despite women's substantial progress in education and labor-market performance," Kim said.

The researchers found the overall net advantage of being female in terms of family-standard-of-living decreased approximately 13 percent between 1990 and 2009-2011. Women's personal earnings have grown faster than men's earnings during this time as women have increased their education and experienced a greater return on education.

However, the number of highly educated women exceeds the number of highly educated men in the marriage market, the researchers found. Women are more likely to be married to a less-educated man. Because of the combined facts that husbands are less educated than their wives than before, and the return on earnings for men has stagnated, a husband's contribution to family income has decreased. On the other hand, wives' contribution to family income has substantially increased.

This has led to a faster improvement of the family standard of living for men than for equally educated women themselves, Kim said, and helped converge the gap in equivalised income between wives and husbands.

"This could explain why it seems men don't complain a lot about this," Kim said. "Our answer is that's true because look at the actual quality of life, which is determined more likely by family income rather  than by personal earnings. It seems fine for men because their wife is now bringing more income to the household. One implication of these findings is that the importance of marriage market has increased for men's total economic well-being."

These developments could also result in gender convergence in the family standard of living associated with this shift in the norm of marriage, away from previous eras.

"Marriage is now becoming more egalitarian and becoming equal," Kim said. "If you look at gender dynamics or from a marriage-equality standpoint, that is a really good sign."

However, the study's results also have implications for examining potential effects of marriage and economic inequality.

"For less-educated women, the contribution of their husbands has been substantially reduced so that their standard of living has diminished, even though their personal earnings have grown," the researchers said.

This could aggravate a wealth gap among less-educated or low-income families, the researchers said. Kim said potential future research could monitor how family demography still shapes and directly underlies inequality, even as family relations continue to evolve.

"When we consider family dynamics," Kim said, "men are getting the benefit from women's progress."

Romance and affection top most popular sexual behaviors

Researchers at the Indiana University School of Public Health-Bloomington and the Center for Sexual Health Promotion have published a new U.S. nationally representative study of sexual behavior, the first of its kind to capture a wide range of diverse sexual behaviors not previously examined in the general population.
The paper, published in PLOS One, highlights results from the Sexual Exploration in America Study, in which a sample of Americans were asked about whether they have engaged in more than 30 sexual behaviors. In addition, researchers investigated the level of appeal of nearly 50 sexual behaviors.
Researchers found that in the more than 2,000 men and women who completed the survey many have engaged in a wide variety of behaviors and that some are fairly common.
"Contrary to some stereotypes, the most appealing behaviors, even for men, are romantic and affectionate behaviors," says Debby Herbenick, professor and the lead author on the study. "These included kissing more often during sex, cuddling, saying sweet/romantic things during sex, making the room feel romantic in preparation for sex, and so on."
The researchers also noted that, although many men and women rated a range of sexual behaviors as appealing and may have tried them in the distant past, fewer engaged in them in the past month or year.
"These data highlight opportunities for couples to talk more openly with one another about their sexual desires and interests," said Herbenick. "Together they may find new ways of being romantic or sexual with one another, enhancing both their sexual satisfaction and relationship happiness."
As a first-of-a-kind study in terms of the breadth of sexual behaviors examined, this research has many implications for the future understanding of adult sexual behaviors beyond those that have been previously recorded and studied. Sexuality educators, clinicians as well as people in the general population will now have a better understanding of the prevalence and diversity of sexual behaviors experienced by adults in the U.S. general population.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Abstinence-only-until-marriage programs and policies are a failure

Two scientific review papers released today show that abstinence-only-until-marriage programs and policies in the United States are ineffective as they do not delay sexual initiation or reduce sexual risk behaviors. They also violate adolescent human rights, withhold medically accurate information, stigmatize or exclude many youth, reinforce harmful gender stereotypes, and undermine public health programs. Abstinence-only-until-marriage programs have been widely rejected by health professionals who care for young people, including the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine. The findings are published online today in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

Considerable scientific evidence has accumulated on the lack of efficacy of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs since the authors published a 2006 review in the Journal of Adolescent Health. In contrast, comprehensive programs have favorable effects on multiple adolescent behaviors, including sexual initiation, number of sex partners, frequency of sexual activity, use of condoms and contraception, frequency of unprotected sexual activity, STIs and pregnancy. Comprehensive sex education helps young people remain abstinent, while abstinence-only education does not.

"The weight of scientific evidence shows these programs do not help young people delay initiation of sexual intercourse. While abstinence is theoretically effective, in actual practice, intentions to abstain from sexual activity often fail," said co-author John Santelli, MD, MPH, professor of Population and Family Health at the Mailman School of Public Health. "These programs simply do not prepare young people to avoid unwanted pregnancies or sexually transmitted diseases."

To study current U.S. policies on abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, the investigators turned to multiple sources - including scientific research and other review articles focusing on the efficacy of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs - as well as information from human rights organizations.
Given a rapidly rising age at first marriage around the globe, a rapidly declining percentage of young people remain abstinent until marriage. In the U.S. today the gap between the age at first sex and first marriage is 8.7 years for young women and 11.7 years for young men.

Abstinence-only-until-marriage approaches have also set back sex education, family planning programs and HIV prevention efforts, domestically and globally. Between 2002 and 2014, the percentage of schools that require students to learn about human sexuality fell from 67 percent to 48 percent and requirements for HIV prevention declined from 64 percent to 41 percent. In 1995, 81 percent of adolescent males and 87 percent of adolescent females reported receiving formal instruction about birth control methods; by 2011-2013, this had fallen to 55 percent of young men and 60 percent of young women.

"Young people have a right to sex education that gives them the information and skills they need to stay safe and healthy," said Leslie Kantor, PhD, MPH, assistant professor of Population and Family Health at the Mailman School of Public Health and vice president of Education at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. "Withholding critical health information from young people is a violation of their rights. Abstinence-only-until-marriage programs leave all young people unprepared and are particularly harmful to young people who are sexually active, who are LGBTQ, or have experienced sexual abuse."

Congress has spent over $2 billion on domestic abstinence-only programs between 1982 and 2017; current funding is $85 million per year. The U.S. has also spent $1.4 billion on abstinence-only-until-marriage in foreign aid for HIV prevention. Under current guidelines, U.S. states cannot use funds to educate adolescents about contraceptive use or discuss contraceptive methods, except to emphasize failure rates.

"Adolescent sexual and reproductive health promotion should be based on scientific evidence and understanding, public health principles, and human rights," says Santelli. "Abstinence-only-until marriage as a basis for health policy and programs should be abandoned."


Friday, August 18, 2017

Should I stay or should I leave?


Untangling what goes on when a relationship is being questioned

Knowing whether to stay in or leave a romantic relationship is often an agonizing experience and that ambivalence can have negative consequences for health and well-being.
Now a new study offers insights into what people are deliberating about and what makes the decision so difficult, which could help therapists working with couples and stimulate further research into the decision-making process.
The study, led by U psychology professor Samantha Joel, was published in Social Psychology and Personality Science. Co-authors were Geoff MacDonald and Elizabeth Page-Gould of the University of Toronto.
"Most of the research on breakups has been predictive, trying to predict whether a couple stays together or not, but we don't know much about the decision process -- what are the specific relationship pros and cons that people are weighing out," Joel said.
In the first phase of the study, the researchers recruited three samples of people -- including people who were in the midst of trying to decide whether to break up or not -- to participate in an anonymous survey.
Participants were asked open-ended questions about their specific reasons for both wanting to stay and leave a relationship.
That yielded a list of 27 different reasons for wanting to stay in a relationship and 23 reasons for wanting to leave.
The stay/leave factors were then converted into a questionnaire that was given to another group of people who were trying to decide whether to end a dating relationship or marriage. Those dating had been together for two years on average, while married participants reported relationships that averaged nine years.
In both studies, general factors considered as the individuals deliberated what to do were similar.
At the top of the stay list: emotional intimacy, investment and a sense of obligation. At the top of the leave list: issues with a partner's personality, breach of trust and partner withdrawal.
Individuals in both dating and married situations gave similar reasons for wanting to leave a relationship.
But the researchers found significant differences in stay reasoning between the two groups.
Participants who were in a dating relationship said they were considering staying based on more positive reasons such as aspects of their partner's personality that they like, emotional intimacy and enjoyment of the relationship. Those who were married gave more constraint reasons for staying such as investment into the relationship, family responsibilities, fear of uncertainty and logistical barriers.
And about half of the participants said they had reasons to both stay and leave, indicating ambivalence about their relationships.
"What was most interesting to me was how ambivalent people felt about their relationships. They felt really torn," Joel said. "Breaking up can be a really difficult decision. You can look at a relationship from outside and say 'you have some really unsolvable problems, you should break up' but from the inside that is a really difficult thing to do and the longer you've been in a relationship, the harder it seems to be."
Most people, Joel said, have standards and deal breakers about the kind of person they want to date or marry but those often go out the window when they meet someone.
"Humans fall in love for a reason," Joel said. "From an evolutionary perspective, for our ancestors finding a partner may have been more important than finding the right partner. It might be easier to get into relationships than to get back out of them." 

Monday, August 14, 2017

Women's paychecks compose the majority of familiy income leads to both partners depression

The sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s suggested that women and men would have equal shots at happiness -- whether they were their families' primary breadwinners or stay-at-home parents.
However, the reality has been far more nuanced for many families in the U.S. And new research out of the University of Illinois suggests that some mothers' and fathers' psychological well-being may suffer when their work and family identities - and the amount of financial support they provide -- conflict with conventional gender roles.

Researchers Karen Kramer and Sunjin Pak found that when women's paychecks increased to compose the majority of their families' income, these women reported more symptoms of depression.
However, Kramer and Pak found the opposite effect in men: Dads' psychological well-being improved over time when they became the primary wage-earners for their families.

The data sample comprised more than 1,463 men and 1,769 women who participated in the National Longitudinal Surveys of Youth. A majority of the individuals in the study, all born between 1957 and 1965, were members of the baby-boom generation. Participants' psychological well-being was measured in 1991 and 1994 using a seven-item scale that assessed their levels of depressive symptoms.

Kramer and Pak found that although women's psychological well-being was not affected by exiting the workforce to become stay-at-home moms, men's mental health declined when they stayed home to care for the kids.

"We observed a statistically significant and substantial difference in depressive symptoms between men and women in our study," said Kramer, who is a professor of human development and family studies.

"The results supported the overarching hypothesis: Well-being was lower for mothers and fathers who violated gendered expectations about the division of paid labor, and higher for parents who conformed to these expectations."

While women's educational and career opportunities have multiplied in recent decades, societal norms and expectations about gendered divisions of labor in the workplace and the home have been slower to evolve, according to the researchers.

Mothers and fathers who deviate from conventional gender roles -- such as dads who leave the workforce to care for their children full time -- may be perceived negatively, potentially impacting their mental health, Kramer and Pak wrote.

The researchers also explored whether parents who held more egalitarian ideas about men's and women's responsibilities as wage earners and caretakers for their families fared better -- and Kramer and Pak found gender differences there as well.

Women in the study who viewed themselves and their spouses as equally responsible for financially supporting their families and caring for their homes and offspring experienced better mental health when their wages and share of the family's income increased.

However, regardless of their beliefs, men's mental health took a hit when their earnings as a proportion of the family income shrank -- suggesting perhaps that "work identity and (the) traditional role of primary earner are still critical for men, even when they have more egalitarian gender ideology," the researchers wrote.

Being dominated on consumer choices can make less-powered partner unhappy

It might not seem like a big deal if you like Coke while your partner likes Pepsi -- but new research suggests preferring different brands can affect our happiness in relationships more than shared interests or personality traits.

"People think compatibility in relationships comes from having similar backgrounds, religion or education," said Gavan Fitzsimons, a marketing professor at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business. "But we find those things don't explain how happy you are in life nearly as much as this notion of brand compatibility."

The findings, "Coke vs. Pepsi: Brand Compatibility, Relationship Power, and Life Satisfaction," were recently published in the Journal of Consumer Research. Fitzsimons worked with Fuqua colleagues Tanya Chartrand and Grainne Fitzsimons, plus lead author and former Fuqua PhD student Danielle Brick, now at the University of New Hampshire.

The researchers found that partners who had low power in their relationships - those who don't feel they can shape their partner's behavior - tend to find themselves stuck with their partner's preferred brands.

"If you are lower in relationship power and have different brand preferences than your partner, you're probably going to find yourself stuck with your partner's favorite brands, over and over again. This could lead to a death-by-a-thousand-cuts feeling," Brick said. "Most couples won't break up over brand incompatibility, but it leads to the low power partner becoming less and less happy."

Studies in several settings produced the same result. The researchers used brand preferences in soda, coffee, chocolate, beer and automobiles to study individuals and couples, some of whom were tracked over two years. These results were combined with findings on relationship power and happiness.
"It's an extremely robust effect, we found it over and over and over again," Fitzsimons said.

Brick said it's likely these brand compatibility effects have steadily gained strength as brands have evolved to play a bigger role in the daily lives of consumers. But they aren't given the same weight as other relationship-influencing factors because they're not seen as significant.

"If you are a different religion than your romantic partner, you know that if this is an issue you can't work through, then the relationship isn't going to last," Brick said. "Conversely, if you like Coke and your partner likes Pepsi, you're probably not going to break up over it -- but 11 years into a relationship, when he or she keeps coming home with Pepsi, day in and day out, it might start to cause a little conflict. And if you're the low-power person in the relationship, who continually loses out on brands and is stuck with your partner's preferences, you are going to be less happy."

The results have implications for individuals and firms.

"People who are looking for love should maybe consider including brand preferences on their dating profiles," Fitzsimons said. "There's also an opportunity for marketers to seek to be the family brand. Even if two partners have slightly different brand preferences, if they can adopt a joint brand that both are happy about, that might increase happiness for a partner who would otherwise feel unsatisfied."

Fitzsimons said that family branding isn't currently commonplace.

"Some brands are marketed as family-oriented, but that's not the same as reaching out to everyone in the family," he said. "It's tricky, but firms that get it right can have their brand associated with happiness and harmony - and there's nothing better than that."

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Men forced to have sex with women

The most frequent strategy used by women forcing men to have sex with them against their will is blackmail and threats, according to researchers at Lancaster University.

This accounted for the experiences of more than one fifth of the men who completed an online survey, the first of its kind in the UK, examining the extent of men who have been 'forced to penetrate' women.

Telling lies, threats to end a relationship, warnings of rumour-spreading and verbal abuse were all cited (22.2%).

The research project, led by Dr Siobhan Weare from Lancaster University Law School, and supported by Survivors Manchester, also found the use of force, such as pinning down with bodyweight or having a weapon, featured high on the list (14.4%).

The least frequent strategy was the administration of drugs non-consensually (1.3%).

Dr Weare explains: "The term 'forced to penetrate' has been coined for these cases because, while they involve non-consensual penile penetration, they do not fall under the offence of rape. The offence of rape can only be committed by men due to the requirement of penile penetration of the victim. In 'forced to penetrate' cases, the offender is the one being penetrated by a non-consenting victim."

All 154 of the UK male survey participants had experienced compelled penetration. The men shared their most recent experience of being forced-to-penetrate a woman, as well as their engagement with the criminal justice system, how they would label what had happened to them, whether they had experienced multiple victimization and emotional and psychological harm.

"Whilst the sample size of 154 may be smaller than typically expected, this must be considered in the context of an issue that is under-reported and under-discussed, and that this is the first and only survey of its kind to be conducted in the UK," added Dr Weare.

"The 'hidden-hidden' nature of this crime and the 'complex' gender dynamics involved means that huge numbers of survey participants were highly unlikely - not because this isn't happening to men - but because many are made to feel too ashamed or feel too distressed to report it."

The majority of the participants who completed the survey reported that they knew the woman, often as an acquaintance or a friend and just over half were in, or had been in, a relationship with the perpetrator.

Only two men said that they had reported their experience to the police and in both instances the case did not make it to court.

'Rape' was the most frequent label used by the participants in describing their ordeal, despite the law not recognising such cases in this way. 'Sex' was used least frequently.

80% of men did not disclose their experience to family or friends and 74.5% had not sought support suggesting that men are left feeling isolated and alone in dealing with their experiences. This is particularly worrying when the findings highlight that men most frequently (20.9%) reported suffering severe negative emotional impacts as a result of what happened to them.

Dr Weare said the findings provided compelling evidence to rebuff two of the most powerful and pervasive stereotypes around men experiencing sexual violence from women.

These are:
  • The presumed inability of women to overpower men due to their 'weaker' physical stature which means this kind of penetration cannot or does not take place
  • Because men are taught to value and enjoy sex they must view all sexual opportunities with women as positive - the 'lucky boy' syndrome.
"Raising public awareness of the issue is crucial to ensure this is no longer a hidden crime," added Dr Weare.

"The findings of this research will enable a greater understanding of such experiences and will help to develop practice and policy in this area, as well as in relation to the broader issue of men who experience sexual violence.

"Whilst it's difficult to state the prevalence of forced-to-penetrate cases in the UK, research in the US in 2010 found that approximately one in 21 men (4.8%) reported being 'made to penetrate' someone else during their lifetime, with 79.2% of cases involving a female perpetrator."

Duncan Craig, the founder and Chief Executive of Survivors Manchester, a charity supporting males who have experienced sexual violation, said: "This really is a ground breaking piece of work by Dr Weare. I was delighted that we could support the research as it shines a light on one of our last taboos in society - male victims and female perpetrators. We have got to break the silence on this and let men know that we are here to listen and support them when needed."

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The attractiveness of a romantic partner can influence a person's desire to diet and seek a slim body

In today's appearance-driven world, body image can be a powerful influence on our choices and behaviors, especially related to dieting. That image is sometimes shaped or distorted by many factors, including mass media images, parents, relationships, even our moods.

New research from Florida State University finds another factor -- attractiveness of a romantic partner -- can be a driving force behind the desire to diet and seek a slim body, though that motivation contrasts sharply between men and women.

Doctoral student Tania Reynolds and Assistant Professor of Psychology Andrea Meltzer found that women evaluated as less attractive were more motivated to diet and be thin if their husbands were attractive.

"The results reveal that having a physically attractive husband may have negative consequences for wives, especially if those wives are not particularly attractive," Reynolds said.

That extra motivation to diet, however, did not exist among women judged more attractive than their husbands. As for men, their motivation to diet was low regardless of their wives' attractiveness or their own.

The study, published in the journal Body Image, offers productive insights about relationships in which a woman fears she'll fall short of her partner's expectations. Understanding the predictors that increase a woman's risk of developing eating disorders and other health problems could lead to earlier assistance.

"The research suggests there might be social factors playing a role in women's disordered eating," Reynolds said. "It might be helpful to identify women at risk of developing more extreme weight-loss behaviors, which have been linked to other forms of psychological distress, such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse and dissatisfaction with life."

Meltzer added: "In order to better understand women's dieting motivations, the findings of this study highlight the value of adopting an approach that focuses on a couple's relationship."

The study advanced existing research from the Meltzer lab that found marriages tend to be more successful and satisfying when wives are more attractive than their husbands. It examined 113 newlywed couples -- married less than four months, average age late 20s, living in the Dallas area -- who agreed to be rated on their attractiveness.

Each participant completed a lengthy questionnaire focusing in part on their desire to diet or have a thin body. Some questions included, "I feel extremely guilty after eating," "I like my stomach to be empty," and "I'm terrified of gaining weight."

A full-body photograph was taken of every participant and rated on a scale of 1 to 10. Two teams of undergraduate evaluators studied the photos: one at Southern Methodist University in Texas focused on spouses' facial attractiveness, while another at FSU looked at body attractiveness. The evaluators varied in sex and ethnic makeup.

Reynolds said some research has shown women tend to overperceive just how thin their partners want them to be and, as a result, may inappropriately pursue dieting and a thin body.

"One way to help these women is for partners to be very reaffirming, reminding them, 'You're beautiful. I love you at any weight or body type,'" Reynolds said. "Or perhaps focusing on the ways they are a good romantic partner outside of attractiveness and emphasizing those strengths: 'I really value you because you're a kind, smart and supportive partner.'"

Reynolds thinks an interesting next step for research would be to explore whether women are more motivated to diet when they are surrounded by attractive female friends.

"If we understand how women's relationships affect their decision to diet and the social predictors for developing unhealthy eating behaviors," Reynolds said, "then we will be better able to help them."

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Men and women value different methods of resolving conflict between romantic partners

If a man wants to make amends with his girlfriend after an argument, he should dedicate quality time and shed a few tears while asking for forgiveness. However, these are not the best ways for a woman to make up with her boyfriend; men consider a kind gesture or receiving sexual favors as the best form of apology. This was revealed in a study led by T. Joel Wade of Bucknell University in the US. Overall, it was found that showing emotional commitment is the best way of reconciling a conflict between romantic partners, but that there are systematic differences in how men and women prefer this to be put into practice. The findings were published in Springer's journal Evolutionary Psychological Science.

The study was done in two parts. Participants were first asked via an online questionnaire to nominate specific actions that men and women engage in to reconcile with their partners after a fight. These were then grouped by the researchers into 21 categories of possible reconciliation behaviors. The options given by the participants in Study 1 were then given to an additional group of men and women to ascertain which methods were preferred (most effective).

It was found that men, compared to women, rated a partner doing nice gestures and giving sex/sexual favors as more effective. According to Wade, these findings are consistent with previous studies that showed that men prefer a partner who is sexually accessible.

"Women may thereby use sexual favors as a way to reconcile with their male partner," says Wade. "Doing so may communicate to their male partner that they are still sexually accessible and as such do not want to end the relationship."

It was further found that women held it in high regard when a partner spent time with them after a conflict, apologized and even cried to show their remorse.

"Women may rate spending time together more highly because this behavior signals a partner's willingness to invest effort and limited resources (e.g. time) into their romantic pair-bond," explains Wade. "Such actions by a man may signal the likelihood of a potentially high parental investment which women prefer."

Women also rated crying and apologizing as more effective methods of resolving conflict than men did. According to Wade this might be because women view male partners who do so as being in touch with their emotions, without being feminine. Tears are seen as an honest signal of grief about a rocky relationship.

"Women may find the act of their male partner apologizing to be an effective reconciliation tactic because it is viewed as an altruistic act. A man's apology may redirect the cost of romantic conflict to himself rather than to his partner and thereby demonstrate his ability to provide emotional support and incur personal costs for his partner," Wade explains.

The surprising trend in extramarital sex in America

America's generation gap is surfacing in a surprising statistic: rates of extramarital sex.

Older Americans are cheating on their spouses more than their younger counterparts, with 20 percent of married Americans over age 55 reporting they've engaged in extramarital sex. Just 14 percent of those under age 55 say they've cheated, according to Nicholas H. Wolfinger, a professor in the University of Utah's Department of Family and Consumer Studies.

The Institute for Family Studies on July 5, 2017, published Wolfinger's research brief "America's New Generation Gap in Extramarital Sex," which is based on analysis of data from the General Social Survey.

Wolfinger found that while the overall number of Americans who report having sex outside of marriage has held relatively steady at approximately 16 percent over the past 30 years, that trend has obscured a startling age-related difference.

Rates of extramarital sex by age have diverged since 2000, with increased cheating reported by people in their 50s and 60s, Wolfinger said. Most of these respondents were married between 20 years and 30 years.

But there may be more going on than lengthy marriages and midlife crises, he added. These older Americans also came of age in the wake of the sexual revolution and, over the course of their lifetimes, have had more sex partners compared to younger Americans.

Also, while a majority of Americans continue to disapprove of extramarital sex, attitudes have softened, particularly among older survey respondents.

Wolfinger observes that the General Social Survey asks respondents about extramarital sex, not explicitly adultery. This raises the possibility that the data reflect rising participation in polyamory or "ethical nonmonogamy," extramarital relationships conducted with the active permission of one's spouse.

"No matter how many polyamorists there are today, old-fashioned adultery seems to have risen among older Americans," Wolfinger said. And the consequences are plain.

"Even as overall divorce rates have fallen in recent decades, there has been a startling surge in 'grey divorce' among the middle-aged," he said. "Part of that story seems to be a corresponding increase in midlife adultery, which seems to be both the cause and the consequence of a failing marriage. The declining rates of extramarital sex among younger Americans seemingly portends a future of monogamous marriage. But the seeds sown by the sexual revolution continue to bear unanticipated fruit among older Americans."


The full research brief is available at

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Digital dating abuse especially bad for girls

Teens expect to experience some digital forms of abuse in dating, but girls may be suffering more severe emotional consequences than boys, according to a new study.

Researchers at the University of Michigan and University of California-Santa Barbara examined the impact of gender on high schoolers' experience of digital dating abuse behaviors, which include use of cell phones or internet to harass, control, pressure or threaten a dating partner.

Overall, teens experience this digital dating abuse at similar rates, but girls reported that they were more upset by these behaviors and reported more negative emotional responses.

"Although digital dating abuse is potentially harmful for all youth, gender matters," said Lauren Reed, the study's lead author and an assistant project scientist at University of California-Santa Barbara.

The study involved 703 Midwest high school students who reported the frequency of digital dating abuse, if they were upset by the "most recent" incidents, and how they responded. Students completed the surveys between December 2013 and March 2014.

Participants reported sending and receiving at least 51 text messages per day, and spending an average of 22 hours per week using social media. Most participants reported that they text/texted their current or most recent dating partner frequently.

The survey asked teens to indicate the frequency of experiencing several problematic digital behaviors with a dating partner, including "pressured me to sext" (sending a sexual or naked photo), sent a threatening message, looked at private information to check up on me without permission, and monitored whereabouts and activities.

Girls indicated more frequent digital sexual coercion victimization, and girls and boys reported equal rates of digital monitoring and control, and digital direct aggression. When confronted with direct aggression, such as threats and rumor spreading, girls responded by blocking communication with their partner. Boys responded in similar fashion when they experienced digital monitoring and control behaviors, the study showed.

Boys often treat girls as sexual objects, which contributes to the higher rates of digital sexual coercion, as boys may feel entitled to have sexual power over girls, said study co-author Richard Tolman, U-M professor of social work.

Girls, on the other hand, are expected to prioritize relationships, which can lead to more jealousy and possessiveness, he said. Thus, they may be more likely to monitor boys' activities.