1. Open communication and emotional closeness linked to fewer low sexual interest problems

    September 22, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Southampton press release:

    British women living with a partner are more than twice as likely to lack interest in sex compared to men living with a partner, according to a new study published in the BMJ Open.

    Women in relationships lasting more than a year are more likely to report lacking interest in sex than those in relationships lasting one year or less.

    The findings come from the third National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (Natsal-3) which is the largest scientific study of sexual health lifestyles in Britain.

    Natsal-3 was carried out by researchers at University College London, the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, and NatCen Social Research. The study was funded by the UK Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust, with support from the Economic and Social Research Council and the Department of Health.

    The nationally representative survey interviewed 6,669 women and 4,839 men aged between 16 and 74 who reported at least one sexual partner in the past year. Overall, 34 per cent of women and 15 per cent of men reported lacking interest in sex. Half of these people – 62 per cent of women and 53 per cent of men – said that they were distressed by their lack of interest in sex.

    Those who found it always easy to talk about sex with their partner were less likely to report lacking interest. This was true for men as well as women.

    Professor Cynthia Graham, of the Centre for Sexual Health Research at the University of Southampton and lead author on the paper, said: “Our findings show us the importance of the relational context in understanding low sexual interest in both men and women. For women in particular, the quality and length of relationship and communication with their partners are important in their experience of sexual interest. It highlights the need to assess and – if necessary – treat sexual interest problems in a holistic and relationship-, as well as gender-specific way.”

    The study also revealed other things linked to low interest in sex in men and women:

    • Reporting an STI in the last year
    • Ever experiencing sex against your will
    • Poor mental and physical health
    • Not feeling emotionally close to partner during sex

    It also found things linked to low interest in sex among women only:

    • Having three or more partners in the past year
    • Having children under five years old in the household
    • Not sharing the same sexual likes and dislikes as partner

    Co-author Dr Kirstin Mitchell, at the MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, University of Glasgow, commented: “The findings on the strong association between open sexual communication and a reduced likelihood of sexual interest problems emphasise the importance of providing a broad sexual and relationships education rather than limiting attention only to adverse consequences of sex and how to prevent them.”


  2. Study suggests romance and affection top most popular sexual behaviours

    September 12, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Indiana University press release:

    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.


  3. Study suggests people observe the body differently when assessing friends versus mates

    August 5, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Wellesley College press release:

    Beauty may not simply be in the eye of the beholder, but in his or her relational goals — according to findings of research just published in Archives of Sexual Behavior.

    Where do your eyes linger when judging a person for potential friendship? Do they look someplace else if you are thinking of asking someone on a date? A new study, co-authored by researchers at Wellesley and the University of Kansas, shows that people scan the body differently, depending on whether someone is judged as a potential friend or prospective romantic partner.

    The research tracked the eye movements of 105 heterosexual undergraduates as they viewed photos of strangers while answering questions about their interest in either becoming friends with or dating that person.

    “Research on attraction tends to assume there is a fixed set of characteristics that makes a person desirable. This new study shows that what people look for in a prospective relationship partner depends on their relational goals. The same person who makes a highly desirable friend may not make a good mate,” said Angela Bahns, the study’s coauthor and an assistant professor of psychology at Wellesley.

    The study showed that heterosexual men and women looked at the head or chest of an opposite-sex person longer and more often when evaluating dating potential, compared with possible friendship. Conversely, she said, both men and women looked at legs or feet with greater frequency when they made platonic rather than sexual judgments.

    “However, men generally looked most at the chest and waist-hip region, regardless of whether they were judging friendship or dating potential,” said Bahns, “while women looked most at the chest and head. And men were more likely to look at a person’s legs.”

    Men who looked longer and more often at the head were less interested in a platonic relationship, suggesting that men look at faces with a critical gaze.

    The research also found that single women in particular looked more at a potential romantic partner than women already in a relationship looked at their mates. And looking at the center of the body — legs, waist, hips, or chest — indicated greater interest for both romance and friendship. Women who looked at the head longer and more often were especially interested in friendship. Legs and feet were the least observed regions overall.

    Bahns pointed out that the findings highlight the role of social context in judging relationship potential, “suggesting that people scan others for cues differently, depending on what they’re seeking regarding the role others may play in their lives.”


  4. Study examines effects of digital dating abuse on teens

    July 17, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Michigan press release:

    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.


  5. Study suggests frequent sexual activity can boost brain power in older adults

    July 6, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Coventry University press release:

    More frequent sexual activity has been linked to improved brain function in older adults, according to a study by the universities of Coventry and Oxford.

    Researchers found that people who engaged in more regular sexual activity scored higher on tests that measured their verbal fluency and their ability to visually perceive objects and the spaces between them.

    The study, published today in The Journals of Gerontology, Series B: Psychological and Social Sciences, involved 73 people aged between 50 and 83.

    Participants filled in a questionnaire on how often, on average, they had engaged in sexual activity over the past 12 months — whether that was never, monthly or weekly — as well as answering questions about their general health and lifestyle.

    The 28 men and 45 women also took part in a standardized test, which is typically used to measure different patterns of brain function in older adults, focusing on attention, memory, fluency, language and visuospatial ability.

    This included verbal fluency tests in which participants had 60 seconds to name as many animals as possible, and then to say as many words beginning with F as they could — tests which reflect higher cognitive abilities.

    They also took part in tests to determine their visuospatial ability which included copying a complex design and drawing a clock face from memory.

    It was these two sets of tests where participants who engaged in weekly sexual activity scored the most highly, with the verbal fluency tests showing the strongest effect.

    The results suggested that frequency of sexual activity was not linked to attention, memory or language. In these tests, the participants performed just as well regardless of whether they reported weekly, monthly or no sexual activity.

    This study expanded on previous research from 2016, which found that older adults who were sexually active scored higher on cognitive tests than those who were not sexually active.

    But this time the research looked more specifically at the impact of the frequency of sexual activity (i.e. does it make a difference how often you engage in sexual activity) and also used a broader range of tests to investigate different areas of cognitive function.

    The academics say further research could look at how biological elements, such as dopamine and oxytocin, could influence the relationship between sexual activity and brain function to give a fuller explanation of their findings.

    Lead researcher Dr Hayley Wright, from Coventry University’s Centre for Research in Psychology, Behaviour and Achievement, said:

    “We can only speculate whether this is driven by social or physical elements — but an area we would like to research further is the biological mechanisms that may influence this.

    “Every time we do another piece of research we are getting a little bit closer to understanding why this association exists at all, what the underlying mechanisms are, and whether there is a ’cause and effect’ relationship between sexual activity and cognitive function in older people.

    “People don’t like to think that older people have sex — but we need to challenge this conception at a societal level and look at what impact sexual activity can have on those aged 50 and over, beyond the known effects on sexual health and general wellbeing.”


  6. Study suggests body- and sex related problems are separate from other forms of psychological problems

    June 8, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Suomen Akatemia (Academy of Finland) press release:

    Body- and sex related problems constitute a distinct group of psychological ailments that is most common in middle aged women, according to scientific research. The project was financed by the Academy of Finland.

    A recent study shows that psychological problems relating to one’s body and sexuality, such as body dissatisfaction, disordered eating, or sexual distress, are linked to each other but not strongly linked to externalizing — such as aggression or substance abuse — or internalizing — such as anxiety or depressive symptoms. Women reported more psychological problems related to their body and sexuality than men.

    Using data from 13,000 adult women and men in Finland, researchers at the Department of Psychology at Åbo Akademi University have discovered that body- and sex related symptoms are not expressions of internalizing or externalizing disorders, as was earlier believed. Comparing the levels of symptoms across gender and age groups, middle age women reported higher levels of body- and sex related problems.

    The result of the study, published online in PLoS One, can inform further research on diagnostics and treatment of psychological disorders.


  7. Researchers analyze research on impact of sexting on sexual behaviour

    June 7, 2017 by Ashley

    From the North Carolina State University press release:

    A recent analysis of research into how so-called “sexting” may affect sexual behavior finds that it has little impact on sexual activity — but highlights significant shortcomings in the research itself.

    “There’s a lot of work being done on the phenomenon of sexting and how it may influence sexual behavior, but the work is being done in a wide variety of populations by researchers from many different backgrounds,” says Kami Kosenko, an associate professor of communication at North Carolina State University and lead author of a paper on the meta-analysis. “We wanted to analyze this broad body of work to see what, if anything, can be gleaned from all of these studies.”

    The researchers found 234 journal articles that looked at sexting, but then removed studies that didn’t look at the relationship between sexting and behavior, as well as any studies that didn’t include clearly defined quantitative measures of sexting or sexual behavior.

    Ultimately, this process winnowed it down to 15 studies that looked at whether there was any link between sexting and: sexual activity; unprotected sex; and/or the number of sex partners one has.

    The researchers found that there was a weak statistical relationship between sexting and all of those categories — and that was when looking solely at correlation. It was impossible to tell if sexting actually influenced behavior at all.

    In fact, there’s not even an agreed-upon definition for sexting. Does sexting consist only of sexually-oriented text messages? Does it include photos? Video? Definitions varied widely from paper to paper.

    “There are two take-home messages here,” says Andrew Binder, co-author of the review and an associate professor of communication at NC State. “First is that sexting does not appear to pose a public health threat to America’s youth — so don’t panic. Second, if this is something we want to study, we need to design better studies. For example, the field needs a common, clear definition of what we mean by sexting, as well as more robust survey questions and methods.”


  8. Study links satisfaction with sex life to how old one feels

    June 6, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Waterloo press release:

    The closer you feel to your actual age, the less likely you are to be satisfied with your sex life, a University of Waterloo study has found.

    The study looked at the attitudes of sex and aging of a group of 1170 adults from their mid-40s to their mid-70s over a 10-year period.

    The group, which included people of diverse sexual orientation, reported that the closer people felt to their chronological age, the lower the quality of their sex life.

    “What was clear from the data is that feeling younger had a huge impact on how people felt about the quality of their sex life and how interested they were in having sex,” said Steven Mock, an associate professor in Recreation and Leisure Studies at Waterloo. “For people in mid to later life, feeling young at heart actually appears to make a difference in the bedroom.”

    The research drew upon data collected in the Midlife in the United States (MIDUS) study in the between 1995 and 2005. The MIDUS study is a national longitudinal study of health and wellbeing in the United States and measures the physical and mental health of participants over a period of decades.

    “It’s important to consider all of the different psychosocial and biological factors that might influence a person’s sexuality,” “said Amy Estill, who led the research while completing her Master’s degree at Waterloo. “While feeling younger didn’t have an impact on how much sex people were having, it was quite clear that feeling older does impact the quality of the sex you’re having,”

    The study was recently published in the Journal of Sex Research.


  9. Study suggests improvement in relationship communication may positively impact male sexual function

    May 27, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Medical University of Vienna press release:

    The results of a study conducted at MedUni Vienna under the direction of Michaela Bayerle-Eder, doctor of internal and sexual medicine, showed that the sexual response of men, whose female partners had been treated with the “bonding hormone” oxytocin or a placebo, was enhanced — even to the extent of improving their erectile function. This effect was not a function of the substance administered, so that the result is attributable to the improvement in communications within the long-term relationship.

    Approximately one year ago, in a study published in the journal Fertility and Sterility, the researchers found that treating women with sexual dysfunction with the hormone oxytocin improved their sexual response but also that the comparison group, who had only been given a placebo, showed an almost identical improvement. The specialists in sexual medicine therefore also investigated the effects upon the women’s male partners.

    This study has now shown that treating the female partners with oxytocin not only enhances their own sexuality but also that of their male partners. Since the effect was found not only in the group receiving the active agent but also in the placebo group, it is once again thought to be triggered by the improved communication within the relationship.

    The specific results: “The mere fact that the couple discussed sexuality more in their relationship and that they had to keep a joint diary helped to enhance their sexual response,” summarises Bayerle-Eder. The results were just as good in the placebo group as they were in the group of couples where the women were given oxytocin. Says Bayerle-Eder: “This is of major importance for all sex therapists. It is not just the medication that helps but rather, and more importantly, the functional social interaction within a relationship.”

    This is particularly important for older couples in long-term relationships. The 30 couples in the study had been together for between 2 and 33 years and were aged between 41 and 65.


  10. Young people troubled by romantic relationships, sexual harassment

    by Ashley

    From the Harvard University press release:

    A new report released today suggests that many young people struggle with developing healthy romantic relationships and that rates of misogyny and sexual harassment among teens and young adults are alarmingly high. The report also suggests that, while many adults are focused on the youth “hook-up culture,” they commonly ignore or fail to address these two more pervasive problems. Titled The Talk: How Adults Can Promote Young People’s Healthy Relationships and Prevent Misogyny and Sexual Harassment, the report was published by Making Caring Common, a project of the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

    “We hope that this report is a real wake-up call,” said Dr. Richard Weissbourd, Senior Lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Faculty Director of the Making Caring Common project, and lead author of the study. “While adults, and parents in particular, wring their hands about the ‘hook-up culture,’ research indicates that far fewer young people are hooking up than is commonly believed. This focus on the hook-up culture also obscures two much bigger issues that our research suggests many young people are struggling with: forming and maintaining healthy and fulfilling romantic relationships and dealing with widespread misogyny and sexual harassment. Unfortunately, we also found that most adults appear to be doing very little to address these serious problems.”

    The report is based on several years of research by Weissbourd and his research team, including surveys of over 3,000 young adults and high school students nationwide and scores of formal interviews and informal conversations. Weissbourd and his team also spoke with many adults who are key to young people, including parents, teachers, sport coaches, and counselors.

    KEY FINDINGS

    Key findings from the report include the following:

    1. Teens and adults tend to greatly overestimate the size of the “hook-up culture” and these misconceptions can be detrimental to young people. Research indicates that a large majority of young people are not hooking up frequently, and our research suggests that teens and adults tend to greatly overestimate the percentage of young people who are hooking up or having casual sex. This overestimation can make many teens and young adults feel embarrassed or ashamed, and can also pressure them to engage in sex when they are not interested or ready.

    2. Large numbers of teens and young adults are unprepared for caring, lasting romantic relationships and are anxious about developing them. Yet it appears that parents, educators and other adults often provide young people with little or no guidance in developing these relationships. The good news is that a high percentage of young people want this guidance. Seventy percent of survey respondents (18 to 25-year-olds) reported wishing they had received more information from their parents about some emotional aspect of romantic relationships, and 65% indicated that they wanted guidance on some emotional aspect of romantic relationships in a health or sex education class at school.

    3. Misogyny and sexual harassment appear to be pervasive among young people and certain forms of gender-based degradation may be increasing, yet a significant majority of parents do not appear to be talking to young people about it. In our national survey of 18 to 25-year-olds, 87% percent of women reported having experienced some form of sexual harassment during their lifetime, yet 76% of respondents to this survey had never had a conversation with their parents about how to avoid sexually harassing others. Majorities of respondents also had never had conversations with their parents about various forms of misogyny.

    4. Many young people don’t see certain types of gender-based degradation and subordination as problems in our society. Forty-eight percent of our survey respondents either agreed or were neutral about the idea that “society has reached a point that there is no more double standard against women.” Thirty-nine percent of respondents either agreed or were neutral that it’s “rare to see a woman treated in an inappropriately sexualized manner on television.” About 1 in 3 male respondents thought that men should be dominant in romantic relationships.

    5. Research shows that rates of sexual assault among young people are high. But our research suggests that a majority of parents and educators aren’t discussing with young people basic issues related to consent. While the report did not focus on consent and sexual assault, our survey data suggests that many adults are also not talking to young people about these important issues. Most of the respondents to our survey of 18 to 25-year-olds had never spoken with their parents about “being sure your partner wants to have sex and is comfortable doing so before having sex”(61%), assuring your “own comfort before engaging in sex” (49%), the “importance of not pressuring someone to have sex with you”(56%), the “importance of not continuing to ask someone to have sex after they have said no” (62%), or the “importance of not having sex with someone who is too intoxicated or impaired to make a decision about sex” (57%). A large majority of respondents who had had these conversations with parents described them as at least somewhat influential.

    RECOMMENDATIONS

    In light of the report findings, Making Caring Common developed the following tips for parents and other adults to help guide these important conversations with young people.

    1. Talk about love and help teens understand the differences between mature love and other forms of intense attraction. Regardless of their own relationships successes and failures, all adults can distill their wisdom and share it in age-appropriate ways with teens and young adults. They can also explore with teens and young adults questions at the core of learning how to love and develop healthy relationships. For example, what is the difference between infatuation, intoxication and love?

    2. Guide young people in identifying healthy and unhealthy relationships. Adults can ask questions that help teens identify the markers of healthy and unhealthy relationships, and can explore with them examples of each in their own lives and in the media. One important marker is whether a romantic relationship makes both partners more respectful, compassionate, generative, hopeful.

    3. Go beyond platitudes. Important as it is to tell young people to “be respectful,” many teens don’t know what this actually means in different romantic and sexual situations. Adults need to identify for teens common forms of misogyny and harassment, such as catcalling or using gender-based slurs, and they need to talk to teens specifically about what respect and care concretely mean in any type of romantic relationship.

    4. Step in. When parents and other adults witness degrading, sexualized words or behavior, it’s imperative that they intervene. Silence can be understood as permission. Adults need to talk much more with each other and with school counselors and other experts about what types of interventions are likely to be effective and try out various approaches. It’s often important in school and community settings to enlist teens and young people themselves in preventing these behaviors.

    5. Talk about what it means to be an ethical person. Helping young people develop the skills to maintain caring romantic relationships and treat those of different genders with dignity and respect can also help strengthen their ability to develop caring, responsible relationships at every stage of their lives and to grow into ethical adults, community members, and citizens. It’s important for adults to connect discussion with teens and young adults about romantic and sexual relationships and misogyny and harassment to ethical questions about their obligation to treat others with dignity and respect, intervene when others are at risk of being harmed, and advocate for those who are vulnerable.

    A full-length version of these tips and additional guides and resources for parents, educators, and young people can be found in the full report at http://www.makingcaringcommon.org.