1. 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.


  2. 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.”


  3. 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.


  4. 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.”


  5. 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.


  6. 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.


  7. 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.


  8. Study suggests TV accentuates traditional women’s roles at expense of their needs

    May 22, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Michigan press release:

    College women who frequently watch television or who believe that the content is real, tend to endorse the gender roles that are portrayed often on TV, says a University of Michigan researcher.

    Media portrayals teach women to be passive participants in their relationships and prioritize the desires of others — particularly men — instead of prioritizing their own desires, says Rita Seabrook, a U-M doctoral student in psychology and women’s studies. In addition, women learn that they are valued for their appearance and sex appeal.

    Seabrook says that endorsement of these roles — which are called gendered sexual scripts — results in some women having less confidence about using condoms and more shameful feelings about their sexual experience.

    Being confident and proud of one’s sexual experiences “conflicts with gendered expectations that women should abstain from sex except in limited circumstances,” she said.

    The study sampled 415 undergraduate women who described themselves as sexually active heterosexuals. They indicated the number of hours of TV (live or online) and reality TV watched weekly, and disclosed if they believed the programming reflected daily life.

    Questions also focused on relationships, attitudes towards women, sexual beliefs, gender roles and how participants rated their emotions.

    Overall, the women in the study watched 11 hours of mainstream TV and four hours of reality TV. They reported low to moderate levels of being sexual assertive and feeling shame sexually.

    Despite the negative association of adhering to gendered sexual scripts, why do women endorse them?

    “Women who reject traditional gender norms face backlash for failing to adhere to the culture’s expectations for them,” Seabrook said. “Thus, adhering to gendered sexual scripts may protect women from perceived and actual judgment at the expense of their sexual satisfaction and sexual well-being.”

    Not all TV portrayals of women, Seabrook says, are negative or disempowering, but the broader media landscape — TV programs, commercials, music videos — does not promote positive images. She says that women should be encouraged to challenge this negative discourse, which in turn can improve their confidence about sex and women’s roles.


  9. Study looks at circumstances under which attraction-induced eye dilation occurs

    May 5, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Kent press release:

    People’s eyes dilate when they are looking at people they find sexually appealing — but new research from the University of Kent suggests that their response does not depend on whether the person being viewed is naked or clothed.

    Researchers from the University’s School of Psychology studied whether a stronger dilation for the preferred sex is produced when participants viewed images depicting higher levels of sexual explicitness compared to images low on sexual explicitness.

    Using eye-tracking technology in combination with highly controlled stimuli, the team found that pupillary responses to images of men and women appeared to be sex-specific but not sensitive to the sexual explicitness of the image.

    Researcher Dr Janice Attard-Johnson said: ‘We found that changes in pupil size when viewing images of men and women corresponded with participants’ self-reported sexual orientation.

    ‘This meant that in heterosexual men and women, dilation occurred during the viewing of opposite-sex people, but that these responses were comparable when participants viewed both naked and dressed targets.

    ‘Our findings suggest that pupillary responses provide a sex-specific measure that is sensitive to both sexually explicit and non-sexually explicit content.’

    Other research indicates that naked pictures of people elicit stronger signs of arousal than dressed images when this is measured using other physiological reactions, such as genital responses.

    But researchers found this was not the case with pupillary responses, and suggest it is possible that a change in pupil size is elicited with lower levels of sexual arousal than is necessary for other physiological measures.


  10. A 48-hour sexual ‘afterglow’ helps to bond partners over time

    March 28, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Association for Psychological Science press release:

    Sex plays a central role in reproduction, and it can be pleasurable, but new findings suggest that it may serve an additional purpose: bonding partners together. A study of newlywed couples, published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, indicates that partners experience a sexual ‘afterglow’ that lasts for up to two days, and this afterglow is linked with relationship quality over the long term.

    “Our research shows that sexual satisfaction remains elevated 48 hours after sex,” says psychological scientist Andrea Meltzer (Florida State University), lead author on the study. “And people with a stronger sexual afterglow — that is, people who report a higher level of sexual satisfaction 48 hours after sex — report higher levels of relationship satisfaction several months later.”

    Researchers had theorized that sex plays a crucial role in pair bonding, but most adults report having sex with their partners every few days, not every day. Meltzer and colleagues hypothesized that sex might provide a short-term boost to sexual satisfaction, sustaining the pair bond in between sexual experiences and enhancing partners’ relationship satisfaction over the long term.

    To test their hypothesis, the researchers examined data from two independent, longitudinal studies, one with 96 newlywed couples and another with 118 newlywed couples. All of the couples had completed at least three consecutive days of a 14-day daily diary as part of a larger study.

    Every night, before going to bed, the newlyweds were asked to report independently whether they had sex with their partner that day. Regardless of the answer, they were also asked to rate how satisfied they were with their sex life that day and how satisfied they were with their partner, their relationship, and their marriage that day (on a 7-point scale, where 1 = not at all, 7 = extremely).

    The partners also completed three measures of marriage quality at the beginning of the study and again at a follow-up session about 4 to 6 months later.

    On average, participants reported having sex on 4 of the 14 days of the study, though answers varied considerably across participants.

    Importantly, sex on a given day was linked with lingering sexual satisfaction over time. Having sex on a given day was linked with sexual satisfaction that same day, which was linked with sexual satisfaction the next day and even two days later. In other words, participants continued to report elevated sexual satisfaction 48 hours after a single act of sex. Importantly, this association did not differ according to participants’ gender or age, and it held even after sexual frequency, personality traits, length of relationship and other factors were taken into account.

    Overall, participants’ marital satisfaction declined between the beginning of the study and the follow-up session 4 to 6 months later. But participants who reported relatively high levels of sexual afterglow seemed to fare better relative to their peers, reporting higher initial marital satisfaction and less steep declines in satisfaction across the first 4 to 6 months of marriage.

    The same pattern of effects emerged in the two independent studies, providing robust evidence for sexual afterglow, Meltzer and colleagues note. Together, the findings suggest that sex is linked with relationship quality over time through the lingering effects of sexual satisfaction.

    “This research is important because it joins other research suggesting that sex functions to keep couples pair bonded,” Meltzer concludes.