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Practice Makes Passable: Practical Advice for GRE Prep.

Posted on Nov 14, 2016

flickr-user-ray_lac

By Justin Dubé

People will tell you there is no way to study for the GRE. They are wrong. The GRE is a puzzle and, like any puzzle, it can be solved. Although there are likely many ways to prepare for the test, I found practicing the GRE (over and over, multiplied by 5, or 6) to be very helpful. Below, I will share some practice tips and other strategies that helped me tackle the test.

homerThe GRE prep course I took recommended writing a full practice test before studying. The experience was a bit alarming (my score was dismal), but it helped me establish a baseline score and identify my strengths and weaknesses. For example, after writing the test with no prep, I discovered each math formula I had learned between grades 5 and 12 had been replaced with Simpsons quotes.

Learning my weaknesses helped to transform an ambiguous problem (i.e., how to get an acceptable GRE score) into a concrete problem (e.g., relearn how to calculate the area of a circle, learn how to calculate how much debt you will accrue over the course of grad school, etc…). Also, establishing a baseline of my abilities revealed the discrepancy between where I was (grade 4 level math) and where I wanted to be (getting an acceptable quant score) which motivated me to practice. If you’re anything  like me (or the people in this study: Regulating goal pursuit through Mental Contrasting with Implementation Intentions) writing a GRE practice test before studying will motivate you to improve your weak areas and spur you to practice more.

Another GRE prep tip that I found useful was to schedule my practice tests. There are several benefits to doing this. First, you will (hopefully) actually write the practice tests. Second, knowing when you will practice will allow you to block the 4 hours (!!!) needed to complete the test. Regarding interval of practice, I found writing one test per week until the exam worked well for me; whether this will generalize to your situation will depend on how much time you have to prepare and how many practice tests you have access to. Practicing once a week gave me enough time to recover from writing, review the tests, and then work on my weaknesses. Other GRE prep strategies and pieces of advice which I found helpful were the following:

  • Schedule your actual test! You may be inclined to postpone scheduling your test until after you feel you’re prepared to write. However, I found scheduling my test motivated me to practice and helped me remember that “this too shall pass”.

  • Practice the whole test, in order. This means even practicing the analytical writing portion, at the beginning. Doing so will help you get into the flow of the test and build your stamina. If you have a bunch of practice tests, but no writing prompts, ETS has a bank of topics here: https://www.ets.org/gre/revised_general/prepare/analytical_writing/issue/pool

  • Practice under timed conditions. It may be tempting to give yourself a little more time, or take an extra-long break between sections, but replicating the timed testing conditions will give you a more accurate gauge of your performance.

  • Practice writing at the same time of day as your scheduled test. This is particularly helpful if, for example, you’re a night owl who will be writing a morning test. Two weeks before I wrote, I started setting my alarm to the time I would need to wake on test day. It was terrible, but helpful.

In the end, remember to keep it in perspective! The GRE is one small portion of your application. In many cases, your score is nothing more than a screening tool, not a guarantee of admission into a program. Remember this and you may feel a little less stressed when preparing for, and writing, the test. Like many others, I felt my test didn’t go as well as it could have and was considering writing again. Fortunately, I had a mentor who was able to redirect my focus. Instead of re-writing the test, I spent time strengthening my application, which I believe served me well. And really, who wants to write the GRE more than once? In some cases, good enough is good enough.

Good Luck!

 

References:

Oettingen, G., Wittchen, M., & Gollwitzer, P. (2013). Regulating goal pursuit through mental contrasting with implementation intentions. In Taylor and Francis.

Image credit:

Flickr user ray_lac

Why I love being a scientist-practitioner…maybe you will too… [A blog post for those considering a PhD in Clinical Psychology]

Posted on Oct 12, 2016

By Serena Corsini-Munt

flickr-user-collegedegrees360

Image credit: flickr user CollegeDegrees360

So you’re thinking about applying for a PhD in Clinical Psychology? This might mean that you are pursuing a career as a practicing psychologist. You may want to be trained to provide psychotherapy to those in need. You are empathic and the idea of helping others seems like a rewarding path. Or maybe, you have found a professor you greatly admire and want to pursue a similar career path, or you always knew a life of academia was for you. You have the research bug, want to engage in knowledge dissemination and the idea of teaching appeals to you. All are good.

One of the things I like about having completed a PhD in Clinical Psychology? There are not too many PhDs like it. A PhD in Clinical Psychology, like those in Counselling Psychology and Neuropsychology, is a professional PhD. When complete, you will be able to apply for membership in a professional order or college, and hold the title of psychologist. You might pursue academic life, you might practice psychology, or both! All have the potential to be fulfilling and worthy pursuits. But to get there, you’re going to have to do some research. Reframed: you’re going to get to do some research.

Unfortunately, some people shy away from pursuing a PhD in Clinical Psychology because they do not find research exciting or because they want training that will get them to work with people in a clinical setting more quickly. I worry that they have foreclosed too soon. The reactions range from being intimidated by research, viewing research as a means to an end, or resentful, as though research is an obstacle to becoming a psychologist. Why do psychologists need to know how to conduct research? Because learning to conduct research during your PhD may make you a better clinician.

The scientist-practitioner model is often part of a program’s description. It is often thought of as an integral component of contributing to psychology’s reputation for being science-directed, but it represents something more. The scientist-practitioner model attempts to capture the two roles of the psychologist and speak to the importance of training in each domain. Tenets of the model include:

  • Education in clinical psychology should give equal billing to research training and clinical skills.
  • Assessment and treatment should follow empirically-based protocols and clinical decisions should be informed by empirical findings.
  • Just as the researcher contributes to practice with empirical evidence, the clinician is expected to contribute to research with practice-based evidence.

I’m of the opinion that there is a reciprocal and beneficial relationship between science and practice in which each gives the other purpose. We cannot practice responsibly without knowing the rationale behind our interventions, nor without appreciating their potential effect. Science contributes to better understanding clinical populations and helps us better understand those that enter our clinical practice. Knowing which treatments might benefit which patients plays a HUGELY important role in shaping how clinicians help people. And clinicians have direct access to the needs of their patients so that research might target clinically-relevant outcomes.

Are you preparing for PhD applications, or thinking about applying to a PhD program in Clinical Psychology?

Quick Check List

  • Are you pursuing an honours or a research project?
  • Are you participating in pre-clinical experiences, such as volunteering in clinical care settings, or working for talk- and crisis-lines?
  • Are you getting experience working with different areas to broaden your exposure to topics?
  • Are you working for different professors who will be able to provide letters of recommendation?
  • Are you working towards the best possible grades in your classes?
  • If applying to English-speaking universities, are you preparing for your General GREs and Psych GREs?
  • Have you taken note of the application requirements for programs of interest?
  • Are you talking to graduate students and professors about what grad school is like?
  • Have you reviewed the steps to licensure as a psychologist in your geographical area?

So, if you are considering a PhD in Clinical Psychology, I hope you’ll embrace research if practice is your main interest, and I hope you’ll draw from practice if research is your focus. Take your time to find an area of research that is personally motivating and ignites your passion for both research and practice.
Sources:

Baker, D. B., & Benjamin, L. T. (2000). The affirmation of the scientists-practitioner: A look back at Boulder. American Psychologist, 55, 241–247. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.55.2.241.

Jones, J., & Mehr, S. (2007). Foundations and assumptions of the scientist–practitioner model. American Behavioral Scientist, 50, 766–771. doi:10.1177/0002764206296454.

Navab, A., Koegel, R., Dowdy, E., & Vernon, T. (2016). Ethical considerations in the application of the scientist-practitioner model for psychologists conducting intervention research. Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy, 46, 79-87. DOI 10.1007/s10879-015-9314-3

Petersen, C. A. (2007). A historical look at psychology and the scientist–practitioner model. American Behavioral Scientist, 50, 758–765. doi:10.1177/0002764206296453.

Shapiro, D. S. (2002). Renewing the scientist–practitioner model. Psychologist, 55, 247–248.

Diagnosing Sexual Dysfunction

Posted on Oct 3, 2016

Diagnosing Sexual Dysfunction

By Maria Glowacka

Are you wondering if your sexual problem is a sexual dysfunction?

First, if you’re wondering whether you should go talk to a health professional about a sexual problem you have been experiencing, the answer is YES if it is distressing to you and/or your partner. A health professional will likely ask you some questions about the problem and whether it developed in the context of a health condition or taking certain medications. For a sexual problem to be considered a sexual dysfunction, it must meet the diagnostic criteria outlined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5; [1]). The DSM-5 has classifications for seven sexual dysfunctions (described below). To be diagnosed with a sexual dysfunction, the symptoms must be present for at least six months, cause you significant distress, and cannot be caused exclusively by a non-sexual mental disorder, significant relationship distress, medical illness, or medication.

Male Sexual Dysfunction

The DSM-5 provides diagnostic criteria for four sexual dysfunctions that are specific to biological males (i.e., individuals who are born with male genitalia). Delayed Ejaculation is delayed, infrequent, or absent ejaculation in at least 75% of partnered sexual activity occasions. In the previous version of the DSM (DSM-IV-TR; [2]), this sexual dysfunction was referred to as Male Orgasmic Disorder. According to the current DSM, Erectile Disorder is diagnosed when a male has (1) difficulty getting an erection, (2) difficulty maintaining an erection, or (3) a decrease in how rigid the erection is during 75 to 100% of sexual activity encounters. Male Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder is a lack of or recurrent decrease in sexual thoughts, fantasies, and desire for sexual activity. It is the responsibility of the diagnosing clinician to determine that desire is not only perceived as low in comparison to the desire of one’s partner (which would be a desire discrepancy between partners and maybe not a sexual dysfunction). Premature (Early) Ejaculation is diagnosed when ejaculation occurs within one minute following vaginal penetration and before the person wishes it on at least 75% of partnered sexual activity occasions. It is important to note that this diagnosis is applicable to men who engage in non-vaginal sexual activity, but unfortunately the specific duration criteria remain unknown.

Female Sexual Dysfunction

There are three sexual dysfunctions in the DSM 5 that are specific to biological females (i.e., individuals who are born with female genitalia). Female Orgasmic Disorder is a delay in, infrequency of, or absence of orgasm, or a reduced intensity of orgasmic sensations during 75 to 100% of sexual activity encounters. Since there is lots of variation in the type or intensity of stimulation that triggers orgasm, clinicians are left to judge if a female’s ability to orgasm is less than expected for her age, sexual experience, and stimulation received. Female Sexual Interest/Arousal Disorder is absent or reduced sexual interest/arousal. This is determined by meeting three or more of the following criteria: (1) reduced/absent interest in sexual activity, (2) reduced/absent sexual thoughts/fantasies, (3) reduced/no initiations of sexual activity or not responding to partner initiations, (4) reduced/absent excitement or pleasure during 75 to 100% of sexual activity events, (5) reduced/absent interest/arousal in the context of any sexual cues, or (6) reduced/absent genital or non-genital sensations during 75 to 100% of sexual activity events. As with Male Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder, these symptoms must not only be a desire discrepancy between partners. The diagnosis of Female Sexual Interest/Arousal Disorder is a combination of Female Hypoactive Desire Disorder and Female Arousal Disorder from the DSM-IV-TR. Finally, the DSM 5 (American Psychiatric Association, 2013) characterizes Genito-Pelvic Pain/Penetration Disorder as constant or repeated difficulties with (1) vaginal penetration during intercourse, (2) vaginal or pelvic pain during penetration, (3) significant fear/anxiety about vaginal or pelvic pain, or (4) tensing of pelvic floor muscles during penetration attempts. Genito-Pelvic Pain/Penetration Disorder is a combination of the diagnostic criteria of Dyspareunia and Vaginismus in the DSM-IV-TR. Male genital pain has been removed from the current version of the DSM because of insufficient research, even though there is growing evidence of men experiencing pain during erection, ejaculation, and receptive anal intercourse [3].

Each of the sexual dysfunctions could be lifelong (present since becoming sexually active) or acquired (developed overtime), generalized (present in a variety of situations) or situational (only present with certain stimulation, situations, or partners), and clinicians could specify whether distress over symptoms is mild, moderate, or severe. Note that not everyone agrees on the diagnostic criteria for all of these sexual dysfunctions. There is a variety of ways that people can experience a distressing sexual problem. That being said, you might find yourself suffering from a sexual problem that doesn’t quite meet the criteria above to be considered a “sexual dysfunction”. If you’re distressed by this problem and/or it’s negatively impacting your relationship, you should go talk to a health professional. They can still help you out or point you in the right direction.

Sources:

[1] American Psychiatric Association (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association.

[2] American Psychiatric Association (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed., text revision). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.

[3] Bergeron, S., Rosen, N. O., & Pukall, C. P. (2014). Genital pain in women and men: It can hurt more than your sex life. In Y. M. Binik & K. S. K. Hall (Eds.), Principles and practice of sex therapy, fifth edition (pp. 159-176). New York: Guilford Press.

 

 

A New Baby in the Bedroom: Frequency and Severity of Postpartum Sexual Concerns and Their Associations With Relationship Satisfaction in New Parent Couples

Posted on Sep 26, 2016

A couple in bed, with just their feet showing and white sheets

By Hera Schlagintweit

*Note: This is a summary of our recently published paper: Schlagintweit, H. E., Bailey, K., & Rosen, N. O. (2016). A New Baby in the Bedroom: Frequency and Severity of Postpartum Sexual Concerns and Their Associations With Relationship Satisfaction in New Parent Couples. The Journal of Sexual Medicine. Online First. doi: 10.1016/j.jsxm.2016.08.006 Access the paper: Full-Text Download (Paywall)

The year after the birth of a couple’s first child can often be a difficult one, as there is little that can prepare new parents for the many changes that come with the addition of a new member to the family. One major change that occurs during this time is to new parents’ sexual relationship 1,2. Indeed, research has shown that a majority of new parents have a number of questions or worries related to their sexual relationship. For example, many new parents worry about when to resume sexual intercourse after childbirth, whether sexual intercourse will be painful, the impact of new mother’s body image concerns on their interest in sex, and about differences in the degree to which new fathers and mothers are interested in sex 3.

While research has shown us that sexual concerns are very common among new parents 3, little is known about the impact that these concerns have on parents. For example, we do not know how severe these concerns are. Perhaps some new parents consider sexual concerns to be temporary and natural, and therefore not much to worry about. Alternatively, some new parents may experience sexual concerns as highly alarming and distressing. We also know very little about how sexual concerns impact new parent’s relationship quality. Could new parents who experience many sexual concerns, or perhaps a few severe sexual concerns, be at risk for relationship struggles? A couples’ sexual relationship has an important impact on the overall quality of their intimate relationship 4. Therefore, new parents who experience many sexual concerns, or severe sexual concerns, may also experience declines in the quality of their intimate relationship. When we designed this study, this is exactly what we sought out to explore.

What we did

239 North American new parent couples completed an online survey looking at 20 previously identified sexual concerns 3 and relationship satisfaction. All couples were first-time mothers and fathers to a healthy baby who was born 3 to 12 months before their participation in the study. We had fathers and mothers rate whether or not they were experiencing each of the 20 sexual concerns, and the severity of any of the concerns they were experiencing on a scale from 1 (not at all concerned) to 7 (extremely concerned). We also asked them to rate their relationship satisfaction using a well-established questionnaire called the Couples Satisfaction Index 5.

What we found

Overall, we found that sexual concerns were very common and moderately severe in new mothers and fathers alike. In fact 59% of mothers and fathers reported experiencing 16 or more of the 20 sexual concerns that were measured. The total severity of concerns were rated as 79 and 76 out of a total of 140 (56% and 54%) for new mothers and fathers respectively.

Top 5 sexual concerns of new mothers        

(1 – tie) Concerns about the frequency of intercourse after childbirth

(1 – tie) Concerns about changes new mothers’ body image and its impact of sexual activity after childbirth

(3) Concerns about the impact of child-rearing duties on time for sexual activity

(4) Concerns about the impact of sleep deprivation on sexual interest

(5) Concerns about the impact of physical recovery from delivery on intercourse

Top 5 sexual concerns of new fathers

(1) Concerns about mood swings (not postpartum depression) and their impact on sexual activity after childbirth

(2) Concerns about the frequency of intercourse after childbirth

(3) Concerns about a mismatch in sexual desire: new fathers have more sexual desire than new mothers

(4 – tie) Concerns about changes in new mother’s body image and its impact on sexual activity after childbirth

(4 – tie) concerns about the impact of breastfeeding on breasts

 

We also found that postpartum sexual concerns had an impact on relationship satisfaction. Fathers’ greater severity of postpartum sexual concerns was associated with their own and mothers’ reduced relationship satisfaction, while mothers’ greater severity of postpartum sexual concerns was only associated with lower relationship satisfaction in fathers. In addition, when mothers had more postpartum sexual concerns both they and their partner reported lower relationship satisfaction. However, fathers’ number of postpartum sexual concerns was unrelated to parents’ relationship satisfaction.

What does this mean?

Taken together, these findings show that sexual concerns are highly common and moderately severe in new mothers and fathers alike. New parent’s sexual concerns were also found to have an impact on both mothers’ and fathers’ relationship satisfaction. These findings therefore suggest that providing new parents with education or counselling about postpartum sexual concerns may have important positive impacts on the quality of their intimate relationship. Given that a healthy relationship is important not only for the wellbeing of new mothers and new fathers, but also for the healthy development of the child 6,7, it is highly recommended that health care providers discuss postpartum sexual concerns with new fathers and new mothers alike.

REFERENCES:

  1. Ahlborg T, Dahlof L-G, Hallberg, Lillemor R-M. Quality of the Intimate and Sexual Relationship in First-Time Parents Six Months After Delivery. J Sex Res. 2013;42(2):167-174.
  2. Benowitz NL, Jacob III P, Ahijevych K, et al. Biochemical verification of tobacco use and cessation. Nicotine Tob Res. 2002;4(2):149-159. doi:10.1080/14622200210123581.
  3. Pastore L, Owens A, Raymond C. Postpartum sexuality concerns among first-time parents from one U.S. academic hospital. J Sex Med. 2007;4(1):115-123. doi:10.1111/j.1743-6109.2006.00379.x.
  4. McNulty JK, Wenner CA, Fisher TD. Longitudinal Associations Among Relationship Satisfaction, Sexual Satisfaction, and Frequency of Sex in Early Marriage. Arch Sex Behav. 2016;45(1):85-97. doi:10.1007/s10508-014-0444-6.
  5. Funk JL, Rogge RD. Testing the ruler with item response theory: increasing precision of measurement for relationship satisfaction with the Couples Satisfaction Index. J Fam Psychol. 2007;21(4):572-583. doi:10.1037/0893-3200.21.4.572.
  6. Amato PR. Children of Divorce in the 1990s: An Update of the Amato and Keith (1991) Meta-Analysis. J Fam Psychol. 2001;15(3):355-370. doi:10.1037/0893-3200.15.3.355.
  7. Yu T, Pettit GS, Lansford JE, Dodge KA, Bates JE. The interactive effects of marital conflict and divorce on parent – adult children’s relationships. J Marriage Fam. 2010;72(2):282-292. doi:10.1111/j.1741-3737.2010.00699.x.

 

 

 

Maintaining affection despite pain: Daily associations between physical affection and sexual and relationship well-being in women with genito-pelvic pain

Posted on Sep 14, 2016

flickr-user_you-meBy Sarah Vannier

*Note: This is a summary of our recently published paper Vannier, S.A., Rosen, N.O., Mackinnon, S.P., & Bergeron, S. (2016). Maintaining affection despite pain: Daily associations between physical affection and sexual and relationship well-being in women with genito-pelvic pain. Archives of Sexual Behavior. Online First. doi: 10.1007/s10508-016-0820-5 Access the paper: Full-Text View Only (Open-Access), Full-Text Download (Paywall)

Provoked vestibulodynia (PVD) is the most common cause of genito-pelvic pain in premenopausal women and affects 8 to 12 % of women. Many women with PVD report that the condition has a negative effect on their sexual and relationship well-being [1]. The goal of this study was to look at the link between day-to-day physical affection with a romantic partner (i.e., hugging/kissing and cuddling) and sexual, relational, and pain outcomes in women with PVD.

Physical affection is an important part of our intimate and romantic relationships. Actions like kissing, hugging, caressing, and cuddling have been linked to greater sexual and relationship satisfaction [2-5], and touch from romantic partners can help to reduce stress [6, 7].

No research has looked at the link between physical affection, pain, and sexual and relationship well-being in women with PVD. On the one hand, some women with genito-pelvic pain report that affectionate contact (e.g., hugging and kissing) with their partner helps them to maintain intimacy in their relationship when they have difficulty engaging in sexual activity [8-11]. On the other hand, many women with genito-pelvic pain, report avoiding or limiting physical affection because they worry it might lead to painful sexual activity [11-14]. For example, in a recent study of Canadian women receiving treatment for PVD, 38% said that they avoided all forms of physical intimacy with their romantic partner [9]. This avoidance may be partially driven by a desire to prevent a painful encounter, but may also be driven by concern about “leading a partner on” and not wanting to reject a partner who is trying to initiate sexual activity.

What did we do?

Seventy women diagnosed with PVD completed the study. All women were in mixed-sex relationships and living with their partner. We used a daily diary method where women completed a short survey every day for 8-weeks. This daily diary method is useful because it helps us collect more accurate reports of women’s experiences (i.e., it is easier to remember what you did in the past 24 hours than to remember your typical behaviour over the past four weeks). The diary method also lets us look at the day-to-day changes in women’s lives. Each day women reported whether they had engaged in physical affection and sexual activity and rated their relationship satisfaction. On days when sexual activity occurred women also rated their sexual functioning, sexual satisfaction, and intensity of pain.

What did we find?

Many of the women in our sample were physically affectionate with their partner. On days with sexual activity, women hugged/kissed their partner eight times, and cuddled their partner twice, on average. On days with no sexual activity, women were slightly less affectionate; they report hugging/kissing five times and cuddling once, on average.

Affection was linked with sexual and relationship well-being. On days that women reported more affection they also reported increased satisfaction, relationship satisfaction, and sexual functioning. This was true for hugging and kissing that happened on the same day as sexual activity, and for hugging and kissing that happened on the day before sexual activity. Cuddling was not related to any of the sexual and relationship outcomes, and physical affection was not linked with women’s experiences of pain.

flickr-user-alick-sung2

 

What does this mean?

Our findings suggest that physical affection, such as hugging and kissing, is associated with higher sexual satisfaction, relationship satisfaction, and better sexual functioning in the daily lives of women with PVD. Affection also appears to be helpful when it happens both within and outside of a sexual context. This means that hugging and kissing regularly, and on days when you do not have sex, may be helpful for women with PVD and their partners.

It is very common for women with PVD to report that physical affection with their partner produces negative emotions and avoidance, mostly driven by a fear that affection can lead to painful sexual activity [15-18]. However, our data suggest that maintaining affectionate contact with a partner may offer benefits for women with PVD and their romantic relationships. That said, we must keep in mind that this study was correlational. This means that we do not know if hugging and kissing more causes improvements in sexual and relationship well-being, or if women who are in better sexual and romantic relationships are also more likely to hug and kiss their partner. Longitudinal research, where we follow couples over time, will help us to tease apart this association. Overall, we hope that this data will inform future interventions aimed at enhancing the sexual and relationship well-being of women with PVD.

REFERENCES

  1. Ponte, M., et al., Effects of vulvodynia on quality of life. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 2009. 60(1): p. 70-76.
  2. Dainton, M., L. Stafford, and D.J. Canary, Maintenance strategies and physical affection as predictors of love, liking, and satisfaction in marriage. Communication Reports, 1994. 7(2): p. 88-98.
  3. Fisher, W.A., et al., Individual and partner correlates of sexual satisfaction and relationship happiness in midlife couples: Dyadic analysis of the international survey of relationships. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 2015. 44(6): p. 1609-1620.
  4. Gulledge, A.K., M.H. Gulledge, and R.F. Stahmann, Romantic physical affection types and relationship satisfaction. American Journal of Family Therapy, 2003. 31(4): p. 233-242.
  5. Muise, A., E. Giang, and E.A. Impett, Post sex affectionate exchanges promote sexual and relationship satisfaction. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 2014. 43(7): p. 1391-1402.
  6. Ditzen, B., et al., Effects of different kinds of couple interaction on cortisol and heart rate responses to stress in women. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 2007. 32(5): p. 565-574.
  7. Grewen, K.M., et al., Warm partner contact is related to lower cardiovascular reactivity. Behavioral Medicine, 2004. 29(3): p. 123-130.
  8. Blair, K.L., et al., Differential associations of communication and love in heterosexual, lesbian, and bisexual women’s perceptions and experiences of chronic vulvar and pelvic pain. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 2015. 41(5): p. 498-524.
  9. Brotto, L.A., et al., Impact of a multidisciplinary vulvodynia program on sexual functioning and dyspareunia. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 2015. 12(1): p. 238-247.
  10. Smith, K.B. and C.F. Pukall, A systematic review of relationship adjustment and sexual satisfaction among women with provoked vestibulodynia. Journal of Sex Research, 2011. 48(2-3): p. 166-191.
  11. Svedhem, C., G. Eckert, and B. Wijma, Living with genito-pelvic pain/penetration disorder in a heterosexual relationship: An interpretative phenomenological analysis of interviews with eight women. Sexual and Relationship Therapy, 2013. 28(4): p. 336-349.
  12. Hinchliff, S., M. Gott, and K. Wylie, A qualitative study of heterosexual women’s attempts to renegotiate sexual relationships in the context of severe sexual problems. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 2012. 41(5): p. 1253-1261.
  13. Marriott, C. and A.R. Thompson, Managing threats to femininity: Personal and interpersonal experience of living with vulval pain. Psychology and Health, 2008. 23(2): p. 243-258.
  14. Sutherland, O., Qualitative analysis of heterosexual women’s experience of sexual pain and discomfort. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 2012. 38(3): p. 223-244.
  15. Gates, E.A. and R.P. Galask, Psychological and sexual functioning in women with vulvar vestibulitis. Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics and Gynecology, 2001. 22(4): p. 221-228.
  16. Nylanderlundqvist, E. and J. Bergdahl, Vulvar vestibulitis: Evidence of depression and state anxiety in patients and partners. Acta Dermato-Venereologica, 2003. 83(5): p. 369-373.
  17. Payne, K.A., et al., When sex hurts, anxiety and fear orient attention towards pain. European Journal of Pain, 2005. 9(4): p. 427-436.
  18. Payne, K.A., et al., Effects of sexual arousal on genital and non-genital sensation: A comparison of women with vulvar vestibulitis syndrome and healthy controls. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 2007. 36(2): p. 289-300.

 

How does sexuality before pregnancy affect sexuality during and after pregnancy?

Posted on Jun 20, 2016

 

By Jaimie Beveridge

Photo by Flickr user Alick Sung

Photo by Flickr user Alick Sung

Perhaps unsurprisingly, research has found that many women experience changes to their sexuality and sexual relationship during pregnancy and the postpartum period [1]. These changes can include:

  • decreases in how often women desire and engage in sex,
  • decreases in their ability to get aroused and wet and orgasm during sex,
  • decreases in how satisfied they are with their sex life, and
  • increases in pain during intercourse.

As you can see in this previous post, women vary in the extent that they experience these changes, however. So, what causes this variability in women’s sexuality during pregnancy and the postpartum period?

Previous research has tried to answer this question by looking at the physical and hormonal changes that women experience during pregnancy, such as changes in physical appearance and increased fatigue and nausea [1, 2, 3, 4, 5]. A recent study, however, has offered an entirely new and interesting explanation: what best predicts your sexuality during and after pregnancy is your sexuality before pregnancy [6].

Yildiz measured the sexual function (i.e., desire, arousal, lubrication, orgasm, satisfaction, and pain) of 59 women from the beginning of their pregnancy to six months postpartum and found that women’s pregnancy and postpartum sexual functioning was linearly correlated with their pre-pregnancy sexual functioning.

What does this mean?

This means that women’s sexual functioning during the first trimester, second trimester, and six months after delivery was similar to their pre-pregnancy sexual functioning. Visually, you could think of their sexual functioning as following a straight and predictable line from pre-pregnancy through pregnancy to the postpartum period.

Women did report decreases in their sexual functioning during pregnancy and the postpartum period (similar to what has been found in previous studies). However, women’s prenatal and postnatal sexual functioning followed a similar pattern (or line) as their pre-pregnancy sexual functioning. Indeed, Yildiz found that women with high pre-pregnancy sexual functioning continued to have high sexual functioning during pregnancy and the postpartum period and women with low pre-pregnancy sexual functioning continued to have low sexual functioning during pregnancy and the postpartum period.

In summary then, from the pre-pregnancy period through pregnancy to the postpartum period, women’s sexual functioning appears to follow a straight (although downward sloping) line. These results are important, as they show that a woman’s sexuality before pregnancy plays an important role in her sexuality during and after pregnancy.

Sources:

  1. Johnson, C. E. (2011). Sexual health during pregnancy and the postpartum. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 8, 1267-1284.
  2. De Judicibus, M. A., & McCabe, M. P. (2002). Psychological factors and the sexuality of pregnant and postpartum women. The Journal of Sex Research, 39, 94-103.
  3. Gałazka, I., Drosdzol-Cop, A., Naworska, B., Czajkowska, M., & Skrzypulec-Plinta, V. (2015). Changes in the sexual function during pregnancy. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 12, 445-454.
  4. Pauls, R. N., Occhino, J. A., & Dryfhout, V. L. (2008). Effects of pregnancy on female sexual function and body image: A prospective study. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 5, 1915-1922.
  5. Trutnovsky, G., Josef, H., Uwe, L., and Edgar, P. (2006). Women’s perception of sexuality during pregnancy and after birth. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, 46, 282-287.
  6. Yıldız, H. (2015). The relation between prepregnancy sexuality and sexual function during pregnancy and the postpartum period: A prospective study. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 41, 49-59.

 

 

Page Turner: Come as You Are by Emily Nagoski

Posted on Jun 6, 2016

come-as-you-are-9781476762098_hrA brief book review by Kate Rancourt

The book: Come as You Are: The Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life

Author: Emily Nagoski, Ph.D.

I’m surprised I didn’t know of Emily Nagoski prior to reading this book. My impression of her now can be summed up as such: an ah-may-zing (AMAZING) sex educator with an inspiring ability to make the science of sex an easy to understand topic for everyone. But that general opinion was probably better stated by Ian Kerner, author of She Comes First, who gave her this review: “Emily Nagoski is worth her weight in TED Talks”. We all know that means a lot.

Come as You Are is largely geared toward exploring, explaining, and myth-busting a ton of topics about female sexuality. If there is one message that Emily wants to give every single woman through this book, it is that your experience of your sexuality is both unique and completely normal. There are no two individuals who are the same, but that does not mean that anyone is sexually deficient, abnormal, or broken. This message is stated time and time again throughout the book, I presume because it’s an important message to reinforce for women, whether they currently experience problems with their sexuality or not.

Part one of the book begins by discussing the “basics” of sexuality, including genital anatomy, the dual control model of sexual arousala, and the role of emotion in sex. One of my favourite parts of the book was chapter one, where Emily talks about the general lack of differences between male and female genital anatomy, and also busts some myths about female genitalia. Emily taught me a new term in this chapter – ‘biological homology’ – which she describes as traits that share a similar biological origin, but serve different functions. Case and point: the penis and the clitoris. Oh, and my favourite quote from the whole book happened in this chapter, too: “You wouldn’t call your face or forehead your throat, so let’s not call your vulva or mons the vagina”. Well put, Emily.

Part two takes readers from understanding the “basics”, to applying them to two important contexts that often play an enormous role in women’s personal feelings about their sexuality. The first is the emotional context, including the impact of general stress, sexual anxiety, and romantic attachment on sexuality. The second is the cultural context, where Emily comments on negative cultural messages that women may internalize from moral principles, medical communities, and the media about their sexual selves. Oh, and need I mention that she also gives some tips and tricks for how to address some of these factors if they are influencing your sexuality in problematic ways?

Part three focuses on the nitty gritty of female sexual desire and arousal, and talks about some of the most fascinating science on female sexuality: (1) arousal nonconcordance (i.e., the idea that women’s actual genital responses are often not related to their own feelings of ‘being turned on’), and (2) the idea that despite what scientists thought for many years, sexual desire is not a biological drive (unlike sleep or eating, which are biological drives). She ends this section with some more strategies to help tap into your sexual desire.

The final section of the book focuses on more myth-busting, this time about orgasm. In the last chapter, Emily re-defines sexual pleasure as the complex connection between the body’s physical response, and other important factors like relationships, culture, and feelings. Importantly, she wraps up the book by talking about the role that expectations can play (or as I like to call it, your ‘sexpectations’) in either interfering with, or enhancing, sexual pleasure.

To sum up, Come as You Are is a sex-positive, very informative, and normalizing book about female sexuality. I believe that every woman could gain some valuable information from this book, though it does seem to be geared more towards teenagers and adults (it focuses less on potentially different sexual experiences of older adult women, like changes in sexuality with increasing age). Additionally, Emily acknowledges early on that the science of sexuality has primarily been conducted on cis-gendered women, and as such, some of the content of the book may not apply as well to trans* or genderqueer individuals.

If you are intrigued by the post and want to learn more about this book or other work by Emily Nagoski, I encourage you to check out her website, www.thedirtynormal.com, for some general perusing about sexuality (she has some excellent blog posts and resources on her site).

a A quick summary of the dual-control model can be found here: http://www.thedirtynormal.com/blog/2014/06/22/the-dual-control-model/

Do You Know When Your Partner is in the Mood for Sex?

Posted on May 24, 2016

By Amy Muise 

*This post originally appear on Science of Relationships

Funny couple laughing with a white perfect smile and looking each other outdoors with unfocused background

Sometimes it’s obvious that our partner is interested in having sex—they might give us that seductive look or special touch. But other times it might be clear that tonight’s not the night—our partner might avoid our advances and simply roll over and go to sleep. But often, amidst our busy lives, work responsibilities, and children to care for, it may be much less clear how interested our partner is in engaging in sex. In a recent set of studies, my colleagues and I looked at how accurate people are at picking up on their partner’s interest in sex and how perceptions of a partner’s sexual desire are associated with relationship satisfaction and commitment.1

First I want to share what we currently know from previous research about perceptions of sexual interest. All of the the past research on perceptions of sexual interest has focused on initial encounters between men and women—that is, men and women rating the sexual interest of a person they are meeting for the first time. The results are very consistent: men tend to show a sexual overperception bias where they perceive greater sexual interest in a women’s behavior than she herself reports. The majority of this research draws on evolutionary psychology and explains these findings as reflecting the fact that it’s more costly (in terms of men’s chances for mating with a good partner and having kids) for men to miss a potential mating opportunity than to perceive that a woman is interested in sex when she actually is not; thus, men tend to err on the side of overperception2.

We suspected, however, that things might work differently in the context of established relationships.

Across three studies of long-term, established couples, we found that men err in the direction of the opposite bias; specifically, they underperceive their romantic partner’s sexual desire. That is, men tend to see their romantic partner as being less interested in sex than their partner reports. In contrast, women generally do not tend to over or underperceive their partner’s desire.

One possible explanation for men’s sexual underperception bias in established relationships is that underperceiving a partner’s sexual desire might help to avoid complacency and keep people motivated to entice their partner’s interest. For example, if a person overperceives how interested their partner is in having sex, they might feel as though they don’t have to do anything to set the mood or attract their partner’s interest. But, if a person sees their partner as having less desire than they actually report, the person might put forth a little extra effort to ignite their sexual interest. Across all three studies, we found evidence that the sexual underperception bias was associated with benefits for relationships (particularly when it was men who were underperceiving their partner’s desire).

Interestingly, when men underperceived their romantic partner’s sexual desire, their partners felt more satisfied and committed to the relationship. There is more work to be done to figure out exactly what men are doing that is associated with their partners feeling more satisfied, but it is possible that when men see their partner as having lower sexual desire than their partner actually reports, men do things to make their partner feel special and entice their interest, and in turn, the partner feels more satisfied with and committed to the relationship.

Another possible explanation is that men demonstrate a sexual underperception bias in order to avoid being rejected for sex. One cost of overperceiving a partner’s sexual desire is that the person might initiate sex at a time when their partner is not interested in sex and risk being rejected. In general, sexual rejection tends to be associated with lower relationship and sexual satisfaction.3 In fact, we found that on days when men (and women) were more motivated to avoid sexual rejection, they showed a stronger sexual underperception bias. That is, when people were more motivated to avoid being rejected by their partner, both men and women underperceived their partner’s desire, compared to when they were less motivated to avoid sexual rejection. Since sexual rejection tends to be associated with negative consequences for relationships, it is possible that one function of the underperception bias is to reduce the frequency of sexual rejection and ultimately help to maintain the relationship.

Finally, one reason we suspected that men would demonstrate a sexual underperception bias in established relationships and women would not is because men tend to have higher sexual desire than women.4 People with higher sexual desire should be more motivated to attract their partner’s sexual interest and to avoid sexual rejection. In fact, we found that our effects did differ based on a person’s general level of sexual desire. People low in sexual desire did not show a significant underperception bias, whereas both men and women higher in desire significantly underperceived their partner’s desire. Because men, in general, report higher sexual desire than women, this could be one reason why men tend to demonstrate a stronger overperception bias compared to women

In sum, staying attuned to a partner’s sexual needs and desires can be challenging. But it seems that biased perceptions of a partner’s sexual desire may have some function for maintaining relationships. Specifically, the sexual underperception bias may help manage the careful balance between pursuing sexual connection with a partner and avoiding sexual rejection.

1Muise, A., Stanton, S. C. E.*, Kim, J. J.*, & Impett, E. A. (2016). Not in the mood? Men under (not over) perceive their partner’s sexual desire in established relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 110, 725-742.

2Haselton, M. G., & Buss, D. M. (2000). Error management theory: A new perspective on biases in cross-sex mind reading. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78, 81–91. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514 .78.1.81

3Byers, E. S., & Heinlein, L. (1989). Predicting initiations and refusals of sexual activities in married and cohabiting heterosexual couples. Journal of Sex Research, 26, 210–231. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/ 00224498909551507

4Baumeister, R. F., Catanese, K. R., & Vohs, K. D. (2001). Is there a gender difference in strength of sex drive? Personality and Social Psychology Review, 5, 242–273. http://dx.doi.org/10.1207/S15327957PSPR0503_5

 

 

 

Eye on Research: Is High Sexual Desire a Risk for Women’s Relationship and Sexual Well-Being?

Posted on May 16, 2016

By Hannah Richardson

Flickr user_Corie Howell

Have you ever wondered how much sexual desire is “normal”? Are you a woman that has ever felt like you have “too high” of a sex drive? To start off, we should probably begin with defining some key terms: sexual desire and hypersexuality.

Sexual desire has been defined as “the sum of forces that lean us toward and push us away from sexual behaviour” (Levine, 2003). However, this definition of sex drive can be inconsistent with reality – many women engage in sexual activity for reasons unrelated to desire (Cain et. al, 2003).

Hypersexuality has often been clinically defined as sexual behaviours, urges, or activities that are uncontrollable or cause distress, impairment, or put persons at risk for sexually transmitted diseases, relationship problems, or sexual violence (Kafka, 2010). High sexual desire has also been a considered an element of hypersexuality (Kafka, 2010; Reid et al., 2012). However, the distinction between hypersexuality and having a high sex drive has often been controversial in the sense that people who are highly sexual are often labelled with a negative connotation that suggests that being highly sexual is mainly problematic for women. Many people view hypersexuality and high sex drive as the same, but hypersexuality may not equal high sex drive.

The aim of this study was to examine women who were characterized as having a high sex drive, hypersexuality, or both high sex drive and hypersexuality. Women were surveyed to study high sexual desire, hypersexuality, relationship intimacy, sexual function, sexual satisfaction, and daily functioning.

What did the researchers do?

Researchers collected data from 2,599 women aged 18-60 living in Croatia. Participants were recruited through Facebook, online dating sites, and Croatian news portals and completed questionnaires that measured sexual wellbeing, relationship well-being, sexual desire, and hypersexuality. Questions such as “Please think of a typical week in the last year and mark the degree of your desire for sexual activities from 1-10” were asked to participants.

What did the researchers find?

Compared to controls, women with high sexual desire, hypersexuality, or both had better overall sexual function. However, women with hypersexuality or a high sex drive and hypersexuality also reported lower sexual satisfaction and more negative behavioural consequences.

What does this mean?

Based on this study, the researchers suggest that women who were characterized as having a high sex drive did not appear to have negative behavioural consequences compared to women who were characterized as hypersexual. Due to the fact that hypersexuality is often characterized as uncontrollable or impulsive sexual behaviour that is often problematic or distressing to an individual, this research may imply that hypersexual women should or want to seek treatment from a health care professional whereas women who have a high sex drive may not. Women who have high sex drives often feel in control of their desires and behaviour, whereas women who are hypersexual do not, and often feel distressed regarding their sexual activities and behaviour. To sum it up, although many people think of hypersexuality and high sex drive as the same, this research suggests that it is possible for a woman to be high in neither, only one, or both.

A limitation to this study was that the participants included were young, educated, non-exclusively heterosexual women, which means that the results may not apply to broader groups of women. Despite the results found, the researches in this study outline that future research should focus on making the definitions of a high sex drive and hypersexuality more clear, conceptual, and understandable.

Source: Štulhofer, A., Bergeron, S., & Jurin, T. (2015). Is High Sexual Desire a Risk for Women’s Relationship and Sexual Well-Being?. The Journal of Sex Research, 1-10. doi: 10.1080/00224499.2015.1084984

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Levine, S. B. (2003). The nature of sexual desire: A clinician’s perspective. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 32(3), 279–285. doi:10.1023/ A:1023421819465

Cain, V. S., Johannes, C. B., Avis, N. E., Mohr, B., Schocken, M., Skurnick, J., & Ory, M. (2003). Sexual functioning and practices in a multi-ethnic study of midlife women: Baseline results from SWAN. Journal of Sex Research, 40(3), 266–276. doi:10.1080/0022449030 9552191

Wentland, J. J., Herold, E. S., Desmarais, S., & Milhausen, R. R. (2009). Differentiating highly sexual women from less sexual women. Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, 18, 169–182.

Diamond, L. M. (2004). Emerging perspectives on distinctions between romantic love and sexual desire. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 13, 116–119. doi:10.1111/cdir.2004.13.issue-3

Levine, S. B. (2002). Reexploring the concept of sexual desire. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 28(1), 39–51. doi:10.1080/009262302317251007

Blumberg, E. S. (2003). The lives and voices of highly sexual women. Journal of Sex Research, 40(2), 146–157. doi:10.1080/00224490309552176

Tolman, D. L., & Diamond, L. M. (2001). Desegregating sexuality research: Cultural and biological perspectives on gender and desire. Annual Review of Sex Research, 12, 33–74.

Kafka, M. P. (2010). Hypersexual disorder: A proposed diagnosis for DSM- V. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39(2), 377–400. doi:10.1007/s10508- 009-9574-7

 

Reid, R. C., Garos, S., & Fong, T. (2012). Psychometric development of the Hypersexual Behavior Consequences Scale. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 1(3), 115–122. doi:10.1556/JBA.1.2012.001

 

Eye on Research: What Keeps Passion Alive? Sexual Satisfaction Is Associated With Sexual Communication, Mood Setting, Sexual Variety, Oral Sex, Orgasm, and Sex Frequency in a National U.S. Study

Posted on May 9, 2016

Eye on Research: What Keeps Passion Alive? Sexual Satisfaction Is Associated With Sexual Communication, Mood Setting, Sexual Variety, Oral Sex, Orgasm, and Sex Frequency in a National U.S. Study

By Cassandra Fralic

Maintaining sexual interest, desire, passion and satisfaction over time in romantic relationships can be challenging. A group of American researchers looked at how couples in long term relationships maintain their spark. You’d think that all of the affectionate and mood-setting behaviours couples typically engage in in the beginning of their relationships (kissing, cuddling, long walks on the beach etc.) would help to keep the passion alive in relationships as these relationships age, and, according to the findings of Frederick, Lever, Gillespie & Garcia (2016) you’d be right!

Researchers surveyed over 38 000 American adults in long term relationships (mean age = 39), and looked at how sexual satisfaction was perceived to have changed over time, and tricks that helped maintain sexual satisfaction in these long term romantic relationships.

Key Findings

  • Most people reported that their sexual satisfaction was higher in the first six months of their relationship.
  • However, most people were currently sexually satisfied or neutral.
  • Many women reported being less sexually inhibited in the current stage of their relationship, and two-thirds of men reported equal or higher desire for their partner as compared to the early days with their partner.
  • Having consistent orgasms and partners’ having consistent orgasms, was associated with higher sexual satisfaction in both men and women, though receiving oral sex was only associated with higher satisfaction in men.
  • Men and women who incorporated variety into their sex lives (ie. trying a new position, wearing lingerie, discussing and acting out fantasies etc.) and mood setting techniques (ie. lighting candles) were more likely to be sexually satisfied, and those who were sexually satisfied were more likely to try new things in the bedroom. Using communication strategies was also associated with higher sexual satisfaction and reports of passion.
  • Men and women who reported higher sexual satisfaction were more likely to engage in all sex acts. Sexually satisfied men and women were also more likely to report the same or a higher level of engagement in positive sexual practices now, in comparison to the beginning of their partnership.
  • Sexually satisfied people were more likely to have overall positive sexual attitudes and beliefs, and positive beliefs about their relationships than dissatisfied people.

In general, researchers found that, as has been previously thought, a decline in passion is normal, but not inevitable. Two-thirds of participants reported maintaining sexual satisfaction over the duration of their relationship. Participants who reported being sexually satisfied engaged in behaviours to help maintain this satisfaction. These couples were more likely to keep behaving in ways that would encourage positive sexual behaviours, create positive feedback, and enable continuing a sexually satisfying relationship over time.

Source: Frederick, D.A., Lever, J., Gilespie, B.J., & Garcia, J.R. (2016). What Keeps Passion Alive? Sexual Satisfaction Is Associated With Sexual Communication, Mood Setting, Sexual Variety, Oral Sex, Orgasm, and Sex Frequency in a National U.S. Study, The Journal of Sex Research, 00, 00, 1-16. DOI: 10.1080/00224499.2015.1137854