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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

Why You Have Sex Matters for Your Desire and Satisfaction

Posted on May 2, 2016

By Amy Muise  (Note:This post was originally written for the website Science of Relationships)

bbed718ee69a6bc7d1152f533989be91

Think about a time when you engaged in sex with your partner in an effort to promote a positive outcome in your relationship, such as to feel closer to your partner or enhance intimacy in your relationship. Now think about a time when you had sex to avoid a negative outcome, such as disappointing your partner or experiencing conflict in your relationship. As it turns out, the reasons why we have sex in our relationships have important implications for how much sexual desire we have for our partners and how satisfied we are with the sexual experience and with our relationship overall.

In a recent set of studies1, we asked people to reflect on and write about a time when they had sex with their partner to either: 1) pursue a positive outcome in their relationship (approach-motivated sex) or 2) avoid a negative outcome (avoidance-motivated sex). We also had a group of people simply write about the room they were currently in (to act as a comparison group). People who reflected on approach-motivated sexual experiences reported feeling more desire for their partner, more satisfied with their sex life, and happier with their overall relationship compared to people who reflected on avoidance-motivated sexual experiences or people in the control group.

Previous research has shown that people’s goals or reasons for engaging in sex are associated with their desire and satisfaction (discussed here and here). But the current set of studies is the first to show that altering people’s focus towards approach-motivated sex can lead to higher desire and satisfaction. In addition to having people recall past experiences, we also wanted to test whether we could alter people’s goals for future sexual experiences and ultimately enhance their desire and satisfaction.

In our second study, we asked half of our participants to read about the benefits of engaging in approach-motivated sex and we then instructed them to try and focus on approach-motivated reasons for having sex over the next week. That is, we asked them to think about the positive outcomes that they might expect to gain from having sex with their partner. One week later we followed up with them and asked them to report on their sexual experiences and relationship over the past week. People who focused on approach-motivated reasons for having sex (compared to people who were not given any information or instructions about approach-motivated sex), reported having sex more to pursue positive relationship outcomes and ultimately reported more satisfying sexual experiences during that week and felt happier with their overall relationship.

These results are promising for couples who are hoping to reap more benefits from sex and suggest that why a person has sex with their partner is important for their desire and satisfaction. In a relationship, aiming to focus on the positive aspects of a sexual experience, such as feeling closer to a partner or enhancing intimacy in a relationship, may enhance sexual and relationship satisfaction.

1 Muise, A., Boudreau, G. K., & Rosen, N. O. (2016). Seeking connection versus avoiding disappointment: An experimental manipulation of approach and avoidance sexual goals and the implications for desire and satisfaction. The Journal of Sex Research. Advanced online publication.

 

 

Sexual Contingent Self-Worth

Posted on Mar 21, 2016

Written by: Maria Glowacka

People might base their self-esteem on all kinds of things in their lives, including their relationships with others. When people think they have succeeded in these areas, they feel good about themselves, but when they think they’ve failed, it’s a blow to their self-esteem. I am interested in when people evaluate their self-worth based on the success of their sexual relationship.

This is called sexual contingent self-worth (CSW) and we have developed the first measure of sexual CSW. Items on this measure include, “When my sexual relationship is going well, I feel better about myself overall”, and “When my partner and I fight about a sexual issue, I feel bad about myself in general”.

Image credit: Flickr user a-md

Image credit: Flickr user a-md

We asked people to complete this measure along with related measures and found that the Sexual CSW Scale is a valid and reliable measure. We also discovered that sexual CSW is composed of two distinct but related components: [1] When my sexual relationship is going well, I feel better about myself, and [2] When my sexual relationship is going badly, I feel worse about myself.

Another interesting finding was that people who reported having a sexual problem were more likely to base their self-esteem on the success of their sexual relationship than those who did not report a problem. Why is this? I have a couple of theories. Maybe people who have sexual problems become really focused on the area where they see problems (i.e., the sexual relationship). Or, maybe when people have high sexual CSW, they are more likely to believe they have a problem in this important part of their life. Either way, it seems there’s an important link between having greater sexual CSW and reporting a sexual problem.

Now I’m interested in finding out if this is bad or good? Perceived failures in CSW domains might result in negative psychological, relational, and physical health outcomes, such as greater anxiety, depression, and stress-related health symptoms, as well as poorer relationship and sexual functioning. If we find that greater sexual CSW is a risk factor, then it could be a potential treatment target.

Source:

Glowacka, M., Rosen, N.O., Vannier, S., & MacLellan, M. (under review). Development and validation of the Sexual Contingent Self-Worth Scale.

Research Spotlight: Differences in Pornography Use and Relationship Wellbeing in Couples

Posted on Mar 14, 2016

Image source: Flickr user Marcie Casas

Image source: Flickr user Marcie Casas

By: Michelle Flynn

While many research studies have examined individual or couple pornography use, differences between partners’ pornography use have gone unexplored. Researchers at Brigham Young University tackled this gap in research by surveying 1755 heterosexual couples across the United States. Couples were asked about how frequently they use pornography, their acceptance of pornography (e.g., whether it is an acceptable means of expressing sexuality, if it is degrading/objectifying), relationship satisfaction, relationship stability, relational aggression (defined as negative tactics intended to weaken someone’s feelings of social acceptance), and positive communication. Each couple’s difference in pornography use was calculated by subtracting the male partner’s pornography use from that of the female partner.

The researchers found that:

  • Couples reported less positive communication, more relational aggression, and less relationship stability and satisfaction when there was a greater difference in partners’ pornography use. This relationship was weaker when couples or female partners reported higher acceptance of pornography use.
  • Greater differences in pornography use were related to lower positive communication in couples, and in turn to worse relationship outcomes for both partners.
  • Greater differences in pornography use were related to less female sexual desire, which in turn was related to lower relationship satisfaction and stability for both partners.
  • Greater differences in pornography use were related to more male relational aggression, which in turn was related to lower relationship satisfaction and stability for both partners.

How can these findings be explained?

The researchers wrote that differences in pornography use might indicate disagreement on the nature, purpose, and function of sexual intimacy. Therefore, the non-using or low-using partners’ sense of security in the relationship might be influenced by discrepancies in pornography use. Viewing pornography use as acceptable may serve as a buffer for potentially negative outcomes of one partner’s high pornography use.

It is important to note that couples in this study were not followed over time, so causation cannot be determined; that is, it is not clear if differences in pornography use lead to worse relationship outcomes, or if poor relationship quality leads to differences in pornography use. Furthermore, only heterosexual couples were surveyed and those who took part in the study generally reported high relationship quality and stability, so the results may not apply to all couples. Despite these limitations, the findings suggest that pornography use differences within couples are a meaningful component of relationship wellbeing that warrants further attention.

Source:

Willoughby, B. J., Carroll, J. S., Busby, D. M., & Brown, C. C. (2016). Differences in pornography use among couples: Associations with satisfaction, stability, and relationship processesArchives of Sexual Behavior45(1), 145-158.

 

Let’s Talk (To Each Other) About Sex!

Posted on Mar 14, 2016

flickr user_Vivian Chen

Image credit: Vivian Chen

By Megan Wood

Effective communication between partners in a romantic relationship is important for both relationship and sexual satisfaction. However, certain aspects of a relationship – such as sex – can be difficult and scary to talk about with a significant other. A person may worry about experiencing stigma, or their partner’s potentially negative reactions. It can be nerve-wracking to talk about anything sexual; indeed, people tend to tell their romantic partners significantly more about non-sexual aspects of their likes and dislikes than their sexual desires1. Even when individuals do disclose to a partner about their sexual interests, it is much more likely to involve sexual likes than sexual dislikes2.

Even though it is clear that people feel uncomfortable conversing with their partners about sex, talking about sex is extremely important for each partner’s sexual and romantic satisfaction. Research on the matter of sexual (generally focusing on sexual likes and dislikes) and non-sexual disclosure and their correlations to sexual and romantic satisfaction suggests that:

  • Problem-solving and intimacy are linked to higher relationship satisfaction, while hostility during conflict situations is related to lower relationship satisfaction3
  • Mutual self-disclosure results in greater relationship satisfaction4
  • Both sexual and non-sexual self-disclosure lead to greater sexual satisfaction5
  • More sexual self-disclosure is associated with higher sexual satisfaction in long-term relationships6,7
  • Married couples who disclose the sexual aspects of their relationships have significantly greater rates of sexual satisfaction than those who do not disclose 8

This research shows that although talking about sex can be scary, it is also worthwhile! Indeed, the positive impact of communication on relationship and sexual satisfaction is immense. If partners are looking for ways to feel more intimate in their relationship, sharing sexual and non-sexual likes, dislikes, and thoughts can greatly increase relationship and sexual satisfaction. However, if people are uncomfortable talking about aspects of their relationship, it may help to hear that good communication in general is strongly, positively correlated with both relationship and sexual satisfaction. As people often report that having an open dialogue concerning sexual aspects of a relationship is difficult, here are some basic tips to promote a positive first discussion:

  • Use “I feel” statements when discussing your relationship or sexual problems.   For example, “I feel ______ when _____ happens”
  • When speaking to your partner about aspects of your relationship, choose a place to talk that makes you feel most comfortable: your home, a favourite coffee shop, or a walk in the neighbourhood
  • Tell your partner that you want to hear about both the good and bad things that are happening in their lives, and try to be accepting and supportive of your partner’s experiences within and outside of your relationship

Image credit: Flickr user Vivian Chen

Sources:

1 & 2 – Byers, E. S., & Demmons, S. (1999). Sexual satisfaction and sexual self
disclosure within dating relationships. The Journal of Sex Research, 36(2), 180
189. DOI: 10.1080/00224499909551983

3 – Woodin, E. M. (2011). A two-dimensional approach to relationship conflict:
Meta-analytic findings. Journal of Family Psychology , 25 , 325–335.
DOI:10.1037/ a0023791

4 & 5 – MacNeil, S., & Byers, E. S. (2009). Role of sexual self-disclosure in the sexual
satisfaction of long-term heterosexual couples. The Journal of Sex Research,
46
(1), 3-14, DOI:10.1080/0022449082398399

6 – Cupach, W. R., & Comstock, J. (1990). Satisfaction with sexual communication in
marriage: Links to sexual satisfaction and dyadic adjustment. Journal of Social
and Personal Relationships
7(2), 179-186

7 -MacNeil, S., & Byers, S. E. (1997). The relationships between sexual problems, communication, and sexual satisfaction. Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, 6, 277-283.

8 – Purnine, D. M., & Carey, M. P. (1997). Interpersonal communication and sexual
adjustment: the roles of understanding and agreement. Journal of Consulting
and Clinical Psychology
65(6), 1017.