Category Archives: Sex Science

Want better sex? Try getting better sleep

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One in 3 American adults do not get enough sleep. Sexual issues are also common, with as many as 45 percent of women and 31 percent of men having a concern about their sex life. While these might seem like distinct concerns, they are actually highly related.

How are sleep and sex related? I’ll state the obvious: We most commonly sleep and have sex in the same location – the bedroom. Less obvious but more important is that lack of sleep and lack of sex share some common underlying causes, including stress. Especially important, lack of sleep can lead to sexual problems and a lack of sex can lead to sleep problems. Conversely, a good night’s sleep can lead to a greater interest in sex, and orgasmic sex can result in a better night’s sleep.

I am a sex educator and researcher who has published several studies on the effectiveness of self-help books in enhancing sexual functioning. I have also written two sexual self-help books, both based in research findings. My latest book, “Becoming Cliterate: Why Orgasm Equality Matters – and How to Get It,” is aimed at empowering women to reach orgasm. More pertinent to the connection between sleep and sex, my first book, “A Tired Woman’s Guide to Passionate Sex,” was written to help the countless women who say they are too exhausted to be interested in sex.

The effect of sleep on sex among women

The reason I wrote a book for women who are too tired for sex is because women are disproportionately affected by both sleep problems and by low sexual desire, and the relationship between the two is indisputable. Women are more likely than men to have sleep problems, and the most common sexual complaint that women bring to sex therapists and physicians is low desire. Strikingly, being too tired for sex is the top reason that women give for their loss of desire.

Conversely, getting a good night’s sleep can increase desire. A recent study found that the longer women slept, the more interested in sex they were the next day. Just one extra hour of sleep led to a 14 percent increase in the chances of having a sexual encounter the following day. Also, in this same study, more sleep was related to better genital arousal.

While this study was conducted with college women, those in other life stages have even more interrelated sleep and sex problems. Menopause involves a complicated interaction of biological and psychological issues that are associated with both sleep and sex problems. Importantly, a recent study found that among menopausal women, sleep problems were directly linked to sexual problems. In fact, sleep issues were the only menopausal symptom for which such a direct link was found.

nterrelated sleep and sexual issues are also prevalent among mothers. Mothers of new babies are the least likely to get a good night’s sleep, mostly because they are caring for their baby during the night. However, ongoing sleep and sexual issues for mothers are often caused by having too much to do and the associated stress. Women, who are married with school-age children and working full time, are the most likely to report insomnia. Still, part-time working moms and moms who don’t work outside the home report problems with sleep as well.

While fathers also struggle with stress, there is evidence that stress and the resulting sleepless nights dampen women’s sexual desire more than they do men’s. Some of this is due to hormones. Both insufficient sleep and stress result in the release of cortisol, and cortisol decreases testosterone. Testosterone plays a major role in the sex drive of women and men. Men have significantly more testosterone than women. So, thinking of testosterone as a tank of gas, the cortisol released by stress and lack of sleep might take a woman’s tank to empty, yet only decrease a man’s tank to half full.

The effect of sleep on sex among men

Although lack of sleep and stress seems to affect women’s sexual functioning more than men’s, men still suffer from interrelated problems in these areas. One study found that, among young healthy men, a lack of sleep resulted in decreased levels of testosterone, the hormone responsible for much of our sex drive. Another study found that among men, sleep apnea contributed to erectile dysfunction and an overall decrease in sexual functioning. Clearly, among men, lack of sleep results in diminished sexual functioning.

I could not locate a study to prove this, as it stands to reason that the reverse is also true. That is, it seems logical that, as was found in the previously mentioned study among women, for men a better night’s sleep would also result in better sexual functioning.

The effect of sex on sleep

While sleep (and stress) have an effect on sex, the reverse is also true. That is, sex affects sleep (and stress). According to sex expert Ian Kerner, too little sex can cause sleeplessness and irritability. Conversely, there is some evidence that the stress hormone cortisol decreases after orgasm. There’s also evidence that oxytocin, the “love hormone” that is released after orgasm, results not only in increased feelings of connection with a partner, but in better sleep.

Additionally, experts claim that sex might have gender-specific effects on sleep. Among women, orgasm increases estrogen, which leads to deeper sleep. Among men, the hormone prolactin that is secreted after orgasm results in sleepiness.

Translating science into more sleep and more sex

It is now clear that a hidden cause of sex problems is sleeplessness and that a hidden cause of sleeplessness is sex problems. This knowledge can lead to obvious, yet often overlooked, cures for both problems. Indeed, experts have suggested that sleep hygiene can help alleviate sexual problems and that sex can help those suffering from sleep problems.

Perhaps, then, it is no surprise that both sleep hygiene suggestions and suggestions for enhanced sexual functioning have some overlap. For example, experts suggest sticking to a schedule, both for sleep and for sexual encounters. They also recommend decreasing smartphone usage, both before bed and when spending time with a partner. The bottom line of these suggestions is to make one’s bedroom an exclusive haven for the joys of both sleep and sex.

Complete Article HERE!

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Many parents unsure of talking about sex with LGBT kids

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Many parents of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) teens feel uneasy and uninformed when it comes to talking to them about sex and dating, a new study shows.

The study included 44 parents of LGBT teens between the ages of 13 and 17. The parents cited many challenges in trying to educate their teens about sex, including general discomfort in talking about it, and feeling unable to offer accurate advice about safe LGBT sex.

“Parents play an important role in helping their children learn how to have healthy sexual relationships, but they really struggle when discussing this with their LGBTQ teens,” study author Michael Newcomb said. He is associate director for scientific development at Northwestern University’s Institute for Sexual and Gender Minority Health and Wellbeing.

The study was published recently in the journal Sexuality Research and Social Policy.

“We need resources to help all parents — regardless of their child’s sexual orientation or gender identity — overcome the awkwardness and discomfort that can result from conversations about sexual health,” Newcomb said in a university news release.

He noted that a healthy and supportive relationship with parents is a key predictor of positive health outcomes in teens of all sexual orientations.

“Many parents and their LGBTQ teens want to have supportive relationships with one another, so if we can design programs to strengthen these relationships, it could have a tremendous impact on LGBTQ teens’ health and wellbeing,” he said.

In a separate study, institute researchers examined how gay and bisexual boys between 14 and 17 felt about talking to their parents about sex.

“We found that many of the gay and bisexual male youth in our study wanted to be closer to their parents and to be able to talk about sex and dating,” study lead author Brian Feinstein said in the news release.

“However, most of them said that they rarely, if ever, talked to their parents about sex and dating, especially after coming out. And, even if they did talk about sex and dating with their parents, the conversations were brief and focused exclusively on HIV and condom use,” Feinstein said. He is a research assistant professor.

That study was published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior.

Complete Article HERE!

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Why Does Sex Feel So Good, Anyway?

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By Kassie Brabaw

There’s a reason that sex toy shops choose names like Pleasure Chest, Good Vibrations, and Sugar. All of these words invoke the tingling, heart-pumping, all-over ‘yum’ feelings many people associate with having sex.

There’s no question that great, consensual sex feels amazing. But why does it feel so good? What’s actually happening inside someone’s brain and body to create that euphoria?

According to sexologist Laura McGuire, PhD, there are three main physiological reasons someone feels sexual pleasure: the pudendal nerve, dopamine, and oxytocin.

The pudendal nerve is a large, sensitive nerve that allows someone’s genitals to send signals to their brain. In people who have vulvas, it has branches in the clitoris, the anus, and the perineum (the area between the anus and the vulva or the anus and the penis). In people who have penises, the pudendal nerve branches out to the anus, the perineum, and the penis. “It’s important for women to realize that the nerve doesn’t have much concentration inside the vaginal canal,” Dr. McGuire says. “Most of the pudendal nerve endings are focused on the clitoris.” That’s why it’s common for people who have vulvas to struggle reaching orgasm from penetrative sex alone, and why the clitoris is often considered the powerhouse of women’s sexual pleasure.

The pudendal nerve explains how signals get from someone’s genitals to their brain during sex, and then the brain releases dopamine and oxytocin, which causes a flood of happy, pleasurable feelings. “Oxytocin is often called ‘the love hormone,'” Dr. McGuire says. “It’s what makes us feel attached to people or things.” Oxytocin is released during sex and orgasm, but it’s also released when someone gives birth to help them feel attached to their baby, she says. “That’s the big one that makes you feel like your partner is special and you can’t get enough of them.”

Like oxytocin, dopamine helps your brain make connections. It connects emotional pleasure to physical pleasure during sex, Dr. McGuire says. “So, that’s the hormone that makes you think, that felt good, let’s do it again and again and again,” she says.

Oxytocin and dopamine are both in a class of hormones considered part of the brain’s reward system, says Lawrence Siegel, a clinical sexologist and certified sexuality educator. As someone’s body reaches orgasm, they flood their system because the brain is essentially trying to medicate them, Siegel says. “The brain seems to misunderstand sexual arousal as trauma,” he says. As someone gets aroused, their heart rate increases, their body temperature goes up, and their muscles tense, all of which happen when someone’s body is in trouble, too.

“As that continues to build and increase, it reaches a point when the brain looks down and says ‘Uh,oh you’re in trouble,'” Siegel says. “An orgasm is a massive release of feel-good chemicals that leaves you in a meditative state of consciousness.”

Yet, not everyone desires sex. So how do we explain asexuality? Science doesn’t have any solid answers, Dr. McGuire says, although it’s important to know that asexual people don’t choose to be asexual any more than gay people choose to be gay. While we don’t know what makes someone asexual, it’s pretty certain that there’s no physical difference between asexual people and everyone else, Siegel says.

“It’s not correct to say that people who identify as asexual don’t experience pleasure,” he says. “They just don’t have the desire to have sex.” Desire is ruled by different hormones, most notably testosterone. But even that might not fully explain why someone isn’t interested in having sex. “It feels like a different appraisal or reaction to the experience in their body,” Siegel says.

While everybody has a pudendal nerve and can experience the release of dopamine and oxytocin that happens with sex, not everyone will experience that release as pleasurable or experience the same level of pleasure. “People are very complicated,” Dr. McGuire says.

Complete Article HERE!

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Japanese macaques grinding on deer can teach us to be more open-minded about sex

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So if macaques do it, dolphins do it, birds and probably even bees do it, why do humans still have so much difficulty talking about sexual pleasure?

by Lux Alptraum

If you grew up in America, there’s a good chance that you learned that sex is, first and foremost, a reproductive act. Sure, it feels good, but that’s just a way for our bodies to trick us into breeding. Many church doctrines will inform you that any sexual experience that doesn’t stand a chance of resulting in pregnancy is sinful, perverse, and unnatural.

But someone might want to tell that to nature.

A recently released study documented multiple instances of adolescent female macaques in Japan having “sexual interactions” with sika deer – or, not to put too fine a point on it, macaques humping the backs of deer like a pre-teen girl with a pillow. Researchers are still trying to figure out why the monkeys are doing this, as NPR explains: “It might be a way for a less-mature monkey to practice for future sex with other monkeys,” or an option for a monkey that doesn’t have any other sexual partners at the moment. It’s also possible that the monkeys, which hitch rides on deer for non-sexual reasons, too, simply discovered by accident that grinding on the deers’ backs felt good.

The discovery has prompted a lot of marveling from the media. But if you’re surprised to learn that animals like to pleasure themselves, you’re not paying attention. There are numerous documented instances of animal masturbation, a habit enjoyed by primates as well as creatures including dolphins, elephants, penguins, and bats. (Although the role of the sika deer adds a layer of complexity: Can a deer consent to interspecies frottage? “Most deer were nonchalant, continuing to eat or stand passively during the thrusting,” Quartz observes.)

It’s impossible for us to know exactly what the deer think about all this. That matter aside, there are a lot of animals out there who are, if you will, spanking the monkey. So if macaques do it, dolphins do it, birds and probably even bees do it, why do humans still have so much difficulty talking about sexual pleasure?

Even those of us who’ve gotten past the idea that sex outside the bonds of heterosexual marriage is a one-way ticket to hell still have difficulty talking about pleasure. Sex education curricula rarely venture beyond discussions of condoms, birth control, and puberty (if they even cover condoms and birth control); for many of us, the idea of discussing masturbation seems particularly prurient and unseemly. It’s been twenty-three years since Jocelyn Elders was forced to resign from the post of surgeon general in the US after daring to suggest that young people be taught to think of masturbation as a form of safer sex. And in spite of all the progress we’ve made since the early 1990s, it’s still hard to imagine a government official coming out in favor of masturbation. (Not that I necessarily want to hear a member of the Trump Administration talking about double-clicking the mouse.)

Our reticence on the subject of masturbation is particularly damaging for women. Copious amounts of ink have been spilled about the gender orgasm gap, with lots of hand-wringing about how straight men are letting their female partners down in bed. But it’s not just straight male selfishness that fuels the orgasm gap. One of the main reasons why women are less likely to find pleasure in bed is that we rarely discuss the tools to access our own pleasure, or even an understanding that pleasure can, and should, be a primary goal in our sex lives.

When sexual pleasure is discussed, it’s almost always from a straight male perspective, rationalized as an added bit of biological incentive intended to encourage men to spread their seed. As Peggy Orenstein writes in her recent book Girls & Sex, American culture teaches girls that men pursue sex and pleasure, while women passively provide it. “When girls go into puberty education classes, they learn that boys have erections and ejaculations and girls have periods and unwanted pregnancies,” Orenstein told Quartz in 2016. And when women do experience orgasms, it’s frequently positioned as the result of a partner’s skill, rather than something we’re naturally wired to actively pursue, all by ourselves, for our own selfish reasons.

These macaques throw all of these assumptions into disarray. Not only are they animals getting off just for fun, they’re female animals going to unusual lengths in pursuit of their own sexual pleasure. What we should take away from this is that sexual pleasure isn’t an also-ran to reproduction; it’s an essential part of many animals’ life experiences—regardless of our species, sex, or gender.

So instead of getting Puritanical on the macaques, let’s use them as a jumping-off point for discussions about just how natural it is to pursue sexual pleasure. Whether we’re monkeys or men—or women!—we’re all wired to seek out sensations that feel good.

Complete Article HERE!

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The Weird Link Between Your Parents & Your Partner

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There’s A Weird Connection Between Your Parents & Your Sex Life, According To Science

By Kasandra Brabaw

Every once in a while research pops up that claims people often end up with sexual and/or romantic partners who look like one of their parents. Usually this research is pretty heteronormative and focuses on the idea that straight women end up with husbands who look kind of like their fathers or straight men bring home women who look just like mom.

Whatever these studies are trying to say about our lives and their oedipus-like qualities, they’re generally pretty easy to brush off and move on — after all, it’s doubtful that many of us are consciously looking for someone who reminds us of our parents.

But the latest study in this iteration is slightly more nuanced. Researchers at Glasgow University aren’t saying that we want partners who look exactly like our parents, just that it’s likely we’ll end up with someone who has the same eye color as one of our parents. And this time, the study isn’t restricted to straight people, Yahoo reports.

The researchers asked 300 people about the eye color of their parents and the eye color of their partners. They determined through this (relatively small) sample size, that straight women and gay men are more likely attracted to people who have their father’s eye color, and that straight men and gay women are more likely attracted to people with their mothers’.

Now, let’s just take a second to think about this. Obviously, their findings aren’t going to be true for everyone. I, for example, am a gay woman who has mostly dated people who have brown eyes, just like my dad. So even though I have been attracted to people who have the same eye color as one of my parents, it’s not the parent this study says should be my inspiration.

Then, of course, there’s the fact that they only asked 300 people (75 of each gender/sexuality), which is hardly a strong sample size of the whole world. And even if those 300 people were perfect representations of how everyone chooses sexual and romantic partners, let’s remember that there are only so many eye colors to choose from anyway.

If you think about it, most people have either brown eyes, green/hazel eyes, or blue eyes — though some people’s eyes can also look more grey. So, if your parents have two different eye colors like mine do (my dad has brown, my mom has hazel), then you’ve already knocked off two of three possible eye colors. The odds are good that you’ll end up with someone who has the same eye color as your parents, just because that’s how probability works.

Still, there might be some truth to the researchers’ claims that this is another example of “sexual imprinting,” a theory that claims we learn what characteristics to find sexually attractive from our parents. After all, these studies do keep popping up.

Our advice: Just don’t think about it too much. You’re attracted to whoever you’re attracted to, and if that person happens to look a little like your dad around the eyes, then so be it.

Complete Article HERE!

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