Category Archives: Sex Science

10 Things Scientists Discovered About Sex This Year

By Justin Lehmiller

This year has been memorable for a lot of reasons, but one that may not be immediately obvious is that we learned a lot about the science of sex in 2016. Among other things, sex researchers brought us one step closer to a male version of the birth control pill, they debunked the idea that porn kills love, and they discovered that having a cat just might make you more inclined toward kinky sex (yep, you read that right). Let’s take a closer look at these findings and some of the other fascinating things scientists taught us about sex in 2016.

Americans are warming up to the idea of open relationships.

Americans are more interested than ever in consensual non-monogamy (CNM), or the practice of having multiple sexual and/or romantic relationships at the same time. A study published in The Journal of Sex Research in May found that Google searches for two forms of CNM—open relationships and polyamory—have significantly increased across the past decade. At the same time, a study published in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy found that more people are practicing CNM than previously thought: in a nationally representative survey of single Americans, more than 1 in 5 said they had been in a sexually open relationship before. Table for more than two, please.

We’re getting closer to a male version of the birth control pill.

An October study from The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism reported the results of a clinical trial in which men were given hormone injections designed to suppress their sperm production. The results were stunning: over the course of a year, the pregnancy rate for couples taking part in the study was just 1.57 out of 100. Unfortunately, however, the rate of side effects was very high, which led an external review board to recommend shutting down the study. Although this injection won’t be hitting the market, this study provides optimism that we’re not too far off from having a male equivalent of the female birth control pill.

Millennials are identifying as LGB at much higher rates than Gen Xers.

In January, the CDC released a report revealing major generational differences in Americans’ sexual identities. Specifically, millennials aged 18-24 were almost twice as likely to identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual than Gen Xers aged 35-44. Millennials were more likely to report having engaged in same-sex behavior, too. However, whether this means same-sex attraction is actually increasing or if it’s just a sign that younger folks are more comfortable acknowledging their non-heterosexuality, we can’t say for sure.

The HPV vaccine has been wildly effective at reducing cancer.

In August, scientists reported that, in the ten years since the first vaccine for the human papilloma virus (HPV) was administered, rates of cervical cancer have been halved. If we can increase vaccination rates even further, there’s a chance that HPV-related cancers—including those of the cervix, anus, throat, and penis—could be eradicated within just a few decades.

Porn doesn’t change how men feel about their relationships.

A classic study from the 1980s found that heterosexual married men reported less love for their wives after viewing images of sexy magazine centerfolds compared to images of abstract art. This year, researchers tried three times to replicate the effect, but found nothing. Nada. Zip. Zero. These findings suggest that porn probably doesn’t kill love after all.

BDSM acts can produce an altered state of consciousness.

In May, a study published in the journal PLOS ONE looked at the psychological experiences of people who took part in an extreme masochistic ritual in which their skin was pierced with hooks that had weights attached. These participants demonstrated evidence of an altered mental state known as transient hypofrontality, described as “reductions in pain, living in the here and now, little active decision making, little active logic, and feelings of floating and peacefulness.” This suggests that BDSM acts have the potential to be a very spiritual experience.

We might be able to treat low sexual desire by electrically stimulating the brain.

In a November study published in the journal PLOS ONE, researchers found that delivering electrical stimulation to the brain changes the way we respond to sexual stimulation. Specifically, a targeted cranial “zap” appears to enhance the response that occurs in the brain’s pleasure centers. This suggests that we might actually be able to use brain stimulation as a treatment for people who complain of low sexual desire in the not too distant future.

Sexual arousal puts us in a risk-taking state of mind.

A January study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior reveals that being horny can make us susceptible to taking risks, including those that are both sexual and non-sexual. In one study, participants who watched an X-rated film subsequently expressed more willingness to keep having sex after noticing a broken condom. In another study, sexually aroused participants made riskier moves in a game of computerized blackjack. These findings suggest that, when we’re feeling hot and bothered, well, we can’t be bothered to properly evaluate risks.

Women can detect when other women are ovulating, an ability they might use to protect their relationships.

In an April study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers showed female participants photos of a woman who was either ovulating or not. Those who saw an ovulating woman were the most worried about keeping their partners away from her, but this was only true for participants with attractive partners. This suggests that women may have evolved the ability to pick up on other women’s ovulation status as a means of helping them to guard desirable mates from potential relationship threats.

Having a cat might increase your interest in kinky sex.

A July study published in the journal Evolutionary Psychology reported that people’s attraction to kinky sex depended upon whether they had been infected with toxoplasmosis, a parasitic disease that can be passed from cats to humans. Specifically, those who said they had been infected were more into bondage, violence, zoophilia, and fetishism. Why is that? The researchers suspect that it’s because this infection affects the circuits of the brain involved in fear, given that in mice and rats, toxoplasmosis switches their natural fear of cat smell into an attraction toward it.

Here’s to hoping 2017 is another mind-blowing year for sex research!

Complete Article HERE!

Lack Of Penis Bone In Humans Linked To Monogamous Relationships, Quick Sex

Scientists reveal why humans do not have a penis bone.

By

Many of us call erections “boners,” although there’s no actual bone in the penis. This bone has been the subject of many debates as several animals have them in diverse sizes and lengths, but humans don’t. Evolutionary scientists at the University College London suggest this strange anomaly is a consequence of monogamy and quick sex.

The penis bone, also known as the “baculum,” evolved in mammals more than 95 million years ago, and was spotted in the first primates that emerged about 50 million years ago, according to the researchers. The baculum became larger in some animals and smaller in others. For example, in the walrus, it can be two feet long, while in a monkey it’s about the length of a human fingernail.

Previous research has found the penis bone increases the potential duration of intercourse, and the frequency with which sex can take place. A lioness can copulate 100 times per day, sometimes with only four-minute intervals, but has just a 38 percent conception rate. This means males need to have better sexual stamina to achieve the best chance of paternity.

So, why do humans lack a penis bone?

The recent study, published in Proceedings of the Royal Society, found a link between penis bone length, promiscuity, and sex duration. Some species have longer penis bones because they engage in “prolonged intromission,” which means the act of penetration lasts for more than three minutes. Longer intromission times are more common among polygamous mating species, where multiple males mate with multiple females, like bonobos and chimps. This mating system creates an intense competition for fertilization, and reduces a female’s access to more mates by having males spend more time having sex with them, according to the study.

The penis bone is attached at the tip of the penis rather than the base to provide structural support for animals who do prolonged intromission, and to keep the urethra open.

The researchers believe humans lost their penis bones when monogamy became a dominant reproductive strategy about 1.9 million years ago.

“We think that is when the human baculum would have disappeared because the mating system changed at that point,” Kit Opie, a co-author of the study at University College London, told The Guardian.

Opie and his colleague Miranda Brindle believe the male does not need to spend a long time penetrating the female since she is not likely to be leapt by other amorous males. Therefore, the reduction of competition for mates means humans are less likely to need a penis bone. Opie adds, despite popular belief, humans do not generally need longer than three minutes to get the job done, and successfully impregnate a woman.

“We are actually one of the species that comes in below the three minute cut-off where these things come in handy,” he said.

Scientists have just begun to put together the function of this mysterious bone. They do agree changes in the penis bone are driven as part of a mating strategy. This means a bigger penis bone is better when it comes to sexual competition.

Human males, do not feel bad — if the penis bone is damaged, it could take as long as other broken bones to heal.

Complete Article HERE!

Can kinky sex make you more creative?

Researchers claim BDSM can help people achieve ‘altered states of consciousness’

By Cheyenne Macdonald

Engaging in kinky sex may send you into an altered state of consciousness and even unlock your inner creativity, according to a new study. The research also suggests BDSM reduces psychological stress, improves moods, and increases sexual arousal.

Engaging in kinky sex may send you into an altered state of consciousness and even unlock your inner creativity, according to a new study.

Using a small sample of participants from the kink-focused social network Fetlife, researchers investigated the mind-altering effects of BDSM – bondage/discipline, dominance/submission, and sadism/masochism.

Not only were these activities found to produce two types of altered states, but research suggests BDSM also reduces psychological stress, improves moods, and increases sexual arousal.

While previous studies have attempted to investigate this phenomena, no other research has actually put it to the test, the researchers explain in a paper published to the journal Psychology of Consciousness: Theory, Research, and Practice.

So, researchers from the Science of BDSM Research Team at Northern Illinois University recruited seven pairs of self-identified ‘switches’ – people who were willing to be randomly assigned to either a top or bottom role in a BDSM scene.

This way, the researchers explain, the differences observed in the study could be better attributed to the role rather than the individual.

Fourteen people participated in total, with 10 women and four men between the ages of 23 and 64.

For the experiments, the participants partook in seven scenes which involved everything from gentle touching and communication to striking, bondage, and fetish dress.

Each of the participants provided five saliva samples throughout the experiments, and were asked to complete three Stroop tests, involving words and colours: one prior to their assignment, one before the scene, and one after it had ended.

The test measured for an altered state of consciousness aligned with Dietrich’s transient hypofrontality, which relates to daydreaming, runner’s high, meditation, and even some drug highs.

Along with this, the participants were also given a measure of mental ‘flow’ following each scene, using the Flow State Scale ranging from ‘strongly disagree’ to ‘strongly agree.’

Flow is a nine-dimensional altered state conceptualized by Csikszentmihalyi, and is achieved during ‘optimal experiences,’ the researchers explain.

The dimensions of flow include ‘challenge-skill balance, action-awareness merging, clear goals, unambiguous feedback, concentration on task, sense of control, loss of self-consciousness, time transformation,’ and feelings of intrinsic reward.

The experiments revealed that the bottom role and the top role in BDSM are each associated with a distinct altered state of consciousness, both of which have previously been tied to creativity.

According to the researchers, ‘topping’ is linked to the state which aligned with Csikszentmihalyi’s flow, while ‘bottoming’ is associated with both Dietrich’s transient hypofrontality and some aspects of flow.

The team says these activities also reduced stress and negative affect in the participants, and increased sexual arousal.

While BDSM has long been a stigmatized practice, the authors say the finding support the idea that there are numerous factors driving these preferences that do not relate to mental disorder.

‘The results contribute to a growing body of evidence that individuals pursue BDSM for nonpathological reasons,’ the researchers conclude, ‘including the pleasant altered states of consciousness these activities are theorized to produce.’

Complete Article HERE!

What BDSM might teach us about affirmative consent

By Brain & Behavior

A new study by Northern Illinois University psychologists suggests that evidence for the effectiveness of the “Yes Means Yes” affirmative-consent movement, which has taken hold on many college campuses nationwide, might be found in an unlikely subculture—the BDSM community.

Black BDSM

While some critics of BDSM associate it with sexual aggression, and particularly violence against women, the subculture has had long-standing norms of affirmative consent, the researchers said. Their study found BDSM practitioners also report lower levels of rape-supportive beliefs than individuals surveyed from outside the subculture.

The psychologists used an online survey to measure the level of rape-supportive beliefs of 185 individuals from three groups—college students, random online respondents and BDSM practitioners.

BDSM practitioners reported significantly lower levels of “benevolent sexism,” “rape myth acceptance” and “victim blaming”— elements of what feminists and other researchers have proposed as being part of a larger rape culture that tolerates and even glorifies male sexual aggression against women.

Benevolent sexism is a chivalrous but also sexist attitude toward women, casting them as pure but fragile. Rape myths are inaccurate beliefs about rape, such as “women secretly want men to sexually dominate them” or “women incite men to rape by flirting with them.” Victim-blaming attitudes shift full or partial blame for sexual assault to the victim, such as “she was asking for it.”

The study was led by Kathryn Klement, an NIU doctoral student in psychology. A summary is available online ahead of print publication in the Journal of Sex Research.

Klement said the idea for the research survey was prompted by criticisms of the “Yes Means Yes” movement and related affirmative-consent policies and laws. The movement challenges sexual partners to explicitly communicate with each other about their desires prior to sexual activity.

In 2014, California began requiring college campuses to use an affirmative definition of consent. Many college and university campuses, and several other states (including Illinois), have adopted similar policies or laws. While the movement aims to stem the prevalence of sexual assault, it hasn’t been universally embraced.

“Affirmative consent contrasts with what we see in movies, TV shows and other media that often portray sex without communication,” Klement said. “Some critics have said ‘Yes Means Yes’ would make sex less sexy.”

The researchers hypothesized that BDSM practitioners would have lower levels of rape-supportive beliefs because of the subculture’s longstanding norms of affirmative consent through negotiation, when participants establish boundaries for sexual and BDSM activities and “safe words” to curtail or end activity.

“We wanted to look at attitudes in a subculture where consent and negotiation are normalized and accepted, yet people aren’t having less sex,” Klement said. “It made sense that this group of people might be more egalitarian, even though that seems paradoxical in a community that’s basically based on power exchange.”

The study, which controlled for age differences, indeed found significantly lower levels of rape-supportive beliefs among BDSM practitioners on three of six measures (with no significant differences among the survey groups on the remaining three).

“Negotiating about sex beforehand doesn’t make it any less sexy,” Klement said. “Consent is the critical element that separates healthy sexual encounters from assault.”

Klement said this point is especially important in light of other recent research, which shows college men and women report some differences in how they indicate and interpret consent from their sexual partners.

Co-authors on the NIU study include Ellen Lee, an NIU doctoral student in psychology, and Brad Sagarin, an NIU psychology professor who conducts research on the science of BDSM. Sagarin said that while the study clearly found an association between BDSM and lower rape-supportive beliefs, more research is needed to determine why that correlation exists.

“This was a correlational study, so we don’t know for certain why members of the BDSM community report lower levels of rape-supportive beliefs,” he said. “Nevertheless, it’s a first step in understanding another potential benefit of affirmative consent.”

In addition to how the study’s findings might relate to the practice of affirmative consent, Sagarin said there is another takeaway.

“The BDSM community has historically been stereotyped,” he said. “When you see a sexual sadist on TV, he is typically not a good guy.

“I think this study helps break the stigma of BDSM practitioners as bad or damaged people,” he added.

Complete Article HERE!

The evolutionary puzzle of homosexuality

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In the last two decades, dozens of scientific papers have been published on the biological origins of homosexuality – another announcement was made last week. It’s becoming scientific orthodoxy. But how does it fit with Darwin’s theory of evolution?

Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’s hit song Same Love, which has become an unofficial anthem of the pro-gay marriage campaign in the US, reflects how many gay people feel about their sexuality.

It mocks those who “think it’s a decision, and you can be cured with some treatment and religion – man-made rewiring of a predisposition”. A minority of gay people disagree, maintaining that sexuality is a social construct, and they have made a conscious, proud choice to take same-sex partners.

But scientific opinion is with Macklemore. Since the early 1990s, researchers have shown that homosexuality is more common in brothers and relatives on the same maternal line, and a genetic factor is taken to be the cause. Also relevant – although in no way proof – is research identifying physical differences in the brains of adult straight and gay people, and a dizzying array of homosexual behaviour in animals.

But since gay and lesbian people have fewer children than straight people, a problem arises.001

“This is a paradox from an evolutionary perspective,” says Paul Vasey from the University of Lethbridge in Canada. “How can a trait like male homosexuality, which has a genetic component, persist over evolutionary time if the individuals that carry the genes associated with that trait are not reproducing?”

Scientists don’t know the answer to this Darwinian puzzle, but there are several theories. It’s possible that different mechanisms may be at work in different people. Most of the theories relate to research on male homosexuality. The evolution of lesbianism is relatively understudied – it may work in a similar way or be completely different.


The genes that code for homosexuality do other things too

The allele – or group of genes – that sometimes codes for homosexual orientation may at other times have a strong reproductive benefit. This would compensate for gay people’s lack of reproduction and ensure the continuation of the trait, as non-gay carriers of the gene pass it down.

There are two or more ways this might happen. One possibility is that the allele confers a psychological trait that makes straight men more attractive to women, or straight women more attractive to men. “We know that women tend to like more feminine behavioural features and facial features in their men, and that might be associated with things like good parenting skills or greater empathy,” says Qazi Rahman, co-author of Born Gay; The Psychobiology of Sex Orientation. Therefore, the theory goes, a low “dose” of these alleles enhances the carrier’s chances of reproductive success. Every now and then a family member receives a larger dose that affects his or her sexual orientation, but the allele still has an overall reproductive advantage.

Another way a “gay allele” might be able to compensate for a reproductive deficit is by having the converse effect in the opposite sex. For example, an allele which makes the bearer attracted to men has an obvious reproductive advantage to women. If it appears in a man’s genetic code it will code for same-sex attraction, but so long as this happens rarely the allele still has a net evolutionary benefit.

There is some evidence for this second theory. Andrea Camperio-Ciani, at the University of Padova in Italy, found that maternal female relatives of gay men have more children than maternal female relatives of straight men. The implication is that there is an unknown mechanism in the X chromosome of men’s genetic code which helps women in the family have more babies, but can lead to homosexuality in men. These results haven’t been replicated in some ethnic groups – but that doesn’t mean they are wrong with regards to the Italian population in Camperio-Ciani’s study.


Gay people were ‘helpers in the nest’

The fa'afafine of Samoa dislike being called "gay" or "homosexual"

The fa’afafine of Samoa dislike being called “gay” or “homosexual”

Some researchers believe that to understand the evolution of gay people, we need to look at how they fit into the wider culture.

Paul Vasey’s research in Samoa has focused on a theory called kin selection or the “helper in the nest” hypothesis. The idea is that gay people compensate for their lack of children by promoting the reproductive fitness of brothers or sisters, contributing money or performing other uncle-like activities such as babysitting or tutoring. Some of the gay person’s genetic code is shared with nieces and nephews and so, the theory goes, the genes which code for sexual orientation still get passed down.

Sceptics have pointed out that since on average people share just 25% of their genetic code with these relatives, they would need to compensate for every child they don’t have themselves with two nieces or nephews that wouldn’t otherwise have existed. Vasey hasn’t yet measured just how much having a homosexual orientation boosts siblings’ reproduction rate, but he has established that in Samoa “gay” men spend more time on uncle-like activities than “straight” men.

“No-one was more surprised than me,” says Vasey about his findings. His lab had previously shown that gay men in Japan were no more attentive or generous towards their nieces and nephews than straight, childless men and women. The same result has been found in the UK, US and Canada.

Vasey believes that his Samoan result was different because the men he studied there were different. He studied the fa’afafine, who identify as a third gender, dressing as women and having sex with men who regard themselves as “straight”. They are a transgender group who do not like to be called “gay” or “homosexual”.

Vasey speculates that part of the reason the fa’afafine are more attentive to their nephews and nieces is their acceptance in Samoan culture compared to gay men in the West and Japan (“You can’t help your kin if they’ve rejected you”). But he also believes that there is something about the fa’afafine way of life that means they are more likely to be nurturing towards nieces and nephews, and speculates that he would find similar results in other “third gender” groups around the world.

If this is true, then the helper in the nest theory may partly explain how a genetic trait for same-sex attraction hasn’t been selected away. That hypothesis has led Vasey to speculate that the gay men who identify as men and have masculine traits – that is to say, most gay men in the West – are descended from men who had a cross-gendered sexuality.


Gay people do have children

gay-parents_opt

In the US, around 37% of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual people have a child, about 60% of which are biological. According to the Williams Institute, gay couples that have children have an average of two.

These figures may not be high enough to sustain genetic traits specific to this group, but the evolutionary 002biologist Jeremy Yoder points out in a blog post that for much of modern history gay people haven’t been living openly gay lives. Compelled by society to enter marriages and have children, their reproduction rates may have been higher than they are now.

How many gay people have children also depends on how you define being “gay”. Many of the “straight” men who have sex with fa’afafine in Samoa go on to get married and have children.

“The category of same-sex sexuality becomes very diffuse when you take a multicultural perspective,” says Joan Roughgarden, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Hawaii. “If you go to India, you’ll find that if someone says they are ‘gay’ or ‘homosexual’ then that immediately identifies them as Western. But that doesn’t mean there’s no homosexuality there.”

Similarly in the West, there is evidence that many people go through a phase of homosexual activity. In the 1940s, US sex researcher Alfred Kinsey found that while just 4% of white men were exclusively gay after adolescence, 10% had a three-year period of gay activity and 37% had gay sex at some point in their lives.

A national survey of sexual attitudes in the UK last year came up with lower figures. Some 16% of women said they had had a sexual experience with another woman (8% had genital contact), and 7% of men said they had had a sexual experience with a man (with 5% having genital contact).

But most scientists researching gay evolution are interested in an ongoing, internal pattern of desire rather than whether people identify as gay or straight or how often people have gay sex. “Sexual identity and sexual behaviours are not good measures of sexual orientation,” says Paul Vasey. “Sexual feelings are.”


It’s not all in the DNA

Qazi Rahman says that alleles coding for same sex attraction only explain some of the variety in human sexuality. Other, naturally varying biological factors come into play, with about one in seven gay men, he says, owing their sexuality to the “big brother effect”.

This has nothing to do with George Orwell, but describes the observation that boys with older brothers are significantly more likely to become gay – with every older brother the chance of homosexuality increases by about a third. No-one knows why this is, but one theory is that with each male pregnancy, a woman’s body forms an immune reaction to proteins that have a role in the development of the male brain. Since this only comes into play after several siblings have been born – most of whom are heterosexual and go on to have children – this pre-natal quirk hasn’t been selected away by evolution.

Exposure to unusual levels of hormone before birth can also affect sexuality. For example, female foetuses exposed to higher levels of testosterone before birth show higher rates of lesbianism later on. Studies show that “butch” lesbian women and men have a smaller difference in length between their index and ring fingers – a marker of pre-natal exposure to testosterone. In “femme” lesbians the difference has been found to be less marked.

Brothers of a different kind – identical twins – also pose a tricky question. Research has found that if an identical twin is gay, there is about a 20% chance that the sibling will have the same sexual orientation. While that’s a greater likelihood than random, it’s lower than you might expect for two people with the same genetic code.

William Rice, from the University of California Santa Barbara, says that it may be possible to explain this 003by looking not at our genetic code but at the way it is processed. Rice and his colleagues refer to the emerging field of epigenetics, which studies the “epimarks” that decide which parts of our DNA get switched on or off. Epimarks get passed on to children, but only sometimes. Rice believes that female foetuses employ an epimark that makes them less sensitive to testosterone. Usually it’s not inherited, but occasionally it is, leading to same-sex preference in boys.

Dr William Byne, editor-in-chief of the journal LGBT Health, believes sexuality may well be inborn, but thinks it could be more complicated than some scientists believe. He notes that the heritability of homosexuality is similar to that for divorce, but “social science researchers have not… searched for ‘divorce genes’. Instead they have focused on heritable personality and temperamental traits that might influence the likelihood of divorce.”

For Qazi Rahman, it’s the media that oversimplifies genetic theories of sexuality, with their reports of the discovery of “the gay gene”. He believes that sexuality involves tens or perhaps hundreds of alleles that will probably take decades to uncover. And even if heterosexual sex is more advantageous in evolutionary terms than gay sex, it’s not only gay people whose sexuality is determined by their genes, he says, but straight people too.

Complete Article HERE!