It may be killing your sex life: Those who believe in soulmates make no effort to improve chemistry in the bedroom, study finds
A study found that people who believe in ‘sexual destiny’ expected satisfaction to simply happen if they were meant to be. These individuals saw a lack of chemistry as a sign of incompatibility and instead of working to resolve the issues, they ended the relationship
Scientists have uncovered the secret to a happy sex life – time and effort.
A new study has found that individuals who believed in ‘sexual destiny’ expected satisfaction to simply happen if them and their partner were meant to be.
The team had discovered that these individuals saw a lack of chemistry in the bedroom as a sign of incompatibility and instead of working to resolve the issues or giving it time, they simply ended the relationship.
‘People who believe in sexual destiny are using their sex life as a barometer for how well their relationship is doing, and they believe problems in the bedroom equal problems in the relationship as a whole,’ said Jessica Maxwell, a PhD candidate in the department of psychology at the University of Toronto.
‘Whereas people who believe in sexual growth not only believe they can work on their sexual problems, but they are not letting it affect their relationship satisfaction.’
Maxwell collaborated with a team at Dalhouse University to explore how ‘people can best maintain sexual satisfaction in their romantic relationships’.
Together they conducted six studies during their analysis to uncover the factors that impact a couple’s relationship and sexual satisfaction, reports Psychology Today.
During the study, researchers interviewed a range of couples, a total of 1,900 participants, who were at different stages of their relationship – some individuals were still in college, others lived together and a few were new parents.
Each couple was asked a series of questions that reflected either their ‘sexual soulmate’ or ‘sexual growth’, the idea that sexual satisfaction takes time, ideologies.
The team found that couples who followed the ideas of sexual growth had more of a connection during sex, higher sexual satisfaction with their partner and even a better relationship than those who endorsed the sexual destiny belief.
The team found that couples who followed the ideas of sexual growth had more of a connection during sex, higher sexual satisfaction with their partner and even a better relationship than those who endorsed the sexual destiny belief
And people who were firm believers ‘that two people are either sexually compatible or they are not’ reported lower relationship quality and less sexual satisfaction.
It was also found that this group viewed sexual performance as playing a key role in determining the success of a relationship – which may have added pressure during sexual encounters and affecting performance.
But the other group, sexual growth believers, were much more open when to sexual changes from their partner – even if they were not compatible.
This has suggested ‘that individuals primed with sexual growth are not threatened by incompatibility information and still think it is important to work on the sexual relationship in such cases’, reads the study published in APA PsycNet
‘Those primed with sexual growth may be deeming sex to be more/less important to maintain their global relationship views, but their belief in effort and work allows them to remain committed on working to improve their sexual relationship.’
Maxwell said there is a honeymoon phase lasting about two to three years where sexual satisfaction is high among both sexual growth and sexual destiny believers.
But the benefit of believing in sexual growth becomes apparent after this initial phase, as sexual desire begins to ebb and flow.
‘We know that disagreements in the sexual domain are somewhat inevitable over time,’ she said.
‘Your sex life is like a garden, and it needs to be watered and nurtured to maintain it.’
The concept of “sex addiction” has become deeply embedded in our culture — people toss the term around pretty easily, and it’s the subject of TV shows, documentaries, and a profitable cottage industry of treatment centers. The problem is, as Science of Us has noted before, the scientific evidence for sex addiction being similar to alcohol or drug addiction is very, very thin, and it may be the case that people who believe or are told they have sex addiction actually have other stuff going on.
And yet, it’s undoubtedly the case that many people show up at therapists’ offices worried about sexual behavior that feels compulsive. How do therapists who are skeptical of the idea of sex addiction deal with these patients? That’s the question at the center of an interesting article in SELF by Zahra Barnes.
Barnes does a good job laying out the strong majority view that “sex addiction” shouldn’t be viewed in the same way as other, more scientifically validated forms of addiction, and she also contrasts the way different sorts of therapists deal with sexually compulsive behavior. As she explains, therapists who hew to the majority view often take a “harm reduction” approach to patients who are complaining of compulsive behavior.
“It’s humanistic, meaning it privileges the subjective experience of a person and doesn’t try to apply some external model on what they’re describing, and it’s culturally libertarian, meaning as long as they’re not hurting anyone, you allow people to behave the way that they want and give them the space to do it,” said Michael Aaron, Ph.D., a sex therapist in New York City and author of Modern Sexuality.]
This method can work for people troubled by their sexual urges and those with compulsive sexual behavior. “Rather than trying to change something, we need to acknowledge it and embrace it,” Aaron says. He offers the example of someone who has fantasies of traumatizing children sexually or being sexually violent toward women: “The harm reduction approach asks, can you play out some of these themes with a consenting partner?” The aim is to satisfy these desires with a willing partner instead of suppressing them, which can just make them stronger, he explains.
Therapists who do believe in the addiction model work differently, and where this difference manifests itself most strongly is in their approach to shame. While Aaron and other harm-reduction researchers try to stay away from shaming their patients, which they say can worsen compulsive behaviors, believers in the sex-addiction model see things differently:
“Sex addicts need to feel some shame about what they’re doing, because they are shameless. When people are shameless, they rape and murder and steal and pillage and get into politics,” [says Alexandra Katehakis, clinical director of the Center for Healthy Sex.]. But this is different from shaming someone, she says. “Shaming in an unprincipled way is out of bounds [for a mental health professional],” she explains. That would include saying or even implying that someone is disgusting based on what they’re doing. Rather, she asks questions designed to make someone reflect on what their actions have wrought, like, “What do you think that feels like for your partner?” It’s helpful, not damaging, she explains, because, “It challenges them to see what they’re doing, and it brings them into the reality of their behavior.”
It seems like one of the key philosophical differences here is the question of the extent to which people can control their most primal sexual urges. The therapists who don’t believe in sex addiction appear to view people’s sexual preferences (for lack of a better term given they probably aren’t preferences) in a holistic context — if people are “acting out” sexually in a way that harms others, it could be because of other stuff going on in their lives. You address the behavior by addressing the root causes. The believers, on the other hand, focus more on the urges and finding ways to address the behavior and urges in and of themselves.
These approaches aren’t fully compatible, so it’s no surprise there’s tension between the majority of sex researchers who don’t believe in the addiction model and the minority who do.
Anita Schools wakes at dawn most days, though she usually lazes in bed, watching videos on her phone, until she has to get up to take the HIV meds that keep her alive. The morning solitude ends abruptly when her granddaughter bursts in and they curl up, bonding over graham crackers.
It’s not always clear if a woman is really having an orgasm, as Meg Ryan demonstrated in When Harry Met Sally.
In the nascent field of orgasm research, much of the data relies on subjects self-reporting, and in men, there’s some pretty clear physiological feedback in the form of ejaculation.
But how do women know for sure if they are climaxing? What if the sensation they have associated with climax is actually one of the the early foothills of arousal? And how does a woman know when if she has had an orgasm?
Neuroscientist Dr Nicole Prause set out to answer these questions by studying orgasms in her private laboratory. Through better understanding of what happens in the body and the brain during arousal and orgasm, she hopes to develop devices that can increase sex drive without the need for drugs.
Understanding orgasm begins with a butt plug. Prause uses the pressure-sensitive anal gauge to detect the contractions typically associated with orgasm in both men and women. Combined with EEG, which measures brain activity, this allows for a more accurate picture of a woman’s arousal and orgasm.
Dr Nicole Prause has founded Liberos to study brain stimulation and desire.
When Prause began studying women in this way she noticed something surprising. “Many of the women who reported having an orgasm were not having any of the physical signs – the contractions – of an orgasm.”
It’s not clear why that is, but it is clear that we don’t know an awful lot about orgasms and sexuality. “We don’t think they are faking,” she said. “My sense is that some women don’t know what an orgasm is. There are lots of pleasure peaks that happen during intercourse. If you haven’t had contractions you may not know there’s something different.”
Prause, an ultramarathon runner and keen motorcyclist in her free time, started her career at the Kinsey Institute in Indiana, where she was awarded a doctorate in 2007. Studying the sexual effects of a menopause drug, she first became aware of the prejudice against the scientific study of sexuality in the US.
When her high-profile research examining porn “addiction” found the condition didn’t fit the same neurological patterns as nicotine, cocaine or gambling, it was an unpopular conclusion among people who believe they do have a porn addiction.
The evolution of design of the anal pressure gauge used in Nicole Prause’s lab to detect orgasmic contractions.
“People started posting stories online that I had falsified my data and I received all kinds of sexist attacks,” she said. Soon anonymous emails of complaint were turning up at the office of the president of UCLA, where she worked from 2012 to 2014, demanding that Prause be fired.
Does orgasm benefit mental health?
Prause pushed on with her research, but repeatedly came up against challenges when seeking approval for studies involving orgasms. “I tried to do a study of orgasms while at UCLA to pilot a depression intervention. UCLA rejected it after a seven-month review,” she said. The ethics board told her that to proceed, she would need to remove the orgasm component – rendering the study pointless.
Undeterred, Prause left to set up her sexual biotech company Liberos, in Hollywood, Los Angeles, in 2015. The company has been working on a number of studies, including one exploring the benefits and effectiveness of “orgasmic meditation”, working with specialist company OneTaste.
Part of the “slow sex” movement, the practice involves a woman having her clitoris stimulated by a partner – often a stranger – for 15 minutes. “This orgasm state is different,” claims OneTaste’s website. “It is goalless, intuitive, and dynamic. It flows all over the place with no set direction. It may include climax, or it may not. In Orgasm 2.0, we learn to listen to what our body wants instead of what we think we ‘should’ want.”
Prause wants to determine whether arousal has any wider benefits for mental health. “The folks that practice this claim it helps with stress and improves your ability to deal with emotional situations even though as a scientist it seems pretty explicitly sexual to me,” she said.
Prause is examining orgasmic meditators in the laboratory, measuring finger movements of the partner, as well as brainwave activity, galvanic skin response and vaginal contractions of the recipient. Before and after measuring bodily changes, researchers run through questions to determine physical and mental states. Prause wants to determine whether achieving a level of arousal requires effort or a release in control. She then wants to observe how Orgasmic Meditation affects performance in cognitive tasks, how it changes reactivity to emotional images and how it compares with regular meditation.
Brain stimulation is ‘theoretically possible’
Another research project is focused on brain stimulation, which Prause believes could provide an alternative to drugs such as Addyi, the “female Viagra”. The drug had to be taken every day, couldn’t be mixed with alcohol and its side-effects can include sudden drops in blood pressure, fainting and sleepiness. “Many women would rather have a glass of wine than take a drug that’s not very effective every day,” said Prause.
Prause is studying whether these technologies can treat sexual desire problems. In one study, men and women receive two types of magnetic stimulation to the reward center of their brains. After each session, participants are asked to complete tasks to see how their responsiveness to monetary and sexual rewards (porn) has changed.
With DCS, Prause wants to stimulate people’s brains using direct currents and then fire up tiny cellphone vibrators that have been glued to the participants’ genitals. This provides sexual stimulation in a way that eliminates the subjectivity of preferences people have for pornography.
“We already have a basic functioning model,” said Prause. “The barrier is getting a device that a human can reliably apply themselves without harming their own skin.”
There is plenty of skepticism around the science of brain stimulation, a technology which has already spawned several devices including the headset Thync, which promises users an energy boost, and Foc.us, which claims to help with endurance.
Neurologist Steven Novella from the Yale School of Medicine uses brain stimulation devices in clinical trials to treat migraines, but he says there’s not enough clinical evidence to support these emerging consumer devices. “There’s potential for physical harm if you don’t know what you’re doing,” he said. “From a theoretical point of view these things are possible, but in terms of clinical claims they are way ahead of the curve here. It’s simultaneously really exciting science but also premature pseudoscience.”
Biomedical engineer Marom Bikson, who uses tDCS to treat depression at the City College of New York, agrees. “There’s a lot of snake oil.”
Sexual problems can be emotional and societal
Prause, also a licensed psychologist, is keen to avoid overselling brain stimulation. “The risk is that it will seem like an easy, quick fix,” she said. For some, it will be, but for others it will be a way to test whether brain stimulation can work – which Prause sees as a more balanced approach than using medication. “To me, it is much better to help provide it for people likely to benefit from it than to try to create fake problems to sell it to everyone.”
Sexual problems can be triggered by societal pressures that no device can fix. “There’s discomfort and anxiety and awkwardness and shame and lack of knowledge,” said psychologist Leonore Tiefer, who specializes in sexuality. Brain stimulation is just one of many physical interventions companies are trying to develop to make money, she says. “There’s a million drugs under development. Not just oral drugs but patches and creams and nasal sprays, but it’s not a medical problem,” she said.
Thinking about low sex drive as a medical condition requires defining what’s normal and what’s unhealthy. “Sex does not lend itself to that kind of line drawing. There is just too much variability both culturally and in terms of age, personality and individual differences. What’s normal for me is not normal for you, your mother or your grandmother.”
And Prause says that no device is going to solve a “Bob problem” – when a woman in a heterosexual couple isn’t getting aroused because her partner’s technique isn’t any good. “No pills or brain stimulation are going to fix that,” she said.
New research shows that couples who are responsive outside of the bedroom have more interest in sex
By Elizabeth Bernstein
How can a couple keep their sexual desire going strong for the long haul?
Be nice to each other.
New research shows one way to keep desire strong is to be responsive to your partner’s needs out of the bedroom.
People who are responsive do three things: They understand what their partner is really saying, validate what is important to their partner, such as his or her attitudes, goals and desires, and care for or express warmth and affection toward their partner.
“Responsiveness creates a deep feeling that someone really knows and understands you,” says Gurit Birnbaum, a social psychologist and associate professor of psychology at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC), a private university in Herzliya, Israel, who is the lead researcher on the new studies. “It makes you feel unique and special, and that is very, very sexy.”
In the beginning of a relationship, neurotransmitters such as dopamine push the partners to have sex as much as possible. Scan the brain of someone in this early, passionate stage of love and it will look very much like the brain of someone on drugs.
The addiction doesn’t last. Research suggests the chemical phase of passionate love typically continues between one and three years. Desire fades for different reasons: the chemical addiction to a partner subsides; people age and hormones decrease; emotional distance can cause passion to drop.
The new research—by psychologists at the IDC, the University of Rochester, Bar-Ilan University, in Ramat Gan, Israel, and Cornell Tech in New York, published this month in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology—consists of three studies of more than 100 heterosexual couples each. In the first, partners rated each others’ responsiveness and their own feelings of desire after a back and forth in an online app, where one person described a recent experience and thought his or her partner was responding. It was really a researcher.
In the second study, researchers reviewed videotapes of couples as one partner told a positive or negative personal story and the other responded. Then they were told to express physical intimacy. Researchers coded the subjects’ responsiveness and their expressions of desire.
In the third study, couples were asked to keep a daily diary for six weeks, reporting on the quality of the relationship, how responsive each partner felt the other was, and their level of desire. The participants were also asked to rate whether they felt their partner was valuable that day—someone others would perceive as a good partner—and how special he or she made them feel.
The studies showed that both men and women who felt their partner was more responsive felt more sexual desire for their partner. But women were affected more than men when their partner was responsive, meaning their desire for their partner increased more. The researchers believe women’s sexual desire is more sensitive in general to the emotional atmosphere than men’s.
The new research contradicts a decades-old theory that psychologists call the Intimacy-Desire paradox, which proposes that desire drops as two people become more emotionally intimate. It purports that people seek intimacy in a relationship, but desire thrives on distance and uncertainty.
Dr. Birnbaum says that certain types of intimacy are better for your sex life than others. Impersonal intimacy—familiarity without an emotional component—does kill desire. Think of your partner shaving in front of you or leaving the bathroom door open. But emotional intimacy that makes the relationship feel unique can boost it.
Tips to boost desire in your relationship by being responsive:
Start now. It is better to prevent a decline in desire than to try to revive it when it is lost, Dr. Birnbaum says.
Listen without judging. Don’t interrupt. Don’t spend the time while your partner is speaking thinking about how you will respond. “Most people want to give advice,” says Dr. Birnbaum. “It’s not the same as being there as a warm and wise ear.”
Pay attention to details. Look for ways to show your understanding and support. Does your wife have a big interview coming up and need solitude to prepare? Take the children out to dinner. Is your husband’s team in the playoffs? Don’t ask him to clean the garage right now. Being responsive is often expressed by behaviors, not just words, Dr. Birnbaum says.
Talk about your desire. Share your fantasies. Watch a sexy movie and talk about what parts you liked best.