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Recent research: three studies on sex, three on couples, and one on both!

I recently asked a computer-literate friend how I could encourage more people to visit this blog (thank you to all who already do!).  He said "Write more about sex and violence."  Ouch.  I replied, rather self-righteously, that I wasn't just interested in increasing website traffic for its own sake - that the primary purpose of this blog is to be helpful.  Well here I go - some good research studies on sex (and couples) that I hope are helpful!

So in "Who's afraid of the G-spot?", (abstracts and links for all studies mentioned are listed further down this post) Jannini and colleagues discuss arguments for and against this possible "gynaecological UFO".  It seems present understanding is that the G-spot region " ...  is not a constant, but can be highly variable from woman to woman", and also that there seem to be "dynamic changes in the G-spot during digital and penile stimulation".  There's useful information for all would-be wonderful lovers.  Shamloul then looks at "Natural aphrodisiacs".  He suggests that "The search for a remedy or a prescription that can enhance sexual function and/or treat male erectile dysfunction (ED) has been an obsession throughout known history."  One of his only cautiously supportive comments is that "Although there's a positive trend towards recommending ginseng as an effective aphrodisiac, however, more in depth studies involving large number of subjects and its mechanism of action are needed before definite conclusions could be reached."  He concludes "The current body of objective evidence does not support the use of any natural aphrodisiac as an effective treatment for male or female sexual dysfunctions. Potent men and men with ED will continue the search for natural aphrodisiacs despite the current disappointing data on their effectiveness. Care should be taken regarding the fraud addition of sildenafil (Viagra) analogues to natural aphrodisiacs."  The continued high spending on probably ineffective "natural aphrodisiacs" may partly be explained by de Araujo and colleagues' paper "The Management of Erectile Dysfunction with Placebo Only: Does it Work?"  They conclude (unsurprisingly for students of mind-body effects) that " ... treatment of ED with oral placebo capsules demonstrates clinical effects, improving erectile function and quality of erection."

Possibly more interesting than any of these papers is the one by Gager and Yabiku "Who Has the Time? The Relationship Between Household Labor Time and Sexual Frequency" giving further research support to the adage that males who help with housework are more sexually attractive to their partners than couch potatoes who disappear into newspaper sports pages, TV watching, or other less supportive activities.

And three further studies on couples.  Saxbe and Repetti report on "For better or worse? Coregulation of couples' cortisol levels and mood states", unsurprisingly finding that "Partner's negative mood was positively associated with own negative mood for both husbands and wives. Marital satisfaction fully moderated this effect, reducing the strength of the association between one's own and one's partner's negative mood states."  So although how we feel is definitely linked to how our partners are feeling, we tend to be dragged down less by our partners' negative moods if our overall relationship is in better shape - " ... spouses' fluctuations in negative mood and cortisol levels are linked over several days and ... marital satisfaction may buffer spouses from their partners' negative mood or stress state."

Horberg and Chen report (in "research speak") that "Three studies tested the activation and consequences of contingencies of self-worth associated with specific significant others, that is, relationship-specific contingencies of self-worth. The results showed that activating the mental representation of a significant other with whom one strongly desires closeness led participants to stake their self-esteem in domains in which the significant other wanted them to excel."  In other words if your desired partner wants you to look like a sex god/goddess or achieve huge financial success, then it's hard for you not to become strongly influenced by this.  Similarly though, if your partner deeply admires you for qualities like kindness or courage, then this will help you value these qualities more in yourself.  Other researchers have reported parallel findings - for example Rusbult et al's recent paper "The part of me that you bring out: Ideal similarity and the Michelangelo phenomenon".  Be careful who you choose as a partner.  As the old Spanish proverb goes "God said: Take what you want.  Take whatever you want, and pay for it!"  And it seems likely these value effects are also relevant for parent-child relationships, between friends, and even in therapist-client relationships.

This point about choosing your partner well (and treating your partner well) is underlined further by the last paper I mention in this post - Feeney and Thrush's "Relationship influences on exploration in adulthood: the characteristics and function of a secure base."  They report that "Results indicated that the 3 identified characteristics of a secure (attachment) base (availability, noninterference, and encouragement) are strongly predictive of exploration behavior."  In other words, partners who are psychologically available to us, and who encourage us in non-interfering ways, help us to grow as people and have the courage to live our dreams.

Jannini, E., A. , B. Whipple, et al. (2010). "Who's Afraid of the G-spot?" Journal of Sexual Medicine 7(1pt1): 25-34.  [Abstract/Full Text] 
Introduction. No controversy can be more controversial than that regarding the existence of the G-spot, an anatomical and physiological entity for women and many scientists, yet a gynecological UFO for others.  Methods. The pros and cons data have been carefully reviewed by six scientists with different opinions on the G-spot. This controversy roughly follows the Journal of Sexual Medicine Debate held during the International Society for the Study of Women's Sexual Health Congress in Florence in the February of 2009.  Main Outcome Measure. To give to The Journal of Sexual Medicine's reader enough data to form her/his own opinion on an important topic of female sexuality.  Results. Expert #1, who is JSM's Controversy section editor, reviewed histological data from the literature demonstrating the existence of discrete anatomical structures within the vaginal wall composing the G-spot. He also found that this region is not a constant, but can be highly variable from woman to woman. These data are supported by the findings discussed by Expert #2, dealing with the history of the G-spot and by the fascinating experimental evidences presented by Experts #4 and #5, showing the dynamic changes in the G-spot during digital and penile stimulation. Experts #3 and #6 argue critically against the G-spot discussing the contrasting findings so far produced on the topic.  Conclusion. Although a huge amount of data (not always of good quality) have been accumulated in the last 60 years, we still need more research on one of the most challenging aspects of female sexuality.

Shamloul, R. (2010). "Natural Aphrodisiacs." Journal of Sexual Medicine 7(1pt1): 39-49.  [Abstract/Full Text] 
Introduction. The search for a remedy or a prescription that can enhance sexual function and/or treat male erectile dysfunction has been an obsession throughout known history. Whether it was an Eastern civilization or a Western one, religious or atheist, man's aspiration for a better or best "manhood" has been a history-time goal.  Aim. This review will discuss the current research done on the most popular natural aphrodisiacs and examine the weight of evidence to support or discourage the use of any of these substances to enhance sexual desire and/or function.  Methods. Review of the current evidence on the use of natural substances as aphrodisiacs.  Main Outcome Measures. Efficacy of natural aphrodisiacs in enhancing sexual function in men and women.  Results. There is little evidence from literature to recommend the usage of natural aphrodisiacs for the enhancement of sexual desire and/or performance. Data on yohimbine's efficacy does not support the wide use of the drug, which has only mild effects in the treatment of psychogenic ED. Although there's a positive trend towards recommending ginseng as an effective aphrodisiac, however, more in depth studies involving large number of subjects and its mechanism of action are needed before definite conclusions could be reached. Data on the use of natural aphrodisiacs in women is limited.  Conclusions. The current body of objective evidence does not support the use of any natural aphrodisiac as an effective treatment for male or female sexual dysfunctions. Potent men and men with ED will continue the search for natural aphrodisiacs despite the current disappointing data on their effectiveness. Care should be taken regarding the fraud addition of sildenafil analogues to natural aphrodisiacs.

de Araujo, A. C., F. G. da Silva, et al. (2009). "The Management of Erectile Dysfunction with Placebo Only: Does it Work?" Journal of Sexual Medicine 6(12): 3440-3448.  [Abstract/Full Text] 
Introduction. Randomized clinical trials (RCT) remain the gold standard in providing scientific evidence in medical practice in spite of the significant placebo effect in the treatment of several disorders. Although the first-line therapy for erectile dysfunction (ED) is oral phosphodiesterase type-5 inhibitor (iPDE5), the placebo effect in RCT of iPDE5 for ED occurs at a rate as high as 50%.  Aims.  To evaluate the role of therapeutic illusion in the oral treatment for ED.  Methods.  A prospective, controlled, single-blind, parallel-group study was performed at single-center. One hundred and twenty-three patients with ED were randomly assigned into three groups and received different letters: Group 1 (G1) was informed to be receiving a substance for ED treatment; Group 2 (G2) was informed that they could be receiving an active drug or placebo; Group 3 (G3) was conscious to be using placebo. Starch capsules were dispensed to all patients. Median follow up was 12 weeks.  Main Outcome Measures.  ED improvement was assessed after 8 weeks of the intervention by the erectile function domain of the International Index of Erectile Function (IIEF) and the Quality of Erection Questionnaire. ED severity was classified by the IIEF erectile function (IIEF-EF) domain score into five categories: no ED (score of 26-30), mild (22-25), mild to moderate (17-21), moderate (11-16), and severe (6-10). Improvement in IIEF-EF domain was considered as a change in category of severity.Results.  ED severity improved in all three groups (G1 = 31.7%, P = 0.039; G2 = 36.8%, P = 0.028; G3 = 36.8%, P = 0.002) and no difference was found among groups (P = 0.857). Improvement of quality of erection score was only significant in G2 (P = 0.005) and G3 (P < 0.001).  Conclusions.  Written-suggested therapeutic illusion for patients with ED has no major influence in the outcomes. However, treatment of ED with oral placebo capsules demonstrates clinical effects, improving erectile function and quality of erection.

Gager, C. T. and S. T. Yabiku (2009). "Who Has the Time? The Relationship Between Household Labor Time and Sexual Frequency." Journal of Family Issues 31 (2): 135-163.  [Abstract/Full Text]    
Motivated by the trend of women spending more time in paid labor and the general speedup of everyday life, the authors explore whether the resulting time crunch affects sexual frequency among married couples. Although prior research has examined the associations between relationship quality and household labor time, few have examined a dimension of relationship quality that requires time: sexual frequency. This study tests three hypotheses based on time availability, gender ideology, and a new multiple-spheres perspective using the National Survey of Families and Households. The results contradict the hypothesis that time spent on household labor reduces the opportunity for sex. The authors find support for the multiple-spheres hypothesis suggesting that both women and men who "work hard" also "play hard." Results show that wives and husbands who spend more hours in housework and paid work report more frequent sex.

Saxbe, D. and R. L. Repetti (2010). "For better or worse? Coregulation of couples' cortisol levels and mood states." J Pers Soc Psychol 98(1): 92-103.  [PubMed] 
Although a majority of adults live with a close relationship partner, little is known about whether and how partners' momentary affect and physiology covary, or "coregulate." This study used a dyadic multilevel modeling approach to explore the coregulation of spouses' mood states and cortisol levels in 30 married couples who sampled saliva and reported on mood states 4 times per day for 3 days. For both husbands and wives, own cortisol level was positively associated with partner's cortisol level, even after sampling time was controlled. For wives, marital satisfaction weakened the strength of this effect. Partner's negative mood was positively associated with own negative mood for both husbands and wives. Marital satisfaction fully moderated this effect, reducing the strength of the association between one's own and one's partner's negative mood states. Spouses' positive moods were not correlated. As expected, within-couple coregulation coefficients were stronger when mood and cortisol were sampled in the early morning and evening, when spouses were together at home, than during the workday. The results suggest that spouses' fluctuations in negative mood and cortisol levels are linked over several days and that marital satisfaction may buffer spouses from their partners' negative mood or stress state.

Horberg, E. J. and S. Chen (2010). "Significant others and contingencies of self-worth: activation and consequences of relationship-specific contingencies of self-worth." J Pers Soc Psychol 98(1): 77-91.  [PubMed] 
Three studies tested the activation and consequences of contingencies of self-worth associated with specific significant others, that is, relationship-specific contingencies of self-worth. The results showed that activating the mental representation of a significant other with whom one strongly desires closeness led participants to stake their self-esteem in domains in which the significant other wanted them to excel. This was shown in terms of self-reported contingencies of self-worth (Study 1), in terms of self-worth after receiving feedback on a successful or unsatisfactory performance in a relationship-specific contingency domain (Study 2), and in terms of feelings of reduced self-worth after thinking about a failure in a relationship-specific contingency domain (Study 3). Across studies, a variety of contingency domains were examined. Furthermore, Study 3 showed that failing in an activated relationship-specific contingency domain had negative implications for current feelings of closeness and acceptance in the significant-other relationship. Overall, the findings suggest that people's contingencies of self-worth depend on the social situation and that performance in relationship-specific contingency domains can influence people's perceptions of their relationships.

Feeney, B. C. and R. L. Thrush (2010). "Relationship influences on exploration in adulthood: the characteristics and function of a secure base." J Pers Soc Psychol 98(1): 57-76.  [PubMed]
This investigation advances theory and research regarding relationship influences on exploration in adulthood. This is accomplished by (a) identifying important characteristics of a secure base, (b) examining the influence of the presence or absence of these characteristics on exploration behavior in adulthood, and (c) identifying individual-difference factors that are predictive of the provision and receipt of secure base support. In 2 sessions, married couples (N = 167) provided reports of relationship dynamics involving exploration, and they participated in an exploration activity that was videotaped and coded by independent observers. Results indicated that the 3 identified characteristics of a secure base (availability, noninterference, and encouragement) are strongly predictive of exploration behavior, and that the provision and receipt of these behaviors can be predicted by individual differences in attachment. Implications of results and contributions to existing literature are discussed.

 

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