Thursday during the sexuality preconference, Gurit Birnbaum and Eli Finkel gave a talk about how the functions of sexual cues and desire change across different phases of a relationship. People in relationships tend to think about sex as having several different functions. Sex feels good, helps us to intimately connect with our partners, and is necessary for reproduction--these are just a few examples.
But the truth is that these functions matter more or less depending on how long a couple has been dating. Sex, the presenters argued, is more crucial to building a relationship at the beginning stages compared to later stages. Their reasoning is that in the early phases of a relationship, other aspects of a relationship that make people feel secure and safe--like trust and commitment--have not yet been built. These qualities simply take more time to develop, so early on in the course of dating, sex plays a bigger role in relationship building. Later in a relationship, sexual desire may serve as more of a coping strategy in the face of relationship-related stressors. The presenters theorized, for example, that when couples experience a threat to their relationship--maybe an attractive stranger flirts with one member of a couple-- this event activates pro-relationship motivations that include sexual desire.
Greetings from California! Many of us at Science of Relationships are part of an organization known as the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP), which is a community of scholars who study all things related to social behavior and individual differences (e.g., morality/religion, self-esteem, aggression, and of course, relationships!). Every year, SPSP hosts a conference that unities social and personality scientists worldwide. This year, we’re gathering in Long Beach, California.
Conferences like this one are a great tradition. They are a time for researchers to come together and share recent projects they’ve been working on as well as new and exciting results/findings, and to learn about cutting-edge methods and ideas. Many of us who write for SofR will be presenting studies from our own labs. The conference is also a great networking opportunity to connect with peers in the field who are doing related work, and to hang out with old friends or former lab mates who ordinarily live far away. On top of that, it’s a chance to explore fun cities that we might not ordinarily get the chance to visit.
We also thought this would be a great opportunity to share some tidbits from the conference with our readers. So, over the next few days, expect to see some brief posts with never-before-seen, fresh-from-the-oven research findings (mmmmmm delicious data…) and some general excerpts from the conference.
Finally a quick disclaimer: Please keep in mind that most of the research we will post this weekend has not been published yet in scientific journals (meaning that the research has gone through peer review) – researchers often discuss new data with the public before the studies are published. That being said, it’s still science and it’s still fun, so enjoy!
Also see our article on Top 5 Tips for Successfully Navigating Your First Conference.
Parenting, no doubt, is a demanding job. While parenting can bring people great joy and meaning, it can also be incredibly stressful and frustrating. The debate over whether parents are more or less happy than non-parents doesn’t have a definitive answer. This is in part due to the fact that people who have children differ, on average, from those who do not have children in ways that are related to happiness, such as in their marital status, age, and income.
While people have debated whether parents are happier than non-parents, researchers suggest that the question of whether parents are more or less happy is not the most meaningful question. Rather, we should begin asking the questions of when, why, and how parenting may contribute to greater happiness or negativity. In a recent review linking parenting and well-being, researchers outlined a number of these differences, and identify a wide range of factors that affect the degree to which parenting affects happiness.1 Spoiler alert: It’s complicated.
Full disclosure: Watching The Bachelor/ette is a huge guilty pleasure of mine. It’s fascinating not just for the entertaining drama, but also as a unique case study of relationship dynamics. If you’re unfamiliar, The Bachelor is a reality TV show in which 25-30 beautiful and presumably single women contend for the attention, love, and marriage proposal of one eligible gent over the course of about two months of filming. Every season is chock-a-block with romantic and often extravagant dates, profuse amounts of smooching, and (sometimes ridiculous) drama. (Disclaimer: Before I get to the meat of this article, I should make it clear that that while I find the show very amusing, I don’t find the format to be particularly realistic, nor do I feel like the format allows for a strong foundation that can foster a future long-term relationship to be built—though there seem to be a few happy exceptions.)
When I watch The Bachelor/ette, I love to shamelessly analyze the contestants and try to make connections to research (after all, I am a relationship science nerd). There are always a few contestants who stand out, for better or worse, and this season I’m a bit mesmerized with Whitney Bischoff in a good way. She seems very classy, but more than that, she has a very distinct voice. The pitch is quite high, and though some people might find it a bit intense, it may actually make her more appealing to our current Bachelor, Chris.
Insecurities: we’ve all got a few. They’re those intrusive thoughts people have about mistakes they might have made, flaws they might have, and negative opinions that others might have about them. Insecurities can be frustratingly persistent, and they can really interfere with close relationships1,2 (“You looked at that girl, I saw you looking!”). It’s not realistic to expect people to simply ignore these insecurities. So the question becomes: what is the healthiest way to deal with these nagging thoughts and feelings?
One seemingly obvious solution might be to reveal your insecurities to someone you’re close to—such as a friend or a romantic partner—so that this person could help you to feel better. However, recent research has revealed a way that this approach can sometimes fail to work, and can even backfire.
One thing that relationship research has taught us is that good relationships are good for us. Many studies have demonstrated that solid relationships are associated with better health and longer life. In fact, having strong relationships is a better predictor of mortality than any other healthy lifestyle behavior.1 But why are relationships so beneficial? A new review of the research by Brooke Feeney and Nancy Collins2 unlocks the secrets of how good relationships help us flourish.
According to Feeney and Collins, there are two ways for us to thrive in life: 1) successfully coping with adversity, and 2) pursuing personal goals and opportunities for growth. Strong relationships can help with both.
Last August, exactly two years after my partner and I met, we got engaged. But unlike most soon-to-be newlyweds, we have not yet lived together. In fact, we will be engaged for almost a year before moving into our own place.
A few of my friends were surprised that my fiancé and I could commit to a life together without first sharing an apartment. In their eyes, cohabitation is important for allowing dating couples to “test drive” being married and identify lifestyle incompatibilities before making a formal long-term commitment. My grandparents and parents, on the other hand, were unfazed that we hadn’t yet lived together, and they even encouraged us to wait until the timing was right.
These conflicting messages made me question whether living together as a dating couple makes for a more well-adjusted marriage if the relationship is headed that way. Most researchers agree that living together before getting engaged has potential advantages and drawbacks, but are certain approaches to cohabiting better than others? To answer this question – and to understand why my friends (but not the older generations) expected my partner and I to live together sooner – I examined the latest research on cohabitation and its consequences for relationships.
The producers of the Amazing Race have decided to shake things up: For the upcoming season, six of the teams racing around the world are existing romantic couples, and the other five teams are unacquainted dating hopefuls whom producers matched up for the “most extreme blind date ever.”
Given the poor track record of reality shows designed to help contestants find love (the last Bachelorette contestant Andi Dorfman recently split from her fiancé Josh Murray, and in 28 seasons, the Bachelor & Bachelorette have produced only five intact couples), one can’t help but wonder...are these matched couples on the Amazing Race doomed to a similar fate?
But before we write these “blind date” couples off, let’s take a moment to consider the research evidence suggesting that these couples may be the exception – they may be some of the few couples who actually find lasting love on reality TV. Further, the existing romantic couples may experience relational benefits from competing on the show.
Getting sick isn’t fun. To see if social support helps combat illness, researchers interviewed 406 healthy adults each day for two weeks about whether they were hugged that day. Researchers then exposed participants to the common cold and assessed participants’ mucus secretions, congestion, and antibodies present in their blood over the next few weeks. Participants who received more hugs were less likely to become infected with the cold and experienced less nasal congestion. Hugs were especially important on particularly stressful or tense days. So the next time you feel yourself coming down with a cold…think hugs, not drugs.
Cohen, S., Janicki-Deverts, D., Turner, R. B., & Doyle, W. J. (2015). Does hugging provide stress-buffering social support? A study of susceptibility to upper respiratory infection and illness. Psychological Science.
As far as mainstream holidays go, Valentine’s Day is perhaps the most heteronormative of all. From greeting cards and gifts, to television shows and movies, society inundates us with messages that Valentine’s Day is an occasion to celebrate monogamous, heterosexual relationships. It’s a day when men buy flowers, chocolates, and (for the more adventuresome) frilly panties for their ladies before having a candlelight dinner punctuated by kisses and declarations of love and fidelity. So on a day when almost everything seems to be about “devoted husbands” and their “beloved wives,” what are gays and lesbians supposed to do?
Feeling cold increases people’s liking and willingness to pay for romance movies but not other movie genres (i.e., action, comedy, thriller). Researchers thought this was because physical coldness activates a need for psychological warmth, a feeling often associated with romance movies. Indeed, the more individuals associated romance movies in general with psychological warmth, the more they reported liking romance movies – but only when they felt cold. So if you’re going to watch a romance movie this Valentine’s Day, be sure to turn down the heat for a heartwarming experience.
Hong, J., & Sun, Y. (2012). Warm it up with love: The effect of physical coldness on liking of romance movies. Journal of Consumer Research, 39(2), 293-306. doi:10.1086/662613
For heterosexual couples, just making sure that both partners reach orgasm during vaginal intercourse can be difficult. Achieving orgasm at the exact same moment (i.e., “simultaneous orgasm”)? That’s even more of a challenge. Why? Because the typical motion of penile thrusting does not seem to provide adequate sexual stimulation for many women. In fact, only about half of women report being able to climax from penile movements alone during sex and, even among those women, many of them report that they do not experience orgasm reliably.1 As a result, many women find that adding clitoral stimulation to intercourse (e.g., with the use of one’s hand or a vibrator) or attempting different sexual activities is necessary to help them climax. However, it turns out that you may not need to do these other things if you can better align your own and your partner’s genitals during sex.
Everyone knows that Valentine’s Day is a celebration of love, and you’d probably assume that couples end up expressing their love (or lust) for each other in ways other than giving gifts. In fact, the #1 gift that men want to receive for Valentine’s Day wasn’t really a traditional “gift” at all: it was sex (read more about the top-ranked gifts here).
We asked over 1,000 Americans (learn more about survey here) if couples should expect to have sex on Valentine’s Day, and if so, if that sex should be better than average (i.e., “extra special Valentine’s Day sex”) or if it would be the “typical” sex that the couple normally has. Overall, 36% of people expected to have better sex than usual, 27% thought they’d have typical sex (if you’re bad at math, this means that almost 2 out of every 3 respondents expected couples to have sex on Valentine’s Day), and 37% didn’t think that sex should be expected on Valentine’s Day.
Things get interesting, however, when we look at men and women separately. Almost half (47%) of men expect better sex than usual, whereas 30% of men don’t expect Valentine’s sex. The pattern is reversed for women; nearly half (47%) say that sex shouldn’t be expected, and only 23% expect extra-special sex on Valentine’s Day.
So, don’t just assume you’re on the same page as your partner when it comes to Valentine’s Day sex. Communication about sex is always a good idea, and when better to start discussing the importance of sex in your relationship than on Valentine’s Day?
Just in time for Valentines Day, SAGE has released a new edition of the Relationship Matters podcast (hosted by Dr. Bjarne Holmes of Champlain College). In this installment, Dr. Danu Stinson (University of Victoria) discusses her research on why people with high vs. low self-esteem behave differently when initiating relationships.
The research team (also comprised of Jessica Cameron from the University of Manitoba and Kelley Robinson from the University of Winnipeg) conducted two experiments in which they primed individuals to focus on either (a) social rewards (i.e., the potential for feeling liked) or (b) costs (i.e., the potential for rejection). Afterwards, participants reported on their desire to initiate a relationship as well as the behaviors they’d engage in to do so.
What did they find? When primed with the potential rewards of a new relationship, low self-esteem individuals were more interested in initiating a relationship compared to those with high self-esteem. In contrast, when the potential social costs of a new relationship were primed, high self-esteem individuals were more interested in relationship initiation compared to those with low self-esteem.
Changes in sexual politics have left men mystified about how to behave when shopping for lingerie.1
One of the saddest sights in nature is that of the human male, forlornly trailing his girlfriend around a shopping mall. The shuffling gait, the slumped shoulders, and that glazed look in the eyes that seems to say “When can I go home and play Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare?”
But how do men behave when they step into a lingerie store?
Scientists from Saint Mary’s University in Halifax wondered if the sexual imagery -- the lingerie, the advertisements depicting gorgeous models in a state of undress -- stimulate and interest male shoppers. Or, if being surrounded by intimate apparel causes men to feel anxious and embarrassed, and to behave like cornered wild beasts.
Eager to find out, Kimberly Moule and Maryanne Fisher went on safari to their local mall. They sat at a table in the food court, near the entrance to a lingerie store. From there they had a wide open view of the store’s interior. They kept their eyes peeled for male-female couples. When they spotted a pair, they made a note of all the man’s behaviors -- whether he interacted with the merchandise or talked to his partner, how he moved about the store, and where he directed his gaze. Later, the psychologists repeated their observations at a regular clothing store.
I’ve received a gift on Valentine’s Day once in the past ten years. I wouldn’t consider my lackluster gift count so remarkable if I were perpetually single, but I have been romantically involved with someone on every single Valentine’s Day in the last decade! In contrast to my former partners, I derive a ridiculous amount of pleasure from giving people presents. Although I hardly need a reason to buy someone a gift (“It’s Tuesday? Cool; here’s the box set of Top Gear you said you wanted”), Valentine’s Day offers the perfect excuse for me to indulge my gift-giving fancy.
Recently, marketers have taken interest in why people buy Valentine’s gifts for their partners. One particularly interesting study focused on young men’s reasons for buying Valentine’s Day presents and what these reasons suggest about their relationships’ balance of power.1 The researchers spoke with approximately 100 men through a series of focus groups and in-depth interviews, during which the participants were asked about a Valentine’s purchase they made for a romantic partner within the last two years. Men reported three primary reasons for buying into the Hallmark holiday...
Dubbed an “erotic fiction” and “mommy porn,” the Fifty Shades books are among the top selling novels of all time. In fact, worldwide sales are said to be over 100 million, and at its height one of these provocative page-turners was being sold every second.1 Given the popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey, it is no wonder that the geniuses in Hollywood are planning to cash in on the “feels so good to be bad” phenomenon this Valentine’s Day. Of course, the question remains, should you go see this movie?
If you are like my sister, then you have already answered with a resounding, “Yes!” Of course, it is likely prudent to consider how this deliciously salacious movie may impact your relationship, for better or worse.
In a prior post we told you what gifts were identifed as the perfect gifts for women on Valentine's Day. Now it's the guys' turn....
Again, we asked our survey respondents:
What is the perfect Valentine's Day gift for a man to receive?
The #1 most preferred gift men want for Valentine’s Day
S-E-X. A whopping 46% of our male respondents indicated that the perfect gift for them on Valentine’s Day is sex.
And we won’t go into all the gory details, but some guys were quite specific regarding exactly what type of sex they have in mind. My eyes still burn. Think what you want, but at least it’s free, right?