Sex is an important part of most romantic relationships – and when couples are not on the same page about their sex life, it can become a source of frustration. Research has found that couples have sex about 1 or 2 times a week, but about half of sexual advances between partners go unfulfilled.
A preprint uploaded recently to PsyArXiv sheds some light on how responses to sexual advances influence individuals’ feelings of sexual and relationship satisfaction. The study suggests that while having an advance accepted leaves partners feeling more content, this effect may be short-lived compared to the dissatisfaction of being rejected.
The power (or powerlessness) of parents to shape their children for good or ill continues to preoccupy psychologists and the public alike. Among evolutionary-minded developmental psychologists, one specific idea is that girls’ later attitudes to relationships is influenced by their fathers’ behaviour. For instance, US research has found that girls with disengaged, harsh, and often absent fathers are known to start having sex at a younger age, and to have more sexual partners. However many questions about these findings remain. For example: might other aspects of the girls’ childhoods be involved; what about genetic effects; and which aspects of poor-quality fathering are the most consequential?
A new study of pairs of sisters, published in Developmental Psychology, provides some specific answers, particularly that it is contact with a poor-quality father, not paternal absence, that affects their daughters’ later relationships, including their expectations of men, and, in turn, their sexual behaviour.
It’s well known that teenagers’ moods go through drastic changes. In particular, depressive symptoms – like feelings of low mood or self-loathing – tend to increase as they grow older. Now researchers have plotted out the exact trajectory of these depressive symptoms. In their recent paper in Journal of Youth and Adolescence, Alex Kwong and colleagues from the University of Bristol report for the first time the points during teen development when symptoms increase most rapidly, on average – and they find that these timings differ between young men and women.
When it comes to the heated subject of differences between how men and women behave, debate in psychology has centered on mate preferences and general interests. The available research shows that when it comes to (heterosexual) mating preferences, men are relatively more interested in physical beauty, while women are relatively more interested in earning capacity. As for general interests, men are more interested in physical things, while women are more interested in people.
Even the staunchest evolutionary psychologists would acknowledge these are partially overlapping bell curves: There are plenty of men who are fascinated by other people, and plenty of women looking for physical beauty in a partner above all else. Yet the findings have been met with fierce resistance in some quarters. One of the more sophisticated rejoinders is known as social roles theory: The differences do exist, but they’re entirely or largely the result of gender roles imposed by society on individuals. However, a new study released as a preprint at PsyArXiv and involving participants from 36 countries has failed to replicate a key finding that’s previously been cited in support of social roles theory.
A well-known effect in psychology is that if you try to suppress a thought, ironically this can make the thought all the more salient – known as the “rebound effect“. What are the implications of this effect for highly religious teenagers who have been taught to believe that sexual thoughts are taboo? Before now there has been little research on the rebound effect in this context, but in a recent paper in The Journal of Sex Research, Yaniv Efrati at Beit Berl College, Kfar-Saba, Israel, presents evidence that the rebound effect could explain why orthodox Jewish teens have more compulsive sexual thoughts and fantasies than their secular peers. What’s more, his results suggest this mental dynamic might be responsible for the religious teens’ lower scores on self-reported wellbeing.
People have a basic drive to learn and develop and to see themselves and the world in new ways. That’s according to the psychologists Arthur Aron and Elaine Aron, who refer to this as our need for “self-expansion”. It follows from their theory that any chance to self-expand should be rewarding, and that if you can self-expand while doing things with your romantic partner then your relationship will benefit. Previous research has hinted that this is the case, finding that when couples engaged in self-expanding activities together – anything that felt new, exciting, interesting and/or challenging – their satisfaction with their relationship increased.
Now in a paper in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology Amy Muise at York University and her colleagues have taken things further, laying out evidence that a major part of the reason that participating in self-expanding activities is good for relationships is that it boosts your sexual desire for your partner and increases the likelihood you will have rewarding sex – and, moreover, that this is particularly the case for people in long-term relationships.
Immediately after consensual and satisfactory sex, most people report feeling positive, content and psychologically close to their partner. But for some, it has the opposite effect, leaving them tearful and irritable for anything from a few minutes to a few hours. Commonly known as the “post-sex blues”, psychologists call it “post-coital dysphoria” (PCD) and until recently they had only studied it in women.
For example, in 2015, Robert D Schweitzer at the Queensland University of Technology led a study of 230 Australian female students, in which 46 per cent reported experiencing PCD at some point in their lives, and about 2 per cent said they experienced it regularly.
Now masters student Joel Maczkowiack and Schweitzer have published – in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy – the first ever study to show that some men suffer from PCD, too.
We all differ in how much empathic brain activity we experience in response to witnessing somebody else in pain. For instance, hospital physicians, who are regularly exposed to other people’s suffering, tend to show a dampened response – perhaps a pragmatic necessity to cope in the job, and might along the way explain the blasé gallows humour seen in the profession. If these differences are found within a job, perhaps they also occur within a lifestyle choice, such as one that involves playing with and consenting to painful activities, such as bondage, discipline, dominance, submission, sadism, and masochism, typically abbreviated to BDSM.
As they report in Neuropsychologia, Siyang Luo at Sun Yat-Sen University and Xiao Zhang at Jinan University explored this issue by first running a preliminary online study on a Chinese BDSM web forum, finding that across genders and BDSM roles, female submissives showed the clearest differences from controls in terms of their having a diminished response to other people’s pain and lower scores on aspects of an empathy questionnaire. (Female doms didn’t show a reliably different response to pain, and male BDSM practitioners barely differed from controls.)
Half of us have been unfaithful in our lifetime, and one in five people within their current relationship. As sexual infidelity is the primary cause of divorce and one of the hardest issues to address in couples therapy, identifying any useful defences could make a huge difference to people’s happiness. In a recent paper in Personal Relationships Brenda Lee and Lucia O’Sullivan from the University of New Brunswick investigated what strategies people in relationships use to reduce the chances they will cheat – so-called “monogomy maintainance strategies” – and looked into whether or not they are actually effective.
The phrase “sexual objectification” began popping up only 50 years ago, but it’s now ubiquitous, reflecting our concern that seeing someone sexually amounts to perceiving them as eye candy or a piece of meat. More recently, psychologists and neuroscientists have gathered evidence that sexualisation can literally lead us to perceive people less as whole humans and more as an assemblage of parts – the same way that the mind normally processes objects.
But the picture is complicated by new work published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin from a team mainly drawn from the Université Libre de Bruxelles. Their experiments on the impact of various forms of sexualisation on the perception of the body find that objectification does not necessarily follow.