The Designer Vagina: Trends in Female Genital Cosmetic Surgery

BY: Ashley Thompson, Ph.D.

What does the term “Designer Vagina” mean to you?

No, no, it’s not the new up-and-coming chick punk rock band, good try though!

It is actually a term used to describe the “ever-so-popular outcome of female genital cosmetic surgeries.” That’s right, in recent years, female genital cosmetic surgery has become an increasingly popular trend (see more here). As if that is not CRAZY enough, plastic surgeons attest that the vast majority of their patients were physiologically normal, with most of them presenting with relatively average genitalia. As this suggests, the issue is not necessarily medical, the issue likely relates to misinformed notions regarding genital aesthetics. Women with healthy, well-functioning vulvas are the one’s finding the flaws.

Vag. Rejuv


So, what exactly are these young women having done to their genitals? Well, for the most part, it seems as though it is the opposite of breast augmentation. In terms of women’s vulvas, less is more: smaller labias, less pubic hair, shrunken clitoral hoods, etc.  In particular, two of the more popular surgeries include labiaplasty and vaginoplasty. Labiaplasties are designed to decrease the size of women’s labia through snipping and sculpting. Vaginoplasty, on the other hand, allows women to tighten and decrease the size of their vaginal opening.

If these surgeries are a somewhat recent trend, where did these notions of ideal genitals come from anyway? Is it through the ever-expanding pornography industry? Perhaps, who is to say for sure. What we do know, is that the prevalence of female genital cosmetic surgeries are not decreasing. On the contrary, these surgeries are becoming more common than ever. This is potentially problematic because, in many cases, women approaching plastic surgeons have some underlying self-esteem issues or have distorted/inaccurate perceptions of their vulvas. So, if you really feel as though genital cosmetic surgery is the right choice for you, I want you to think. Before altering the appearance of your genitals, do you think the answer to your problems can be solved with the simple slice of a scalpel?


Maintaining the Connection: Fear of Incompetence when Interacting with a Family Member with Dementia

BY: Jonathan Rogers, B.Sc.

As our loved one’s age, it becomes increasingly difficult to cope with their declining health. Complicating this further, the American population is aging at a faster rate (US Census Bureau, 2018), so more people are being diagnosed with dementia and other neurodegenerative disorders than ever before. Increasing symptoms create new burdens and stigma on the family members of individuals with dementia beyond what is expected for the aging process (Orel & Dupuy, 2002; Savundranayagam, Montgomery, & Kosloski, 2010;). For example, diminished communication skills, decreased memory, and functional impairments can lead to communication problems, which then impair their ability to maintain their relationships with family members (Parker, Young, & Rogers, 2010).

However, it is possible that additional variables (besides those related to the outcomes of dementia) also influence interactions occurring between adults and their family members with dementia, particularly grief and fear of incompetence experienced by family members. Wicklund and Scheuer (2014) described fear of incompetence as the fear of not performing at a level expected by the individual or society. Thus, myself, Dr. Thompson and other researchers from the lab conducted a program of research designed to create a scale measuring people’s fear of incompetence when interacting with family members with dementia.

Image result for elderly hand hold

This final scale (the Fear of Incompetence Scale) was comprised of 65 items that assessed three different categories of fear of incompetence: knowledge concerns, caregiving concerns, and interaction concerns. One interesting finding that resulted from this program of research was that interaction concerns were particularity worrisome for participants. Here are a examples of the most frequently endorsed concerns: “I will not know what to talk about when he/she does not recognize me anymore” and “I will not be able to keep him/her in the present moment.” These items go beyond the duty of caregiving and understanding the disorder and reveal that people are most concerned about maintaining the connection they had and being there for their relative. From verbal interaction to finding activities to enjoy together, people want their time with their diagnosed relative to be meaningful.

The concerns related to maintaining a meaningful connection with one’s relative has important practical and clinical implications. For example, because positive and frequent interactions with family members can improve the subjective well-being of adults with dementia (Grabowski & Mitchell, 2009), reducing interaction concerns may result in a better quality of life for individuals living with dementia. Thus, educators and practitioners could work to develop programs that attempt to reduce fear of incompetence in order to enhance familial relationships and improve the quality of life for individuals dementia.


Grabowski, D. C., & Mitchell, S. L. (2009) Family oversight and the quality of nursing home care for residents with advanced dementia. Medical Care, 47, 568-574.

Orel, N., & Dupuy, P. (2002). Grandchildren as auxiliary caregivers for grandparents with cognitive and/or physical limitations: Coping strategies and ramifications. Child Study Journal, 32, 193-213.

Parker, J., Young, A., & Rogers, K. (2010). ‘My Mum’s Story’ A Deaf daughter discusses her Deaf mother’s experience of dementia. Dementia, 9, 5-20.

Savundranayagam, M. Y., Hummert, M. L., & Montgomery, R. J. (2005). Investigating the effects of communication problems on caregiver burden. The Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 60, S48-S55.

US Census Bureau. (2018, March 13). Older People Projected to Outnumber Children. Retrieved from

Wicklund, R. A., & Scheuer, M. (2014). The person category: That which remains when action fails. Psicologia Sociale, 1, 49-70. doi:10.1482/76368.


The Relationship Bias: Uncovered Attitudes Toward Consensual Nonmonogamy

BY: Elle Moore, M.Sc.

Historically, research has shown that people have negative views toward those in consensually non-monogamous relationships (CNM; sexually and/or emotionally nonexclusive romantic relationships, Thompson, Bagley, & Moore, 2018; Cohen, 2016; Conley et al., 2013). However, some more recent research seems to suggest that these views are changing, and that society is becoming more accepting of these types of relationships (Grunt-Mejer & Campbell, 2016; Thompson, Hart, Stefaniak, & Harvey, 2018)).  As a research team, we thought that this warranted further investigation. Were our views towards CNM changing, or was this a result of the type of design used by these studies? All of the prior studies utilized self-report, or explicit measures, in which participants consciously share their attitudes, beliefs, or judgments. These measures pose a potential problem because participants can choose to respond in a socially desirable way (i.e., ways that make them look good, accepting, or tolerant).

Therefore, we designed a study in which we assessed participants’ implicit attitudes (or biases) toward consensual non-monogamy (Thompson et al., 2018). An implicit bias is an automatic and involuntary response that occurs outside of our conscious awareness. This means that we may not even be aware of these associations and how they affect our judgments, beliefs or actions. So, we asked participants to come into our lab and complete surveys assessing their explicit attitudes toward CNM. We also had these same participants complete the Implicit Association Test (IAT; Greenwald, McGhee, & Schwartz, 1998), which is a computer-based test that assesses reaction time when categorizing stimuli (in order to assess implicit biases). Essentially, participants are asked to pair category stimuli (words or images related to CNM or monogamy) with attribute stimuli (positive or negative words). If a participant can more quickly monogamy stimuli with positive attributes (as compared to CNM stimuli), then proponents of the IAT would argue that this person has an automatic bias favoring monogamy over CNM. If you want to test out different types of IATs, follow this link.


What did these tests tell us? For one, we found that explicit attitudes toward CNM were neutral – participants didn’t really have negative or positive views toward CNM. However, implicitly, participants strongly preferred monogamy in comparison to CNM (i.e., they paired monogamy stimuli with positive attributes more quickly than CNM stimuli with positive attributes). Interestingly, people who were less likely to respond in a socially desirable way (in the way they thought they should respond to a situation) had implicit and explicit attitudes that were more closely aligned than people who were more likely to respond in a socially-desirable manner. In other words, people who are likely to distort their responses on the explicit measure saw no correlation between their performance on the explicit and implicit measures. However, for those who didn’t succumb to the pressures to respond in socially desirable ways, their performance on the explicit and implicit measures were positively correlated. Another fun finding? Men and women didn’t differ in their attitudes toward CNM!

So, what does this mean? Well, the results from this study mean that despite what people report consciously, most people have an automatic bias favoring monogamy over CNM. For researchers, theses results are important and provide support for the incorporation of more diverse methods when studying attitudes and judgments. For educators, the results from this study can be used to educate the public about CNM. Finally (and perhaps most importantly), for all of you, these results indicate that conversations need to be started, get people talking! After all, the best way to reduce bias is to normalize the behavior.


Cohen, M. T. (2016).  The perceived satisfaction derived from various relationship configuations. Journal of Relationships Research, 7, 1-7.

Conley, T., Moors, A., Matsick, J., & Ziegler, A. (2013). The fewer the merrier?: Assessing stigma surrounding consensually non-monogamous romantic relationships. Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, 13, 1-30.

Greenwald, A. G., McGhee, D. E., & Schwartz, J. L., K. (1998). Measuring individual differences in implicit cognition: The Implicit Association Test. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74, 1464-1480.

Grunt-Mejer , K., & Campbell, C. (2016). Around consensual nonmonogamies: Assessing attitudes toward nonexclusive relationships. The Journal of Sex Research, 53, 45-53.

Thompson, A. E., Bagley, A., J., & Moore, E. A. (2018). Young men and women’s implicit attitudes towards consensually nonmonogamous relationships. Psychology & Sexuality, 9, 117-131.

Thompson, A. E., Hart, J., Stefaniak, S., & Harvey, C. A. (2018). Exploring Heterosexual Adults’ Endorsement of the Sexual Double Standard among Initiators of Consensually Nonmonogamous Relationship Behaviors. Sex Roles, 79, 228-238.

Send Nudes, but Not If You’re a Dude: Variations in Judgments of Individuals Engaged in Sexting

BY: Carissa Harvey, M.A.

Recent studies on sexting reveal positive outcomes for those who sext (e.g., improved sexual intimacy between partners; Drouin, Coupe, & Temple, 2017). However, negative perceptions of this specific sexual behavior persist. This is especially true with respect to the acceptability of sexting for women versus men, which is the essence of the sexual double standard (SDS; in which women are judged more harshly for engaging in similar sexual behavior as men; Papp et al., 2015). Although two qualitative studies on sexting and the SDS reveal that sexting is viewed as desirable for men but not for women (Ringrose, Harvey, Gill, & Livingstone, 2012), we still do not understand what specifically influences judgments of those who engage in sexting.

Thus, myself and Dr. Ashley Thompson conducted a study in which U.S. adults were asked to judge the morality of hypothetical men and women engaged in sexting in casual and committed relationships. Contrary to previous research, the results indicated that men sexters were judged as less moral than were women sexters. In addition, those who sexted in a casual relationship were judged as less moral than were those who sexted in a committed relationship.


The results of this study are illuminating in that they reveal the specific contexts in which individuals may be judged negatively for sexting. In fact, negative perceptions of sexting outside the confines of a committed relationship is supported by previous research which finds that we hold positive judgments toward others who engage in sexual activity with someone they know in comparison to someone they are not familiar with (Brand, 2015). This is especially true for sexting, as many view sexting with casual partners as “risky” or even “dangerous” (Brand, 2015).

Additionally, the tendency for participants to view male sexters as less moral than female sexters is consistent with emerging research documenting the existence of a reverse sexual double standard (in which men are judged more harshly than women for engaging in high sexual activity; Papp et al., 2015). It is possible that the appearance of the reverse sexual double standard is a result of recent prominent societal movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp (Foubert, Tatum, & Godin, 2010). In fact, because these movements draw attention to the negative sexual experiences that women endure, people may be more inclined to scrutinize men’s sexual behavior. This, in combination with concerns related to perpetuating socially unacceptable attitudes and beliefs (Tourangeau & Yan, 2007), may explain why hypothetical men in this study were judged as being less moral for sexting compared to women.

Although these results may be discouraging, the silver lining is that they do provide clear paths forward so that we may create new avenues for future research as well as providing much needed updates to our sexual education programming module on sexting, which often fails to feature or discuss sexting in any detail (Jorgenson, Weckesser, Turner, & Wade, 2018). Additionally, the results can help support counselors and practitioners in targeting therapies and aims of treatment to improve individual and sexual functioning for those affected by negative perceptions of their sexting behavior.


Brand, A. N. (2015).  From locked doors to locked screens: The implications of sexting as a gendered performance (master’s thesis). Available from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses database. (UMI No. 1591469)

Drouin, M., Coupe, M., & Temple, J. (2017). Is sexting good for your relationship? It depends … Computers in Human Behavior, 75, 749-756.

Foubert, J. D., Tatum, J. L., & Godin, E. E. (2010). First-year male students’ perceptions of a rape prevention program 7 months after their participation: Attitude and behavior changes. Journal of College Student Development, 51, 707-715.

Jorgenson, C. R., Weckesser, A., Turner, J., & Wade, A. (2018). Young people’s views on sexting education and support needs: Findings and recommendations from a UK-based study. Sex Education.

Papp, L. J., Hagerman, C., Gnoleba, M. A., Erchull, M. J., Liss, M., Miles-McLean, H., & Robertson, C.M. (2015). Exploring perceptions of slut-shaming on Facebook: Evidence for a reverse sexual double standard. Gender Issues, 32, 57-76.

Ringrose, J., Harvey, L., Gill, R., & Livingstone, S. (2013). Teen girls, sexual double standards and ‘sexting’: Gendered value in digital image exchange. Feminist Theory, 14, 305-323.

Tourangeau, R., & Yan, T. (2007). Sensitive questions in surveys. Psychological Bulletin, 133, 859-883.

“I Always Feel like Somebody’s Watchin’ Me”: How Social Media Affects our Judgments of Masturbation

BY: Katherine Haus, B.A.

In days of yore, masturbation was thought to cause a broad range of illnesses and afflictions, both mental and physical (Madanikia, Bartholomew & Cytrynbaum, 2013). Popular religions, health practitioners and yarn spinners alike condemned the practice, but as the world continued to turn, researchers gradually found that it indicates normal sexual function, sexual health, and possesses benefits untold (Coleman, 2002). Modern research and medicine frequently confirm this to be true, and a large majority of adult men and women report masturbating (Coleman, 2002).

Despite these strides forward, many people report feeling guilt or shame from masturbation, and it is still highly stigmatized within our society. As such, there were no recent studies assessing judgment towards masturbation. In order to do so, myself and a faculty member at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD) employed the use of hypothetical vignettes depicting either a man (Jeff) or a woman (Amy) engaging in masturbation (Haus & Thompson, 2018). A total of 525 participants (256 women, 269 men) were recruited to read one of these vignettes, and then complete a Sexuality Judgment Scale (SJS) indicating their perceptions of Jeff or Amy’s sexual history. Participant ratings on the SJS revealed that female participants rated Jeff higher on the SJS than Amy, an indication that men who engage in masturbation are seen as having more extensive sexual histories than women who masturbate. Interestingly, this same trend was not true for male participants.


Image result for hiding in sheets

Although these results are surprising, it is possible that this judgment may be modeled by media portrayals of masturbation. As masturbation is considered to be an uncomfortable topic by parents, educators and researchers alike, the primary source of learning about masturbation comes from media sources (Kaestle & Allen, 2011). One of these sources is social media, where allegations of sexual misconduct among men in Hollywood are rampant amidst the wake of movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp.

These movements are driven by empathy, and are focused on women’s consequences as a result of men’s actions. Other social media campaigns are centered around solidarity among women with slogans like “women supporting women” or “girls supporting girls.” It is possible that the increase in camaraderie among women has also increased the connection that women feel as members of a group, causing them to rate the other members of their in-group with less severity.

Although these movements are promoting positive changes geared towards equalizing our society, it is important to recognize all areas of issue caused by misconduct in order to minimize stigma and negative sexual experiences held by both men and women in our society. So next time you find yourself questioning someone’s sexual behavior a little to intensely, just take a step back and think for a moment. Why the hate? Just masturbate.


Coleman, E. (2002). Masturbation as a means of achieving sexual health. Journal of Psychology & Human Sexuality, 14, 5-16.

Haus, K. R., & Thompson, A. E. (Under Review). Feelin’ Myself: An Examination of the Endorsement of the Sexual Double Standard and the Backlash Effect related to Masturbation.

Kaestle, C. E., & Allen, K. R. (2011). The role of masturbation in healthy sexual development: Perceptions of young adults. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 40, 983-994.

Madanikia, Y., Bartholomew, K., & Cytrynbaum, J., B. (2013). Depiction of masturbation in North American movies. Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, 22, 106-115.

Ridin’ Solo: The Benefits of Masturbation


Many of us have likely heard the old wives’ tale that masturbation will make you blind and result in hairy palms (particularly among men). Despite what your parents might have told you, I am here to report that research on solo sexual activity actually indicates that masturbation can result in a variety of HEALTHY and BENEFICIAL outcomes.

Although not all occurrences of masturbation result in orgasm, many do. Consequently, research on the benefits of orgasm reveals that the physiological byproduct associated with an orgasm is the release of endorphins into the body, which can help to reduce stress, relieve sexual tension, reduce the likelihood of prostate cancer in men, and improve issues associated with insomnia (Haake et al., 2004; Rao, Aswinidutt, Anil, Dhananjaya, & Hasan, 2009). In fact, there are some studies that have indicated the masturbatory orgasms can even help reduce nasal congestion (Zarrintan, 2008) – sorry Kleenex and Puffs!

Image result for masturbation cartoon

However, not all benefits of masturbation are linked to orgasm, just the experience of sexual arousal can be beneficial. In fact, research suggests that stress/tension reduction can result from sexual arousal ALONE (regardless of orgasm; Murphy, Seckl, Burton, Checkley, & Lightman, 1987).

KEEP IN MIND – there can be too much of a good thing. In fact, is Rirare cases, some people’s masturbation habits may create distress for oneself or one’s relationship. That being said, for the vast majority, masturbation is associated with much more positives than negatives. So, forget what your grandma told you and feel free to have a little fun!


Haake, P., Krueger, T. H. C., Goebel, M., Heberling, K., Elsenbruch, S., & Schedlowski, M. (2004). Orgasm-induced redistribution of leucocytes and lymphocytes subsets in males. Neuroimmunomodulation11, 293-298.

Murphy, M. R., Seckl, J. R., Burton, S., Checkley, S. A., & Lightman, S. L. (1987). Changes in oxytocin and vasopressin secretion during sexual activity in men. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism65, 738-741.

Rao, P. J., Aswinidutt, R., Anil, K., Dhananjaya, S., & Hasan, F. (2009). Sex as a cure for insomnia. Medical hypotheses72, 760-761.

Zarrintan, S. (2008). Ejaculation as a potential treatment of nasal congestion in mature males. Medical hypotheses71, 308.

Make-Up Sex: The Relationship between Conflict and Sexual Behavior


Although, conflict in relationships may often lead to a decrease in relationship satisfaction and relationship dissolution (breaking-up), it has been discovered that conflict may not be entirely negative. In fact, research reveals that the emotions produced during conflict may lead to feelings of sexual arousal.

Now, I know what you must be thinking: “Wait a minute, you’re telling me that fighting is a good thing? And that getting mad at my partner for sitting in my spot on the couch will lead to good sex?”

Well… in a study published in Personal Relationships, researchers examined the association between relationship conflict and sexual desire among 61 heterosexual couples (Birnbaum, Mikulincer, & Austerlitz, 2013). The study found that, participants (men in particular) currently experiencing relationship conflict reported greater feelings of sexual attraction to their partner than those without conflict.
Image result for relationship conflict
This can be explained by the phenomenon known in psychology as the “misattribution of arousal” where we mislabel our feelings of fear arousal as feelings of romantic arousal. In fact, evidence from a famous study indicated that heterosexual men who had just walked across a dangerous bridge were more likely to romantically pursue a female confederate than were men who walked across a safe bridge (Dutton & Aron, 1974).

With regard to relationship conflict and anger, there appears to be a connection between anger and desire. Moreover, anger during an argument may be misconstrued as sexual arousal or may act as a stimulant that can fuel desire. This may create the behavior we commonly call “make-up sex.” Of course, this has to be consensual and agreed upon by both parties involved. Furthermore, replacing conflict-resolution processes with sex is not always the answer.

That being said, next time your partner is screaming at you for splurging on name brand ketchup–try trying initiating sexual activity, you just might be surprised at the outcome!


Birnbaum, G. E., Mikulincer, M., & Austerlitz, M. (2013). A fiery conflict: Attachment orientations and the effects of relational conflict on sexual motivation. Personal Relationships, 20, 294-310.

Dutton, D. G., & Aron, A. P. (1974). Some evidence for heightened sexual attraction under conditions of high anxiety. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology30, 510-517.

All Hallows Hook-Ups


As we mature, Halloween becomes less and less about dressing-up as an evil demon and more about releasing your inner demon in the bedroom. Although Halloween may not have the most romantic reputation, it can be a great opportunity to mingle with other interested singles. In fact, in a study of over 500 Canadian singles at, over two-thirds of adults view Halloween as a great opportunity to let your guard down, put yourself out there, and meet new people.

So, what is it about Halloween that creates a good environment for singles? One possibility is the inclusion of fantasy and dressing-up. Wearing a costume gives people the opportunity to be whatever they want to be. It is as though, for one night only, you can be a stranger in your home town and take advantage of the anonymity that results.

Image result for halloween making love

But, are other singles interested in those who dress-up more than those who “keep-it-real?” Well, according to the study at, both men and women agree that someone in costume is more attractive than someone who is not dressed up. In fact, about 70% of the men preferred women in sexy costumes (GO FIGURE!), whereas approximately half of the women reported a preference for men donning clever/humourous costumes.

Although, their findings suggest that dressing-up is the preferred way to go, not all Halloween costumes are created equal. For example, coordinated costumes can be a lot of fun, however, nearly half of both men and women view coordinated costumes as an indication that the person is “off the market” or disinterested in hooking-up. Additionally, scary costumes may actually work against you and scare off potential dates, with only about 5-10% of men and women reporting a preference for someone in a spooktacular costume.

So, whether it be this year or next, if you are looking for a good chance to hook-up, Halloween may be your day. Just remember to show a little skin, tell a few jokes, and steer clear of the fake blood and creepy contacts.

“You Did it on Purpose, I Couldn’t Help It:” Differences in How We Explain Infidelity


Let’s pretend you run across your romantic partner holding someone else’s hand. What are your first thoughts? Do you think to yourself “there must be some explanation for this, maybe they are rehearsing for a play” or do you think “that sketchball is sneaking around behind my back”? Well, as it turns out, the way we interpret and perceive infidelity-related behaviors varies notably depending on the person in question.


According to a recent study of mine published in the journal of Basic and Applied Social Psychology (Thompson & O’Sullivan, 2017)people interpret the intentions of their romantic partner’s indiscretions very differently from the ways with which they interpret their own. This tendency to judge and interpret other’s behavior differently from or own is referred to as the actor-observer bias (Jones & Nisbett, 1972). In essence, social psychologists describe the actor-observer bias as the tendency to excuse our own negative behavior by attributing it to all sorts of circumstantial reasons, while explaining the negative behavior of others using stable dispositions (i.e., personality characteristics). For example, when explaining poor test performance, people are likely to attribute the cause of their own poor performance to situational variables (e.g., noisy test environment, a poor teacher/student relationship). On the other hand, people often attribute the negative test performance of others to dispositional variables (e.g., he/she lacks intelligence, he/she did not study enough). 

So, in my recent study, I was interested to see if these same biases applied to people’s attributions for infidelity. In particular, I wanted to know whether adults attributed the cause of their partner’s real-life indiscretions to dispositional variables to a greater extent than their own indiscretions and whether they attributed their own real-life indiscretions to situational variables to a greater extent that their partner’s indiscretions. Turns out that the results from 802 U.S. adults revealed just as I suspected: we are more likely to blame our partner’s infidelity on dispositional factors and our own infidelity on situational factors.

But that was not all, the data also indicated that the difference in how we explain our partner’s infidelity as compared to our own infidelity depended on the type of behavior. Using a 7-point scale (with higher scores indicating greater endorsement of dispositional attributions), adults attributed a partner’s real-life sexual infidelity (e.g., oral intercourse, vaginal intercourse, kissing) to dispositional features to a greater extent (M = 5.17, SD = 2.17) than one’s own real-life infidelity (M = 3.02, SD = 2.17). This same trend was true for technology-related infidelity (e.g., browsing singles website, sending a sexually-explicit text message, masturbating over webcam), with adults attributing a partner’s technology infidelity to disposition features to a greater extent (M = 4.85, SD = 1.87) than one’s own technology infidelity (M = 3.89, SD = 2.17). However, adults’ attributions for emotional (e.g., providing emotional support, sharing secrets, attending a formal event) and solitary infidelity (e.g., viewing pornography, engaging in masturbation alone, finding a celebrity attractive) did not vary between a partner’s or one’s own infidelity.

Inf Chart

So, why do we assume our partner’s infidelity is a result of dispositional characteristics and our own infidelity is a result of situational features? Some argue that this bias is self-serving and that we are motivated to protect our self-esteem by blaming our negative actions on situational variables that are beyond our control (e.g., our infidelity is less damaging if it was a result of intoxication” rather than if it wasa result of our own internal motives). However, this self-serving bias does not apply when judging others. We are less motivated to protect the self-esteem of others and, as a result, we don’t make the same attributions for the behavior of others as we do for ourselves.

Furthermore, why did we only see this actor-observer bias for certain forms of infidelity (primarily sexual and technology)? This may relate to the guilt we experience from engaging in certain forms of infidelity over others. In particular, the more discomfort/guilt produced by a behavior, the more likely one is to justify that behavior (i.e., make situational attributions) (for more information refer to Cognitive Dissonance Theory; Aronson, 1969). In fact, sexual infidelity and technology infidelity are the most extreme forms and likely produced the strongest feelings of discomfort/guilt, resulting in the use of more guilt-reducing strategies (Smith, 1961). Consequently, those who engaged in sexual or technology infidelity were likely to employ more guilt-reducing strategies to a greater extent than were those who may have engaged in more benign behaviors, such as solitary infidelity. Furthermore, because people are unlikely to experience discomfort or guilt as a result of a partner’s infidelity, they are less likely to justify a partner’s infidelity behavior by making external attributions as they would their own. Thus, the actor-observer bias demonstrated in this research likely stems from the need to justify one’s own infidelity but not a partner’s.


Aronson, E. (1969). The theory of cognitive dissonance: A current perspective. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 4, 1-34.

Jones, E. E., & Nisbett, R. E. (1987). The actor and the observer: Divergent perceptions of the causes of behavior. In E. E. Jones, D. E. Kanouse, H. H. Kelley, R. E. Nisbett, S. Valins, & B. Weiner (Eds.), Attribution: Perceiving the causes of behavior (pp. 79-94). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Smith, E. E. (1961). The power of dissonance techniques to change attitudes. Public Opinion Quarterly, 25, 626-639. doi: 10.1086/267058

Thompson A. E., & O’Sullivan L. F. (2017). Understanding differences in judgments of infidelity: An application of Attribution Theory. Basic and Applied Social Psychology. Advance online publication. doi:10.1080/01973533.2017.1350578


Getting to Know Aunt Flow: The Psychology of Sexual Behavior during Menstruation


I heard a great joke this week: Jokes about PMS aren’t funny. Period.

[He, he, he! Giggle. Giggle.]

After hearing this joke, I started thinking about sex and periods. Depending on the group of women surveyed and the way the question is asked, research has found that somewhere between 3 percent and 30 percent of women have had sexual intercourse while menstruating.

In the U.S., the average age of menarche (the first time a girl gets her period) is just under 13. The average age of menopause is just over 50. That means that the average woman spends close to four decades bleeding, five out of every 28 days. That’s a whole lot of time!

So what happens to women’s sex lives during their period?

American researchers, Devon Hensel, Dennis Fortenberry, and Donald Orr (2004), sought to answer this question by tracking a group of 191 sexually active women between the ages of 14 and 21 for nine months. They asked them to fill out daily surveys and indicate whether they were menstruating and/or sexual intercourse that day. According to these diaries, although 11 percent of young adult women had sex at least once while they had their period, this was less than the percentage who reported having sex during times of no menstruation. In fact, the participants indicated engaging in sexual intercourse 4.5 percent of the days that they had their period as compared to 13.2 percent of days when they did not. This a bit worrisome because a substantial proportion of women report finding sex while menstruating physically pleasurable. In fact, results from a qualitative study revealed that many women feel more turned on and more physically responsive during their period and that having sex on their period makes them feel accepted, validated, and loved by their partner (Fahs, 2011).

Image result for menstruation

So, since we know sex can lead to all sort of benefits, what factors make it more likely that a woman will have sex on her period?

In a follow-up study, Hensel, Fortenberry, and Orr (2007) found that adolescent women who had sex on their period were more likely to report having engaged in sex more recently, experience with sex on their period in the past, and report higher sexual interest overall. Essentially, the higher the sex drive, the more likely a woman is to have experienced a variety of sexual behaviors (even sex during menstruation), HUGE SHOCKER!

However, one interesting finding that emerged (but not so surprising), was that women who indicated feeling supported by their partner were more likely to report having sexual intercourse during menstruation as compared to those receiving less support. Apparently, the key to engaging in more non-traditional forms sexual behavior (or non-conventional times for sexual behavior) depends greatly on the quality of the relationship. This is consistent with research in other areas, which reveals that close and supportive relationships (as compared to distant and less-supportive relationships) are more likely to lead to positive outcomes when engaging in a range of sexual behaviors (e.g., feelings of intimacy after anal sex; Reynolds, Fisher, & Rogala, 2015).

So what do you do if you are interested in experimenting with sex during menstruation?

If you are worried about things getting messy I have two magic words for you: SHOWER SEX. Prefer dry land? Throw a towel down on the bed. Worried that your partner will not be interested? That is possible, but you never actually know until you ask! So go for it, you never truly know your preferences until you try.