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

BY: ASHLEY THOMPSON, PH.D.

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 sex

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.

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Digital Dating: The Influence of Technology on Romance

 

BY: ASHLEY THOMPSON, PH.D.

In the past few decades, we have been inundated with advancements in technology and tools used for communication. For example, Twitter®, Facebook®, YouTube®, and Snapchat® are just a few of the many computer-mediated tools that have been developed recently to assist our interactions with others. Despite the growth in technology making us more interconnected than ever, many people have started to wonder if this computer-mediated connectivity comes at a cost (particularly for romantic relationships).

To investigate the outcomes associated with the use of technology for communication in romantic relationships, Dr. Andrea Boyle and Dr.  Lucia O’Sullivan conducted a study surveying 359 young adults about their participation in computer-mediated and face-to-face communication with their romantic partner (2016). Their results indicated that the time spent communicating with their partner through computer-mediated tools was less than the time spent communicating face-to-face. This is good news because many studies have supported the benefits of interacting face-to-face in comparison to interactions occurring over computers/smartphones (e.g., voice inflation, physical contact, body language; Attrill & Jalil, 2011; Mallen, Day, & Green, 2003; Ramirez Jr. & Broneck, 2009).

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Despite the greater proportion of time spent communicating face-to-face, the results of Boyle and O’Sullivan’s study (2016) also revealed that computer-mediated communication also had value in romantic relationships. In particular, those who shared a wider range of topics about themselves through digital technologies reported greater intimacy and higher relationship quality as compared to those who disclosed fewer things or negative things.

In sum, although face-to-face communication has many benefits, it appears as though there is also a place for computer-mediated communication in romantic relationships. In particular, if looking to share positive and beneficial messages with a partner, communication via technology seems to be a great avenue. However, when serious conversations need to take place or when hoping to get serious with a partner during times of distress, perhaps face-to-face interactions are ideal.

References

Attrill, A., & Jalil, R. (2011). Revealing only the superficial me: Exploring categorical self-disclosure online. Computers in Human Behavior, 27, 1634-1642.

Boyle, A., & O’Sullivan, L. F. (2016).  Staying connected: Technology use, computer-mediated communication and relationship outcomes among college students. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 19, 299-307.

Mallen, M. J., Day, S. X., & Green, M. A. (2003). Online versus face-to-face conversation: An examination of relational and discourse variables. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 40, 155-163.

Ramirez Jr, A., & Broneck, K. (2009). IM me’: Instant messaging as relational maintenance and everyday communication. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 26, 291-314.

 

Are Men Really From Mars?

BY: ASHLEY THOMPSON, PH.D.

It has been ingrained in us since birth that men look for sex and find love and women look for love and find sex. For example, take every romantic comedy/romance novel ever written, women are often portrayed as the romantic saps whereas men are testosterone-filled and often sexually motivated. Research on attitudes toward sexuality and relationships supports this idea. For example, studies suggest that men report a stronger desire for casual sex, more permissive attitudes toward sexuality, and more sexually-oriented expectations for relationships as compared to women (Clark & Hatfield, 1989; Petersen & Hyde, 2010; Schmitt, Couden, & Baker, 2001).

Despite these well-supported gender differences, most of the research has relied on self-report surveys, which measure explicit attitudes/preferences. These explicit measures are not very reliable because people can easily fake or enhance their responses to make themselves look better. One way to get around some of these concerns is to assess implicit attitudes. Implicit attitudes are attitudes that exist just below awareness. They are the attitudes that people hold that they are not necessarily aware of. Thus, because these attitudes are subconscious, people are unable to fake or distort their responses.

The most common way to capture these implicit attitudes is to use a computer test called the Implicit Association Test (IAT). In a study of mine conducted at the University of New Brunswick (UNB), myself and a colleague did just that. In particular, we were able to use the IAT to assess people implicit attitudes toward sex and romance (Thompson & O’Sullivan, 2012). By showing 182 UNB students, 68 men and 114 women, images of couples engaged in various sexual activities as well as images associated with romance, the IAT revealed that BOTH men and women displayed an implicit preference for romance as compared to sex. This indicates that men AND women preferred images portraying romance over those portraying sex.

Image result for gender differences love

Although these results may come as quite a shock, it is not completely unheard of in academia. In fact, some studies have indicated that men may be just as romantic as women if not MORE. Specifically, the latest findings by psychologist Marissa Harrison (2011), from Pennsylvania State University in the US, determined that men fall in love quicker and take longer to fall out of love when compared to women. In fact, it was found that men were three times more likely to declare their love before women when involved in a heterosexual relationship.

So, as it pertains to BOTH men and women, it appears as though Robert Frost was on to something: “Love is the irresistible desire to be irresistibly desired.”

References:

Clark, R. D., & Hatfield, E. (1989). Gender differences in receptivity to sexual offers. Journal of Psychology & Human Sexuality, 2, 39-55.

Harrison, M. A., & Shortall, J. C. (2011). Women and men in love: who really feels it and says it first?. The Journal of Social Psychology, 151, 727-736.

Petersen, J. L., & Hyde, J. S. (2010). A meta-analytic review of research on gender differences in sexuality, 1993–2007. Psychological Bulletin, 136, 21–38.

Schmitt, D. P., Couden, A., & Baker, M. (2001). The effects of sex and temporal context on feelings of romantic desire: An experimental evaluation of sexual strategies theory. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 27, 833-847.

Thompson, A. E., & O’Sullivan, L. F. (2012). Gender differences in associations of sexual and romantic stimuli: do young men really prefer sex over romance?. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 41, 949-957.

Setting the Record Straight: Four Sex Myths Debunked

BY: ASHLEY THOMPSON, PH.D.

I think we can all agree that sex is on our minds everyday (19 times per day for men and 10 times per day for women; Fisher, Moore, & Pittenger, 2012). However, truth be told, many of the ideas we have about sex that we accept as fact are actually miscommunications or myths.  As a sexuality researcher and instructor, I feel that it is my responsibility to set the record straight regarding many prominent sex myths.

Here are four sex myths debunked using scientific evidence:

First Myth: Men have higher sex drives than women

WRONG! Research suggests that there are NO gender differences in sexual desire. For example, Davies, Katz, &  Jackson (1999) found that men and women reported roughly similar levels of sexual desire. Moreover, several studies have indicated that differences in sexual desire are more related to overall relationship satisfaction than to gender.

Second Myth: Size matters

ABSOLUTELY NOT! Although we have all heard the phrase “bigger is better” more times than we can count, turns out the size of a man’s member is not related to his sexual prowess (Štulhofer, 2006).  In fact, if anything, some studies suggest that girth may be more related to sexual satisfaction than length.

SEX-MYTH-9-The-average-penis-is-eight-inches.

Third Myth: Only men have wet dreams

INCORRECT! Nocturnal Emissions (i.e., wet dreams) are fairly common among both men and women. Although they are more common among men (particularly young men), many women (40%) report having experienced nocturnal emissions, or vaginal wetness (Kinsey, 1948; 1953).

Fourth Myth: Oral sex is safer than intercourse or anal sex

FALSE! Although you can’t get pregnant via oral sex, there is still an exchange of fluids, which are used as a means by which diseases travel. These diseases can enter your body through sores/cuts in your lips, mouth, and throat (Hyde, Delamater, & Byers, 2012). In fact, chlamydia, human papillomavirus (HPV), gonorrhea, herpes, hepatitis and more can be transmitted via oral sex.

TRENDSexuals: I Kissed a Girl and I Liked It

BY: ASHLEY THOMPSON, PH.D.

Humans do not represent two discrete populations, heterosexual and homosexual. “The world is not to be divided into sheep and goats. Not all things are black nor all things white. It is a fundamental of taxonomy that nature rarely deals with discrete categories. Only the human mind invents categories and tries to force facts into separated pigeon-holes. The living world is a continuum in each and every one of its aspects. The sooner we learn this concerning human sexual behaviour, the sooner we shall reach a sound understanding of the realities of sex.”

-Alfred Kinsey

Historically, bisexuality (as well as other terms used to define sexual fluidity; e.g., pansexual) has been viewed as disgraceful, degrading, and unrespectable. People who were sexually attracted to both sexes were thought to be “just experimenting” and would soon fall into one category or another (heterosexual or homosexual). However, bisexuality is more than just “trial and error,” it is the ability to see past the sexual organs of others in order to appreciate and sustain romantic relationships with both men and women.

Despite the history of negative attitudes toward bisexuality, a recent shift has made bisexuality (specifically among women) trendy. What is accountable for this shift you ask? Well, it is becoming more and more commonplace for women (specifically adolescents and young adults) to hook-up with other women to gain the attention of men. Particularly, these young women are not necessarily interested in actually dating another woman, they just use bisexuality to seek male attention.

Although this shift may be a positive indication of the change in people’s attitudes toward bisexuality, particularly the increased acceptance of bisexuality among the younger demographic, bisexual expression remains a tricky topic. Young adults who have actually struggled to overcome the different challenges associated with non-heterosexuality may find it annoying that other women are adopting their label to attract attention.

Additionally, “trendy bisexual women” (also known as “party bi”) may express feelings of open-mindedness because of their attempt to “test out the waters” sexually with other women. Their drunken “exotic experiment” becomes a bragging point to illustrate their spirit and acceptance of others. I do not mean to discourage sexual experimentation, if done for the right reasons. Sexual exploration is commendable, but selfishly motivated exploration is not. Using bisexual experimentation as a means to attract male attention perpetuates the idea that those who do not identify with pure heterosexuality are merely confused.

It is important to note, that these trendy bisexuals only appear among women and the negative attitudes still surround bisexual men. Furthermore, I want to make myself clear when I say exploring your sexuality is healthy, but when done for the right reasons. Trendy bisexuals may spread the wrong message and “true bisexuals” may take offense to those using bisexuality as a means.

Good Things Come in Threes: Young Adults’ Experiences and Interests related to Multi-Person Sexual Behavior

BY: ASHLEY THOMPSON, PH.D.

The topic of group sex is not uncommon among discussions involving university students, yet fairly little is known about young people’s experiences with and interest in group sex. Moreover, with some recent evidence suggesting that today’s youth are more sexually permissive than past generations, particularly with regard to casual sex, it is more important than ever to understand all aspects of young people’s sex lives, including experiences with and interest in group sex.

Consequently, a few students and I decided to develop a study designed to address the dearth of research related to people’s experiences with group sex. As a starting point, we examined heterosexual university students’ experiences with and interest in mixed-gender threesomes (MGTs; sexual activity involving three people where at least one member of each gender is present). In particular, we were interested in assessing young men’s and women’s self-reported interest in and experience with MGTs and the influence of contextual features on their interest in MGT.

threesome-relationship-embed1

Our results suggest that about 12% of university students have experienced a MGT at some point in their lives, with more men reporting experience with MGTs as compared to women. Interestingly, men and women did not differ in their self-reported experience with MGTs involving two men, but they did differ in their experience with MGTs involving two women. It appears as though young men report MORE experience with sexual activity involving two women simultaneously than two men simultaneously, SURPRISE SURPRISE! Now, how can this be? Is it that a handful of women are running around having MGTs with tons of men? Or is it, perhaps, that men have a tendency to over-report their number of sexual partners, whereas women tend to under-report? Although we can’t be sure, previous research into reports of sexual behavior suggest that men have a tendency to over-report their sexual history, whereas women under-report (see related article here).

Despite the relatively low number of young people indicating experience with MGTs, more than half  of participants were interested, to some extent.Again, a larger percentage of men reported interest in MGTs as compared to women. Moreover, participants’ level of interest varied based on several contextual features. In particular, MGTs involving a romantic partner were rated as more desirable than those in which the participant would be the third person. Furthermore, MGTs involving a friend were more desirable than those involving a casual acquaintance or a stranger.

In sum, these data illustrate that interest in MGTs, but not experience, appears to be widespread among young adults. This suggests that young people may not consider MGTs to be an unconventional and/or stigmatized sexual behavior. Moreover, interest in MGTs appears to be influenced by contextual features (i.e., presence of romantic partner and relationship with third person) and that perhaps people may be more inclined to participate given the ideal circumstances.

Fuzzy, Foggy, Frottage: The Intent of the Grind

By: Carolyn Schmidt

It’s Friday night. Loads of co-eds head to the clubs – imbibing, socializing, flirting, grinding, with those they know and often times with complete strangers; everyone gathered for the sake of celebrating the weekend.

Grinding.

Who knew? That song you love, with the infectious beat (the one you can’t sit still for, no matter how many times you hear it) would soon evoke an “icky” feeling. You see, it was during this song that you experienced an incident with which another clubber erotically rubbed their genitalia against your back and behind. Creating an uncomfortable scenario for you, but a pleasurable one for them.

grinding

The scenario depicted above could likely be labelled as Frotteurism by many sexuality experts. Frotteurism is defined as the act of touching or rubbing one’s genitals against the body of a non-consenting, unfamiliar person for the sole benefit of arousal (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). Although frotteurs can be both men or women, research indicates that most frotteurs identify as men (Clark, Jeglic, Calkins, & Tatar, 2016).

Frotteurism, also called frottage, is one of the least understood and studied types of paraphilia (Clark et al., 2016). However, some go so far as to suggest this unwanted rubbing is the unassertive and timid “act” of choice by rapists (Horley, 2001). What little research we do have suggests perpetrators of frotteurism assault others in situations that catch the victim off guard, and leave the offender with a clear cut opportunity for quick escape (such as on public transportation modes, in malls and elevators, and on dance floors). The victims are left feeling stunned, ashamed, and unable to say anything to anyone but friends. In fact, they frequently ask themselves “what did I just go through?”

Frotteurism is not a Friday night dance floor maneuver, but rather, a form of sexual assault and punishable by law (Horley, 2001). Frotteurism is rarely reported, leaving the unsuspecting, non-consenting victim to figure out “what do I do next?” It’s impact can leave victims with loads of distress including nightmares, feelings of violation, and even psychological issues requiring medical help (Clark, et al., 2016).

Unless victims speak up about this unacceptable behavior and have their assaulters arrested, then the perpetrators next move is pretty clear: leave the club and get a late night pizza. After all, the perpetrator already finished everything else he/she intended for that evening, right there on your hip.

Image result for pizza clip art

References:

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM-5®). Washington, American Psychological Association.

Clark, S. K., Jeglic, E. L., Calkins, C., & Tatar, J. R. (2016). More than a nuisance: the prevalence and consequences of frotteurism and exhibitionism. Sexual Abuse, 28, 3-19.

Horley, J. (2001). Frotteurism: A term in search of an underlying disorder?. Journal of Sexual Aggression, 7, 51-55.

Beyond Vanilla: Benefits and Drawbacks of BDSM

By: Loren West 

If you have ever listened to Rihanna’s song S&M and thought to yourself “You know what Rhi Rhi? Chains and whips excite me too!,” then BDSM might just be the paraphilia you need to spice up your love life! Here is a little bit of information about BDSM and the benefits and drawbacks members of the BDSM community have identified.

BDSM

However, before diving into the benefits and drawbacks, it is important to first have an understanding of what BDSM is. BDSM stands for bondage-discipline (e.g., the act of using restraints), dominance-submission (e.g., the giving and taking of control), and sadomasochism (e.g., the giving or receiving of physical or psychological pain, which includes more mild forms like light whipping, flogging, or gagging to more extreme forms like electric shock) (Hébert & Weaver, 2015). Despite the methods used, it is important to note that those involved work hard to ensure that all activities are “safe, sane, and consensual”, the mantra of the BDSM community. (Lehmiller, 2014, p. 336-337).

Now that we know a little more about BDSM and and to help with your decision to try it for yourself, it may be useful to know the benefits and problems associated with BDSM. Lucky for us, Hébert and Weaver (2015) conducted a study on this topic by interviewing 21 adults who identified as members of the BDSM community (nine of which identified as dominant and 12 as submissive). Below is a summary of their results:

Benefits

The first benefit identified for both dominants and submissives is the opportunity to please their partner. Participants in the study reported that for both partners, pleasure and arousal was valued and important in their relationship. Benefit number two was that BDSM is fun! Participants stated that participating in sexual activity that was not “vanilla” was exciting and that there are so many ways that one can get involved. This exciting new activity promoted personal growth through the act of experimenting and receiving encouragement  from their partner and resulted in increased intimacy and commitment in their relationship. Finally, participants also said that they enjoyed gaining a new sense of confidence through their BDSM play (Hébert & Weaver, 2015).

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Drawbacks

Despite the plethora of advantages to engaging in BDSM, several challenges were also exposed. First, the stigma that goes with being a member of the BDSM community was seen as a major drawback.  Many members of the community report hiding their involvement in BDSM for fear of humiliation or retaliation. Furthermore, many reported that BDSM also took a toll on their relationships because it proved difficult to find someone with the same tastes. Finally, some submissives reported that it was hard to be vulnerable and give up their control to the dominant. (Hébert & Weaver, 2015).

Now that you have a basic understanding of BDSM and the potential positives and negatives associated with this type of play, you can introduce some new toys to your routine or create your own playroom that would make Christian Grey jealous! But remember, keep it safe, sane, and consensual!

For more information on BDSM see:

Hébert, A., & Weaver, A. (2015). Perks, problems, and the people who play: A qualitative exploration of dominant and submissive BDSM roles. Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, 24, 49-62.

Lehmiller, Justin J. (2014). The psychology of human sexuality. UK: John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

Talk About A Runner’s High!

By: Ashley Thompson, PhD 

Although I am fairly certain that many of you are familiar with the phenomenon known as “Runner’s High” (i.e., strenuous exercise resulting in an extreme rush of endorphins), I would bet that “Exercised-Induced Orgasms” (EIOs) are unchartered territory. Well, if I am correct, today is your lucky day because you are about to receive a crash course in EIOs.

EIOs are defined as “the experience of an orgasm that occurs during physical exercise” and, until recently, were thought to be old wives tales or figments of people’s imaginations. However, within the last few years, two prominent researchers at the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Indiana University (Dr. Debbie Herbenick & Dr. Dennis Fortenberry) began to look into people’s experiences with sexual arousal and orgasm resulting from physical exercise.

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After some extensive data collection here is what they found:

(1) Although women are more likely than men to experience EIOs, men also report experiencing arousal and orgasms while engaging in physical exercise. However, to date, the only published data has focused exclusively on women.

(2) Many activities can bring on experiences of EIOs including: climbing poles or ropes, weight lifting, running, stretching, yoga, aerobics, swimming, chin-ups, pull-ups, dance, etc. However, EIOs are most commonly a result of abdominal exercises (i.e., a coregasm).

(3) It appears as though EIOs are fairly uncommon and fairly infrequent. Although some data has been collected, researchers do not have exact estimate of how common EIOs are. However, in a sample of 5300 women who reported experiencing an EIO at some point in their lives, a sizable proportion (23%) indicated that they experienced EIOs on a regular basis.

Despite the advances in research assessing EIO, more work is needed. I should also mention that not all women indicated that EIOs were pleasant experiences. In fact, many women reported feeling embarrassed after experiencing an EIO. So, to all the women out there, do not hit the gym today with the goal of climaxing, it most likely will not happen. Furthermore, even if it did happen, you might not enjoy the experience. Think of it this way: some women are able to achieve orgasm through oral sex, others achieve orgasm through self-stimulation, and some do not achieve orgasm at all. This is likely the case for EIOs as well, all women are different and experience pleasure in different ways.

For more information check out Dr. Herbenick’s and Dr. Fortenberry’s study:

Herbenick, D., & Fortenberry, J. D. (2011). Exercise-induced orgasm and pleasure among women. Sexual and Relationship Therapy, 26, 373-388.

iSex: The Use of Smartphones in the Bedroom

By: Ashley Thompson, PhD 

According to a study conducted in the summer of 2013 (surveying over 1,000 American adults), approximately 1 in 10 report having used their smartphones during sexual activity (Rodriguez, 2013). In addition, it should come as no surprise, that a larger proportion (1:5) of young adults  (18-34 years of age) report using their smartphone during sex. Although the stats may sound a bit frightening, it should not come as a huge shock considering the importance placed on smartphones (particularly by young adults) in the past decade or so. Smartphones have now been integrated into nearly every aspect of person’s life, in fact, people often report feeling “naked” without their smartphones in hand. So, why would we expect the use of smartphones in the bedroom to be any different?

Recently, it appears as though people have started taking notice of the popularity of cell phone use when in the sack, and are now creating apps to be used during sexual activity. In particular, a new app called Spreadsheets is designed to measure your sexual performance by monitoring your movements and your audio levels when “doing the deed.” According to the app’s website, it allows users to keep record of their average, peak, and aggregate performance. For example, it provides statistics on the average and longest duration of a single session, the number of days in a row, the highest decibel reached, the average and largest number of thrusts per minute, and more.

Although incredibly innovative, Spreadsheets is not the first erotic app created. In fact, there are apps such as “Sex Game” that allows users test their knowledge of everything erotic and “Vanity” that scans a user’s face to reveal just how attractive they are on a 1 to 10 scale.

With the rate technology is advancing and the rapid uptake of the population, there is no question that there is more to come. However, the question is, what will it be?


Rodriquez, S. (2013). Most adults always have smartphone close by, 1 in 10 use it during sex. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from: http://www.latimes.com/business/technology/la-fi-tn-smartphone-nearby-1-in-10-use-during-sex-20130711-story.html#axzz2nMzjzuKZ”>study