relationships

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Sexting Among Adults May Be More Common Than You Think, Survey Suggests

A middle-aged woman I know recently confessed that she’s been doing quite a bit of provocative, R-rated texting with a man she’s involved with.

When I referred to it as “sexting” she was shocked. “It’s not like we’re sending naked pictures back and forth,” she said. “Just a little suggestive ‘What are you wearing?’ kind of thing. It’s fun.”

Welcome to the new world of sexting.

It turns out grownups in committed relationships are, increasingly, doing it for pleasure and “fun,” as one survey found. Also, according to researchers, the whole concept of “sexting” has evolved, or at least is evolving: from a risky, sordid and sometimes-dangerous activity among teens, to, as one therapist (more below) says, a way to add some sexual “simmering” to a relationship that may need spicing up. Even the AARP acknowledges the trend: “…the reality is that more and more of the 50-plus set, both single and married, routinely use text messaging to send tantalizing pictures and provocative words to their partner…”

Reframing Sexting

Indeed, sexting may be more popular among adults than you think.

A new survey on sexting found that 88 percent of respondents, ages 18-82, said they’d done it, and 82 percent said they’d done it in the past year (including the 82-year-old). Also, nearly 75 percent said they sexted in the context of a committed relationship, while 43 percent said they sexted as part of a casual relationship. (On the darker side, 12 percent reported sexting someone “in a cheating relationship.”) The findings were presented at the American Psychological Association annual convention in Toronto earlier this month in a paper called: “Reframing Sexting as a Positive Relationship Behavior.”

(Photo illustration by Mike Licht/Flickr, taking inspiration from the artist Edward Armitage)

(Photo illustration by Mike Licht/Flickr, taking inspiration from the artist Edward Armitage)

The survey of 870 heterosexual individuals in the U.S. also found that in general, more sexting was associated with a higher level of sexual satisfaction. More than half of the responses came from women; the average age of participants was 35, according to the study authors.

On one level, it’s not surprising that sexting is becoming more mainstream.

“If we look at how technology has been integrated into our society — it’s so much part of our daily lives — it makes sense that it would become part of our dating and sexual lives as well,” said Emily Stasko, MPH, a doctoral candidate in psychology at Drexel University in Philadelphia and the survey’s co-author, along with Pamela Geller, PhD, associate professor of psychology, ob/gyn and public health at Drexel.

Attitudes about sexting seem to be changing too. The survey found that people who sexted more rated it as more “carefree and fun” and had higher beliefs that sexting was expected in their relationships.

(Sexting, for the purposes of the survey, was defined broadly as sending or receiving sexually suggestive or explicit content via text message, mainly using a mobile device, Stasko said.)

Of course, this doesn’t mean that every grownup out there is under the covers with their phone at night shooting off racy texts. These survey findings are preliminary, and come with big caveats, Stasko says. The findings may not be representative: Participants were recruited online and responded to a posting asking them to take a survey about sexting, so the sample could be skewed toward more seasoned sexters.

Don’t Forget Pleasure

The main goal of the study was to look at sexting through a new filter, Stasko said. The practice has historically been viewed as a risky activity among teens, associated with other sexual risk-taking (like having unprotected sex) and negative health outcomes, like sexually transmitted infections. She said she and her colleagues wanted to reevaluate sexting in a new light — as a potential positive force in a relationship and a way to potentially enhance open sexual communication. “There seems to be a missing discourse about pleasure,” Stasko said. “We wanted to talk not just about risk, but also introduce the idea that pleasure is a part of it.”

The takeaway, she said, is that when sexting is wanted by both parties, is can be a good thing. “The findings show a robust relationship between sexting and sexual and relationship satisfaction,” the study concludes.

Sexual ‘Simmering’

Aline P. Zoldbrod, Ph.D., a certified sex therapist in Lexington, Massachusetts, agrees that sexting can play an important role in adult relationships.

I asked her for her thoughts on the survey, and here’s what she wrote:

Sexting is not just for hookups, as a follow up to an interlude on sex chat roulette or for trolling on Craigslist. Sexting actually has some amazing benefits for people in ongoing relationships.  Continue reading

Your Love Is My Drug: The Science Of A Broken Heart

By Nicole Tay
CommonHealth Intern

Valentine’s Day is around the corner, and we know what that means. Cheesy cards and too many heart-shaped candies, yes, but also, possibly: a break-up.

According to an analysis of Facebook statuses, the weeks following Valentine’s Day mark one of the most common periods during the year to end a relationship. A break-up at any time is miserable, but perhaps a scan of the latest brain science might ease some of the agony. Maybe.

(Nicholas Raymond/Flickr)

(Nicholas Raymond/Flickr)

NPR recently dove into this topic and took a look at some psychological therapies for a broken heart. But what about chemical, neurobiological and other treatments? Could a brain implant for a broken heart be in your future?

First, a quick look at the chemicals driving our desire to please, the yearning for our lovers and our addiction to love. Many of us are familiar with the euphoria associated with the feeling of being in love, and its counterpart, the crushing grief that can accompany a break-up.

When a romantic relationship ends, our brains work tirelessly to rewire our associations with our ex-lovers.

Similar to cases of drug addiction, falling out of love can entail a physically and emotionally painful withdrawal period. In fact, addiction to another person appears to parallel drug addiction anatomically and functionally. In a 2012 review of social attachment, love and addiction, researchers identified numerous areas of neurological overlap between love and other drugs.

Not only do we utilize some of the same neurotransmitters and regions of our brain to maintain these addictions, the researchers found, but we also exhibit the same “reward-seeking” behavior when we do not get our fix. The difference (or at least one difference) is that love is a socially acceptable form of drug addiction. Continue reading

Marriage Revisited: On Soulmates, Paramours And Avoiding Suffocation

Marriage, and how to improve it, is a bottomless pit kind of discussion.

So it’s not terribly surprising that CommonHealth’s recent post on a new, “all or nothing” model of marriage, in which researchers questioned whether we’re asking too much of our spouses, went viral.

Like sex, child-rearing and religion — everyone’s got an opinion to share.

(Wikimedia Commons)

(Wikimedia Commons)

Some commenters say they’ve had to readjust their expectations of finding the fantasy soulmate:

Deborah Rebisz wrote: “After a series of broken engagements, I went on an eight-year dating hiatus. My goal was to learn to rely upon myself for my own happiness…Expecting someone else to fill that spiritual, psychological, or emotional gap in my life was unrealistic, not to mention there was little chance of finding someone who could do all that.” Continue reading

Gasping Through Marriage: Are We Asking Too Much?

(Katsunojiri/flickr)

(Katsunojiri/flickr)

Marriage — as anyone who has watched “House of Cards,” or actually experienced the giddy highs and devastating lows of a real, ’til-death-part-us union, knows — is complicated.

And, with the divorce rate hovering around 50 percent, it’s reasonable to once again ask the question: What’s the secret to a successful marriage? Or, put another way, how can couples get enough relationship “oxygen” while climbing the mountain of marriage to avoid suffocating?

In a recent study, psychologists from Northwestern University present a new model of marriage in the U.S. that’s all about avoiding suffocation. (The full title of the paper is: “The Suffocation of Marriage: Climbing Mount Maslow Without Enough Oxygen.”) In the report, researchers say that Americans today are increasingly — and perhaps unrealistically — asking their marriages to fulfill higher-level psychological needs, such as those related to personal growth and self-realization. So, it’s not so much that we’re asking too much of our spouses, we may just be asking for the wrong things.

Speaking at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting earlier this month, the study’s lead author, Eli Finkel, a Northwestern psychologist whose research areas include “initial romantic attraction” and “conflict-resolution in established relationships,” said that married couples who support each others’ deep psychic, self-growth needs are pretty darn lucky.

“The level of satisfaction from having a spouse help you achieve your understanding of your core essence or your ability to come closer to the person you ideally want to be — that’s an immensely satisfying experience,” he said.

But, sadly, for many couples, such satisfaction is elusive. “Although some spouses are investing sufficient resources — and reaping the marital and psychological benefits of doing so — most are not,” the researchers report.

It wasn’t always this way. Marital expectations have evolved over time from subsistence needs — food, shelter, safety, sex and procreation — to higher-level psychological needs. But couples today often lack the time and energy needed to meet these expanding needs, which is contributing to a declining level of marital quality and well being, said the authors.

“Higher expectations can lead to greater disappointments, Continue reading

Why ‘Perfect’ Valentine’s Sex Tends Not To Be, And A Low-Key Alternative

(Dan Moyle/Flickr Creative Commons)

(Dan Moyle/Flickr Creative Commons)

By Dr. Aline Zoldbrod
Guest contributor

It’s almost Valentine’s Day — and all the messages out there say that if you’re in a relationship, it’s time for the perfect sexual experience.

But as a sex and couples therapist, I’m going to suggest an alternative: a somewhat obscure model of sexuality and sexual pleasure that I think can provide a blueprint for a really wonderful (but maybe not perfect) sensual/sexual connection with each other on Valentine’s Day.

Added bonus: these suggestions can form the scaffolding for a loving, freeing, warm sensual/sexual bond way beyond Feb. 14 — even if you’re one of those long-married couples who have kids, logistics and technology standing in your way.

First, a bit of academic theory as background:

You may be familiar with the Masters and Johnson sexual response cycle: Human sexual response is made up of the excitement phase, then the plateau phase, followed by the orgasmic phase, and finally the resolution phase.

Not to diss Masters and Johnson’s work, because it was groundbreaking, but I’m just saying… this model has caused a lot of performance anxiety in and of itself.

Dr. Aline Zoldbrod (Courtesy)

Dr. Aline Zoldbrod (Courtesy)

My brilliant colleague, Dr. Leonore Tiefer, has criticized the Masters and Johnson model of sex because it’s so linear, so physiological, and so focused on intercourse.

My personal mantra for good sex is “connection, not perfection.” The Masters and Johnson’s model sets up an expectation that everything has to be “perfect” for sex to be good. Perfect erections in men, perfect arousal in women (stemming from who knows what? Just springing out of the air and the joy of folding laundry?), and perfect orgasms all around.

For many of us, that’s like the pressure of trying to find a perfect gift for someone we love: just fraught with trepidation.

In 1998, psychiatrist David Reed proposed a different model, one that is much more psychologically and relationally oriented. He calls it the Erotic Stimulus Pathway Theory. I’m going to adapt it here a bit in hopes that this experiment could help you have a better Valentine’s Day.

1. Seduction Continue reading

Science Study: On Marriage, Listen To That Little Voice In Your Head

(Wikimedia Commons)

(Wikimedia Commons)

If you’re thinking about getting married, you might want to listen to that little voice in the back of your head.

A new study in the journal Science of more than 100 newlyweds found that a couple’s “gut” feelings about each other — feelings they couldn’t or wouldn’t verbalize — were good predictors of how happy their marriage would be four years later — better predictors than their conscious feelings. The title: “Though They May Be Unaware, Newlyweds Implicitly Know Whether Their Marriage Will Be Satisfying.”

Of course, we all have gut feelings about our partners — and they tend to be positive or we wouldn’t be partners. But this study looked at something very specific: attitudes that are at such a deep level that we may not be aware of them, but they turn up on a kind of test that experimental psychologists have been using for years, that measures reaction times down to the millisecond.

Here’s how the study worked: Say you’re a newlywed. You sit at a keyboard with your fingers on two special keys, one labeled “good” and one labeled “bad.” And you’re told that when you see a good word — say, “awesome” — you should press the good key, and when you see a bad word — say, “awful” — press the bad key.

‘Because we want so much for it to work out, we will deny those little signals.’

After a few minutes of that, you start seeing photos of your new spouse very briefly, for just 300 milliseconds, before you see the good or bad word. The idea is that the photo of your spouse is activating your automatic attitude, and if your attitude is super-positive, then you’ll be able to press the “good” key when you see the word “awesome” even faster — but you’ll respond to the bad word, “awful,” more slowly. The study found that differences of much less than a second in those reaction times were good predictors of marital satisfaction four years later.

Of course, most newlyweds are pretty crazy about each other, consciously and unconsciously. But the question is whether their love can persist once they start facing the many challenges that real-life relationships throw at them.

The lead researcher on this study, Jim McNulty, a psychology professor at Florida State University, has a theory that these deep unconscious attitudes, if they’re highly positive, can keep couples from getting as bogged down in the negative changes that inevitably come.

And he says he now he wants to work on bolstering these deep positive emotions in order to help relationships. Continue reading

Why To Sleep Tonight: So You Don’t Strangle Your Spouse

I can personally vouch for this research finding: lack of sleep can turn a little spat with your spouse into a major emotional war.

According to a new study that asks the question, “Do Sleepless Nights Mean Worse Fights?” by researchers at U.C. Berkeley, couples who get a bad night’s sleep tend to fight more about their relationship. Psychologists Amie Gordon and Serena Chen conclude that without sleep, couples have a harder time managing conflict. The study was published online in the journal, Social Psychological and Personality Science.

Janesdead/flickr

Janesdead/flickr

I can remember falling to the ground into a weepy ball during one exhaustion-fueled fight with my husband when our daughter was an infant. Indeed, everything seems much more bleak, and your partner seems far less sympathetic, at 3:30 am. Conflict-resolution skills go out the window.

Even without young children, I know loving couples who sleep apart as a way to keep their marriages in tact.

Here’s more on the Berkeley study from the news release:

Researchers collected data on the sleep habits of more than 100 couples who had been together, on average, for nearly two years. They gauged participants for depression, anxiety and other stressors in order to focus solely on the link between the couples’ sleep quality and relationship conflicts.

In one experiment, 78 young adults in romantic relationships provided daily reports over a two-week period about their sleep quality and relationship stresses. Overall, participants reported more discord with their partners on the days following a bad night’s sleep. Continue reading

Happy ‘Friendship Day’ — And Maybe That’s a Good Thing


Happy Valentine’s Day from CommonHealth! Or rather, Happy Friendship Day!

That’s what another mother wished me as I was returning from dropping my son off at school today — and I must say, it warmed my heart. Our school is making a very pointed effort this year to emphasize that Valentine’s Day is about all sorts of warm and friendly feelings, not just romantic love.

That always would have made sense in an elementary school population, of course, but I was hearing some loud beeps from my trend radar. After all, just about everybody has friends, but the latest population data find that more and more, we are a nation of singles, living alone. Might American demographics be pushing Valentine’s Day away from romance? Can census data triumph over Hallmark?

I turned to Dr. Irene Levine, a professor of psychiatry at the NYU School of Medicine, “friendship doctor” for The Huffington Post and Psychology Today, and host of TheFriendshipBlog.com. (Catch her excellent recent Radio Boston segment on friend break-ups here.) She emailed:

Here are a few thoughts:

1) Historically
It isn’t new. The first handmade Valentine’s Day cards in the 1800s weren’t intended only for lovers. They also celebrated affection between friends and relatives.

2) Culturally
Other countries have traditionally viewed it as a day of friendship. On February 14th, people in Finland celebrate Ystävänpäivä, which is translated as Friend’s Day. In Mexico, it is called the Día del amor y la amistad, the day of love and friendship. Continue reading

Goodbye Yente: Online Dating Trumps Traditional Matchmaking, Study Finds

From Fiddler On The Roof to Downton Abbey, matchmaking — both formal and behind-the scenes — has been a dominant force in nudging couples toward marriage.

Well according to a new analysis, Yente is dead, vanquished by the likes of JDate.com and its ilk. The new study found that other than meeting through friends, online dating — once stigmatized and sort of embarrassing — has trumped all other traditional forms of meeting your soulmate.

From the University of Rochester news release:

Online dating has become the second-most-common way for couples to meet, behind only meeting through friends. According to research by Michael Rosenfeld from Stanford University and Reuben Thomas from City College of New York, in the early 1990s, less than 1 percent of the population met partners through printed personal advertisements or other commercial intermediaries. By 2005, among single adults Americans who were Internet users and currently seeking a romantic partner, 37 percent had dated online. Continue reading

Why Safe Sex Is Easier Said Than Done

I scrolled through my contacts, found his name, took a deep breath, and pressed call. Pacing on the sidewalk, my palms getting sweatier by the minute, I rehearsed what I wanted to say, but it was useless by this point because he was going to pick up any sec—

“Hi.”

I struggled through mundane small talk, but finally broke out with the real reason for my call: to talk about sex, or more specifically, sexual history.

Sure, it’d been a few months since we’d slept together, but, at the time, neither of us had initiated that conversation — you know, the one about past partners, risky behavior, condom use, and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). It’s the conversation we all should be having but rarely do. Not only did we not talk about these things, but we didn’t use protection either. I know, I know.

I figured it was time I owned up to my mistake. Continue reading