Passion Play

Kevin Lewis

December 17, 2011

The Misperception of Sexual Interest

Carin Perilloux, Judith Easton & David Buss
Psychological Science, forthcoming

The current study (N = 199) utilized a "speed-meeting" methodology to study sexual misperception. This method allowed us to evaluate the magnitude of men's sexual over-perception bias, whether and how women misperceive sexual interest, and individual differences in susceptibility to misperception. We found strong support for the novel prediction that women underestimate the sexual interest of male interaction partners. Men inclined to pursue a short-term mating strategy and men who rated themselves as attractive were especially likely to over-perceive women's sexual interest. As targets of misperception, women's physical attractiveness predicted the magnitude of men's sexual over-perception bias. We discuss implications of gender differences and individual differences within sex in susceptibility to sexual misperception.


Love alters autonomic reactivity to emotions

Inna Schneiderman et al.
Emotion, December 2011, Pages 1314-1321

Periods of bond formation are accompanied by physiological and emotional changes, yet, little is known about the effects of falling in love on the individual's physiological response to emotions. We examined autonomic reactivity to the presentation of negative and positive films in 112 young adults, including 57 singles and 55 new lovers who began a romantic relationship 2.5 months prior to the experiment Autonomic reactivity was measured by Respiratory Sinus Arrhythmia (RSA) to two baseline emotionally neutral films, two negative films, and two positive films. Results demonstrated that RSA in singles decreased during the presentation of negative emotions, indicating physiological stress response. However, no such decrease was found among new lovers, pointing to more optimal vagal regulation during the period of falling in love. Autonomic reactivity, indexed by RSA decrease from the positive to the negative films, was greater among singles as compared to lovers, suggesting that love buffers against autonomic stress and facilitates emotion regulation. Findings suggest that vagal regulation may be one mechanism through which love and attachment reduce stress and promote well-being and health.


Do Women Pretend Orgasm to Retain a Mate?

Farnaz Kaighobadi, Todd Shackelford & Viviana Weekes-Shackelford
Archives of Sexual Behavior, forthcoming

The current study tested the hypothesis that women pretend orgasm as part of a broader strategy of mate retention. We obtained self-report data from 453 heterosexual women (M age, 21.8 years) in a long-term relationship (M length, 32.8 months) drawn from universities and surrounding communities in the southeastern United States. The results indicated that (1) women who perceived higher risk of partner infidelity were more likely to report pretending orgasm, (2) women who reported greater likelihood of pretending orgasm also reported performing more mate retention behaviors, and (3) women's perceptions of partner infidelity risk mediated the relationship between pretending orgasm and the performance of cost-inflicting mate retention behaviors, such as Intersexual Negative Inducements ("Flirted with someone in front of my partner") and Intrasexual Negative Inducements ("Yelled at a woman who looked at my partner"). Thus, pretending orgasm may be part of a broader strategy of mate retention performed by women who perceive higher risk of partner infidelity.


The influence of facial masculinity and voice pitch on jealousy and perceptions of intrasexual rivalry

Jillian O'Connor & David Feinberg
Personality and Individual Differences, February 2012, Pages 369-373

The assessment of same-sex individuals as intrasexual competitors may depend in part on the perceived mate value of potential rivals. Men's and women's preferences for vocal and facial masculinity suggest that feminine women and masculine men may be perceived as more threatening intrasexual competitors. We tested the influence of men's and women's vocal and facial masculinity on preferences for who should accompany romantic partners on a weekend trip and on jealousy in response to imagined flirting. We found that men and women preferred their partners to be accompanied by people who had less masculine/feminine voices, and were more jealous in response to people who had relatively more masculine/feminine voices. Women, but not men, rated faces with exaggerated sex-typical characteristics as undesirable travel companions for their romantic partners and reported more jealousy in response to imagined flirting from such faces. We also found that participants who rated masculine male and feminine female stimuli as more attractive also perceived such stimuli as greater intrasexual threats, demonstrating individual differences in competition-related social perceptions. Our findings indicate that perceptions related to intrasexual competition are related to cues to underlying mate quality, which may aid in effective mate guarding.


Willingness to Have Unprotected Sex

Diana Greene Foster et al.
Journal of Sex Research, Winter 2012, Pages 61-68

Little is known about people's willingness to engage in sex without protection from unwanted pregnancy. This study surveyed 1,497 women and men at 75 clinics and physician offices across California after their reproductive health care visits in late 2007 and early 2008. When asked if they would have sex without contraception, 30% said definitively that yes, they would have unprotected sex, and 20% indicated they would "sometimes" or "maybe" engage in unprotected sex. In multivariate models, compared to non-Latino White respondents, Latinos who responded to the survey in English were 52% more likely and African Americans were 75% more likely to report willingness to have unprotected intercourse. Wanting a child within the next three years was associated with increased willingness to have unprotected sex. Age, gender, parity, and relationship status were not significant in multivariate models. A considerable proportion of women and men may be willing to have unprotected sex, even with access to subsidized contraceptive services and even when recently counseled about birth control. The dominant behavioral models of contraceptive use need to acknowledge the widespread likelihood of occasional unprotected sex, even among people motivated to usually use contraceptives. Findings underscore the need to make contraceptive methods accessible, easy to use, and even pleasurable.


Scent Recognition of Infected Status in Humans

Mikhail Moshkin et al.
Journal of Sexual Medicine, forthcoming

Introduction: There is a body of experimental evidence that mice and rats use chemical signals to avoid sexual contact with infected conspecifics. In contrast to animals, body scent of sick humans is employed only in medical diagnostics. A modification of human body odor, due to an infection, has not been studied as a potential signal for choice of a sexual partner. It might, however, be especially important for sexually transmitted infections (STI) because many such infections have no obvious external manifestations.

Aim: In this study, we have investigated odor pleasantness of young men infected with gonorrhea, Neisseria gonorrhoeae.

Methods: We collected armpit sweat and saliva from young men (17-25 years old) belonging to three groups: healthy persons (N = 16), young men infected with gonorrhea, Neisseria gonorrhoeae (N = 13), and persons recovered due to specific therapy (N = 5). The sweat samples odor was then assessed by healthy young women (17-20 years old). Concentrations of cortisol, testosterone, immunoglobulin A (IgA), and immunoglobulin G (IgG) were measured in saliva by means of enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay.

Main Outcome Measures: Subjective rates of odor pleasantness, association of scent of armpit sweat with odor descriptors, stepwise regression of odor pleasantness and salivary cortisol, testosterone, IgA, and IgG.

Results: The odor from infected individuals was reported as less pleasant in comparison with the odor of healthy and recovered young men. The scent of infected men was more frequently associated by raters with the descriptor "putrid." Odor pleasantness of the male sweat correlated negatively with concentration of the nonspecific salivary IgA and IgG, which was measured as an indicator of current immunoenhancement.

Conclusion: Perhaps, the immune-dependent reduction of the scent pleasantness in the acute phase of STI is part of an evolutionary mechanism ensuring, unconsciously, avoidance of a risky romantic partner.


Looking Back: The Experience of First Sexual Intercourse and Current Sexual Adjustment in Young Heterosexual Adults

Elke Reissing, Heather Andruff & Jocelyn Wentland
Journal of Sex Research, Winter 2012, Pages 27-35

A young person's first consensual sexual intercourse experience is often a remarkable and memorable experience. However, little systematic information exists regarding contextual factors of first intercourse, the affective salience of the experience, possible effects on sexual attitudes and beliefs, and subsequent sexual development and adjustment. This retrospective study aimed to examine these in a sample of 475 young adults. Overall, young men and women experienced intercourse for the first time around age 17, were in a committed relationship, and reported positive affective responses. Affective reactions to the first sexual intercourse experience, sexual self-efficacy, sexual aversion, and age at first intercourse affected individuals' current sexual adjustment; however, only sexual self-efficacy mediated between first intercourse and current sexual adjustment in young men and women. Older age at first intercourse was associated with less sexual self-efficacy and lower current sexual adjustment for women. This study provides initial data to suggest that the first sexual intercourse experience significantly impacts current sexual adjustment by affecting beliefs about sexual self-efficacy.


Mere visual experience impacts preference for body shape: Evidence from male competitive swimmers

Krzysztof Kościński
Evolution and Human Behavior, forthcoming

Theoretical and empirical studies suggest that phenotypic averageness is a sign of an individual's high biological quality. The averageness should therefore be preferred in mates. A condition for such preference is the knowledge of average phenotype in the population. It is envisaged that an individual develops a neural template of typical phenotype on the basis of perceptual experience with images of conspecifics, and the template is then used in attractiveness assessments of potential partners. Regrettably, studies supporting this view are lacking. In the present study, adult male competitive swimmers and men who did not partake in swimming assessed the attractiveness of female silhouettes with proportions typical for swimmers or non-swimmers. Because swimmers see other swimmers relatively frequently, we hypothesize that they prefer swimmer-like female silhouettes more strongly than non-swimmers do. The analysis supports this hypothesis, suggesting that mere visual experience shapes a neural template of a silhouette, which subsequently serves as a reference for attractiveness evaluations.


Sex on the Brain?: An Examination of Frequency of Sexual Cognitions as a Function of Gender, Erotophilia, and Social Desirability

Terri Fisher, Zachary Moore & Mary-Jo Pittenger
Journal of Sex Research, Winter 2012, Pages 69-77

It is commonly believed that men think about sex much more often than do women, but the empirical evidence in this area is fairly weak. By means of a golf tally counter, 283 college students kept track of their thoughts pertaining to food, sleep, or sex for one week. Males reported significantly more need-based cognitions overall, but there was no significant interaction between sex of participant and type of cognition recorded. Therefore, although these young men did think more about sex than did young women, they also thought more about food and sleep. In contrast, a retrospective estimated frequency of need-based cognitions obtained at the start of the study revealed a sex difference in sexual cognitions, but not thoughts about eating or sleeping. Erotophilia and sexual desirability responding were significant predictors of frequency of sexual cognitions for women, but not for men. Overall, erotophilia was a better predictor of sexual cognition than was sex of participant. Taken as a whole, the results suggest that, although there may be a sex difference in sexual cognitions, it is smaller than is generally thought, and the reporting is likely influenced by sex role expectations.


Dating deception: Gender, online dating, and exaggerated self-presentation

Rosanna Guadagno, Bradley Okdie & Sara Kruse
Computers in Human Behavior, forthcoming

This study examined how differences in expectations about meeting impacted the degree of deceptive self-presentation individuals displayed within the context of dating. Participants filled out personality measures in one of four anticipated meeting conditions: face-to-face, email, no meeting, and a control condition with no pretense of dating. Results indicated that, compared to baseline measures, male participants increased the amount they self-presented when anticipating a future interaction with a prospective date. Specifically, male participants emphasized their positive characteristics more if the potential date was less salient (e.g., email meeting) compared to a more salient condition (e.g., face-to-face meeting) or the control conditions. Implications for self-presentation theory, online social interaction, and online dating research will be discussed.


Pathways to Early Coital Debut for Adolescent Girls: A Recursive Partitioning Analysis

Matthew Pearson et al.
Journal of Sex Research, Winter 2012, Pages 13-26

This study examined pathways to early coital debut among early to middle adolescent girls in the United States. In a two-year longitudinal study of 104 adolescent girls, recursive partitioning (RP) analyses were conducted to examine the specific factors that were related to engaging in first intercourse by the 10th grade among adolescent girls who had not yet engaged in sexual intercourse by the 8th grade. RP analyses identified subsamples of girls who had low, medium, and high likelihoods of engaging in early coital debut based on six variables (i.e., school aspirations, early physical intimacy experiences, depression, body objectification, body image, and relationship inauthenticity). For example, girls in the lowest likelihood group (3% had engaged in sex by the 10th grade) reported no prior experiences with being touched under their clothes, low body objectification, high aspirations to complete graduate education, and low depressive symptoms; girls in the highest likelihood group (75% had engaged in sex by the 10th grade) also reported no prior experiences with being touched under their clothes, but had high levels of body objectification. The implications of these analyses for the development of female adolescent sexuality, as well as for advances in quantitative methods, are discussed.


Impact of text and email messaging on the sexual health of young people: A randomised controlled trial

Megan Lim et al.
Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, January 2012, Pages 69-74

Objective: To carry out a randomised controlled trial on the effect of a new method of health promotion-email and mobile phone text messages (short messaging service (SMS))-on young people's sexual health.

Methods: 994 people aged 16-29 were recruited at a music festival to a non-blinded randomised controlled trial. Participants were randomised to either receive sexual health promotion messages (n=507) or the control group (n=487). The 12-month intervention included SMS (catchy sexually transmissible infections prevention slogans) and emails. Participants completed questionnaires at the festival at baseline and online after 3, 6 and 12 months. Outcomes were differences between the control and intervention groups in health-seeking behaviour, condom use with risky partners (new or casual partners or two or more partners within 12 months) and STI knowledge.

Results: 337 (34%) completed all three follow-up questionnaires and 387 (39%) completed the final questionnaire. At 12 months, STI knowledge was higher in the intervention group for both male (OR=3.19 95% CI 1.52 to 6.69) and female subjects (OR=2.36 95% CI 1.27 to 4.37). Women (but not men) in the intervention group were more likely to have had an STI test (OR=2.51, 95% CI 1.11 to 5.69), or discuss sexual health with a clinician (OR=2.92, 95% CI 1.66 to 5.15) than their control counterparts. There was no significant impact on condom use. Opinions of the messages were favourable.

Conclusion: This simple intervention improved STI knowledge in both sexes and STI testing in women, but had no impact on condom use. SMS and email are low cost, popular and convenient, and have considerable potential for health promotion.


from the


A weekly newsletter with free essays from past issues of National Affairs and The Public Interest that shed light on the week's pressing issues.


to your National Affairs subscriber account.

Already a subscriber? Activate your account.


Unlimited access to intelligent essays on the nation’s affairs.

Subscribe to National Affairs.