Category Archives: Marriage and Sex Research

A Great Sex Life Requires Effort

I’ve been reading up lately on sex research, so you’ll probably see more of that on my blog. I’m in favor of well-conducted research about sexuality, because good science will confirm God’s design. He’s the one who created this universe, so if something’s true it should show up in the facts, even though faith is an important component of putting it all into practice.

One caveat: Not all scientific research is well-done. Sometimes researchers go in with a set of expectations and use a confirmation bias with the results. That said, we can learn a lot from well-performed studies. And today, I want to highlight one that goes right along with biblical principles.

Blog post title + couple helping each other up a mountain

As reported in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers at the University of Toronto set up a study to uncover the secret to a happy sex life in long-term relationships. Of course we all want that secret, right?

They wanted to see if it made a difference whether couples viewed satisfaction as the result of “sexual destiny” or “sexual growth.” One researcher defined these terms as follows:

“People who believe in sexual destiny are using their sex life as a barometer for how well their relationship is doing, and they believe problems in the bedroom equal problems in the relationship as a whole.”

“Whereas people who believe in sexual growth not only believe they can work on their sexual problems, but they are not letting it affect their relationship satisfaction.”

I bet you can already guess which one I think is going to win this tortoise-hare race. And you probably won’t be surprised by the results either.

Basically, the sexual satisfaction for both sexual destiny and sexual growth couples is high in the first two to three years, with no real difference. It’s that honeymoon phase we all talk about, when you can’t imagine wanting to do anything more than hang out in your beloved’s arms and stare into his soulful eyes.

And then you day, you wake up and realize that your spouse is a truly flawed and rather irritating human being. And you just signed up to have this person as your roommate for life.

Okay, I exaggerate. But the shine does tend to wear off a bit for most. It’s just what happens as our lives get complicated. Seasons bring new challenges, our bodies change, our expectations alter, old baggage comes for visit and wants to stay, busyness takes hold, and much more.

So now what? Is your sex life likely to taper off, or even take a nose dive?

Apparently, it depends.

Based on the 1900 participants in the study, researchers concluded that those who had a sexual destiny perspective showed less satisfaction and ability to work through problems in their relationship. Those who expected sexual intimacy to require ongoing growth fared much better.

This all makes sense because if you think something will be easy and then it’s not, you’re far more likely to think it wasn’t meant to be. Whereas believing that something will require effort means that you aren’t caught by surprise when challenges arise; rather, you were primed to expect them and be willing to work through them.

Sexual destiny believers sound like those who promote the idea of sexual compatibility. Many claim you need to sleep with someone before deciding to get married because it would be terrible if you discovered post-nuptials that you’re sexually incompatible. But we’re not static people all through life, not even in the bedroom. Rather, what singles should do is (1) adopt a sexual growth philosophy, and (2) marry someone else with a sexual growth philosophy. Then you’re both willing to put forth whatever effort you need to have satisfying sexual intimacy for the long haul.

And if you’re already married? It’s not too late! These researchers influenced participants’ beliefs by sharing information that either supported the sexual destiny or sexual growth perspective and then studied the results. Since we now know that sexual growth is the way to go, you can adopt self-talk that promotes that view.

You now know that if sex isn’t easy or satisfying or exciting right now, it doesn’t have to be that way a year from now, a month from now, or maybe even tomorrow. It certainly doesn’t mean your relationship is doomed. You and your spouse can grow!

Take to heart just this sampling of messages from the Bible about the rewards of exerting effort in the right direction:

“From the fruit of their lips people are filled with good things, and the work of their hands brings them reward” (Proverbs 12:14).

“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).

“I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14).

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Colossians 3:23-24).

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).

If things aren’t peachy keen at the moment, don’t give up! Don’t accept the status quo. And don’t doubt the love you have for each other. Rather, convince yourself and communicate with your spouse about the effort you need to exert to achieve a happy sex life, one that satisfies both of you and honors your Heavenly Father.

Choose sexual growth.

Source: Science Daily — Study reveals secret to a happy sex life

Want to Work All Your Muscles? Try Sex.

I was listening to Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!, the NPR news quiz game show, and they mentioned an odd study about sex. Of course, I had to go look it up.

Title with drawn couple exercising

So here’s what happened: Upbeat Active (a fitness company) commissioned research tracking how many muscles are used for various activities. They learned that texting uses 38 muscles, dancing uses 99 muscles, and cycling to work uses 155 muscles. But the only activity that uses all your muscles, all 657 of them, is sex.

Well, sex if you’re “doing it right.”

How can that be? you ask.

It turns out you use your facial muscles for kissing; abs, chest, diaphragm, and neck to make sound; eye muscles as you look around or at your beloved; lower limbs, pelvis and core, legs, etc. Basically, if you’re really into sex, you’re tightening and exerting all of your muscles.

And the muscle that gives sex its unique status as the All-Muscle Activity is the bulbospongiosus, which — get this — is also known as the “sex hero muscle.” Both men and women have one, and it receives training during male erection and ejaculation, female clitoral erection, and orgasms for both of you.

Did you know you had a “sex hero muscle”? Well, now you do! Drag out your superhero cape and wear it with pride.

But are you currently using all of those muscles with the way you’re having sex? What should that total-body workout look like? Lead researcher Mike Aunger said, “Ideally it should last more than 30 minutes…. But I’ve got no stats on how long sex lasts for [the] average British couple. To be fair, 45 minutes would probably be better.”

Okay, so they’re British, and you’re whatever. However, I bet most married couples don’t go a whole 45 minutes. *sigh* And nice as they can be, quickies apparently don’t give you the full exercise experience.

Regardless, let’s look at a breakdown of the muscles and what actions you can take to use as many as possible:

Pucker up! Kissing exerts your facial muscles. And you don’t just have to kiss his lips. You’ve can come up with other smooch targets on his body.

Make noise. They say moaning uses your diaphragm, chest, and other muscles. It makes me wonder what yelling, “You’re my Superman!” does for a gal. (Asking for a friend.)

Leave the lights on. Your eye muscles get a work out, as you check out the view and your eyes dart around — that is, if you leave the lights on and can actually see. If you don’t like full light, try low lights or candlelight.

Move your neck. You’ll do it anyway, but it’s on the list of muscles that get worked out as you rotate or flex your head, look down and up, raise your shoulders … and so on. Maybe it’s a good thing when your kid knocks on your door, making you jerk your head up and respond, “Um, we’ll be out in a minute” — uses those neck muscles at least.

Try different positions. Your lower limbs get a better workout with interesting positioning. Your quads, biceps femoris (backsides of your thighs), and calves will thank you. For ideas, check out our Sex Chat for Christian Wives podcast on sex positions.

Thrust. Okay, ladies, you don’t really thrust like your hubby does. But your pelvic and core muscles will be exerted if you engage your hips more in sexual activity. Tilt, swivel, and shift down there, and try woman-on-top from time to time, where you can take a lead role.

Use your arms. Your arm and shoulder muscles get more use in certain positions. That’s what the article I read mentioned, but it didn’t give specifics. But we can imagine that some positions require you to hold yourself in place. I also suggest stroking and caressing your hubby, maybe even massaging him where he likes.

Grip something. Your hand muscles get a workout when you grab something, like your husband’s shoulders or hips … or even something lower.

Let your heart pound. You don’t have to think about this one, because your heart muscle will do its own thing, getting a good workout during sex. But maybe you can at least appreciate how hard it’s pounding and that it’s a good thing for your health.

Go for the orgasm. That sex hero muscle (aka bulbospongiosus) does its thing when you’re in the throes of passion, with a clitoral erection and waves of pleasure we know as orgasm. So go for it! It’s good for you.

Now go forth and get healthy, y’all! See how many muscles you can use. If you’re “doing it right,” whatever that means, you’ll be giving all 657 muscles a healthy bit of exertion. And even if a muscle or two gets missed, you’ll be enjoying yourself. You’re welcome.

Sources: NPR: ‘Wait Wait’ For March 4 2017: With Not My Job Guest Jordan PeeleThe Telegraph-UK: Sexercise: 657 reasons why the ultimate workout happens between the sheets; Daily Mail.com: From texting to having sex: The ultimate full-body workout to flex your muscles WITHOUT hitting the gym

How to Boost Romantic Chemistry in Your Marriage

On Monday, I started answering a reader question about what to do if you don’t find your husband attractive. The wife’s question went like this:

Recently I’ve realized that I’m not attracted to my husband. I don’t think I ever was. He’s a good looking guy, but not my type of good looking. . . . I feel [guilty] and shallow, for being so upset that I don’t feel SOMETHING when he walks in the door, or when I spot him in a crowd of people.

Do you have any advice for me?

I have to believe other wives are out there with similar stories. Maybe you wed your husband because he’s a great guy, a devoted Christian, a wonderful provider, or the sort of guy you figured you’d marry, but he didn’t give you that heady sensation we often expect with love. Or maybe you were once very attracted to your husband, but now, not so much.

Where are you supposed to go from here?! You’d like for the guy you share a bed with every night to give you a case of the yeah-baby! tingles.

Earlier this week, I covered three important perceptions you can work on to help increase your attraction to your husband. Today, let’s talk about “romantic chemistry.”

Romantic chemistry is called that for a reason: Actual body chemicals are involved in our attraction and connection to a romantic partner. We feel drawn to or aroused by someone who gets certain natural chemicals moving through our bodies. Numerous studies have looked into these chemicals such as oxytocin, dopamine, and endorphins. When our partner is nearby and we experience these body chemicals, we feel bonded to that person.

If you don’t have that automatically, you can still foster the firing of those chemicals in your body when your husband is near. What can you actively do to get that “love potion” moving through your veins?

couple in lab + blog post title

Oxytocin. Often referred to as the “bonding chemical,” oxytocin is released when you experience deep embraces, nursing an infant, and sexual activity. It creates feelings of connection and attachment and love.

You can increase its presence by engaging in physical touch, like holding hands and sustained hugs of twenty seconds or more. It’s important to hang on to that touch long enough for your body to register the affection and respond with an oxytocin release. And yes, sexual encounters with your husband definitely impact the “bonding chemical” — with sex capable of producing an oxytocin rush for wives at three to five times the norm.

Dopamine. Dopamine is involved in the reward system of the brain — a chemical that provides good sensations when a particular activity is experienced. Matching the activity and the feel-good results, we learn to repeat that behavior again and again to get the same “high.” It’s what contributes to addictions, but it’s also what contributes to a continuing desire to be with someone you love.

Make use of that reward system and pair good sensations with your mate! When dopamine is combined with other chemicals in humans, including oxytocin, our happy-place feelings become attached to the individual who helped create them — our spouse. Watch a delightful romantic comedy together, have him give you a relaxing massage, or experience orgasm in his arms. Let dopamine fire away and get you “addicted” to love with your husband.

Testosterone. Research has shown that testosterone fuels sex drive in both men and women, and feeling “lovestruck” gives women a natural boost of testosterone. But don’t worry about the chicken-or-egg argument for what comes first; add a boost of testosterone and see if that doesn’t increase chemistry with your guy.

How can you naturally increase testosterone? LiveStrong has several ideas, among them:

  • eat plenty of protein
  • intake enough “good fats”
  • limit alcohol intake
  • take Vitamin C . . .

And have sex at least weekly, since longer periods of inactivity with your mate cause a drop in testosterone production.

Endorphins. Endorphins aren’t usually part of the heart-pounding attraction you experience when he walks into the room. Instead, these naturally occurring chemicals take longer to cultivate. But they’ve been compared to opiates in their ability to produce feelings of calm, stress-reduction, and general happiness. Endorphins are what cause the “runner’s high” (for you other people who keep running long enough to experience it).

How can you increase your “love opiates”? Certain foods stimulate the release of endorphins, including spicy foods and chocolate. Why not incorporate snuggling and snacking on endorphin-releasing nourishment? Smells can also trigger endorphins, particularly lavender and vanilla. You could burn vanilla-scented candles or place lavender-scented potpourri in your bedroom. Or go all out, grab some lavender-vanilla massage oil, and get to rubbing each other!

Exercise more, exercise together. Endorphins are released with steady exercise, and sharing those moments with your husband means you feel that “runner’s high” when he’s around — getting a double-whammy. Laugh! Oh yeah, research has shown that laughter triggers endorphins. So watch comedies together, share jokes and word play, flirt and giggle, even go to a Christian comedy show for date night. And, of course, sex releases endorphins. Have some of that with him.

Others chemicals are involved in chemistry and unleashed by spending enjoyable time with your spouse, engaging in physical touch, and keeping yourself healthy. And while it may seem like I’m skewing the results toward sex (writing as I do about married sex), honestly everywhere I turned to research the issue of romantic chemistry, sex with your mate triggered increases in the chemicals needed to feel connected, attached, loved. And some of these effects are only seen in those with long-term, committed relationships.

Turns out “have more sex” is a pretty good prescription for your marriage! No wonder I keep saying it. *smile*

Sources: Love Chemicals and Chemistry of Love – About EducationThe chemistry of love: Oxytocin may drive monogamy in relationships – Los Angeles TimesThe Chemicals Between Us: Chemistry in Romance – Heroes and Heartbreakers.comHow to Increase Testosterone Levels Naturally in Women – LiveStrong.comCupid’s chemistry – Royal Society of Chemistry; The science of love: I get a kick out of you, The Economist; How to Supercharge Your Sex Drive – HuffPost Women8 Ways to Naturally Increase Endorphins – Reader’s Digest12 Ways To Release The Happy Hormones “Endorphins” – Good Relaxation

Want More Money? Have More Sex. (Really.)

money signs

Photo Credit: Microsoft Word Clip Art

“…sexual activity is considered to be a barometer for health, quality of life, well-being and happiness.”

So researchers state in the opening paragraph of a new report on the correlation between sexual activity and wages. Yep, wages.

A British researcher analyzed a study that took place in Greece and included a random telephone survey of about 7,500 households. Respondents were asked about their wage level and sexual frequency (the options being none, once/twice a year, once a month, 2-3 times a month, weekly, 2-3 times a week, and more than 4 times a week). The study also asked for other demographic and personality factors to control or correlate such things as gender, educational level, and extroversion. Note that 58.3% of the surveyed individuals were married.

So the takeaway of the study is that those having sex more than four times a week earn more, by a statistically significant amount. That simply means that the results stood out.

Now this doesn’t mean that there is a cause-effect relationship, that more sex automatically equals more money. But in a seemingly unfair slap from the universe for those not in this category, the ones getting busy more often are also getting rich* more often.

But it’s not so unfair, when we consider why this might be:

Having sex four+ times a week likely means you’re in a relationship. I strongly advocate that relationship be a marriage (since God strongly advocated it first). Other studies have shown great health, well-being, and financial benefits to being a marriage that provides companionship, shared responsibility for finances and child-rearing, and yes, sex.

Those who have regular sex tend to be happier. A healthy sex life is related to higher self-esteem, lower levels of depression, and general happiness. This could be a product of biological chemicals and physiological responses, but I think it’s also a sense of relational well-being and intimate connection to someone you love that contributes to being happier.

Healthy individuals are more likely to have sex and to have higher-wage jobs. There is likely a casual effect of poor health on both earning levels and frequency of sex. If you’re struggling with health issues, you may have difficulty both in having sex and in fulfilling the tasks of a job. The upshot is that, inasmuch as you can effect it, stay healthy. Eat well, exercise, throw off any addictions, etc. You know the drill.

Sex can be empowering. So this is my own theory, one I mentioned here before. Having read about and heard from men on this issue, I believe that having sex with your mate can boost your personal confidence in such a way that you feel like you can take on the world. I doubt it’s just men, too. There’s something about quality lovemaking with your spouse that just tethers you to their love throughout the day and makes some of the daily annoyances roll off your back a bit better. Why this is true, I’m not sure. However, like everything else about God-honoring marital sexuality, I suspect it’s a gift from God Himself.

Knowing what you’re coming home to makes you work harder. Another theory mine, based on conversations with and observation of married couples. You might think that an unhappy spouse would avoid home by staying at the office and working longer hours, and thus earn more. While I have seen that pattern, workaholism isn’t the same as productivity. The person secure in their marriage — through companionship, shared values and purpose, and lovemaking — is more likely to work with fervor, push through tasks more efficiently and effectively, and let stress go when they leave the workplace. They want to be productive and earn their keep to continue providing for the life they enjoy, and the lover they enjoy it with.

Those are the reasons I see for the sex-and-wages correlation.

So what else is there to conclude but that if you want more money, have more sex?

At least it’s worth a try.

*Just to clarify, no, I don’t thinking getting rich is a worthy goal for Christians. But properly providing for your family is (1 Tim 5:8), and some Christians have indeed grown rich and used their money generously for God’s work.

Waiting for Sexual Intimacy

Photo Credit: Microsoft Word Clip Art

Photo Credit: Microsoft Word Clip Art

I read a very interesting article last week from The Art of Manliness. Being thoroughly female, I still enjoy many of the posts from this male-directed blog. Last Monday, the article How Delaying Intimacy Can Benefit Your Relationship looked at studies on why it’s not such a good idea to jump into bed willy-nilly and why one should wait until the relationship deepens.

Now this wasn’t a Christian-based article, and I strongly advocate waiting until the real commitment of marriage vows. However, the studies cited support the church’s position that couples should wait. Here are two interesting findings.

Old Habits Die Hard

Repeated behaviors “train our minds to think and act in certain ways” — even to the point of rewriting our brain circuitry. The way you act over and over becomes a pattern that is very difficult to change. So the notion that you’ll settle down later, when you get married, and keep to one lover, and focus on deeper intimacy, etc., that’s not so easy to do. As researcher Dr. Busby says, “Every relationship we have, however brief and insignificant, influences every other relationship we have, and the patterns that we repeat across relationships become very difficult to change.”

If you pursue casual sex before marriage, it’s hard to make that shift to deeper intimacy in marriage. That’s not the message we usually get from sources around us. The romantic version often espoused in our culture is that something just shifts inside you when you meet “the right one.” But old habits die hard. It may not be personal — you may love and adore your mate — but you can have a hard time shutting off the way you’ve trained your mind to think about sex and introducing a different perspective.

The best option is to start right here, right now, establishing the habits you want to carry into the rest of your life and your marriage.

Oxytocin: It’s Not Just for Sex Anymore

I, and many others who write about sex, have mentioned the importance of Oxytocin in lovemaking. Oxytocin is a bonding hormone that reduces stress and fosters trust. It’s best known as a substance mothers release when they nurse their babies.

However, it is also released in men when they climax. For this reason, many believe that Oxytocin is key to the argument that sex is a bonding activity. But that’s not the whole story.

Oxytocin comes around during sex, but it also appears in non-sexual but affectionate activities, like hugging, touching, smiling, listening. Moreover, right after sexual climax, Oxytocin apparently takes a nosedive. So if the sex-made Oxytocin is all you’re working from, those bonding feelings will go pffft as soon as you’re done. Essentially, you need ongoing non-sexual Oxytocin-producing behaviors to really feel connected to your lover and then experience sex as an outgrowth of that bond. That’s what should happen in a marriage — ongoing interaction and bonding that makes the sex all the more meaningful.

From Martin Robertson, researcher: “Frequent, comforting feelings are important in maintaining strong bonds . . . . The more dependable the flow of Oxytocin via daily bonding behaviors, the easier it is to sustain a relationship. In contrast, a passionate one-night stand allows lovers’ innate defensiveness to snap back into place pretty much as soon as Oxytocin drops after climax.”

While else should you wait? I wrote posts for Preengaged some time ago explaining other reasons why couples should wait until marriage: Sex Before Marriage Part 1 and Sex Before Marriage Part 2.