Tag Archives: sex research

What Makes Sex Intimate? Try Affection.

I had an interesting conversation with my husband recently about casual versus committed sex. Why is committed sex so much better? Casual sex can actually feel quite physically pleasurable, but it lacks the intense satisfaction that marital sexual intimacy provides.

One reason research has revealed is that men get a wash of feel-good chemicals during sex that isn’t nearly as strong in casual relationships as it is in committed sex. Another study showed that men responded positively to the faces of their partners, over images of other women, due to the presence of oxytocin, a body chemical released in especially high doses during lovemaking. And of course, hubby and I discussed the deeper emotional and spiritual meaning of sexual intimacy in marriage.

However, I recently came across another interesting aspect that didn’t surprise me, though I was happy to see it show up so clearly in the research: One primary reason that sex feels so good is the affection we receive from our partner. It’s not just the arousal sensations but the closeness and physical touch we get when we make love.

Couple lying in bed and holding hands with blog post title

This particular study used three different methods to look at what the link between sexual pleasure and affection might be. First, they conducted a survey that showed “a strong correlation between sex and positive emotions, but only when affection was factored into the equation. When affection was removed, the link almost disappeared.” You hear that? If it’s just about the sex, without genuine affection, you don’t get the positive-emotion payoff.

The researchers also had 200 participants, mostly marrieds, keep a journal tracking their sexual frequency and “erotic feelings,” as well as times they had non-sexual intimacy and affection with their mates. The result? “Sex correlated with positive emotions almost exclusively when it also led to affection (more than 90% of the time across all of the couples’ journals).”

Finally, the study asked 60 couples to track their sexual and non-sexual affection in real time on their smartphones. Participants reported affection after sex, but also hours later — demonstrating that affection was a positive consequence of lovemaking.

So are we having sex in part to get affection? It seems that’s a factor. Is sex more meaningful when paired with affection? Absolutely.

Of course, I believe all of this is God’s design for sex. Marriage provides the perfect context for daily affection as well as frequent lovemaking. From this research, it appears that the affection might be more important than the sex in giving you the positive emotions of intimacy with your spouse. However, when both are present in your relationship, they feed each other. Sex increases affection, and affection leads to sex.

Sex increases affection, and affection leads to sex. Click To Tweet

That is God’s beautiful design.

How should you use this information in your marriage?

Well, some of us are more naturally drawn to affection, and some are more drawn to sex. And oftentimes, people from different categories marry each other. And then there are those who have simply shut down both affection and sex in their marriage. Be honest with yourself: Do any of these sound familiar?

  • “I’m not having sex with him unless and until he spends a lot more time on romance and affection with me.”
  • “I’m tired of him wanting to be cuddle but not wanting to have sex. If he wants to touch me, why can’t he arouse me too?”
  • “I try to turn her on, but she takes too long to orgasm. So I just go after my own climax.”
  • “It’s been months since we made love, and we rarely touch anymore.”

Those are just a few examples, and I’m sure you could come up with others, but they illustrate what I’ve heard from various marriages. Some spouses are aching for more affection, and some spouses are aching for more sex. And some marriages are desperately in need of both.

But I’m not sure it matters as much which comes first: sex or affection. Or maybe it does matter, in that you should figure out what your spouse desires and try to meet that. Great marriages arise from spouses who make an effort to satisfy their mate’s deepest longings.

Great marriages arise from spouses who make an effort to satisfy their mate's deepest longings. Click To Tweet

Of course, it’s best if both of you are putting forth that effort. However, one spouse can ignite change in a marriage. So rather than thinking about what you’re not getting, maybe you should consider what your spouse longs for.

Because if it’s affection, providing that might lead to more sex. And if it’s sex, that might lead to more affection. And all of that will produce more positive emotions about each other and your relationship — that is, a greater sense of intimacy.

Regardless, most of us marrieds could spend more time on affection during sex. That is, we could slow things down and spend more time touching.

So ask yourself: Where do I need to invest? Affection, sex, or both? Then go do that. My prayer is that positive emotions and intimacy will follow.

Sources: Forbes.com – The Reasons Why Sex Makes Us Happy May Not Be What You ThinkPersonality and Social Psychology Bulletin – More Than Just Sex: Affection Mediates the Association Between Sexual Activity and Well-Being; WebMD – How the ‘Love Hormone’ Works Its Magic

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

5 New Sex Studies (Including One Which Will Make You Laugh)

I love to peruse the internet for recent studies that involve sex. While God’s Word remains the foundation of my perspective on sexual intimacy, we have learned a lot about His creation and how things work in the bedroom from well-conducted research.

My last stroll through the web for interesting reports yielded five studies I want to share with you. A couple of them have important implications, a couple are simply interesting, and one is guaranteed to make you laugh.

5 New Sex Studies (Including One Which Will Make You Laugh)

Does having sex make men more spiritual?

Duke University researchers tested two groups of men by administering oxytocin to one group and a placebo to the second group. They then surveyed the men regarding feelings of spirituality and discovered that those who took oxytocin were more likely to answer questions about spirituality in positive ways. For instance, they said that “spirituality was important in their lives and that life has meaning and purpose” and agreed more with statements like “There is a higher plane of consciousness or spirituality that binds all people.”

What’s particularly interesting about this study is that oxytocin is a chemical produced by our bodies that has been labeled the “love hormone.” It’s been linked to feelings of bonding, trust, and satisfaction. And it’s released during breastfeeding, prolonged physical contact (like a long embrace or holding hands), and sex. Indeed, at sexual climax, men in committed relationships get a huge rush of oxytocin into their system. The upshot is that having sex may make your husband feel not only connected to you, but to the spiritual realm — and our Heavenly Father. So the next time your husband claims making love with you confirmed that there is a God, he might really be reporting his mountaintop-like experience.

Source: Duke Today: Oxytocin Enhances Spirituality, New Study Says

Is sex bad for his heart, but good for hers?

A federally funded study led by a Michigan State researcher looked at the link between frequency of sex and cardiovascular health. Participants were between 57 and 85 years of age, and information was collected once and again five years later. For those who had sex one or more times a week, men had a higher risk of cardiovascular events (like hypertension, heart attack, etc.), while women had a reduced risk of hypertension. So basically, more sex seemed to be bad for his heart, but good for hers.

But wait… The bigger question is why: Why are men at greater risk for heart conditions just by having more frequent sex? It’s not clear that it’s the sex, because older, sexually active men are also more likely to use medication to boost sexual function and could be straining themselves more to reach an orgasm that isn’t quite as easy to attain as it once was. Maybe the takeaway is that we need to let our sexuality mature with us — take our time, don’t sweat it if the orgasm doesn’t happen, and enjoy the vast array of sexually intimate acts. And if that doesn’t work, I know plenty of husbands who’d simply say: “I don’t care if having sex increases my risk of heart attack, because what a way to go!”

Source: MSU Today — Is Sex in Later Years Good for Your Health?

Should you turn on the lights?

Research conducted by the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology Congress studied 38 male participants with disorders characterized by a lack of interest in sex. They gave them half of them light therapy (exposure to light that mimics the sun’s rays and is used with seasonal depression) and half of them exposure to much dimmer light. The men who received bright light therapy showed increased sexual satisfaction three times higher as well as a jump in testosterone production.

Honestly, this matches one of my theories of why more men have lower sex drives these days. I believe that since many men aren’t spending time outside and in manual labor, they aren’t doing things that used to maintain their testosterone levels and decrease their stress. Whether my theory’s true or not, it appears that sunlight or light therapy would be a good idea for men whose libidos aren’t where they, or perhaps their wives, would like them to be. For you higher-drive wives, maybe you could suggest a daily walk or time together outside more days than not.

Source: Popular Science — New Research Shows How Bright Light Could Wake Up Men’s Sexual Desire

Why should college students have all the fun?

Researchers at the University of South Dakota surveyed 706 college students and discovered that having sex in a parked car remains a “fundamental coming-of-age phenomenon.” Sixty percent reported having experienced parked-car sex, and although men reported a higher rate of satisfaction, a strong majority in both genders viewed the experience positively.

Why am I talking about this to married Christians? Because hey, you can do it your car too! Frankly, as you get older, your car is usually bigger and more conducive to having sex without getting jabbed by a gear shift or slammed into the dashboard. You might well own a garage so that maintaining privacy is an easy goal to meet. And you’d probably be surprised how much your body can still bend and move when romance and libido run high. Some of us even own trucks, meaning we have an actual “bed” in our vehicle. Doesn’t that mean we should use it as the word intends?

Source: The Daily Beast — Science Says: Car Sex Is Still a Rite of Passage

Is polyester killing your sex appeal, guys?

Cairo University Professor Ahmed Shafik dressed lab rats in pants of different fabrics, then studied how they affected the rats’ sex drive. He discovered that rats in polyester pants got less action than those wearing cotton or wool — a finding that once-and-for-all confirms the 1970s were the worst fashion decade.

Image result for rat in pants

So throw out your old leisure suits, husbands, because that polyester look is not helping your sex appeal! Go with cotton or wool (or even a mixed blend, I suppose). Although I wonder how those rats would have fared in satin boxer shorts. Do you think they would have become “love machines”? Maybe, maybe not. But you could give it a try.

Source: Polyester pants dampen rats’ sex appeal: Ig Nobel prizes honor weird research

What do you think about these research studies? What surprised you or shed light on your situation?