Monday, November 26, 2012

We Don't Know What We Want Until We Try It: The Importance of Experimentation

While flying home from Chile, I listened to an interview with Malcolm Gladwell (author of The Tipping Point) about his Ted talk about happiness. He talked at length about Howard Moskowitz, a psychologist that does market research for food brands. He's most famous for his work with spaghetti sauce.

As part of the talk, Moskowitz talked about how Americans said they wanted thin, runny spaghetti sauce... until they actually had people taste a wide variety of different sauces. Until that time, food researchers asked people what they wanted. Moskowitz had them try different sauces. The result was clear- most people turned out to like something different than they thought they liked.

So what does this have to do with sex?

Many people have a genuine anxiety that's manifested as fear of sexual experimentation. The reasons are varied, and could include things like feeling of guilt or shame. They may fear rejection by their partner or rejection by society as a whole. 

Since we don't like to experience fear, we attempt to reduce it. The easiest way to reduce or eliminate it is to stick with the basics and never venture outward. After all, even repetitive, boring, or bad sex is still better than most alternative activities. Like the people that were content with their runny, bland spaghetti sauce, we're content with the status quo.It's not until we try something new that we realize just what we're missing. There are some pretty damn good spaghetti sauces out there. Life's too short to eat bad spaghetti sauce.

How to Experiment

Experimentation is pretty simple- try something new. Getting your partner on-board may be a little tricky, though. In my last post, I recommended a technique that is surprisingly effective. 

Each of you write three things you'd like to try on a piece of paper. Exchange lists. Explain and discuss each one. Each partner gets to cross one item off the list. Discuss why they crossed that one off, but do not pressure or judge them. Just accept their decision. Now try the other two items on each list.

The items on the list shouldn't deviate too far from your current comfort levels. For example, it you only have sex in the missionary position at 8:45pm on Thursday evenings, you probably don't want to add "make porn and submit it to a website" on the list. 

Yet. 

Start with different positions, the inclusion of toys, or maybe role-playing. The key is to get comfortable sharing new ideas, then honestly discussing if you enjoy it or not. If both of you enjoy it, add it to your repertoire. If not, discard it and maybe try it again in a few months. 

I guarantee you'll find some new figurative spaghetti sauces you like even more than the spaghetti sauce you think you love now.

If anyone has recently started experimenting, feel free to comment on it below. Tell us what you did and how it went. Remember, you can comment anonymously. 

###






Saturday, November 24, 2012

Threesomes: How Do You Ask?

Like this advice and want more ideas to keep the spark alive in your current relationship? Check out No Bone Zone, my latest book. It's filled with ideas to help couples overcome the boredom that invariably sets in after a few years. You'll love it!

***

I received a question on my post about convincing your partner to be more sexually adventurous that deserved a whole new post. The reader has a male friend that is interested in having a MMF (two males, one female) threesome with his wife. He asked; she wasn't interested. Both had limited sexual partners prior to marriage.

This one took awhile because I had to do a ton of research to give the best possible answer.

The friend has already asked his wife, but I'm going to backpedal a bit before answering. Let's pretend he hadn't asked her yet. 

Assessing the Variables


We'll start at the beginning- societal expectations. While this is a fairly common fantasy among men, our society has a pretty negative view of this particular flavor of swinging. While societal norms should never inhibit your sexual expression (as long as that expression is consensual, respectful of the participants, and safe), it will influence your partner's perceptions of the activity. This type of activity requires the participants to fully recognize sexual activity as a form of recreation, which is more difficult than it seems.

 Second, consider why you have this fantasy. Is it because you enjoy seeing your partner receive pleasure? Do you enjoy the role as a voyeur? Are you hoping it leads to further adventures where you can have sex with someone else? Is this an attempt to spice up a boring sex life? Is the relationship in trouble and this is an attempt to repair it?

The first reason is probably the best rationale, followed by the second. If you want this to happen for any other reason, you probably shouldn't do it. An activity that involves other people has a high potential for unexpected negative outcomes, and a healthy relationship with excellent, open communication is absolutely necessary. I'll talk about this in more detail later.

Second, it's a good idea to assess if this is really a fantasy you want to live. There are a myriad of problems that may occur, starting with unexpected jealousy. 

Jealousy is an emotion that's a lot like grief after someone close to you dies- you can't imagine exactly how it feels until you experience it. In the fantasies, your perception of jealousy is either going to be absent or greatly minimized. There are ways to accurately assess your jealousy before you recruit some dude to bone your wife. That starts by considering all the possible negative outcomes:
  • What if the other guy is really good? Could you handle your wife getting pleasure from a more skilled lover?
  • What if your wife falls in love with the other dude and leaves you? We're biologically designed to create a connection when having sex, which is the reason open, honest communication with her is necessary.
  • What if the other dude has an STD or your wife gets pregnant? Picking a clean partner and practicing safe sex are obvious solutions, but it's something to consider.
  • What if your wife wants out after it starts? How would you tactfully call it off?
  • What if the dude immediately starts telling people about the activity? Could you handle your friends, relatives, and coworkers knowing?
  • If it turns out to be a negative experience, how will it affect your relationship? If one of you hates it and the other loves it, then what?
Other issues to consider are self-esteem. How would this activity make you feel about yourself? How would it make your partner feel about herself? 

Also consider the reoccurring problems you have in your relationship. Will this make the problems worse?

How Do You Ask?


Okay, let's assume you considered all those factors. How do you go about asking your wife?  I wouldn't recommend just asking out of the blue. I would recommend discussing it in the context of a conversation about both of your sexual needs and desires. 

Oddly, most couples have a lot of problems discussing their sex life, especially if it involves adventurous activities. A sharing activity can be a good method to get the dialogue rolling. Each of you get a piece of paper. Write three sexual or intimate activities you'd like to try. Exchange the papers. Take turns explaining each item on the list, including why you'd like to try it. Each person can cross one thing off their partner's list, but agrees to try the other two at least once. Have a conversation about the rejected activity. Why is this the one they chose? Don't judge (or pout), but really listen to each other. Empathize with their feelings.

Do this activity about every month or so. After a few months, your sexual communication should increase dramatically. You will begin to fully understand why each of you has inhibitions about various activities. You will also begin to be more adventurous. Once you feel dialogue is excellent, come back to the idea. The key is to understand why she wasn't interested.

I would recommend starting somewhere besides "I want to see another dude fuck you." A good starting point may be watching some MMF porn. Afterward, talk about what you saw. How would you feel if you were two of the actors in the film? What turns you on about the idea? What turns you off?

You could also take it in steps. Go dancing. Let your wife dance with another guy. Later, talk about how it made both of you feel. If it was positive, gradually move to more adventurous activities- maybe some touching and kissing. The idea is to test the waters slowly, then have an open, honest discussion about your feelings after each step.

If she still resists after these steps, let the fantasy go. There are other possibilities, such as talking about the fantasy as foreplay or using a male blow-up doll together.

What if She Says Yes?

So you went through the steps outlined above. You ask her again. This time she says yes. Yipee!

Now what?

Hopefully you've discussed the possible pitfalls of doing this. If not, do that first. Let her discuss her worries; you do the same. Affirm your love for each other.

So... now you plan. The first decision would be the third person. Who do you choose? Should it be someone you know? A casual acquaintance? A close friend? A complete stranger?

All options have pros and cons. The decision should be based on mutual comfort... what would make both of you the most comfortable?

Next consider how to ask him. If it's a friend or acquaintance, I'd recommend asking during a conversation about kinky sex. If it's a stranger, there's a pretty good chance just having the opportunity to have sex will suffice.

The logistics of the act need to be taken into consideration. 
  • Where will it occur? If it's a stranger, your home may not be a great option. 
  • How will it start? Drinks at a bar first? Dinner? Just meet at a random hotel? 
  • What happens during? What role will you play? Will you just watch? Will you be actively involved? Will you be touching the other guy? If that's on the table, make sure he understands that and is comfortable with the idea before starting. 
  • What about afterward? If it's your first time, it's probably a good idea to have the guy leave soon so you can talk with your wife. Affirm your love, cuddle, and discuss your feelings honestly. Was it positive? Negative? What felt right or wrong? Would you consider this again and what would you do differently. Talk about feelings, especially jealousy and regret.
  • If the other person were a friend, talk to them later. How do they feel about the experience? 

Where do We go from Here?


Afterward, it's important to discuss where you go from this point. If both of you had a good experience and feel this activity enhances your relationship, consider doing it again. If it seems to have too many negatives, it may be best to avoid it in the future.

If it was enjoyable, be careful about doing it too often. This advice could be used for any sexual activity. Repeating the same thing too often will result in a learned response, which I discussed in this post. You don't want to create a situation where a MMF threesome is the only way you get excited. Variety is a good thing; don't be a sexual one trick pony.

What are your thoughts? My response is based mostly on research and previous knowledge about human nature. I'd love to get comments from people that have actually had a threesome. Is this information accurate or am I totally off-base?

Remember, you can comment anonymously. Also feel free to contact me if you're not comfortable commenting on a public forum.

###


















Monday, November 19, 2012

Do Crossfitters Have More Sex?

Crossfit is a high-intensity interval training method of exercising. It combines a variety of exercises that push the body through fairly "natural" motions, which is known as functional fitness. For the purposes of this post, Crossfit fits what I'll call "high intensity' exercise.

There's a fair body of research that shows high intensity exercise increases testosterone levels (here's one study). There's also a great deal of research that shows a positive correlation between testosterone levels and sex drive (and activity) in both males and females.

This begs the question- do Crossfitters have more sex?

I bet they do.

actually, I'm not the first to ponder this question. The Crossfit Journal actually did a survey and found Crossfitters did indeed increase their sex drives and made them better in bed.

With coaches like Houng Arcinas of Silicon Valley Crossfit (pictured below), it's hard to imagine Crossfit not increasing sex drive.



And Crossfitters aren't alone. Any exercise program that utilizes high intensity training should produce the same effect. For example, anyone following programs like Kemme Fitness or P90X should see the same effect.

What do you think? I know I have a fair number of readers that do high intensity exercise. Do these routines increase you


Sunday, November 18, 2012

What Predicts Great Relationships?

The good folks over at scienceofrelationships.com conducted a meta-analysis of research investigating factors that predicted relationship success, which is measured by stability. The factors were fascinating because they weren't necessarily intuitive. Here are the factors that affected relationship success:
  • Commitment: Okay, this one is pretty obvious. The more committed each partner is to the relationship, the more stable it is. 
  • Positive Illusions: This is a measure of how we view our relationship and partner. Do we think it is going well? Interestingly, how we view the relationship and our partner is more important than the actual health of the relationship. Here's a quick test- think of a situation that didn't go well. Did you blame your partner? If so, you probably don't have a positive view of them... or your relationship.
  • Inclusion of Other in Self: This is a very simple measure. Go here. Which diagram best describes you and your partner? The greater the overlap, the greater the relationship stability.
  • Love: No matter how "love" is measured, it's a reliable predictor of relationship stability.
  • Network Support: This refers to how friends and family view your relationship. If they support the relationship, it will be more stable. If they do not, it will be more likely to end.
The authors of the meta-analysis also discussed variables that were weaker predictors, like:
  • Relationship satisfaction: Even if we're not happy, we may still stick it out.
  • Conflict: It doesn't really matter how much we fight... how we fight is more important.
  • Personality: Our personality type doesn't really matter (NOT to be confused with personality similarity, which IS important).
  • Attachment styles: How we attach ourselves to our mate isn't terribly important.
  • Self-esteem: How we think about ourselves isn't consequential for relationship success.
What do you think? Do these seem like reasonable reasons couples stay together? Leave a comment!

###

Saturday, November 17, 2012

How to Give Yourself a Fetish: A Lesson in Classical Conditioning

You've probably heard of classical conditioning. It's a learning principle studied by psychologists made famous by Ivan Pavlov and his salivating dogs. The principle works like this:

A neutral stimulus (something that we don't respond to in any discernible way) is paired with some bodily response. After we repeat that exposure a few times, that stimulus will cause the bodily response.

This is the mechanism responsible for many of the things we respond to sexually. Here's a classic example of classical conditioning:

Jimmy has a girlfriend (Jenny) that loves garlic. Jimmy and Jenny kiss a lot. That gives Jimmy an erection. Since the neutral stimulus of garlic is paired with Jenny's kiss repeatedly, Jimmy eventually gets an erection when he tastes garlic... even when Jenny is nowhere to be found.

Ta-da! Jimmy has developed a garlic fetish.

You can use this phenomenon in many different ways. Let's say you want a stimulus that reliably puts you in the mood. This can be handy if you have a busy schedule, kids, or anything else that may require you to get in the mood quickly.  Use a good neutral stimulus like a particular song or the scent of a certain candle. All you have to do is pair that stimulus with sex. It doesn't even have to be partnered sex... just masturbate to the song or scent of the candle. The key- you want to reach orgasm in the presence of that stimulus. 

The pairing does take some time. You may have to repeat the process three to six times before the effect starts to take place.

Here's another useful application. For whatever reason, some dudes report not liking the smell or taste of their significant others' vagina, which makes them less likely to perform oral sex. Since that's just bad lover etiquette, the dude can remedy this by classically conditioning himself to be turned on by the smell and taste of his significant other's vagina. How? A good method would be to masturbate to the smell of her used panties. If the smell evokes a negative reaction, just wait to smell them immediately before the point of orgasm. After all, that's the good feeling we want to associate with the smell.

This same idea can be used for women that object to the taste of semen, too. No need for the dude to be eating pineapple 24/7 just in the hopes his significant other will go down on him.

As you can imagine, you can use this phenomenon to develop other sexual responses, too. Want a leather fetish? Pair the smell of the leather with masturbation. Want to become a masochist? Pair pain with masturbation. The list is virtually endless.

The Negative Effects


There is a down side to using classical conditioning as a means of achieving arousal. When one stimulus is used all the time, other stimuli tend to weaken. This is why some people that watch a lot of porn seemingly lose the ability to get aroused by their partner... they spend too much time getting aroused by porn.

Turning the Negative Effects Upside Down!


The solution is pretty simple- add variety. By using a variety of stimuli, you avoid the "one trick pony" caveat. 

What Happens if It's Too Late?

What if you already have developed a powerful classically-conditioned sexual response to only one stimuli?

No problem, we can do what is known as higher-order conditioning. All we have to do is pair a new stimuli with the old stimuli that we've come to rely upon. Let's say we only get turned on by porn to the point where that's the only thing that gets us aroused. The trick is to pair the porn with another stimuli we want to turn us on... like our partner. We just watch porn with our partner a few times. Within a few sessions, our partner will once again turn us on.

But what if our partner isn't down with watching porn? 

No problem!

We can use an intermediary stimulus that our partner won't object to. Let's go back to the candle example. Before we watch porn, light a specific scented candle. Watch the porn, masturbate. Repeat this a few times. Eventually the candle scent will turn us on. Now add the candle to sex with your partner. In the beginning, it will be the candle that causes the arousal. After a few sessions, arousal will once again be caused by the partner!

Classical conditioning is a great tool to add to your sexuality tool box as it can be used for a variety of reasons. It's a great problem-solving tool with endless applications. Play around with the idea... it can be a ton of fun. If you have an adventurous partner, the possibilities are endless!

###




Friday, November 16, 2012

Gender Roles and Gender Identity: A Parental Challenge

"Boys aren't supposed to wear pink or play with dolls!"

"Why did he say that?"

"I don't know. I guess he doesn't like playing with dolls. And I told him my dad wears pink. I don't think I want to be his friend."

This was part of an exchange I had with my six year old son after his fifth day of formal schooling in the first grade. It was his first exposure to the idea of rigid gender roles. The discussion brought me back to my college days when my fellow psychology dorks would engage in conversations about gender roles. We were full of piss and vinegar; we spend our days plotting how we would make a world free of rigid gender roles.

I had more or less forgotten about those conversations until that exchange with my son. Recalling the conversations as a parent have put a slightly different spin on the topic.

What are Gender Roles?


Gender roles are the prevailing societal expectations that influence how males and females are supposed to think and behave. In the U.S., we have fairly well-defined "masculine" and "feminine" gender roles.

Men break shit. Women fix shit.

It's an oversimplification, but this is the "big picture" view of our concept of gender roles.

Gender identity is our subjective identification with a gender role, or how we see ourselves relative to society's defined gender roles.

I may see myself as masculine, feminine, or some combination of the two. Most of us have both masculine and feminine characteristics, but tend to bend toward one or the other. People that don't fit in either role would have an androgynous gender identity.

This idea isn't to be confused with biological sex, which is defined as which parts you possess (ovaries, testes, or a combo of both). It also shouldn't be confused with genetic sex, which is determined by your chromosomes (XX, XY, X0, XXX, XXY, or XYY). Any of the above combinations could have a "masculine", "feminine", or androgynous gender identity.

Parenting


Shelly and I have always had a "hands-off" parenting philosophy where we allow our kids a great deal of freedom of expression and exploration. Basically we sit on the sidelines and make sure they don't hurt themselves too badly. When they encounter something new that required explaining, we do our best to explain what they're experiencing both personally and within the wider society. Essentially we're preparing them to be functioning members of society by fostering their independence.

Admittedly, we also do this to assure they'll not only have the skill set but will want to leave the nest some day. 

For the most part, it works well. Our kids are far more confident and socially capable than Shelly or I were as children. Our recent adventures (spending about 18 months traveling the country in an RV and homeschooling) gave us a great deal of time to let our kids grow.

While they have some interaction with peers, most of their interaction is with adults in brief spurts. For example, they may have a conversation with a cashier in a grocery store. These brief conversations are too short for the adults to question why our daughter is covered in dirt or our son is wearing nail polish.

Per our parenting philosophy, we let our kids do what they want without judgment or unnecessary interference. Play is play. Parental involvement can only interfere with that process, not enhance it.

In short, they've had very few people around them that have questioned their behaviors within the gender role framework.

Back to Our Son


After he described the kid that told him boys don't wear pink or play with dolls, I paused. It was one of those crossroads we face as parents. I wanted to explain why the kids said this, but didn't want to pass unnecessary judgment on the behaviors of my son or the other kid.

After a few seconds, I settled on the complete honesty approach. I explained what gender roles were. I used some examples of things Shelly and I did that were stereotypically masculine and feminine. I then gave some examples of things each of us did that broke the stereotype. I explained society's tendency to reinforce gender roles, which caused people to say and do mean things to people that violate the roles.  I explained the idea of social rejection versus self-expression. Finally, I explained that it didn't matter if any of our kids did things that violated those roles; we'd still love them regardless.


As much as I would love for him to keep his current perspective, I know what effect peers have on children's behaviors. Odds are good a time will come when he feels more peer pressure to conform to a strict gender role regardless of our influence. It's not an inevitability, but peer social influence is strong.


This situation is a perfect example of what makes parenting difficult. We have virtually no direct control over our kids' world, which is the way it should be. When it comes to gender roles and identity, the best we can do is explain, advise, and affirm our love.


###





Thursday, November 15, 2012

Really Quick Guide to Great Sex

This isn't so much a dissertation on the exact details of having great sex, rather a brief list of "ingredients" that will help you get there. Think of it as a checklist of sorts... things to work on to improve your game.

This is not the type of dumb recommendations you'll find in magazines you might peruse while waiting in line at the grocery store. I won't give advice like "blindfold him!" or "Bust out the scented candles!" This is a list of things you can work on to actually make your sex life better.

The list was derived from a variety of sources, such as scienceofrelationships.com, Dan Savage's writings, and a few other random sources I forgot to document early in the research process.

#1: Hone your technique by becoming a student of the game. This is the first "G" of Dan Savage's GGG idea. For each gender, know your preferred gender's anatomy. Know how to stimulate that anatomy appropriately. Things like timing, pressure, motion, and variety are all important. If you don't know your way around, search the Interwebz... but avoid porn. They do a lot of shit wrong. Find a variety of sources. If you happen to be heterosexual, don't neglect advice from the homosexual community. Dudes can learn a lot about female genitalia from lesbians. Same deal with the penis and gay dudes, ladies. Understand the sexual response cycle, the role of neurotransmitters, and how to get your preferred gender in the mood. Don't neglect toys. Knowing how to use a vibrator on men or women is a vastly underrated skill. Learn as many different techniques as you possibly can, because...

#2: People are different. Learn what your partner likes and dislikes. The longer people have sex with one person, the better the sex becomes. Why? It's like learning to play a musical instrument... you get better with practice. Of course, it is important for each partner to be able to openly express what they actually like and dislike, so talk about it. Never assume your partner will know what you like, and relying on chance could take a long, long time. And don't rely on nonverbal cues like moaning... shit's hard to interpret.

#3: Don't be selfish. This is Dan's second "G"... give equal time. Nobody likes a selfish lover. Focus on giving your partner pleasure roughly as often as they give you pleasure. Likewise, when it's their turn to give, sit back and enjoy. Give them the gift of giving. If both people genuinely enjoy giving each other pleasure, the sex gets a whole lot better.

#4: Build intimacy outside of sex. For the science perspective, doing things like kissing, cuddling, or giving each other massages releases oxytocin (which helps us feel closer) and vasopressin (which keeps us committed to our mate), both of which result in better sex. Closeness and great sex is a vicious cycle... a very, very good vicious cycle.

#5. Experiment on a regular basis: This is Dan's third "G"... game for anything. Humans have a need to constantly change, and that change is usually manifested in improvement. We want a partner that is always going to support and encourage us to grow. That exact same dynamic occurs in our sex lives, too. You don't want to be a sexual one trick pony (see #1 above). A major component of experimentation is trust. Partners have to trust each other enough to be open and honest about their sexual desires without judgement. Shelly and I have a pretty good rule for this. We'll try pretty much anything once. If we like it, we add it to the rotation of sexual activities. If we don't, we abandon it.

#6: Adapt. Over time, our preferences may change. Our partner's preferences may change. Aging has an effect on our bodies. Sexuality is a dynamic construct, and the ability to adapt is important. Having a lot of tools in the toolbox helps, as does an adventurous spirit open to experimentation. Also, life situations change. many couples have no problems finding time for sex in the early years. Once a career, kids, and anxiety over bills enters the mix, they can't adapt and sex falls by the wayside. Good problem-solving skills and an active imagination definitely help.

#7: Get fit. Generally speaking, better physical conditioning translates into better sex. Physical fitness improves the efficiency of our circulatory system, makes us more aesthetically pleasing, and creates a fairly powerful attraction effect. The sympathetic nervous system response that accompanies physical activity can be misinterpreted by the brain as physical attraction. For example, let's say we do a hard workout with our partner. The beating heart and sweat are interpreted as attraction- we find our partner more attractive after we work out together. Greater attraction equates to more sex. More sex equates to better sex. 

There you have it- a list of six things you can do to make yourself a better lover. Enjoy!

###

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Chemicals of Love Part 2: Now that We're Hitched...

Read part one here.

When we last left Bert and Shirley, they were madly in love thanks to the neurotransmitters dopamine, norepinepherine, and phenylethlamine.

This "state" serves a useful purpose- it puts genetically dissimilar people in a position to have lots of sex, which would then lead to a pregnancy (think evolutionary terms... not necessarily Bert and Shirley's desires). 

This stage of a relationship doesn't last forever mostly because it's taxing on our bodies. It would literally kill us if it lasted forever.

It's important to understand this idea. In the United States, we have a misguided belief that we should "keep the spark alive" in relationships and maintain that same level of obsessive passion that dominated the early days. From a purely evolutionary biological standpoint, that heightened state would probably make it impossible for the woman to carry a fetus to term. 

Also, that early phase of a relationship is volatile. The participants make each other the center of their universe... but that can end at a moment's notice. There's very little emotional bonding happening in that early phase, even though both people are seemingly obsessed with each other.

That bonding begins to happen after anywhere from three months to a year. The high levels of dopamine, phenylethlamine, and norepinepherine begin to wane. Before the next round of chemicals takes over, an interesting phenomenon occurs.

Curiously, the early relationship phase causes each of the partners to ignore the negative traits of the other. One of the partners may observe negative behaviors in the other, but minimize them. 

For example, Bert has a terrible habit of eating with his mouth open. It annoys everyone around him... except Shirley. Shirley finds the behavior strangely endearing and rationalizes it by thinking Bert is comfortable enough in social situations to really let his guard down. Shirley has her own annoying habit. She needs constant affirmations and fishes for them constantly. She repeatedly says things like 'I'm too fat" or "I'm not good enough." Other people around her get annoyed and avoid her. Bert rationalizes this behavior by thinking she's just really, really modest.

Once those early relationship chemicals wear off, the veil is lifted. Suddenly all of each partner's negative characteristics are perceived for what they are. Bert's eating with his mouth open now bugs the Hell out of Shirley. Shirley's constant need for affirmations becomes overwhelmingly annoying to Bert.

This is always a major crossroad for any relationship. If the negatives are too bad, the relationship ends. If each partner can live with the negatives, the relationship continues... into the next "commitment" phase.

So what exactly happens in this next phase? First both partners calm down. They get more sleep, regain lost weight, and are now capable of spending more time apart without a crushing desire to see the other person.

Three chemicals are released in the brain during this phase- Oxytocin, vasopressin, and endorphines. These three chemicals serve to emotionally bond us to the other person. In evolutionary terms, this keeps a couple together long enough to raise a child that would have been conceived in the previous phase. Each of the chemicals serves a specific purpose:

  • Oxytocin- This is the "attachment' neurotransmitter. When it's released in the brain, we feel bonded to the person around us. When women are breastfeeding, the neurotransmitter is released causing mom to bond with the baby. It's also released whenever we're touched, cuddle, and kiss each other. It's released in greatest amounts when we have sex with the greatest amount occurring with orgasm. Note to dudes- research indicates women achieve the ideal levels of oxytocin when they orgasm at least twice per week. Make sure you're taking care of your ladies to maximize emotional bonding. ;-)
  •  Vasopressin: Vasopressin is known as the "monogamy" neurotransmitter. It works by controlling dopamine and norepinepherine. It also seems to play a role in activating our brain's reward centers (gives us pleasure) when we're in the presence of our mate. It also tends to calm us down. Vasopressin is released when we have sex with our mate and seems to cause us to only prefer that mate (ergo monogamy). If vasopressin levels drop, mates look for love elsewhere.
  • Endorphines: Endorphines are the body's natural painkillers. Chemically, they are similar to the opiates- heroin, morphine, oxycontin, etc. Not only do they relieve pain, they also reduce anxiety and make us feel good. When we're in the presence of our mate, our brains produce a little more endorphines. When we have sex, our brains produce a lot of endorphines. The resulting calmness and positive feelings helps reinforce our attachment. Interestingly, the endorphine/sex relationship was discovered when researchers put mice in a guillotine device, allowed them to have sex, then decapitated them during the act.
So there you have it- the quick rundown of the bonding chemicals. If we assume Bert and Shirley didn't break up over their respective annoying habits, they'd eventually move into this phase. Their frantic passion that caused them to have sex anywhere and everywhere will be replaced by a calm comfort that would lead them to shop at IKEA. 

As I noted earlier, this shift is inevitable in any relationship that survives that moment of reckoning when each partner evaluates negative characteristics. Once the couple moves past that point, they enter a phase where they just enjoy being together... which facilitates child-rearing. 

Bert and Shirley, having survived the initial frantic passion phase and the subsequent 'moment of reckoning", will likely have a long and fulfilling relationship.

What can Bert and Shirley do to make sure their relationship survives? It may be as simple as assuring a regular supply of oxytocin, vasopressin, and endorphines. How do they do that? Here's a pretty good recipe in order of importance:
  1. Have regular sex where the female orgasms at least twice per week.
  2. Touch each other at least twice per day, which could include a simple hug, massage, or kissing for at least a few seconds.
  3. Exercise and/or eat spicy food with your mate at least three times per week. Both activities produce endorphines, which facilitates bonding.
I've been asked if this same pattern applies to same sex couples since it seems to use child-rearing as rationale. By all measures, the same principles apply to same-sex couples as opposite-sex couples. 


###








Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Why Do We Fall In Love: Part One

Ah, falling in love. It's such a profoundly powerful experience. Why do we do the things we do when we meet that special someone? As it turns out, many of our behaviors can be explained by the chemicals that flood our brains.

Shelly hates when I say that... but researchers are quickly decoding the how and why of love and relationships. It's a fascinating area of study mostly because it explains so many of our peculiar relationship behaviors.

Let's go through the process. We'll use two fictional characters- Bert and Shirley. The first post will cover their initial meeting.

They happen to spot each other on opposite ends of the "C" bus downtown. The moment they see each other, there's an immediate attraction. Worth noting: Shirley stopped using the pill a few months ago and is ovulating and Bert is a former college athlete.

Why?

First let's see what Bert sees in Shirley. Physical features play a strong role in attraction. Men tend to look for women that are fertile, which includes features like healthy skin, glossy hair, full breasts, contrasting facial features (sign of arousal), and a waist-to-hip ratio of 0.7... which is highly correlated with fertility. Sidebar- it doesn't really matter what the actual waist and hip measurements are as long as the ratio is 0.7. Men also look for facial symmetry, an indicator of good genes. 

Sidebar #2- none of us have perfectly symettrical faces. For example, go look in a mirror. One of your eyes is higher and one is farther from your nose. You'll now obsess about this. You're welcome.

Anyway, Shirley has all these characteristics. That's why Bert is interested... she's pretty hot because she has a lot of markers that indicate fertility.

What does Shirley see in Bert? This is where ovulation comes into play. Research suggests women seek men that are more manly. They look for more muscle tone, deeper voice, and more dominant behavior. The idea is they're looking for the healthiest genes to pass on to their unborn children.

Had Shirley not been ovulating, she would have a greater tendency to look for more "stability' indicators like a dude that had a good job, drove a nice car, or promised to change diapers.

What's the deal with the pill?

The pill cancels out this effect. Since the pill mimics pregnancy, women on the pill no longer have this bias based on ovulation.

Okay, back to the story.

Bert and Shirley clearly shared a spark. But they didn't actually talk... yet. 

The next day, they were on the same bus heading downtown. Fueled by their obvious mutual attraction, they struck up a conversation. Almost immediately, both experienced an overwhelming "this is my soulmate" feeling. Too embarrassed to admit it, they instead decided to have coffee the next day.

So what's up with the "this is the person for me" feeling?

Our bodies give off invisible chemicals called pheromones. They're still a bit of a mystery (and artificial pheromones are a scam), but we DO know they have a profound impact on behavior. Bert picked up on Shirley's pheromones and vice versa.

Pheromones carry markers that represent our DNA. Our bodies have the ability to interpret that signal and determine how any person's DNA matches our own. Since the healthiest kids are produced by two people without a lot of common DNA, it makes sense to pair up with others that are very different.

That's exactly what pheromones do for us. If we meet someone with very similar DNA, ur body responds with indifference. If we meet someone with very different DNA, we have a powerful "love at first sight" experience... which is what happened to Bert and Shirley.

They knew they were soulmates because their bodies were telling them they'd produce healthy kids together.

Interestingly, this phenomenon also explains when and with whom women cheat. Women tend to marry the dude that provides, but is more likely to cheat with the masculine dude when she's ovulating. Guys- sorry if that tidbit keeps you up at night... if you're not an especially masculine man.

Sidebar #3- the pill also short-circuits this process. Women on the pill don't seem to have the ability to accurately "read" male pheromones. I have my own weird theory about this. Since so many women are on the pill, they really have no idea which males are genetically dissimilar... until they stop taking the pill.

Infertility has been increasing over the last few decades. Maybe pheromone theory explains this. A woman on the pill is about as likely to marry a dude that's genetically similar as a dude that's genetically different. When our genes are too similar, the woman's body has a greater chance of aborting a fertilized egg. Maybe the increase in fertility is a function of women just married the wrong dude. This seems to be confirmed when measuring that falling in love feeling... there may be a positive correlation between really fertile couples and couples that have a profound "falling in love" experience. Infertile couples probably didn't have the fireworks. 

It's just an idea. To be safe, women: don't marry a dude until you've spent some time off the pill. Dudes: same thing.

So what exactly is this "falling madly in love" thing?

As it turns out, it's a chemical tsunami in your brain. When people have a strong "falling in love' feeling, the following chemicals flood their brains:

  • Dopamine- this chemical makes us feel good. Really good. This is the reason drugs like cocaine and crack are so addictive. Whenever we do anything we enjoy, we enjoy it because of dopamine. Falling in love releases A LOT of dopamine in our brain. When we're in the presence of the object of our affection, we feel good. When we're away, that craving to be with them is a result of a drop in dopamine. We experience withdrawal.
  • Norepinepherine: AKA adrenaline. This gives us the feeling of boundless energy, difficulty sleeping, racing heart, butterflies in the stomach, and any other feeling we might also get if we're running from a bear.
  • Serotonin: These levels go down, which causes us to have obsessive/compulsive like symptoms... which usually manifests itself as obsessive thinking of the other person.
  • Phenylethlamine- This chemical also seems to play a role in the "falling in love' response, and may differentiate the response from the more common fight or flight response of the sympathetic nervous system. This chemical helps ward off depression and suppresses appetite... the reason people lose weight when falling in love. Oh, and phenylethlamine is found in chocolate.
Now that they're a couple, Bert and Shirley will go through typical "early relationship' behaviors. They'll sleep less. They'll eat less and lose weight. They will talk and walk a little faster. They'll obsess over each other. They will talk endlessly. They will spend significant time staring into each others' eyes. They will spend an inordinate amount of time together and ignore friends and family. When they're apart, they will crave each other's presence. They'll have lots o' sex.

All of these behaviors are a direct consequence of the chemical cocktail that floods their nervous system. Isn't science cool?
Eventually these chemicals decrease and are replaced with other chemicals that "bond" us to the other. The biological reason is pretty simple- this early phase gets the ladies pregnant, the next phase keeps us together long enough to raise the kids so they can survive. Well, at least that's what happened when kids were kicked out of the nest immediately before puberty.

Sidebar #4- Ever notice teens, when they fall in love for the first time, are REALLY obnoxious? 

Why?

Like any other first-time drug user, their body isn't ready for the onslaught of chemicals. They've never had a chance to habituate to the chemicals so they're extra-powerful. Once they fall in love a few times, they tend to ease off a bit. The chemical onslaught isn't quite as severe. If they go through the cycle frequently, it may not even affect their behaviors much. 

This may be why serial daters become a little cynical... they've just built up too much of a tolerance to the love chemicals.

This may also explain why divorcees tend to have a more powerful 'falling in love" feeling than their single friends. It's probably been awhile since they felt that chemical surge, so they have little to no tolerance. They're like teens again.

Last point- love junkies. It is possible for people to get addicted to love chemicals. The behavior is manifested in initiating relationships, falling madly in love, then breaking up after 6-9 months... which is about the time it takes for the "falling in love" phase to transition to the next phase: commitment.

Up next: Commitment- what happens after Bert and Shirley have been dating for awhile?

###



Monday, November 12, 2012

Sexual Behaviors: Who Does What?

Back in the day I trained to be an experimental psychologist. My planned area of study was human sexuality. It never quite came to fruition due to a variety of reasons, but I never really lost interest in using the scientific method to study human sexual behaviors.Whenever I come across some research, I peruse it.


The website goodinbed.com published the results of an online survey regarding sexual adventurousness earlier this year. The study was done with an online survey, which always produces somewhat questionable results. The respondents are usually self-selecting. The people that are willing to complete an online sex survey are probably going to be more sexually adventurous, thus the results can't necessarily be generalized to the wider population.


Despite this limitation, the results of their survey were interesting. As a whole, women turned out to be significantly more adventurous than men. Some other interesting findings:
  • Sexual adventurousness improved relationships, both for the more adventurous person and the less adventurous person.
  • Women engaged in a wider variety of sexual activities.
  • There was a positive correlation between length of relationships and the variety of activities couples engaged in.
As far as specific behaviors, there were TONS of interesting findings. As it turns out, we're pretty kinky. Many of the sexual behaviors that are often considered "taboo" are actually fairly common. Here's a sampling:

For women: 
  • 51% watch porn with their partner.
  • 89% have worn sexy lingerie.
  • 76% talk dirty during sex
For men:
  • 90% have sex with the lights on.
  • 83% have sex outside the bedroom.
  • 63% talk dirty during sex
 Okay, so none of those behaviors are exactly "Earth-shattering" kinky behaviors... but how about these?
  • 56% of all shared fantasies with their partners.
  • 50% watched porn; 19% read erotica. Apparently we don't like to read. :-)
  • 80% use lubricants during sex.
  • 56% masturbated for their partner.
  • 60% had sex in a place where they'd likely be caught.
  • 45% sexted or had Skype sex with their partner.
  • 19% role play.

And the numbers for the more taboo behaviors were interesting:
  • 43% experimented with anal sex.
  • 21% made a sex tape
  • 54% employed spanking
  • 8% experimented with adding a third person to the mix.

What Does This Data Tell Us?


As I mentioned before, the methodology of the research makes it difficult to generalize the results to the general population. Regardless, the data gives us a tantalizing hint that Americans are more sexually open-minded than many assume.

From a practical standpoint, this data could be used to help convince your partner to try some of the reported practices. After all, there are a lot of other people out there doing it!

###

Sunday, November 11, 2012

How To Convince Your Partner to Be More Sexually Adventurous

In the last post, I reviewed the excellent Lelo Gigi vibrator. I received several messages from readers asking for advice on convincing their partner to try toys. The first draft of this post discussed toys in particular, but I realized the discussion could be generalized to convincing your partner to do anything sexually.

It's not unusual for one partner to have a stronger sex drive than the other. It's also not uncommon for one partner to be more adventurous. Part of the problem stems from our behaviors early in relationships. When we "fall" for someone, the cocktail of neurotransmitters released in our brain make us significantly hornier than we might otherwise be. It also makes us more adventurous sexually. As time passes and those chemicals calm down, we return closer to our "natural" state. That's usually about the time discrepancies in libido and adventurousness appear.

I'm a lucky dude. S is a big fan of sex and possesses an adventurous, non-judgmental spirit. However, I've had enough conversations with others to recognize our relationship is the exception, not the rule.

Here's a typical scenario: You want to try something new... maybe BDSM, introduce toys, try anal... whatever. You have no idea how to approach the subject with your partner. You fear they may respond with terror, anger, or assume you're a depraved pervert. Maybe they will think they're not adequate and feel rejected.

I should take a moment to address an issue. Some people will advise you shouldn't ask your partner to do anything they wouldn't readily agree to do.

NONSENSE!

Life is short. If your partner is so uptight they would never agree to try something, I would suggest your relationship needs serious help. The more adventurous partner is typically left to feel like they're a sex addict, which is sad. Sex is a wonderful thing to share with a partner, and the more adventurous partner is simply trying to keep things exciting. If anyone should be made to feel like the deviant, I would suggest it should the boring partner. After all, sexual adventurousness is positively correlated to the length of relationships. Those that experiment in bed (or elsewhere) stay together longer.

Anyway, I digress.

Whatever the reason, there are a lot of possible ways to effectively begin the conversation and convince your partner to try something new. Read through the list below. You should know your partner well enough to know which approach will likely work. Should you have questions or comments, leave one in the comment section and I'll respond ASAP.
  • The honest approach: This is the method I'd most recommend. I'm a firm believer in open, honest communication. Simply explain what you'd like to do with your parter, then give them an opportnity to express their concerns.
  • The analytical approach: If your partner is the geeky type, providing stats may help. For example, approximately 46% of women have used a sex toy. This is a bandwagon or social proof phenomenon- if others are doing something, we're more likely to do it.
  • Negotiation: S and I do this occasionally. If we do X, we can then do Y, where "X" is something I want and "Y" is something she wants. Just make sure "X" and "Y" are of comparable value. Negotiation works because of the rule of reciprocity- when we do something for someone, they feel a social obligation to return the favor.
  • Reassurance: This is handy if your partner will likely feel like your request is a veiled way of expressing your dissatisfaction with them as a lover. They may think thinks are great and there's no reason to experiment to possibly make things better. Reassure them that you love them and trust them enough to add a little novelty to the routine. This method can also be combined with other methods.
  • Use proper framing: Consider what you're asking your partner to do, then set the stage properly. For example, don't just ask them to try this kinky new sex act. Instead, preface the conversation by telling them how much you love their adventurous spirit and what positive effect that has on you.
  • Test the waters: This is actually known as the "foot in the door" technique and is based on the commitment/consistency rule.  Once we make a small initial commitment to something, we'll continue down the same path. Instead of going all-out, start with something small. Let's use BSDM as an example. Instead of going out and buying a full set of shackles, whips, and paddles, maybe start by having one of you keep your hands "restrained" by having to hold on to a head rail on the bed. If things go well, graduate to a scarf. Then fuzzy handcuffs. You get the picture.
  • The surprise attack: I wouldn't recommend this unless you have a very understanding partner, but it can work in some situations. Let's say you want to introduce a vibrator to your sexy time. After things heat up, just whip it out and put it to use. The heightened state of arousal tends to make us much more permissive, and if timed right, can be used to introduce something new.
  • Try it, you'll like it!: Okay, I just quoted Yo Gabba Gabba. What can I say, it's good advice. This is the first of S's contributions. The idea is simple, especially if you set it as a precedent. Convince your partner to commit to trying something one time. If they like it, awesome! If not, let it go and try something else. You can always come back to try again later on down the road. A major point of this strategy- make sure you know what you're doing! If you're performing oral for the first time, you'd damn well better know the basics of good technique. Learn the anatomy; learn what most people enjoy. Most importantly, learn to read your partner's response.
  • Appeal to their curiosity: Does your partner have a strong sense of curiosity? If so, simply asking "I wonder what _______ would feel like?" can be enough to start the conversation to experiment. Unfortunately, by virtue of you reading this list, YOU'RE probably the curious one.
  • Alcohol: It's cheap, easy to obtain, and lowers inhibitions. This was one of S's contribution to the list.
  • Offer a challenge: Is your partner competitive? Sometimes offering a challenge to try something may evoke a strong enough response to overcome any hesitation. I'd recommend starting an informal game of "I dare you to...", then go back and forth for a few days. Once you get into the swing of things, toss out the desired sexual idea.
  • Induce competition: This is a slightly different take on the same concept from above. If your partner is competitive, play on that by casually mentioning that one of your friends and their partner tried something. It helps if the friend actually did this. The idea is to make it sound like a resoundingly positive experience, then toss out something that will elicit a spark of competitiveness in your mate.
  • Our friends are doing it: This is sort of like the competition idea above, but uses more of the bandwagon/social proof phenomenon. We're more likely to do something others are doing, especially if those other people are similar to us and/or well liked by us.
  • Use a third party: Sometimes you may be able to use one of your partner's friends as a wingman of sorts. This is obviously predicated on the closeness of the relationships involved as it will require frank discussions with your partner's friends. The goal is to have the friend discuss the activity with your partner as a "safer" way to introduce the topic.
  • Door in the face: This is a classic negotiation technique. Ask for something completely and totally unreasonable. When your partner forcefully rejects you, ask for the much more mild request which was the original goal. Let's say you want to experiment with sex in public. Ask your partner if they'd have sex ona crowded city bus. When they say no, ask if they'd at least have sex in a deserted park under the cover of darkness. The likelihood of saying yes to the second, more reasonable request increases dramatically.
  • Use books, magazines, or website articles: People write about all kinds of shit. Pretty much every imaginable sexual practice has been discussed in some media at one time or another. Find these writings, then casually let your partner find them. This may require some tact, and it will help if you can find something from a more mainstream source. This can be a safe way to bring up something new. The technique is effective because it relies on the authority principle- we are more likely to go along with something if an authority figure supports it.
  • Porn. Or racy non-porn. Or Sex and the City. The same idea as above can be used with visual media.
  • Four walls: This is another classic negotiation technique. Ask four questions related to the topic that require an affirmative answer. For the fifth question, ask the goal question... in this case, ask if they're willing to try the new sexual adventure. The reason it works is subtle. Answering "yes" four times sets a pattern that actually influences how we process the fifth question. Interestingly, the person is unlikely to change their mind after saying yes. Once we commit to something, we'd rather not change course.
  • Alleviate fears of the acts themselves: Sometimes sexual acts themselves may be scary. For example, many women seem hesitant to try vibrators because they believe they will result in permanent nerve damage. While they can cause brief desensitization, there's no lasting effect. When considering anything new, know the pros and cons and be willing to discuss this openly and honestly.
  • Talk up the mutual benefit: Nobody likes a selfish lover... except the occasional sub. Aside from that specific situation, always present new ideas in a way that accentuates the shared benefit to both partners, not just your benefit.
  • Offer a solo run (toy specific): If you'd like to introduce sex toys but your partner is hesitant, offer them a solo run. For example, let your partner use a vibrator a few times themselves before playing as a couple.
There are a myriad of other techniques that could be used, but many begin to venture into the muddy water of ethics. 

What do you think? Have anything to add? Have any questions about the techniques? Leave a comment!

Have friends that have partners that are not very sexually adventurous? Share this post via Facebook, Twitter, or email!


###

Help me out! I'm trying to increase the readership of the Sexpressionist project. If you like the idea of open, honest communication about our sexuality, follow the blog using the icon on the right side of this page!

Thanks!

-Jason

 


Saturday, November 10, 2012

Lelo Gigi Vibrator Review

The Lelo Gigi vibrator is quite simply a work of art... beautiful, amazing, orgasm-inducing art. This is the best sex toy we have ever tried.

When I made the decision to start reviewing products, I had a bit of an internal debate. We have a fair collection of toys that could be reviewed. How would I decide which to review first? Should I review the worst, then build up to the better products? Should I get start with the best and use it as a gold standard?

Ultimately I decided to start with our gold standard- and the Lelo Gigi easily won out among our current collection.

Lelo is a Swedish company that manufactures high end toys. They are among the leaders of a new movement that marries stunning aesthetics and clean design principles with superior functionality. They make pretty, high quality sex toys that will rock your world.

This is a major departure from most sex toy manufacturers. If you've ever perused an adult store, you're familiar with the neon-colored shoddy toys packaged in cheap packaging emblazoned with pictures of porn stars. This marketing channel, while entertaining, tends to be rather intimidating. If the average person can muster up the courage to venture into an adult store and purchase one of these products, they're rewarded with a product that may last a week or three before falling apart.

Lelo is one of the companies challenging the status quo in the industry, and the Gigi is a perfect weapon to lead that fight.

The Gigi is technically classified as a G-spot vibrator. The slightly curved head and flat surface are intended for vaginal insertion and G-spot stimulation. The toy has five modes that can be adjusted for intensity. The Gigi is rechargeable so batteries are not required.

The Gigi was our first high quality vibrator. I purchased it at a Brookstone in the airport on the way home from a business trip to South America. I had been gone for a few days and really missed S. What better way to express my built-up desire than a vibrator?

I had heard of Lelo in an online article, and was intrigued. The reviewer claimed their toy was the best they had ever tried. The price seemed wayyyy too steep, the the reviewer claimed it was well worth the premium price.

We used the toy the morning after I returned (we're morning people). S used it for clitoral stimulation while I caressed her G-spot. Fifteen seconds later, she was floating in orgasmic bliss. To say the Gigi was effective would be a monumental understatement. 

Since that first morning, we've used the Gigi hundreds of times. We've tried using it for G-spot stimulation, but S prefers to keep it outside. It has become our default toy. 

The batteries have died on occasion when we forget to charge it and don't have access to the charging cord (it will continue to work when plugged in). We've used some of our previous favorite toys... and it's definitely not the same.

We occasionally use other settings besides the constant vibration mostly to prolong the play session. Sometimes it can be too effective.

We mostly use the toy for couples play, but S occasionally uses the toy alone when I'm out of town. One night, I was alone and couldn't sleep. Out of curiosity, I decided to try it on myself. After a bit of experimentation, I found a sweet spot- the underside of the penis. It felt really good...really good... to the point where I came after about five minutes. It was a much different experience than manual stimulation.

I was a little bit shocked. Even though I've spend far too much time researching topics related to human sexuality, I had never heard of males being able to orgasm from a vibrator. It makes sense physiologically as the penis and clitoris are essentially the same tissue mass.

A little more research confirmed I was not unique, but it was clear this was not a topic that was discussed openly.Since this "discovery", I've probably used the Gigi for solo sessions about as much as S.

Pros


The Gigi is relatively small, the charge lasts for at least ten sessions, is quite enough to use in our RV with kids 20 feet away, incredibly durable, and water-resistant. The materials are high quality and smooth to the touch. The actual aesthetics of the vibrator are great... it looks like a work of art. Even the packaging was top-notch.

Cons


There aren't many drawbacks with the toy. It would be nice if it were fully submersible, and the material is not compatible with silicone-based lube. Other than that, I'm hard-pressed to come up with any other negatives. The price is high, but I believe it is a far better value than the usual crappy-ass toys sold in stores or online.

Where to Buy

If you're in the market for a new toy, this is definitely worth the price whether you're planning on using it alone or with a partner. The packaging and aesthetics scream "classy" not "pervy", so it would make an appropriate gift for the upcoming holiday season. The Gigi can be purchased at many adult stores or online via Amazon here:



###