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The Science of Fidelity

May 16, 2010 News, Research 2 Comments

The gene that produces vasopressin, bonding hormone produced in the brain, has long been known as the “fidelity gene.” Biologist Hasse Walum at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, recently studied 552 different sets of twins to learn more about the gene related to the production of this chemical — to try to get a sense of how its presence affects marriages.

Over all, men who carried a variation in this gene were less likely to be married than those who didn’t. And the men who had gotten married were more likely to have had serious marital problems and unhappy wives. Of the men who carried two copies of the gene variant, about a third had experienced a serious relationship crisis in the past year, double the number seen in the men who did not carry the variant.

But a happy marriage is not necessarily one free of infidelity.

“It’s difficult to use this information to predict any future behavior in men,” Walum told Tara Parker-Pope, who reported about this on her column Well.

But the brain can be taught to resist temptation, Parker-Pope notes, citing a series of studies led by John Lydon, a psychologist at McGill University in Montreal that study people’s reactions to temptation.

In one of these studies, married men and women with high ranking in terms of fidelity were asked to rate the attractiveness of people of the opposite sex in a series of photos. They were then showed similar photos and told the persons were interested in meeting with them. In this instance, they gave photos of equally attractive people lower scores than they had the first time around.

“The more committed you are,” Dr. Lydon said, “the less attractive you find other people who threaten your relationship.”

In another study of 300 heterosexual men and women, half the participants were primed for cheating by imagining a flirtatious conversation with someone they found attractive. The other half just imagined a routine encounter. Afterward, the subjects completed fill-in-the-blank puzzles, which, unbeknown to the participants, were a psychological test used to reveal their subconscious feelings about commitment.

Differences arose between men and women who imagined the flirtatious fantasy. In that group, the men were more likely to complete the puzzles with the neutral words than words related to commitment.

THR_AT became “throat” to men and “threat” to women. LO_AL became “local” to men and “loyal” to women.

This prompted researchers to believe women may have early warning system to alert them to relationship threats.

This study doesn’t really say how people react when encountered by a threat to commitment, but the following one does. In this one, attractive actors and actresses were brought in to flirt with study participants in the waiting room. Afterward, the participants were asked questions about their relationships, especially how they would react to inappropriate behavior on the part of their partner, like forgetting to call.

Men who had been flirting were less forgiving, suggesting the previous flirtation had perhaps affected their commitment, making them more likely to find fault. Women who had been flirting, on the other hand, were more likely to be forgiving and make excuses for their partner in light of the hypothetical infraction, which suggests that the flirtation may have triggered a protective response in them.

“We think the men in these studies may have had commitment, but the women had the contingency plan — the attractive alternative sets off the alarm bell,” Dr. Lydon said. “Women implicitly code that as a threat. Men don’t.”

So can we train the brain to resist temptation? Another McGill study prompted male subjects in committed relationships to imagine running into an attractive woman on a weekend while they were away from their partners. Some were asked to fill in the sentence: “When she approaches me, I will __________ to protect my relationship.”

The subjects were then exposed to a virtual reality game in which two of the four rooms involved “subliminal messages of an attractive woman.” The men who had drafted a contingency plan before hand went into the rooms 25 percent of the time versus 62 percent for the other men.

Interesting — but what keeps people together? Arthur Aron, a psychologist and relationship researcher at Stony Brook University, thinks it’s “self-expansion” — how much a partner broadens your horizons and generally enhances your life.

In a study on the topic, couples are asked questions such as: how much does your partner provide a source of exciting experiences? How much has knowing your partner made you a better person? How much do you see your partner as a way to expand your own capabilities?

The Stony Brook researchers stimulated self-expansion in experiments by giving some couples mundane tasks, while others took part in a silly challenge with a time limit rigged to make them lose on the first two tries and win just barely on the last. The couples who did the silly challenge recorded increase in love and relationship satisfaction than those who did mundane tasks and did not experience the excitement and victory.

They theorize that couples who explore new places and try new things will tap into feelings of self-expansion, lifting their level of commitment.

“We enter relationships because the other person becomes part of ourselves, and that expands us,” Dr. Aron said. “That’s why people who fall in love stay up all night talking and it feels really exciting. We think couples can get some of that back by doing challenging and exciting things together.”

Photo by Elenah Neshcuet. Information from The New York Times.

The Pill, But For Dudes

sperm

A contraceptive for men is soon going to start trials at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, just in time for the celebration of 50th anniversary of the female contraceptive pill!

Dr. Swerdloff, the director of the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center’s Male Contraceptive Clinical Trials Center, said the development of a male contraceptive has the power to change men’s view of their health and empower their reproductive decisions.

“Just as women gained greater control over their reproductive choices and their health with the advent of the birth control pill, a male contraceptive would get men more involved in their personal health care and would give them greater reproductive choices,” he said in a statement.

To this end, the institute is seeking 60 men ages 18 to 50 to test out a combination of hormone gels that will be applied to their arms and abdomens to see how they affect sperm count. The idea is that this hormonal gel will cut sperm count to levels where conception is not possible. According to researchers, discontinued use will result in the men returning to their normal sperm production.

Named after Dr. Christina Wang, one of the leading researchers involved, the test period is being called the “Wang male contraceptive trial.” If you giggle about it, we’re going to think less of you. This is very serious stuff, people.

OK, fine. Giggle. Then, if you’re a man, consider signing up for the study.

Information via the LA Weekly.

Less Taxation, More Stimulation

May 15, 2010 Culture, Politics 2 Comments

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know by now what the tea party movement is all about. If you have been living under a rock, let us explain: it’s a bunch of libertarians and conservatives getting together freaking out about stimulus packages and bailouts and generally supporting a more limited government, balanced budgets, and free markets.

Chicago’s Admiral’s Club (a gentleman’s club) is very serious about these issues. They hosted a Sarah Palin look-alike contest on Wednesday to raise funds for the Tea Party Campaign.

“Politicizing sex or sex for causes seems to cheapen the act,” said Brooks Bayne, local Independent and active participant in the tea party movement. He didn’t specify whether he was referring to the act of sex or the tea party movement as being cheapened, though he did add that “having sex with someone who shares your political views is hot.”

A call to the club to inquire how much money was raised for the cause went unanswered.

Image from the Admiral’s Club. Via Ryan Paonessa.

Laura Bush Supports Gay Marriage and Abortion

May 15, 2010 Freedom, News, Politics 1 Comment

Remember American Wife, the book by Curtis Sittenfeld, about an American first lady who is wife to a conservative warhawk and who stands beside him despite how much she disagrees with him on issues? Probably not because, well, who reads anymore?

Anyway, it was said to be loosely based on Laura Bush. In the book, the fictional first lady supports abortion. We bring this up because Laura Bush joined Larry King last week on his show Larry King Live and came out publicly about her stance on both abortion and gay marriage.

She told King that she understands “what George thinks and what other people think about marriage being between a man and a woman,” but she believes that “when couples are committed to each other and love each other that they ought to have, I think, the same sort of rights that everyone has.”

She also still believes that abortion should remain legal “for medical reasons, and other reasons.”

Some have criticized the former first lady for only making these statements only now that she has a book to promote. Her autobiography, Spoken from the Heart, was released earlier this month.

Information from PoliticsDaily.

Strippers Fund Schools

May 13, 2010 News 1 Comment

“Support single moms,” say the shirts bearing a picture of a woman hanging on a pole. Oh, those poor, poor strippers. They have to get naked to support their kids because that’s their only real option.

What if we told you that these women were supporting your kids?

Check this out: Illusions Gentleman’s Club in Long Island is charging five dollars at the door. This money isn’t for the club or the girls — it’s to help maintain school programs that are in danger of being cut due to lack of funding.

They’re calling it the “pole tax” but that’s not all — many of the strippers involved plan to donate some of the tips they make onstage.

This isn’t the first time a strip club has done something like this. In the last two years, a club in Texas has imposed a pole tax and managed to raise over $13 million to fund sexual assault prevention programs.

So next time you look down on a woman in the skin biz, consider this: what have you done lately to help out around the city?

Information from MyFox NY, via Shoes.

WARNING! Top 10 Sex Injuries!

May 13, 2010 News, Research 4 Comments

Love hurts, this we know. But so does sex! The Daily Mail has some lolsy stats on the sorts of injuries fearless Brits suffer on a regular basis doing what we do best: the nasty.

The most common complaints are pulled muscles, back injuries, carpet burns, sprained necks and — interestingly — bent back fingers. Even more interesting is that the results come from a poll of 1,000 commissioned by a phone-recycling business Envirofone.

“Sex is a risky business these days,” a spokesperson told the Mail. “There are numerous hazards in and around the home which can inflict severe injuries if people aren’t careful.”

It is unclear what their interest is in doing this, but who cares? We all love stats about sex. Here’s a cool breakdown:

According to the poll, five percent of the surveyed took time off work due to sex-related injuries and two percent suffered broken bones! They also found that one-third of Britons being surveyed had suffered an ache or strain before, during, or closely after sex — and nearly half of these said they only realized their injury the following morning because they’d been too hot at the moment to notice!

Their fave places to do it? The staits, car, kitchen table and office supply closet, with almost four in 10 breaking something during sex (cost of damage? Around $228). Bed frames, wine or pint glasses and picture frames were the most common casualties of passion.

Ten percent of those surveyed said they or their partner had fallen off the bed during sex and one in 50 said they had fallen off a washing machine.

Those Brits sure know how to get it on. It almost makes us feel boring in comparison. How do you think America ranks? Maybe we should ask these guys to do a study.

Infographic and information from The Daily Mail.

Miley Cyrus Gets Freaky On The Dance Floor

May 12, 2010 Hollywoody, News 1 Comment

OMG! TMZ has released a SHOCKING video of Miley Cyrus grinding hard on a homosexual man more than twice her age!

Behold the then-16-year-old back against 44-year-old Adam Shankman at the Last Song wrap party in Georgia:

Miley Cyrus dirty dance

Everyone freak out! A teenager is acting like a teenager. SO SHOCKING.

(If this classifies as distributing child pornography, we apologize in advance. We do not support illegal activity however illogical we may find the notion that a 16-year-old can make choices with a moving ton of steel capable of killing people, but not her own body, etc.)

Images and information from — who else? — our favorite scandal mongers over at TMZ.

Hookers, Futbol, Condoms and Fans

May 12, 2010 Culture, Sex Work, Sports 1 Comment

The Wold Cup will bring some 400,000 people to South Africa this June. Mostly male, the soccer fans attract a specific sort of service provider: the sex worker. According to South Africa’s Drug Central Authority, some 40,000 sex workers will be arriving as well from all over the world.

The Global Post reports on other local preparations:

Henry Africa, 49, drives a taxi in Cape Town and, aside from the usual airport pickups and winery tours, he also operates the “Bright Red Tour,” which he expects to be a hit among soccer fans. For the equivalent of 500 dollars, he’ll shuttle customers from strip bar to strip bar all night and even bring them over to a safe-sex practicing prostitute, a relevant selling point in a country where one in five adults are estimated to be HIV positive.

Despite jolly preparations for the rowdy futbol fanatics, the tourism board of the Cape tourism board has issued a code to try to curb sex tourism and AIDS awareness campaigns have been launched.

Even the president. Jacob Zuma, who is a polygamist with four wives and father of at least 20 children, asked the United Kingdom to supply 1 billion extra condoms to South Africa before the tournament. Britain to date has sent 42 million condoms, “a number sufficient to supply almost every citizen of South Africa with one condom or every tourist expected to travel there with one hundred,” according to the Global Post.

In this instance, it’s not just joga bonito. It’s play safe, too.

Image created by us using the South Africa 2010 FIFA World Cup logo. Information from the Global Post.

Handjobs for Science

May 10, 2010 News, Research 1 Comment

You’ve had a pretty hum-drum at the office, so we here at Sex and the 405 thought we would spice things up a bit with a double shot of WTF science.

dolphin handjobThe following excerpt is from Graham Burnett’s A Mind In The Water, an article about the study of dolphins over time, which will run in the May/June 2010 issue of Orion magazine. The piece touches on the controversial work of neurophysiologist John Cunningham Lilly, who infamously tried to understand the bottlenose through LSD — and even sex.

Oh! That got your attention. Good. You need to wake up.

Over the course of his decade of intensive dolphin research, Lilly can be understood to have more or less sequenced through the whole battery of Cold War techniques for dealing with a tight-lipped foreign asset held in captivity.

Initially committed, in the late 1950s, to that spookish tool kit of techno-maniacal assaults on the cranium (picture a Frankenstein-like cap with electrodes penetrating the skull), Lilly gradually moved, at CRI, to less invasive approaches with his animals. But he nevertheless continued to draw on the playbook of those psy-ops intelligence services that shaped his early training in neurophysiology.

For instance, by the early 1960s he was testing code-breaking techniques, having been granted access to one of the very earliest programmable electronic computers, which he used to try to sieve recordings of dolphin vocalizations for patterns, deploying the same statistical methods as Cold War cryptographers. A little later he began experimenting with “chronic contact” scenarios, which involved “isolating” a dolphin in constricted quarters with a human agent, on the assumption that a conversion of loyalties would result.

To this end, Lilly even redesigned the St. Thomas laboratory with floodable living quarters, and initiated a set of long-term cohabitation experiments in which a male dolphin and a human female in a leotard and lipstick (to help the dolphin see her mouth move, of course) spent weeks interacting in a confined space. Lilly had her read Planet of the Apes to prepare for the work.

This sort of deracinating, intensive environment — colored with erotic potential — belonged, of course, to the world of counterespionage debriefings. Lilly did not explicitly advertise these dimensions of his project, preferring to talk of the need to treat the dolphin like a child, positioned to learn human language from the continuous attentions and baby talk of a new “mother.”

But he was by no means unhappy when an Oedipal scene unfolded underwater: with all the inevitability of a classical drama, this newest effort at interspecies communication eventually climaxed in what is probably the very oldest form of human-animal intimacy — sexual contact.

Pressed by an increasingly desperate Lilly to recognize that she needed to open herself to the dolphin’s solicitations (and warned by him against succumbing to the blinders of her own cultural preoccupations and psychological blockages), the young experimenter eventually decided that the randy and terrifying buckings of her imprisoned subject animal were themselves nothing less than his effort to communicate. In the protocols of her experimental notebooks she recorded coming to feel that her sharp-toothed roommate was doing the best he could to solicit her in a more and more gentle manner; it fell to her to meet him halfway, stroking him to a shuddering calm.

Lilly chalked it up as a victory for interspecies contact. But Swiss Family Robinson it was not. Neither was Lilly’s final effort to hear what the dolphins were saying, which involved the use of lysergic acid diethylamide, otherwise known as LSD.

Image and information from Orion magazine.

Happy 50th Birthday, Pill!

The Pill turned fifty years old this year and Time magazine has an incredible piece detailing our tumultuous, misunderstood relationship with it. If you read anything today, let this be it:

It was the first medicine ever designed to be taken regularly by people who were not sick. Its main inventor was a conservative Catholic who was looking for a treatment for infertility and instead found a guarantee of it. It was blamed for unleashing the sexual revolution among suddenly swinging singles, despite the fact that throughout the 1960s, women usually had to be married to get it. Its supporters hoped it would strengthen marriage by easing the strain of unwanted children; its critics still charge that the Pill gave rise to promiscuity, adultery and the breakdown of the family. In 1999 the Economist named it the most important scientific advance of the 20th century, but Gloria Steinem, one of the era’s most influential feminists, calls its impact “overrated.” One of the world’s largest studies of the Pill — 46,000 women followed for nearly 40 years — was released this March. It found that women who take the Pill are less likely to die prematurely from any cause, including cancer and heart disease, yet many women still question whether the health risks outweigh the benefits.

We take it for granted nowadays and its refreshing to take the time to stop and consider those who struggled for it and what the Pill itself helped catalyze. It almost makes us feel guilty for bitching about taking it every morning.

Then we read that Susan B. Anthony quote, here reiterated by Gloria Steimen: “Our job is not to make young women grateful. It’s to make them ungrateful so they keep going. Gratitude never radicalized anybody.”

Well, we’ll feel a little grateful just the same. Just today. Before we get back to bringing sex out of the closet and boobquaking.

Photo of the Pill used in the montage by Jenny Lee Silver. Information from Time magazine.

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Why You Should Vote No On Prop 35

Should people who benefit (parents, siblings, children, roommates!) from the earnings of “commercial sex acts” (any sexual conduct connected to the giving or receiving of something of value) be charged with human trafficking? Should someone who creates obscene material that is deemed “deviant” be charged as with human trafficking? Should someone who profits from obscene materials be charged with human trafficking? Should people transporting obscene materials be charged with human trafficking? Should a person who engages in sex with someone claiming to be above the age of consent or furnishing a fake ID to this effect be charged with human trafficking? What if I told you the sentences for that kind of conviction were eight, 14 or 20 years in prison, a fine not to exceed $500,000, and life as a registered sex offender?

Pretty and Calls Herself a Geek? Attention Whore!

If you are a woman, you might be given a chance to prove yourself in this community. Since there is no standard definition of what a “geek” is and it will vary from one judge to the next anyway, chances of failing are high (cake and grief counseling will be available after the conclusion of the test!). If you somehow manage to succeed, you’ll be tested again and again by anyone who encounters you until you manage to establish yourself like, say, Felicia Day. But even then, you’ll be questioned. As a woman, your whole existence within the geek community will be nothing but a series of tests — if you’re lucky. If you aren’t lucky, you’ll be harassed and threatened and those within the culture will tacitly agree that you deserve it.

Cuddle Chemical? Moral Molecule? Not So Fast

Zak’s original field, it turns out, is economics, a far cry from the hearts and teddy bears we imagine when we consider his nickname. But after performing experiments on generosity, Zak stumbled on the importance of trust in interactions, which led him, rather inevitably, to research about oxytocin. Oxytocin, you might remember, is a hormone that has been linked previously to bonding — between mothers and children primarily, but also between partners. What Zak has done is take the research a step further, arguing in his recent book, The Moral Molecule, that oxytocin plays a role in determining whether we are good or evil.

How to Avoid Pissing off a Stripper

Let’s talk about the strippers. Whether they like to be half-naked or not, whether they enjoy turning you on or not, there’s one thing they all have in common: they’re working. Whether you think that taking one’s clothes off for money is a great choice of career is really beside the point (is it a possibility for you to make $500 per hour at your job without a law degree? Just asking). These women are providing fantasy, yes, but that is their job. And as a patron of the establishment where they work, you need to treat them like you would anyone else who provides a service to you.

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Sex and the 405 is what your newspaper would look like if it had a sex section.

Here you’ll find news about the latest research being conducted to figure out what drives desire, passion, and other sex habits; reviews of sex toys, porn and other sexy things; coverage of the latest sex-related news that have our mainstream media's panties up in a bunch; human interest pieces about sex and desire; interviews with people who love sex, or hate sex, or work in sex, or work to enable you to have better sex; opinion pieces that relate to sex and society; and the sex-related side of celebrity gossip. More...