Common Sex Questions

Q: Is there a problem if you are sexually active with one partner but when you have sex, you think about other women in your past and present? Say, fantasize about these other women while your having sex (sometimes not even while having sex, sometimes when sleeping). Is something wrong with that?

Thanks for reading, and I appreciate the question, it is a common one. There is nothing wrong with having fantasies about other women while in a relationship or sexually present with someone else. Fantasies are a huge part of who a lot of us are as sexual beings, and often they actually end up promoting more intimacy between partners. Fantasy is also often suggested as a way to spice things up in a monogamous relationship that may have turned monotonous.

The only concern I would have here would be that these fantasies are about actual women you’ve had (or have) in your life. If you’re in a monogamous relationship, I wouldn’t suggest telling your partner about these fantasies because it may unnecessarily upset her. It is one thing to fantasize about celebrities or people we have never met, but to fantasize about someone who we could potentially turn the fantasies to reality with can be really threatening.

So, evaluate why you are fantasizing about these particular women in your life, and if it has something to do with having feelings for them, you may want to consider what that means. However, if it is just because you find something about them sexual, but you’d never take it outside of your fantasy to real time — fantasize away!

Q: I feel like my penis is too small. What is the average length? Does size actually matter?

The average length of a flaccid male penis ranges from 3.1 inches to 4 inches and the average length of an erect penis is 5 inches to 7 inches. There is little relationship between flaccid size and erect size. However, the penis of men whose flaccid penis size is near the lower end of the average tends to grow more when erect than the penis of men whose flaccid penis size is near the high end of the average. Regardless of measurements, penis length doesn’t really matter when it comes to the physiology of heterosexual penetration. A woman’s vaginal canal contains lots of nerve endings that are receptive to touch. However, the majority of these nerve endings are in the outer one-third of the vagina, so 5 inches is plenty long to reach and stimulate that section.

Q: I get very little pleasure out of penetration alone, but when I touch myself while he is inside of me, I am able to have an orgasm some of the time. Is this normal?

Many women are unable to reach orgasm with penile penetration alone. Depending on the position you and your partner are in while having sex, the penis alone may not be able to sufficiently stimulate zones on your body that bring you to orgasmic climax. A common solution to this is manual clitoral stimulation or partner clitoral stimulation, a widely encouraged way to enhance your sexual pleasure.

However, if you are concerned about this and would still like to orgasm without manual stimulation, experiment with different positions to see how your bodies fit together. Aim to find a position where the pelvic bone of your partner rubs against your clitoris. Have fun with each other and explore what feels best for the both of you.

Q: What does an orgasm feel like for women? I’m not sure if I’ve had one or not.

There are different ways to measure what an orgasm feels like, and it is a very difficult sensation to put into words for many women. However, physiologically speaking, you will experience increased blood flow to your genitals, coloring and swelling of your genitals, a strong tension throughout your body, and then rhythmic muscular contractions that expel the blood back into the other organs. This will feel like you’re having a muscle spasm through your whole body, with concentration in the genitals, but the intensity is different for everyone. Some women experience a pulsating sensation in their genitals; others experience a full-body muscular spasm.

Also, some women find there are marked differences between clitoral orgasms and G-spot orgasms (also known as deep orgasms). Clitoral orgasms are usually more like the sensation described above, and G-spot orgasms are a deeper, sometimes more intense feeling that may resemble the need to urinate right before occurring. Also, a feeling of release has been said to accompany the G-spot orgasm. However, some research suggests that it is false to think there are different types of orgasm for women and that although there are different methods to reach the orgasmic plateau, the physiology of an orgasm is identical regardless of the site of stimulation.

Q: Do orgasms for my boyfriend and me feel the same? What is the difference in an orgasm for a guy and a girl?

There are a lot of similarities in the experience of orgasm in men and women, such as general spasms, emotional intimacy, a feeling of ecstasy, and pleasurable satisfaction, although the intensity of these feelings may differ between women and men. The primary difference is that men experience “shooting sensations,” where this has not been widely reported by women.

However, it is quite difficult to define what an orgasm feels like and many people report having difficulty coming up with the words to describe the sensation. Although self-reports are most valuable for this type of personal experience, there are other ways of assessing the experience. Physiologists have observed objective signs such as bodily sensations, endocrinologists have looked at hormones and neurotransmitters, and brain imagers have looked at activations in the brain. All of these investigations suggest the physiology of an orgasm is very similar between men and women.

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What We Can Learn From Sexual Response Cycles

When it comes to sexual behavior, people frequently want to know what’s “normal”. There seems to be a natural tendency to want to compare one’s own sexual experience to the average sexual experience, perhaps in an attempt to gauge performance.

Understanding what is happening physiologically during a given sexual experience may or may not enhance the sexual experience; but one thing is for sure, it isn’t easy to understand what’s “normal” when it comes to sexual response.

Like many things sexual, there isn’t really a normal. To quote Kinsey:

“The only unnatural sex act is that which you cannot perform.”

Many are familiar with the Masters & Johnson sexual response cycle. This was the original sexual response cycle, published in 1966, based on observations of sexual responsivity during partnered and solo sexual activities. This model of sexual response is still the most commonly taught model, despite its mid-60s debut.

Masters & Johnson found that sexual response was divided into four phases: excitement, plateau, orgasm, and resolution. These four phases happened in a linear way, with one coming after the other. The sexual response cycle wasn’t complete without all four occurring (but women had the capability to have multiple orgasms, putting off resolution until all orgasms were complete).

Despite its (even current) wide use, there are some issues that have been identified with this model of sexual response. The model is entirely linear, with one component occuring prior to the next, in the same order. This is problematic because we just don’t work that way! The model completely ignores sexual desire and requires an orgasm to have occurred during sexual response (a very unrealistic expectation). Finally, the model is entirely physiological with no mention of relationship factors, cultural attitudes, or any other external contributors that may be crucial when considering sexual response.

In response to these criticisms, other researchers stepped up to try to explain human sexual response. First, Kaplan proposed the Triphasic Concept in 1979 by creating a model that included desire, excitement, and orgasm. However, this was still linear, still required orgasm, and raised the question of whether desire really came before arousal. Then, in 1997, Whipple & Brash-McGreer created the Circular Model that was specific to women. This cycle acknowledged that pleasure and satisfaction during one sexual experience can feed into the initiation of the next sexual experience. If pleasure and satisfaction were not met, it would decrease the desire for subsequent sexual interactions.

Though the Circular Model is an interesting approach, there is a newer model that myself and many other sex researchers and therapists rely on for explaining how sexual response works. This model was proposed by Basson in 2000 as the Non-Linear Model of sexual response. It is typically referred to for explaining women’s sexual response, but I think it proves equally useful when looking at men’s sexual response. Afterall, too often we think of men as overly-simplistic beings when it comes to sex.

Basson’s Non-Linear Model of sexual response incorporates the need for intimacy, acknowledges that desire can be reactive or spontaneous and may come either before or after arousal, recognizes that orgasms may contribute to satisfaction but aren’t necessary for satisfaction, and considers relationship factors that may impact the cycle as costs or rewards.

The inability to really define “normal” is one of my favorite aspects of Basson’s model. Women (and men) can experience sexual response in a variety of ways. Parts of the model are linear (e.g., arousal and stimulation occur prior to the experience of satisfaction), but other parts are circular and bidirectional (e.g., sexual desire may come before or after arousal and the two may feed into each other).

Three main take-home messages we can learn from studying sexual response cycles:

  1. Sexual pleasure and satisfaction aren’t reliant on orgasm…though orgasm may certainly be a nice bonus.
  2. Sexual desire doesn’t always have to come before sexual activity or arousal…sometimes getting physical and experiencing arousal will elicit desire.
  3. External factors such as relationship dynamics, intimacy, and weighing rewards and costs of sexual experience may play an important role in sexual response.

Try not to focus on “normal”. Instead, shift that focus to you and your partner’s sexual response and communicate your needs both inside and outside the bedroom.

This piece was originally published on Psychology Today.

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Orgasm Shouldn’t Be The Goal of Sex . . . But Should Orgasm Be Avoided?

I’ve always been a proponent of avoiding goal-oriented sex, particularly when it comes to orgasm. When couples or individuals come to me asking questions that concern problems or dissatisfaction with orgasm, one of the first things I suggest is to shift focus from orgasm to the overall act of intimacy. Enjoy the moment, I say.

When I saw an ABC news segment this past July on Karezza, I was intrigued. But when I received a handful of separate emails in the past few months asking me about Karezza, I was motivated to find out more.

Karezza, a word that may seem like the latest technique in sex therapy, is actually a word that dates back to 1896. The word Karezza is derived from the Italian word for “caress”, and was first coined by Alice B. Stockham, M.D.. In Dr. Stockham’s book on the topic, she writes that Karezza “makes a plea for a better birthright for the child, and aims to lead individuals to seek a higher development for themselves through most sacred relations.” Obviously a lot has changed since 1896 when it comes to sex, relationships, and society. Dr. Stockham’s book discusses how sex should be about connecting to another’s soul, a lot of which really reminded me of the practice of tantric sex. The other seminal book on the topic was published in 1931 by John William Lloyd where he defines Karezza as “controlled non-seminal intercourse”.

Karezza is a technique of gentle intercourse where orgasms are discouraged due to their neurochemical effects that leave one exhausted, rather than rejuvenated. The levels of dopamine rise in anticipation for sex and then plummet after sex resulting in the “I’m done here” feeling. It is what scientists refer to as The Coolidge Effect in males (it has not, to my knowledge, been applied to females) where males express a renewed sexual interest in a novel female after satiation with a familiar female.

So by cutting out the dopamine high, couples are thought to avoid the “hangover” that comes after an orgasm and not have the same satiation factor with a familiar partner. However, thinking of sex and relationships in a vacuum of neurochemicals, independent of their context, may not be ideal.

There is a large body of recent research that supports the interconnected nature of sexual and relationship satisfaction. Additionally, recent research has found that the most important predictor of sexual enjoyment for women was orgasm, and the odds of reporting enjoyment were five to six times higher if orgasm was experienced.

Certainly, satisfaction can be achieved by means other than orgasm, but why cut something out that provides pleasure? With how many barriers we have to pleasure and satisfaction as it is, specifically avoiding orgasm may not be an ideal solution. However, if you find that you’re very orgasm-centric in your approach to sex with your partner and you’re both looking to try something new, it might be an interesting alternative.

Also, feel free to check out another Psychology Today blogger’s perspective on Karezza.

This piece was originally posted on Psychology Today.

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Does Desire Really Decrease With Length of Relationship?

In the opening paragraph of Esther Perel’s book, Mating in Captivity, she writes:

“The story of sex in committed modern couples often tells of a dwindling desire and includes a long list of sexual alibis, which claim to explain the inescapable death of eros.”

It is this idea, that sexual desire dwindles when in a committed relationship, that Perel successfully tackles in her book. Popular perception suggests that committed relationships mark the end of sex. Yet research shows that when asked, many people indicate sexual desire as a key feature of romantic love.

The work of myself and others in the field suggests to me that sexual desire ebbs and flows throughout life and relationships.

Research by Murray and Milhausen (2012) recently tackled the length of relationship and desire connection, and found that length of relationship (in couples who were together for an average of 2 years) impacted sexual desire for women, but not men.

In research by Klusmann (2002), men’s sexual desire tended to remain high while women’s sexual desire is found to decrease as early as one year into the relationship.

In research I’ve conducted, I found that length of relationship (in couples who were together for an average of 4 years) didn’t impact sexual desire for women or men, and women and men were equally likely to be the member of the couple with lower sexual desire relative to their partner. And in interviews with women in a relationship for a minimum of 5 years, myself and colleagues have found that there are a number of factors that impact the ebb and flow of sexual desire.

Perhaps another reason the idea exists around sexual desire diminishing with length of relationship is the strong sexual desire in passionate love that is replaced by increased intimacy in companionate love (said to occur around two and a half years).

All of this also makes me wonder, is it the relationship length that is decreasing the desire? Or simply the other milestones (kids, moving in, career moves) that happen to correspond to relationship length? And how do we keep the desire in our relationships over the long haul?

Bringing it back to Mating in Captivity, where open and loving relationships are accompanied with dull sex lives, when we love someone, we feel responsible and secure. Responsibility and security clash with desire. So as the length of our relationship increases, we become closer to the individual, we have a greater sense of security, and we lose that animalistic sense of “throw down” that was such a large part of early sexual scripts in the relationship. As Perel puts it, “fire needs air, and many couples don’t leave enough air.”

Creating that space, or “air”, is perhaps one of the things that can be done in relationships when the desire is at a low ebb. But also just realizing that the ebbs of desire will be accompanied by upward flows is one way to ensure expectations for sex don’t get in the way of pleasure from sex, especially in the context of long-term relationships.

This piece was originally published on Psychology Today.

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Sexual Compatibility: The Importance to Your Satisfaction

Folk wisdom gives us mixed-messages when it comes to compatibility. We hear phrases like “birds of a feather flock together” telling us we need to be compatible with a partner in order to be successful. Then we hear contradictory phrases like “opposites attract” telling us we need not be similar to our partner, but rather different for relational success.

Although compatibility isn’t necessarily a synonym to similarity, they are certainly in the same family.

Perceived sexual compatibility is defined as the extent to which a couple perceives they share sexual beliefs, preferences, desires, and needs with their partner. Another form of sexual compatibility is the extent to which similarities exist between actual turn ons and turn offs for each partner emotionally, cognitively, and behaviorally.

Perceiving sexual compatibility with a partner has been shown to be related to sexual satisfaction, such that the more sexually compatible you are, the more sexually satisfied you are. And researchers have consistently found that sexual satisfaction is also significantly positively related to relationship satisfaction; when one increases (or decreases), the other tends to follow.

Considering the extent to which sexual compatibility contributes to satisfaction in our relationships, it is somewhat surprising there isn’t more research on the topic.

The majority of the research in this area has examined perceived sexual compatibility and it has been found to be related to sexual satisfaction as I mentioned above, but also communication, sexual desire, and sexual functioning, among others.

Despite this focus on perceived sexual compatibility in current research, researchers as early as Ellis in 1953 suggested that one of the main sources of sexual incompatibility were inconsistent preferences for specific sex acts between partners.

So what about compatibility of turn ons and turn offs? It may matter when it comes to being sexually compatible with your partner, as Ellis suggested. If one of you always wants sex with the lights on but one of you always wants sex with the lights off, it may impact your compatibility and perhaps also your satisfaction.

However, research that I’ve conducted with colleagues at University of Guelph found that perceived compatibility was a more important predictor of both sexual and relationship satisfaction than compatibility of turn ons and turn offs. Regardless of whether you like to engage in the same sexual behaviors as your partner, as long as you perceive that you are compatible, you’ll be sexually and relationally satisfied.

This focus on perception isn’t new. Some argue that the perception of a situation is the reality of the situation, regardless of how it may seem to others.

Also, perception isn’t just important in terms of sexual compatibility and its predictive ability of sexual satisfaction. Gottman has suggested that perception of personality differences, not actual personality differences, is a key component for its predictive ability of relationship satisfaction. Gottman has also found that it is only when a relationship isn’t going very well that partners perceive their partner’s personality is to blame.

Perhaps it is only when the sexual side of a relationship isn’t going very well that partners perceive they aren’t sexually compatible with their partner in terms of their behavioral preferences.

So if you meet someone new, and after discussing what you do and don’t like in the bedroom you find some inconsistencies, don’t cut and run too fast! Providing you can perceive yourselves to be sexually compatible, the compatibility of your turn ons and turn offs don’t matter much to satisfaction.

This piece was originally published on Psychology Today.

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Is It Better To Have Loved And Lost Than To Never Have Loved At All?

Regret — the negative emotion associated with realizing a different past decision may have brought a better outcome than what actually transpired — accompanies a lot of failed marriages. And with a divorce rate of around 50 percent (although, this stat is a little misleading once you break it down into subgroups), there may be a lot of romantic regret going on in America.

According to a study published in 2011, the biggest regret on America’s mind is actually a romantic one. University of Illinois’ Mike Morrison and Northwestern University’s Neal Roese led a nationally representative phone survey of 370 adults who were asked to detail their biggest regret. Almost 20 percent of those surveyed cited romantic regret as their primary regret, the largest of all categories.

Women cited a romantic regret more than twice as often as men (44 percent versus 19 percent, respectively), and men cited more work-oriented regret than women (34 percent versus 27 percent, respectively). The most interesting finding in this study to me, was that those who regretted inactions (they didn’t do something but they wish they would have) held on to the regret longer than those who felt the regret was based on action (they did something but wish they wouldn’t have).

When women were asked to submit their biggest romantic regrets to HuffPost Women via Twitter, themes of holding on to a relationship for too long, choosing the wrong type of partner, and not taking certain advice were big ones. Similarly, the descriptions of the romantic regrets in Morrison and Roese’s study focused around lost chances at potential romance and relationships that didn’t live up to their potential.

As noted above, taking action is better than sitting back and not doing anything about it. Although romantic regret is difficult, it lingers more when we regret not doing something than it does when we regret doing something.

In the Morrison and Roese study, the participants who were the most likely to have romantic regrets were the ones who were not currently in a relationship. The famous quote from Alfred Lord Tennyson, “’tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all” is particularly relevant.

Although romantic regret can be difficult to handle, it also serves an important purpose: it shapes the way you handle future relationships. Learning from the regret and using it for a positive course of action (e.g., learning what qualities you should avoid or approach in a romantic partner, avoiding situations that may have led to infidelity in the past, etc.) can help to make the mistakes you’ve made in the past worth it. It’s how we learn our life lessons.

Tell the truth. Express your feelings. If you like someone, tell them. If you don’t, leave or at least be upfront with them about. Life should be that simple. This research on romantic regret sheds light on the importance of taking chances, especially when it comes to love.

Is it better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all? My answer is an absolute yes.

This piece was originally published on Huffington Post.

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Benefits of Post-Divorce Sex

So you’re divorced and ready to get physical again. Whether you’re just looking to get laid or are looking to commit to a new relationship, it may seem daunting, especially if you haven’t been sexual with anyone else for years, decades, or ever. You may feel like a born-again virgin, but there are major benefits to post-divorce sex.

If you got out of your marriage, there were likely reasons. For many people, one of those reasons was a dwindling, nonexistent, or problematic sex life. Put that crappy sex life behind you and consider these six benefits of post-divorce sex:

You can let the real sexual you shine:
In a failed relationship, sometimes you are turned down for sex so many times that you forget that you were ever a sexual person. Or you may begin to think that you just aren’t a sexual person, period. That likely isn’t the case. You may benefit from rethinking who you are as a sexual being. When your sexual desires aren’t being met for a long period of time, you can feel trapped, like the real you isn’t able to shine. Post-divorce sex can be a liberating experience, one where you are discovering a whole new world of opportunity for sexual pleasure.

You have the benefit of the comparison factor:

If a divorce occurred, chances are the sexual and/or relationship satisfaction was low. Research consistently shows that sexual and relationship satisfaction are intertwined — when one is low, the other follows. So when you are comparing your new sex life to the one you left, the something different will become something exciting — and finally — satisfying!

You can get what you really want:
Did your ex beg for anal sex, even though he knew you couldn’t stand it? Did you never receive oral sex, even after asking for it time and time again? Well, you don’t have to deal with that anymore. Find a partner who is sexually compatible with you. Those things you hated about sex with your ex can be forgotten. Time to start anew. The best way to get what you want? Ask for it. Don’t be afraid to speak up.

You can move at your own pace:
You don’t have to respond to feeling pressured into getting sexual with someone new. The whole feeling of “duty” that you may have felt for your ex has thankfully been removed. So don’t push yourself too fast and be sure to speak up and ship out when you’re feeling uncomfortable.

You can rediscover sexual pleasure:

One thing that’s been pretty consistent in the literature is what works for one person isn’t necessarily going to work for another person when it comes to sexual pleasure. Additionally, what works in the context of one relationship isn’t necessarily going to work in the context of another relationship. Communicate with your new partner to find out what he or she likes, and make the communication part of the foreplay. Getting to know a new partner’s body (and letting them explore yours) can be one of the most exciting parts of having new sex.

You can enjoy new romance chemicals:

There are some chemical benefits of this new journey, too. Dr. Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist and leading researcher in the area of romantic relationships, found that a surge in testosterone and estrogen contribute to the feelings of lust that increase the sexual desire for another person early on in a romantic relationship. Novelty and excitement both increase the activity of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain, the neurotransmitters associated with energy, motivation, and elation. At this same time, serotonin drops, allowing for an increase in mood and sex drive. This chemical cocktail is yet another benefit you won’t find in the long-term relationships you left.

Ian Kerner, a sex therapist and CNN contributor, recently wrote of a friend who gushed about post-divorce sex saying, “if I hadn’t gotten divorced, I never would have had the top five sexual experiences of my life.” By opening yourself up to the prospect of being sexually active again, you’re opening yourself up to a level of sexual pleasure you may have never expected possible!

There is a silver lining to divorce: a second chance at having a mind-blowing sex life. It can only improve from here, right? So let it.

This was originally posted on Huffington Post.

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Learning From Lack of Orgasm

I’ve always kept track of all of the questions that readers, students, and acquaintances ask me related to sexuality and relationships. This morning, I was reading through some of the questions, and noticed a theme of orgasm throughout. Most of the orgasm-related questions came from folks with female partners wanting to know how to positively contribute to their orgasm experience.

I also found this trend interesting because in research that I’ve recently conducted with colleagues in a sample of over 200 heterosexual couples in long-term (average length of 9 years) relationships, we found that for men, the number one thing they desired when they experienced sexual desire was to pleasure their partner. And for many people, pleasure is gauged based on orgasm (which shouldn’t necessarily be the case, but that’s a topic for another day).

So I thought about whether there is any data out there to give readers tangible advice about orgasm. I went to the Good in Bed survey data on orgasm, which provides us with data from over 6,000 men and women about factors that contribute to orgasm and factors that take away from orgasm. In this post, I’m going to share the factors that take away from orgasm and see what we can learn from lack of orgasm.

I’ve broken these responses down into types of sexual behavior: orgasm when masturbating, orgasm during oral sex, and orgasm during intercourse. Responses do not add up to 100 because participants could select more than one response option. These percentages are in response to the question “What I DON’T have an orgasm during [masturbation/receiving oral sex/intercourse], it is typically because (choose all that apply):”

Orgasm During Masturbation
I am generally sexually unresponsive: 6.4% of men, 8.2% of women
I did not particularly want to have an orgasm: 8.8% of men, 6.1% of women
My fantasy was not arousing: 8.6% of men, 8.3% of women
It was a matter of luck: 2.1% of men, 4.0% of women
I was mentally distracted: 29.3% of men, 44.2% of women
I was interrupted: 25.8% of men, 27.7% of women
I always have an orgasm during masturbation: 39.9% of men, 30.1% of women

Orgasm While Receiving Oral Sex
I am generally sexually unresponsive: 6.6% of men, 13.4% of women
I did not particularly want to have an orgasm: 20.6% of men, 9.0% of women
My fantasy was not arousing: 6.5% of men, 6.6% of women
It was a matter of luck: 4.6% of men, 7.7% of women
I was mentally distracted: 21.0% of men, 47.3% of women
I was interrupted: 15.5% of men, 18.0% of women
I always have an orgasm during oral sex: 21.7% of men, 11.3% of women

Orgasm During Intercourse
I am generally sexually unresponsive: 7.3% of men, 15.9% of women
I did not particularly want to have an orgasm: 8.3% of men, 8.2% of women
My fantasy was not arousing: 6.4% of men, 9.0% of women
It was a matter of luck: 5.0% of men, 10.4% of women
I was mentally distracted: 32.3% of men, 48.8% of women
I was interrupted: 22.5% of men, 23.8% of women
I always have an orgasm during intercourse: 35.9% of men, 7.8% of women

Additionally, participants had the option to provide an “other” response. When we gathered those other responses and text analyzed them, we found that the most commonly cited reason was being tired. However, other themes that came up were just having stopped, being drunk or something involving alcohol, technique, medication, etc. This wordle provides an overview of the responses found in the “other” category for both men and women in all three behavioral categories. The larger the text, the more frequently it was mentioned.

So, what can you do with this information? If you’re tired, stressed, or have a lot going on in your life (who doesn’t anymore?!), you’re more easily mentally distracted, and all of those things can take away from orgasm. Also, try to engage in sex during a time when you’re less likely to be interrupted, as that was also a commonly cited inhibitor. I think it is important to note that the top reason both men and women felt their orgasm was inhibited was due to mental distraction in all three behavioral categories. Practicing mindfulness during a sexual activity is something that may contribute to orgasm, and research conducted by Dr. Brotto and colleagues at the UBC Sexual Health Lab has suggested that it may help with sexual desire and arousal issues in women. Mindfulness is the deliberate effort to be fully aware of one’s thoughts. Practicing mindfulness during sex (and generally) may help to prevent the mental distraction many cited as a main reason for inhibited orgasm.

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Infidelity & Monogamy: What’s Going On?

Arnold. Ashton. Anthony.  When it comes to the ABCs of infidelity, one thing is certain: It’s only a matter of days – maybe minutes – before another extramarital scandal rocks the headlines.

With brand new stories of celebrity and political infidelity hitting the newsstands every week, one can’t help but wonder if happily-ever-after is a big, fat myth. After all, if this is what we’re seeing regularly in our glossy magazines and on TV, what’s happening behind closed doors? Is monogamy just too much to ask?

At Good in Bed, we’ve been curious to learn how people truly feel about monogamy these days. As a standard that has held sway for so long, is everyone really just dismissing it as obsolete?

Working with the definition of monogamy as a relationship in which two partners are romantically and sexually exclusive, we surveyed 2,321 people (1,394 men and 921 women), ranging in age from 18 to 73. The majority of the participants were married (56.3 percent).

The results of the survey? Some of our intriguing findings include:
• Almost two-thirds said they believed that their current partner was their “partner for life.”
• More than half believed forming monogamous relationships is a part of human nature and that relationships would be healthier if people valued monogamy more.
• About 78 percent agreed being monogamous helps a relationship grow over time.
• Fifty-six percent said they simply assume monogamy with a partner, while just 13 percent said they had explicitly negotiated it.
• More than 90 percent believed monogamy is a choice.

Despite their professed commitment to monogamy, however; many of the respondents had also grappled with infidelity:
• About half admitted to having had a partner cheat on them, either sexually or emotionally.
• Forty-two percent confessed to having engaged in infidelity themselves.
• Half of people who had been cheated ended their relationship as a result, but 70 percent of people who admitted cheating did stay in the relationship–and 54 percent believed that their partner never discovered the infidelity.

While a large majority of survey respondents still believed wholeheartedly in monogamy, an even greater percentage of them believed that monogamy was a choice. And sometimes it was a choice that was made alone. More than half of survey respondents had been cheated on in the past, and a little less than half had cheated on their partner. When asked what led them astray, the top three answers were curiosity, lack of sexual novelty and boredom.

Of course, these issues are nothing new. It’s why I — and countless other experts — often recommend an injection of sexual adventurousness when things become stale. Still, many in long-term relationships assume their relationship rut is an indicator that monogamy itself is a flawed cultural ideal. In fact, married survey participants had significantly more negative attitudes toward monogamy than participants who were seriously dating one person. Is a growing disenchantment with monogamy inevitable?

Then there were those couples who had dipped a toe into the world of polyamory. Though only a small percent of those surveyed had tried an open relationship before, 40 percent of respondents were open to trying such an arrangement in the future.

Either way, it seems that traditional values haven’t completely disappeared. In fact, most of the survey participants believed in the concept of soul mates — the idea that there is one person out there for every other person on earth. It’s a surprising show of idealism and sentimentality in a world that’s come to embrace the unconventional.

Still, despite what sappy love songs and uplifting rom-coms would have you believe, relationships don’t float along on a cloud of happily-ever-after. Regardless of the side you take, soul mates or not, relationships take work and it is important to be prepared to deal with the ebbs and flows.

So before giving up on monogamy entirely, ask yourself: Am I doing all the heavy lifting necessary to make this work?

What are your attitudes towards monogamy? Feel free to check out the Good in Bed survey section and participate in the survey.

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Who Believes in Soulmates Anymore, Anyway?

In a world of technological advance where we have as much access to people across the world as we do across the coffee shop, where romantic options are presented to us online as often as they are in person, it makes me wonder how someone could possibly still believe that there is one person made for every one person. The ever-elusive soulmate.

Ok, so maybe people can have multiple soulmates. Maybe there is more than one person out there made for each person. But still, the notion that someone is “made” for someone else is a little lost on me. As a realist (or, as some may say, a pessimist), I find it hard to believe that through all of the decoding of text messages, tweets, facebook pokes, and google stalking that seem to go into dating these days, even if two people were “soulmates”, how would they ever know it after all of that?

Well, apparently I’m the minority.

In a recent survey we conducted here at Good in Bed, we surveyed 2,321 individuals and asked them the question: “To what extent do you believe that there is one person for each person (i.e., soulmate)?”

We found that the majority of the participants, 71.2%, believed this very much (32.9%) or a little bit (38.3%). A minority of the participants, 28.9%, didn’t really believe this (20.9%) or didn’t believe this at all (8.0%).

In our sample, women (68.8%) were significantly less likely than men (72.7%) to believe in soulmates, which means our sample is right alongside the national average, obtained from the 2011 Marist poll (which used a nationally representative sample) that found 74% of men believed in soulmates compared to 71% of women.

The Marist poll also found that belief in soulmates was more prominent among the younger population, with 79% of those under 45 endorsing it and 69% of those over 45 endorsing it. In our sample, we only found a slight age difference, with 71.7% of those under 45 endorsing the idea and 70.1% of those over 45 endorsing the idea.

Belief in soulmates can have a negative impact on finding a long-term mate, as outlined in this great blog post by Dr. Jeremy Nicholson. It can drain the motivation to want to work on problems when they arise, make you believe that whenever conflict occurs it is a sign this isn’t “the one”, and can shadow the fact that relationships ebb and flow and require flexibility by both members of the couple.

However, in our sample, the belief in soulmates was significantly positively related to both sexual satisfaction (r = .11, p < .001) and relationship satisfaction (r = .17, p < .001), meaning that as belief became more supportive (went from not at all to very much), satisfaction increased. This is an interesting finding in light of research by Knee (2008) that shows that people who believe in soulmates tend to have intensely satisfying but short relationships because they don’t tend to stick around through the hard stuff. But even after we controlled for relationship length of our participants, the extent to which one believed in soulmates significantly predicted both sexual satisfaction (Beta = .15) and relationship satisfaction (Beta = .18).

Now those predictions, although statistically significant, do come along with pretty small effect sizes. So I won’t be running to change my mind about soulmates just yet. And Wilcox & Dew (2010) found that although married couples who believed in the soulmate model of love were very satisfied, they also experienced high levels of conflict and divorce.

Regardless of the side you take, soulmates or not, relationships take work and it is important to be prepared to deal with the ebbs and flows. Even so-called “soulmates” aren’t immune to the inevitable conflict that occurs in romantic relationships. But remember, we are here to help! Head over to our forum and interact with our great panel of experts if you have any questions about sex or relationships. And feel free to comment below if you have a particular view about soulmates. I’d even love to hear some stories of people who met and are currently with their soulmates!

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