IU Health & Wellness
Research and insights from Indiana University
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 16, 2008
When it comes to sex, some men are from Mars, others from Venus. A study by researchers at the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction at Indiana University finds that men report a variety of different experiences involving sexual desire and arousal. Men participating in focus groups expressed a range of experiences and feelings relating to such matters as the relationship between erections and desire, the importance of scent and relationships, and a woman's intelligence. The Kinsey Institute study, appearing in the April issue of the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior, is unique because few studies so far have examined how closely the findings of decades of laboratory studies on sex actually reflect the experiences of men. "We have a lot of assumptions about how men think and feel and behave sexually," said Erick Janssen, associate scientist at the Kinsey Institute. "We use all kinds of methods to measure men's sexual responses; in addition, we use questionnaires and surveys to ask about sexual behaviors. It's less common to sit down with men and ask them to talk about their experiences."
The focus groups involved 50 men divided into three groups based on their age (18-24 years, 25-45 years and 46 and older). Below are some examples of the different experiences reported by the men:
- Some factors, such as depression or a risk of being caught having sex, were reported by some men as inhibiting sex, while other men found that they can enhance their desire and arousal.
- An erection is not the main cue for men to know they are sexually aroused. Most of the men responded that they can experience erections without feeling aroused or interested, leading researchers to suggest that erections are not good criteria for determining sexual arousal in men.
- Many men found it difficult to distinguish between sexual desire and sexual arousal, a distinction prominent in most sexual response models used by researchers and clinicians.
- The changes in the quality of older men's erections had a direct effect on their sexual encounters, including, for some, a shifting focus to the partner and her sexual enjoyment. Older men also consistently mentioned that as they aged, they became more careful and particular in choosing sexual partners.
- The sexual history of women also mattered to the men -- but differently for different age groups. Sexually experienced women were considered more threatening by younger men, who had concerns about "measuring up," but such women were considered more arousing for older men.
Background: Janssen and his colleagues at the Kinsey Institute have been working for more than 10 years on a theoretical model that focuses on sexual excitation and sexual inhibition. They refer to this as the dual control model of sexual response. It holds that separate and relatively independent activating and suppressing sexual systems exist within the central nervous system and that the balance between these two systems determines a person's sexual response in any particular situation. Janssen relates this to the gas and break pedals in a vehicle -- both can influence a car's behavior (you can slow down by letting go of the gas or by pressing the brake) but they do so in different ways. This model is used around the world by sex researchers in studies on topics as varied as sexual dysfunction and sexual risk taking. To measure the propensity for sexual excitation and inhibition, the researchers designed a questionnaire. The original questionnaire was developed for men, leading researchers at the Kinsey Institute to conduct focus groups with women in an effort to create a similar questionnaire that would be more relevant for women. Janssen said the success of women's focus groups led him and his colleagues to conduct the focus groups with men. The findings ultimately could lead to a more effective questionnaire for the dual control model but also can inform research efforts to better understand the variability in sexual behavior.
"One of the main conclusions of the focus group study is that, just like women, men are different," Janssen said. "Sex researchers tend to focus a lot on differences between men and women, while not giving as much attention to the differences that exist among men, and women. This research is part of a larger agenda at the Kinsey Institute of looking at individual differences. This dates back to Alfred Kinsey's original research, but in our current research we not only try to capture the variations in men and women's sexual experiences -- we also try to understand better what explains variations in those experiences."
Co-authors of the study are Kimberly R. McBride, IU School of Medicine; William Yarber, Department of Applied Health Science; Brandon J. Hill, Department of Gender Studies; and Scott M. Butler, Georgia College and State University.
"Factors that Influence Sexual Arousal in Men: A Focus Group Study," Archives of Sexual Behavior, April, 2008. Vol. 37, No. 2.
One step closer to understanding the causes of sexual difficulties in women. Researchers at the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction are shedding light on why some women experience sexual problems and others do not. A study published in the April issue of the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior found connections between personality traits such as sexual inhibition and sexual problems. While previous studies have explored the role demographics such as age, education and socio-economic status play in sexual functioning among women, few have explored the role differences in personality play in predicting current and lifetime sexual problems. In this study, women's sexual inhibition tendencies were more important than other factors in predicting sexual problems. "Although further research is needed to confirm these findings with other samples, particularly clinical samples of women seeking help for sexual problems, these findings suggest that high scores on sexual inhibition may help predict which women are vulnerable to experience sexual problems," said Cynthia Graham, research fellow at the Kinsey Institute and co-author of the paper. "They may also be used as prognostic factors in treatment studies."
Researchers studied the responses of 540 women on the Sexual Excitation/Sexual Inhibition Inventory for Women that rated current and sexual problems, lifetime arousal difficulty and lifetime problems with low sexual interest. The strongest predictors of reports of sexual problems were women's sexual inhibition scores. Below are some of the findings:
- Sexual inhibition scores were the strongest predictor of current and past sexual problems including lifetime arousal difficulty and low sexual interest. They were better predictors than demographic and background factors such as age, socio-economic status, and whether or not women were in a sexual relationship.
- "Arousal Contingency" or the ease with which arousal can be disrupted by situational factors, and "Concerns about Sexual Function" were the two most predictive of women's sexual problems.
Background: The Kinsey Institute has been developing, testing and fine-tuning the dual control model of sexual response, which is the basis for the Sexual Excitation/Sexual Inhibition Inventory for Women used in this study. This theoretical model reflects the idea that sexual response in individuals is the product of a balance between excitatory and inhibitory processes. Researchers believe these two systems operate somewhat independent of each other and are different in each person. Researchers are using the dual control model to better understand such complex issues as sexual difficulties, sexual compulsivity and high-risk sexual behaviors. Prior studies have found that while sexual inhibition plays an important protective role in restraining sexual responses, individuals who score highly in inhibition might be more likely to experience sexual problems. This particular study aimed to gain insight into the role of inhibition and excitation proneness in predicting sexual problems in a non-clinical sample of women.
Co-authors of the study are Stephanie A. Sanders, Kinsey Institute; and Robin R. Milhausen, University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada.
"Predicting Sexual Problems in Women: The Relevance of Sexual Excitation and Sexual Inhibition," Archives of Sexual Behavior, April 2008. Vol. 37. No. 2.
Friends as family. Remember The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink? These films illustrate what Maresa Murray, assistant professor of Human Development and Family Studies in the Department of Applied Health Science, calls the "friends as family" concept. Today, television viewers see a myriad of shows with similar themes. Think Sex and the City, Entourage, Cashmere Mafia and Lipstick Jungle. "We are currently seeing some of the same themes from 20-25 years ago in families, relationships and media," says Murray. "One example includes a major 'friends as family' theme in television and in movies, many of which were perpetuated by John Hughes, producer and director of movies such as The Breakfast Club and Pretty and Pink." Murray says that this theme emerged during the 1980s, a time when Caucasian, working class and suburban families were experiencing a shift in the family arrangement, namely that of a dual-earning family. Families were also in the midst of an economic recession. "As mothers began to work more outside of the home, many children and youth became 'latch-key' children, letting themselves in the home, alone, after school. They began to feel more of a bond with their friends," Murray said. "In 2008, we are seeing the same emerging themes of family economic hardship and an increased emphasis on friendships in popular culture." It's not clear to Murray what comes first -- an increased need for friendships or a media that pushes us towards an urge to forge these close relationships. "Regardless to which comes first, the chicken or the egg, it's on the collective American psyche," says Murray.
Are you the friend you want to be? Murray offers the following tips:
- Make the effort to meet together in person. Whenever possible, exert the effort to spend time "in person" with your friend or friends. In the chaotically busy world wrought with dependence on "wires" to "stay connected," the personal touch demonstrates just how important friends are to you. Making the time sacrifice is an investment into the relationship.
- Make the effort to be creative together. Many talk about the need to keep the "dating relationship" alive in marriage, mainly for the purpose of maintaining a sense of excitement rather than excessive repetition. This also can be applied to friendship. Although one of the best benefits of friendship is the comfort and routine of familiarity, it also can be purely fun to step out and be intentionally creative with each other.
- Make the effort to remember and recognize. Remembering important milestones in a friend's life can be difficult (e.g. birthdates, anniversaries, dates of marking difficult events such as deaths, etc). Why not use the same tools from the professional world to help remember and organize these important times? Simply record these dates in a daily planning device and recognize them in whatever manner you see fit.
- Make the effort to be authentic and vulnerable. Many friendships are strained under externalized pressures including job, financial and family stressors. This can make the idea of personal self-reflection seem decadent, an ill-afforded luxury due to the need to manage more imminently pressing demands. Making the effort to periodically push past such obstacles and communicate authentic and vulnerable feelings may lead to a deeper level of disclosure, breeding more transparency in the friendship.
- Make the effort to enact the Golden Rule. The tried and true basics of "treating people the way you want to be treated" can add much strength to the friendship.
Cheese-pizza-tarian? Is it possible to achieve a balanced diet if you cut out meat? "Absolutely," says Bobbie Saccone, registered dietitian and nutrition counselor at the Indiana University Health Center in Bloomington. Too often, however, she sees students who do not properly compensate for a non-meat eating diet. "You cannot be a vegetarian who does not like grains and vegetables," she said. "The ones that rely on cheese pizza are the ones I worry about." Saccone says that many students come to her seeking advice on how to integrate vegetarianism into their lives. Each case is different, though. Many subgroups exist in the world of vegetarianism. Lacto-ova-vegetarians do not consume animal flesh but do include dairy and eggs in their diets. Pescatarians consume fish but no other animal flesh. Then there's the flexible vegetarian or flexitarian, the most popular choice for college students. These people might not buy or prepare meat, but they will eat it occasionally. Vegans, the most restrictive of vegetarians, eat no meat, eggs, dairy, or processed foods that contain animal-derived products like gelatin. Saccone offers the following tips for aspiring vegetarians:
- Be flexible. "Sometimes vegetarian options are not always available," Saccone says. "Flexible vegetarians -- those who will occasionally eat meat -- enjoy all the benefits of vegetarianism with the added bonus of a high iron, B12 and good quality sources of protein once in a while without the ill effects that can come from it's overconsumption."
- Get your calcium and B12. It can be tough to get calcium and B12 from a diet that does not include milk, cheese or other dairy products. Saccone recommends buying calcium fortified items such as orange juice or taking a supplement to achieve recommended nutritional values. "A bigger problem is getting B12," says Saccone. "It's only found in animal foods." While vegetarians who consume dairy products or eggs need not worry, vegans face a particularly tough challenge trying to get enough B12. If you are not eating B12 fortified foods, taking supplements, or consuming dairy or eggs, Saccone recommends getting your B12 levels checked regularly by a doctor or consulting a registered dietician.
- Eat your grains and veggies. "Many just rely on cheese to meet their protein needs and are less healthy because cheese is high in fat," says Saccone. She recommends eating a variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. If you need inspiration, flip through a vegetarian cookbook or talk to your veggie friends. "Vegetarians strive for the very same goals as a healthy regular diet using the food pyramid as a guide," she says, "only they substitute the animal products with other foods." These can include beans, legumes, soybeans, meat analogues such as tofu and tempeh, cheese and dairy, nuts, and seed butters such as tahini and peanut butter.
- Know your resources. Many online resources exist for vegetarians and vegans. Saccone recommends the Vegetarian Resource Group at www.vrg.org and the Vegetarian Pages at www.veg.org as two options. She also recommends the book The College Student's Guide to Eating Well on Campus by Ann Selkowitz.
For additional assistance with these tips, please contact Tracy James, University Communications, at 812-855-0084 or firstname.lastname@example.org.