Sexuality & Intimacy Articles

“Hooking-Up”:Good Practice for a Bad Marriage

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

hooking upThe media, social scientists and a majority of young people report that “ Hooking Up” has replaced traditional dating relationships on college campuses.

What is “Hooking-Up”?

Hooking up is defined as a sexual encounter including everything from oral sex to sexual intercourse, between two people who are strangers or brief acquaintances without commitment or expectations and usually lasting no more than one night.

According to a 2013 article, published in the Monitor of the American Psychological Association, between 60-80% of college students in North American report having had a hook-up experience.  Research from different authors interviewing college men and women corroborate these numbers; but suggest that the misconception that “ everyone else” is doing it, media coverage, alcohol and fear of being left out of the social scene may actually fuel the trend.

Why Hook-Up?

The reasons for hooking-up and the benefits and risks involved, are a function of who is reporting and whether the disclosures by men and women about hooking-up are public or private.

A recent article by Kate Taylor in the New York Times, “ Sex on Campus: She Can Play That Game, Too” reports on hooking-up” by woman at the University Of Pennsylvania. Both the title and the tenor of the article suggest that women are choosing “ hooking up” as a functional choice to find sexual gratification without the hassle or time commitment of being in a relationship. Implied is the message that now women have taken back control of the sexual arena. They, like men, are free to choose uncommitted sex because their goal is a great resume—not a great relationship. The expectation is that when their career is all set, they will meet the right man.

The other side of hooking up is described by Laura Sessions Stepp in her book, Unhooked, Donna Freitas in her book, The End of Sex, and even by Kate Taylor in the end of her New York Times article. It is the personal and private disclosure by women and men of compliance, regret, discomfort, guilt, and opting out by many after hooking-up.


Sex, Statistics, Happiness and Your Marriage

Thursday, May 9th, 2013

couple walking

  • Does sex influence your happiness?
  • Do you consider sexual satisfaction in terms of sexual frequency?
  • Would comparing your sexual frequency with others affect your happiness?

An extensive study by Tim Wadsworth, including 27,500 men and women aged 40-80years in 29 countries and using the Global Study of Sexual Attitudes and Behaviors, found a relationship between frequency of sexual behavior and happiness. The more sexual frequency—the more reported happiness.

While this study confirmed the findings of earlier large sample studies with regard to the correlation of frequency of sexual activity and happiness, Wadsworth’s study added another dimension. He found that when respondents compared their frequency to the sexual frequency of others, their happiness decreased or increased depending on whether their frequency was lower or higher than others in their reference group!

What Does this Imply?

If we consider statistics as starting points for thinking, than these findings invite self–reflection and mutual consideration of sexual satisfaction and social comparison for ourselves and with our partners.

The Frequency Factor

There clearly is evidence that when we control for age, physical health, gender, educational levels etc. sexual activity is associated with well being and happiness.

But is the happiness from sexual activity only a function of frequency?

Yes and No. When you work with couples and look at the findings from other couple studies it seems that active ongoing sexual connection does matter; but, it is more complicated than just numbers.

  • It is valuable for you and your partner to know that many studies suggest that sexual satisfaction is a complex and multifaceted construct.  Notwithstanding what else is happening in your life that makes sexual intimacy more or less likely, multiple aspects of sexual behaviors such as frequency, types of behaviors and expectations all affect one’s sexual satisfaction and your satisfaction as a couple.
    • It is particularly important for heterosexual partners to recognize that there are gender differences that very much color issues of frequency, triggers of arousal and even behavior after sexual connection. Men take their cues from their bodies—something that affects frequency. There is an automatic connection for men in thinking about sex, in visual cues and …

Why Do Married Women Have Affairs?

Tuesday, December 4th, 2012

We have once again been faced with a high profile marriage scandal. This time the lovers included the CIA director, a married and much decorated military officer and his biographer, a married women, herself an Army Reserve intelligence officer.

What is predictable is the media focus on the man. In this case the articles addressed the question of military code of conduct, possibility of security breaches, the explanation of male infidelity in terms of power and narcissism, and the apology and compassionate sentiments to the betrayed wife.

What is curious is how little focus was given to the married woman in this affair. Other than a redundant account of her school success and running time, she was rarely seen as more than the idealizing audience to the man. There seemed little interest in her motives and even less in addressing the broader question- Why do married women have affairs?

The Reality

Perhaps we don’t ask the question because culturally we prefer not to know the answer.  After all, with matters of infidelity, the stereotype is of the married man in an affair with an unmarried female. In the case of married women the presumption is that women are more monogamous then men. They are – but not as much as we may want to believe.

  • In the largest most comprehensive poll of its kind in 1994, Edward Laumann and colleagues found that 20% of women and just over 31% of men in their 40’s and 50’s reported having sex with someone other than their spouses.
  • Frances Cohen Praver, author of Daring Wives: Insight into Women’s Desires for Extramarital Affairs suggests that estimates of infidelity range from 30-60% of women and 50-70% of men.
  • Young and Alexander in their 2012 book, The Chemistry Between Us: Love, Sex and the Science of Attraction accept a rough estimate of 30 to 40 percent infidelity in marriage for men and women.

The Reasons

Having worked for many years with men, women and couples trying to hold on to marriages, recovering from betrayal or caught up in the pain and passion of an affair, I suggest …


Enhancing Your Sexuality: Six Important Strategies

Thursday, June 7th, 2012

Anna Freud invited us to consider that “Sex is something you do, sexuality is something you are.”

Building on this, we can define sexuality as the way we experience and express ourselves as sexual beings. What makes sexuality a complex dimension is that it is determined by many factors including our body, gender, age, culture, history, media, religion and family.

What makes our experience of our sexuality important is that it affects our overall sense of self, our relationship with others and the life we live.

The most important factor enhancing our sexuality – one that is often overlooked but can out-trump age, culture, prior history, and body type is ATTITUDE.

  • The man or woman with an accepting sense of self is most often the most attractive person in the room….
  • He/she is not necessarily the person with the classic looks, the newest car or the best paying job; but rather, the person smiling, making eye contact, enthused with others and enthused with life.
  • The positive way we think and how we feel about ourselves plays a major role in our sexuality and in the pleasure we have in expressing it.

Developing a positive attitude will enhance sexuality. Here are some strategies.


Who Says ‘I Love You’ First? Unexpected Findings

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012

If you were asked whether you think men or women are the first to say, “ I love you” in romantic relationships, what would you say?

Most people – both men and women – believe it is women.  Such beliefs are congruent with those who have studied gender differences. For example,

  • Women are generally thought to be more interested in and willing to express love and commitment than men.
  • Women are considered to have an easier time than men expressing vulnerable emotions such as love.
  • A content analysis of emotional expression in Valentine’s Day cards, for example, found that women were more likely than men to express love and fidelity.
  • A questionnaire study of 55 men and women walking across a college campus which asked, among other questions, “Who normally says they are in love FIRST in romantic relationships?” found that both men and women believe that women are more likely to be the first to confess love in relationships.

REALTY suggests something different. MIT researchers Joshua Ackerman, Griskevicius & Li (authors of the questionnaire study above) found across a series of studies that what men and women believe and what they actually do is quite different.


The Burden of The Perfect Partner: A Closer Look

Wednesday, April 11th, 2012

If you are looking for the perfect partner or trying to be one – think twice. Perfection is painfully unrealistic for individuals and emotionally costly for couples.

While there is no doubt that striving to be your personal best and feeling good about your efforts is healthy as well as relationship enhancing – perfectionism is something else.

Perfectionism is the belief that a state of completeness and flawlessness can and should be attained. The literature on perfectionism underscores that there is an important difference between adaptive and maladaptive perfectionism. It is a difference worth considering.


Should I End My Relationship? Important Considerations

Saturday, January 28th, 2012

angry coupleThe question of whether to end a relationship, be it a 20 year marriage or a 5 year commitment, is a painful and complicated one. It is a question that often implies loss, fear of judgment, sense of failure, self-blame as well as glimmers of hope and change.  At times we avoid this question, we ask others to answer it, we act on it impulsively, we never stop asking it or we recognize we have no choice – we have to ask it of ourselves.

Here are some issues and underlying questions that you may find helpful as you consider this life decision.

The Importance of Knowing Why You Want to Leave

If you are thinking of leaving a relationship, it is important that you know why. Understanding your past and present informs the decisions you make for your future. No matter what the circumstances of the relationship you are ending, understanding it offers something valuable for you to know about you.

  • How did the relationship go from awesome to awful?
  • Why couldn’t you change him/ her – why did you think you could? 
  • What made the good times so good? What made the bad times so bad?
  • What part did you play in the loss of hope in this relationship?

 The Importance of Your Partner’s Knowing Why

Except in those cases where interaction and discussion could be dangerous, it is important for your partner to know why you are thinking of ending this relationship. The very thought of this may make you want to scream, “How could she/he not know?”  The reality is that a painful familiar relationship is often preferable to change or the fear of being alone. Denial can be a powerful and long standing survival strategy. It makes communication crucial.


Sexless Marriages: A Closer Look

Thursday, September 29th, 2011

Old Couple Hand in HandRecently the question was raised by some of my colleagues as to whether there can be happiness in a sexless marriage. An article on the subject refers to the research of Robert Epstein, a psychologist who reports that 10 to 20% of the romantic relationships in the U.S. are sexless.

According to Epstein, a sexless relationship is defined as one in which the partners have had sex less than once a month or less than 10 times a year. Others writing in the field take the word more literally – suggesting that many couples happy with that schedule would not describe their relationship as sexless.

Maybe the question of how sexual a marriage is and whether or not the partners are happy is a far more complicated one than the rate of sexual intercourse over time.

Work with couples would suggest that happiness from sexual relating must account for the trust and special connection partners feel for one another, the way they hold, touch, laugh, tease, celebrate, walk together, worry about, lean on, cry with, nickname, argue, text and call each other — the many dimensions of sexual intimacy.


Understanding The Lack Of Sexual Desire in Your Marriage

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011

A common complaint of couples in long term relationships is a decline in sexual desire. While the cultural finding seems to be that men are often the partner complaining, research suggests that long-term relationships can have a dampening effect on either partner – for reasons that are not solely due to aging.

In my work with couples I have found that the resentment, criticism and impatience that couples show about many issues in their life often cover the rejection and shame associated with the belief that they are no longer sexually desired. When they are finally able to address it one hears comments like:

  • “She never makes an advance – I don’t need someone complying out of obligation”
  • “For over a year he’s just not interested. How is that supposed to make someone feel?

Whereas couple therapists have long maintained that a couple’s sexual problems are actually a reflection of problems in other areas, the reverse is also true. Many couples will fight about anything rather than face what is not happening in the bedroom.  


True Love Means-Looks Still Matter

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010
  • “I love you but I don’t love that large Disney Sweatshirt.”
  • “When did marriage mean you would stop shaving on the weekends?”
  • “Everything you tried on looks great– why can’t you wear any of them?”
  • “I think they said casual not throw-away.”

For most people, there was something about the physical characteristics of the person they fell in love with that tripped their chemistry into response. Should that stop mattering when the wedding is over, the kids are in school or the retirement is planned? Not Really.

This is a culture that pushes looks, youth, beauty and the icons that possess theme.  For those seeking a partner, there is a considerable amount of interest in what catches the attention of men when meeting women and what women find attractive in a man.


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Suzanne Phillips, Psy.D., ABPP & Dianne Kane, DSW are the authors of Healing Together: A Couple's Guide to Coping with Trauma and Post-Traumatic Stress. Pick up the book today!

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