Roundups Sexual Health

Hormone May Prevent Cheating, Alabama Still Segregates HIV-Positive Prisoners, and Facebook More Tempting Than Sex

Martha Kempner

In this week's Sexual Health Roundup: A new study finds that heterosexual men who are in stable, monogamous relationships keep their distance from a pretty girl if given a sniff of oxytocin (the bonding hormone), a judge is set to rule on Alabama's policy of segregating HIV-positive prisoners, and researchers in Germany find that social media is more tempting than sex, cigarettes, and alcohol.

Oxytocin May Prevent Cheating

Oxytocin is sometimes referred to as the love hormone or the bonding hormone because it is found at high levels when we kiss, hug, or otherwise canoodle. It is also pumped out by the body during other intimate moments like sex, orgasm, and breast feeding. The Far Right has gone as far as to use oxytocin as a scientific reason that looking at pornography and having premarital sex is bad for you arguing that once you’ve produced it for one person your ability to bond with someone else is impaired. This bastardization of legitimate science is behind the infamous tape game used in many abstinence-only-until-marriage programs in which duct tape stuck to a male’s arm represents a girl who is then ripped off and shown to be no longer sticky. (I wonder, if they believe this “science” on bonding, do they also believe that Michelle Duggar only bonded with her first J-named child and not the other 18?)

While this is clearly bogus, real research published in the Journal of Neuroscience suggests that oxytocin does play a role in keeping us monogamous. Researchers put heterosexual men in a room with an attractive female stranger, a picture of an attractive woman, or another man. Some men were given a sniff of oxytocin before going into the room while other men sniffed a placebo.

Among men who sniffed the hormone, those who described themselves as single sat about 21 to 24 inches away from the women while those who described themselves as in a stable, monogamous relationship put approximately 6 ½ more inches between them and the girl. The same thing happened with men shown a picture of a pretty girl (attached men stayed farther away). Among the group that sniffed the placebo, however, there was no difference in distance between single or attached men and the female or her likeness.  There were also no differences in how men in the various groups reacted to another man in the room.

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Interestingly, these finding were the opposite of what researchers had expected. Existing research suggests that as the hormone responsible for bonding between people, oxytocin promotes trusting, friendly behavior. Therefore, researchers expected that the men who received it would actually draw closer to the woman in the room.

The psychiatrist who led the study admitted that the results were surprising but suggested this possible explanation:

“As human societies evolved to give men an increasing role in safeguarding and supporting their mates and offspring, it appears that oxytocin may have taken on a more discriminating role in human interaction by favoring staying over straying behavior among men who’ve already found a mate.”

Judge to Rule on the Legality of Segregating HIV-Positive Prisoners

All inmates in Alabama are tested for HIV before entering prison. Prisoners who test positive do not become part of the general population. Instead, they are sent to one of two prisons (one male, one female) in the state that accepts HIV-positive prisoners, given plastic armband identifying them as positive, and placed in isolation. They eat alone instead of in the cafeteria, they cannot hold any jobs that involve food (including the work-release program that allows some inmates to work at fast food restaurants), they cannot live in dormitories for elderly or religious inmates, and they can never transfer to prisons closer to home or their families. Until three years ago, they could not even attend church services.

The state says its goal is to reduce (or effectively remove) the possibility that HIV spreads in prison through consensual sex, rape, or the common practices of inmates tattooing each other.  Brian Corbett, a Corrections Department spokesman, told the New York Times, “It is a proven system that has effectively prevented the spread of HIV—an incurable disease—within our system.” Only 270 of the states 26,400 inmates have tested positive and no inmates have developed AIDS while in prison. The system does provide excellent medical care for HIV-positive inmates which administrators say it couldn’t do if such services were dispersed across the state. And, there are some perks of the HIV dorms including private cells and air conditioning.

HIV-positive prisoners have complained, however, that the system is discriminatory and creates an environment of stigmatization, and with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union they brought a class action suit against the state. During the trial, which was held in September, one prisoner testified that prison workers bullied and ridiculed the HIV-positive inmates. She also said that the warden limited her access to education programs on self-esteem, parenting, and anger management. A prisoner at the men’s jail added that guards advised healthy inmates to face a wall whenever he passed their cell and sent him to solitary confinement for 36 days for eating a meal in the main cafeteria.

Also at the trial, attorneys for the ACLU argued that the rules denying prisoners access to work programs and keeping them away from their families are particularly dangerous as they hinder successful re-entry into society once they’ve been released. Medical experts argued that the rule was antiquated and does not reflect current knowledge about the spread or prevention of HIV. Dr. Frederick L. Altice, the director of the HIV in Prisons Program at the Yale School of Medicine said: “Alabama is living in an incredibly anachronistic world. Time has changed, and they have not.”

In fact, most states have voluntarily integrated HIV-positive into the general prison population.  Only Alabama and South Carolina continue to segregate them. The Alabama policy was unsuccessfully challenged in 1995.  A decision in this case, is expected before the Thanksgiving Holiday.

To Tweet or Kiss, That Is the Question

Researchers in Germany enrolled 250 blackberry users in a weeklong study to try and determine what yearnings were strongest and hardest to resist in our modern—and digital—society. For the duration of the study, researchers pinged participants seven times a day each day asking if there was anything they had desired in the past 30 minutes.  Participants were required to reply with information about what they desired, how strongly they desired it, if it conflicted with any other desire, and whether they had given in to it or not.  The results suggest that participants found checking Facebook, twitter, and other social media harder to resist than smoking cigarettes, drinking, or having sex. People were also more drawn to finishing work tasks than to watching sports, having sex, or spending money.

The study’s lead author suggests:

“Desires for media may be comparatively harder to resist because of their high availability and also because it feels like it does not cost much to engage in these activities, even though one wants to resist.”

That doesn’t explain everything as sex is also free and usually more fun than work (though perhaps not as freely available as tweets).

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