News Sexuality

Is a Kiss Just a Kiss? Scientists Study Why We Pucker Up

Martha Kempner

Though kissing may be considered first base by some, new research says that this sexual activity has many functions in a relationship—but sexual arousal isn’t one of the more important ones.

Though kissing may be considered first base by some, new research says this sexual activity has many functions in a relationship, but sexual arousal isn’t one of the more important ones. Theories on kissing, a behavior that is unique to humans, suggest that we do it to help assess genetic quality of potential mates, increase arousal, and keep relationships together. Researchers at Oxford University used an international survey of over 900 men and women ages 18 to 63 to determine which of these factors were true and whether there were differences based on sex, length of relationship, and physical attractiveness. The results were published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior. A companion study, published in Human Nature, also looked at whether women have different opinions about kissing at different points in their menstrual cycles.

The first study found that women tended to find kissing more important than men. In addition, men and women who rated themselves as being attractive, as well as those who said they tended to have short-term relationships and casual encounters, rated kissing as more important than other survey participants. The authors see these findings as support for the role of kissing in mate selection because, as they noted, previous studies have found that women are more selective in choosing a partner (most likely because they are more invested in their offspring). As the researchers noted, previous studies have also suggested that men and women who are attractive or have more casual sex partners are also more selective when choosing their mates. Given that these are the same groups who value kissing more, the researchers believe that kissing helps in mate assessment.

It is still not clear how kissing works in mate selection, though previous research cited by the researchers has suggested that it allows people to pick up on biological cues of fitness and compatibility through such senses as taste and smell. Robin Dunbar, the lead author of the current study, explained in a statement, “Mate choice and courtship in humans is complex. It involves a series of periods of assessments where people ask themselves ‘shall I carry on deeper into this relationship?’ Initial attraction may include facial, body, and social cues. Then assessments become more and more intimate as we go deeper into the courtship stages, and this is where kissing comes in.”

In the companion paper, the researchers noted that women valued kissing more at certain stages of their menstrual cycle. For example, they found that during the initial stages of a relationship, women valued kissing most when they were at their most fertile part of their cycle. The researchers note that previous studies have confirmed that women are pickier about mates when they are at their most fertile—at that time of the month they look for “supposed signals of underlying genetic fitness, such as masculinized faces, facial symmetry, social dominance, and genetic compatibility.” The researchers concluded, “It appears that kissing a romantic potential partner at this time helps women assess the genetic quality of a potential mate.”

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As part of the first study, the researchers also concluded that kissing is important in maintaining long-term relationships. Survey respondents in long relationships said kissing was equally important at all times, whereas for those in short-term relationships, it was most important right before sex, less important during or after sex, and the least important at all other times. The researchers believe this shows that in committed relationships kissing plays a big part in maintaining a lasting bond. And kissing may indeed help maintain that bond; the researchers found that more frequent kissing in a relationship was linked to the quality of the relationship.

Interestingly, the least important role of kissing appears to be the one we often think most about—getting us turned on and ready for sex. A statement on the study explains that “While high levels of arousal might be a consequence of kissing (particularly as a prelude to sex), the researchers say it does not appear to be a driving factor that explains why we kiss in romantic relationships.”

Roundups Sexual Health

This Week in Sex: New York City Doesn’t Really Have a Masturbation Booth

Martha Kempner

This Week In Sex: Sex education gets controversial in Omaha, senior men need a refresher course on HIV risk, a new sex toy helps strengthen pelvic floor muscles, and NYC's masturbation booth is just a marketing gimmick.

This Week in Sex is a weekly summary of news and research related to sexual behavior, sexuality education, contraception, STIs, and more.

School Board Meetings Get Heated as Omaha Updates Sex Ed for First time in 30 Years

For the first time in about three decades, the school district in Omaha, Nebraska, is updating its sexuality education program. In addition to including new scientific research on growth, development, and medications, the proposed curriculum includes discussions of gender identity and gender roles starting in sixth grade, a lesson on sexual orientation beginning in seventh grade, and information about abortion and emergency contraception in the tenth grade lessons on birth control. All of these topics had been previously excluded from the program.

Most members of the community seem to be on board with the possible changes. In fact, of the nearly 4,000 community members who reached out to the school district via phone or email, reported local television station WOWT, 93 percent supported the overall shift. But at recent school board meetings, the small minority who disapproved were very vocal, to say the least.

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Kathryn Russell, a former employee of the Omaha school district, argued that the change “rapes children of their innocence.” Another speaker bemoaned, “Marriages never make it into the picture of sex education in the schools.”

Still, school administrators argued that many of those opposing the changes were not actually members of the community.

School member Marque Snow told WOWT in December, “So that is the thing with controversial topics like this, is when you do open that up to the public, you get people who aren’t from the district or aren’t from the community commenting … and it kinda skews that view a little bit.”

Despite the controversy, at a meeting this week, the board voted unanimously to approve the changes to the fourth-grade, fifth-grade, and middle school curricula. The changes to the tenth-grade program were also approved with a vote of 8 to 1. Though the board had considered removing information on abortion and emergency contraception from the lesson plans, the package voted on this week still included these topics.

Of course, not everyone is pleased with the board’s decision. Gwen Easton, a mother in the district, told WOWT, “I don’t think they spoke for 52,000 kids or their parents. I don’t. I think that they had their minds made up all along to what they were going to decide to do and it doesn’t matter whether parents like it or not because that is what they are telling parents: It doesn’t matter what they think.”

Older Men Who Pay for Sex Need Some Safer Sex Reminders

A survey of men who have paid for sex found that the older they were, the less likely they were to use condoms in those interactions.

Researchers from the University of Portland identified 208 men between the ages of 60 and 84 who had paid for sex and asked them about their sexual behavior, condom habits, and perceived risk of disease.

More than half of the men surveyed said they did not always use condoms with sex workers. Forgoing protection was most common when men were receiving manual masturbation or oral sex.

Many of the men did not perceive themselves to be at risk for sexually transmitted infections—three-quarters reported that they perceived their likelihood of becoming infected with HIV as “low” and only about 60 percent reported having been tested for HIV. However, the men who reported more unprotected sex acts did perceive their HIV risk to be higher.

In addition, 29 percent of the men reported having an “all-time favorite” sex worker with whom they had sex repeatedly. The researchers found that in these cases, men were more likely to engage in unprotected sexual intercourse. The lead study author noted in a statement, “There is a nearly universal perception that older men do not pay for, or even engage sexually with regular frequency. This view may contribute to a false sense of security for both clients and sex workers during their encounters, and may lead to less protective strategies than with younger purchasers of sex.”

Perhaps it’s time for a safer sex refresher course for, and about, seniors.

New Sex Toy Measures Pelvic Floor Strength

OhMiBod, a maker of high-end sex toys, recently released the Lovelife Krush exerciser designed to help women strengthen their pelvic floors. Suki Dunhan, the company’s founder, explained in a statement that most women lose strength in these muscles due to childbirth or just age. She added: “Our Lovelife Krush measures the pressure, control, endurance, and grip of [pubococcygeus muscles] and helps women strengthen them through training challenges.” This, she said, “can lead to stronger, more intense orgasms.”

The device, a small bulb inserted into the vagina, is Bluetooth-enabled and comes with access to an app that sets goals and guides users through a pelvic floor workout, during which they squeeze and release muscles.

Strong pelvic floor muscles not only aid in orgasm; they can also help women overcome issues such as vulvodynia and incontinence.

New York City’s New “Masturbation Booth” Is Nothing More Than a Marketing Gimmick

There have been a number of stories this week about a new “masturbation booth” being installed in New York City. The “GuyFi” booth was originally announced in a press release by the sex toy company Hot Octopuss. Adam Lewis, the company’s co-founder, said in the release, “At Hot Octopuss we are all about looking for new solutions to improve everyday life and we feel we’ve done just that with the new GuyFi booth. We hope the city’s men enjoy using the space we’ve created in whatever way they want.”

The structure consists of a phone booth modified with a wireless connection, black curtain, chair, laptop, and a Hot Octopuss ad.

Of course, public masturbation is illegal in New York City. As questions mounted about how real this was, the company backpedaled a bit. A spokesperson told Mashable: “We may be insinuating that these booths could be used in whichever way anyone would like to ‘self soothe,’ but the brand is not actively encouraging people to masturbate in public as that is an illegal offense.”

If the goal was publicity, this campaign was a success. If the goal was to create a good place for men to masturbate during the workday, well, they’re just going to have to keep looking.

Roundups Sexuality

This Week in Sex: Condoms in Porn, Sex on Vacation, and What Millennials Are Doing in Bed

Martha Kempner

This week, a survey gives us insight into the sex lives of millennials, a study finds women engage in riskier sex on vacation, and advocates try another tactic for mandating condoms in porn.

This Week in Sex is a weekly summary of news and research related to sexual behavior, sexuality education, contraception, STIs, and more.

Survey Says: Millennials Are Using Condoms, Lubes, and Toys, and They’re Having Orgasms

A new survey by condom manufacturer Ansell targeted over 5,000 men and women ages 18 to 34 and asked them 69 questions (yep, not 70, and probably not a coincidence) about sexuality and relationships.

It found that 43 percent of millennials are using lubricants and over a quarter are using vibrators. This could explain why so many of the women are climaxing—89 percent of women respondents said they typically have an orgasm during sex.

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And as for that sex, the most common position is doggy style, followed by missionary and cowgirl. Men reportedly said they prefer doggy style, while the women in the survey said they liked missionary better. The most common day for sex: a birthday.

The survey also found that the more academic degrees millennials have, the more likely they are to use condoms, though there is no way of knowing whether they are actually getting a formal sex education in schools. What the findings do show is that 65 percent of individuals with a professional degree reported using condoms, compared to 44 percent of respondents with a high school diploma. And, 58 percent of millennials currently enrolled at a university reported using condoms.

When they’re not actually having sex, respondents appear to be using their phones to talk about sex. Over half (57 percent) of millennials reported sexting, with 7 percent saying they sext daily and 11 percent saying they do it several times per week. And some of those sexts include art: 49 percent of millennials have sent naked pictures on their mobile phones, and 25 percent sent such pictures via Snapchat.

But don’t expect them to stop using their mobile phones—at least not the 37 percent of respondents who said they would rather give up sex than the Internet for a year.

Women Have Riskier Sex When on Vacation

Vacation sex is not a new concept, but researchers from the University of Illinois and the University of Florida wanted to know if individuals engaged in riskier behavior while on holiday than they do at home.

They surveyed more than 850 women ages 18 to 50 online and asked about their own behavior as well as their perceptions about which tourist activities and destinations were most conducive to sexual risk-taking.

The results suggest that tourist experiences in tropical destinations or European countries are seen as the ultimate settings for sex with a steady or at least known sexual partner, and a group tour is best for casual sex with an acquaintance.

What is it about vacation that leads to sex? Well, there are many factors—lack of schedule and responsibility, a disconnect from everyday life, and anonymity were all brought up by respondents. One major facilitator of vacation sex: heavy drinking. Some women, however, just saw risk itself as part of the vacation experience.

Women were also asked to rank 23 sexual practices—such as going to a sex club, having unprotected sex with a stranger, or having sex in a restroom—in order of perceived risk. Not surprisingly, those women who reported having engaged in risky sex while a tourist perceived these activities as less risky than their peers did.

Though sex on the beach may not seem like a serious subject for academic study, the researchers point out that there are public health ramifications. As one of the researchers said in a press release: “The fact that women have tendencies to underestimate the risks involved in non-penetrative sexual activities, overestimate the protection of condoms, and attribute sexual risk-taking to alcohol consumption are factors that sexual health information campaigns might want to address.”

Measure Requiring Porn Actors to Wear Condoms May Be on the 2016 Ballot in California

Advocates announced last week that they have gathered enough signatures to put a measure requiring condoms in all adult films shot in California on the 2016 ballot.

As Rewire has been reporting, the Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) has been working on various measures over the last few years to mandate condoms in porn films with mixed success. Attempts to get the LA City Council to agree to the mandate failed a number of times, but in 2012 voters in that city approved “Safer Sex in the Adult Film Industry Act,” known as Measure B, despite producers’ threats that they would simply film elsewhere. Enforcement of the rule has been difficult, and last year AHF took its fight to the state legislature, where efforts to pass a new policy failed.

Now, AHF is turning once again to the voters with a statewide ballot initiative that would require all production companies to certify, under the penalty of perjury, that condoms were used in all acts of vaginal and anal sex. Violators would face fines of up to $70,000. Production companies would also have to post a sign on set notifying actors that condoms are required.

The adult film industry is opposed to any such requirements, arguing that it is capable of keeping its performers safe. Many others in the state oppose the measure as well because of the financial implications. Since Measure B passed in Los Angeles, the number of permits given to adult films has dropped by 90 percent. The state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office, a non-partisan fiscal advisor, says that if passed, the ballot initiative will not only cost the state millions of dollars to enforce each year, the state will simultaneously lose tens of millions of dollars each year in tax revenue.

Still, AHF President Michael Weinstein believes that voters will go for the measure. He told the Los Angeles Times, “unlike most politicians, voters were not squeamish about this issue, seeing it as a means to protect the health and safety of performers working in the industry.”

The secretary of state confirmed last week that the initiative had received enough signatures—365,880—to be placed on the ballot. The signatures still have to be validated by state officials.