Sex Research Roundup: Pornography, Consensual Nonmonogamy, & Aphrodisiacs

Here’s a brief recap of the most interesting sex research reports that crossed my desk this week. They include studies on how scientists should be measuring porn use, how consensual nonmonogamy is associated with relationship quality, and whether “natural” aphrodisiacs really work as advertised.

Regnerus, M., Gordon, D., & Price, J. (in press). Documenting pornography use in America: A comparative analysis of methodological approaches. The Journal of Sex Research.

This is actually one of two papers I’ve seen in the past month that talks about some of the inherent problems that arise when studying porn use. This one focused on the timeframe researchers should ask about when trying to determine how frequently people are using porn.

In particular, should participants be asked how often they typically use porn, or only about the most recent time they used it? The authors concluded that asking people about their general porn use patterns leads to imprecise estimates “because respondents may be tempted to discount their most recent usage as being ‘off pattern’ when in fact it may or may not be.” Further, they go on to suggest that “when assessing large numbers of cases together, we hold that a ‘most-recent event’ self-report is apt to generate the most valid estimate of typical use patterns.”

In other words, we should avoid asking research participants to come up with a general estimate about how often they use porn because they’re not very accurate at doing so.  

In the other recent paper on this topic (which also appeared in the Journal of Sex Research and that I covered over at Playboy), a different group of researchers found evidence that “porn” means very different things to different people. Together, these studies tell us that porn researchers need to pay more attention both to how porn itself is defined in their studies and how they are measuring frequency of usage.

Rubel, A.N., & Bogaert, A.F. (2015). Consensual nonmonogamy: Psychological well-being and relationship quality correlates. The Journal of Sex Research, 52, 961-982.

What are the implications of consensual nonmonogamy (CNM) for mental health and relationship quality? A recent paper published in the Journal of Sex Research reviewed the literature in an attempt to answer this question. Dozens of studies focusing on three different forms of CNM were considered, including swinging, open relationships, and polyamory.

In the end, the authors concluded that “the majority of research suggests that the psychological well-being and the quality of the relationships of consensual nonmonogamists is not significantly different from that of monogamists. This is evident in terms of psychological well-being, overall relationship adjustment, jealousy, sexual satisfaction, and relationship stability.”

Thus, although persons who practice CNM and their relationships are often stigmatized as being “unhealthy,” there is no evidence to support such a view.

West, E., & Krychman, M. (2015). Natural aphrodisiacs—A review of selected sexual enhancers. Sexual Medicine Reviews, 3, 279-288.

Finally, in a recent paper published in Sexual Medicine Reviews, researchers explored what the available evidence says about the effects of some of the most common “natural sexual enhancers” (i.e., aphrodisiacs), including Spanish fly, oysters, ginseng, and horny goat weed.

The results were a mixed bag. For some so-called aphrodisiacs, there simply is no evidence available to confirm or deny their supposed effects (e.g., oysters, honey, rhinoceros horn). For others, the research shows that they’re just downright dangerous and potentially lethal, so they should be avoided at all costs (e.g., Spanish fly, Bufo toad, and so-called “mad honey”). Yet others actually have some “promising” (in the words of the study’s authors) data behind them (e.g., Ginkgo, ginseng, maca, and Tribulus).

However, there’s still a lot we don’t know about aphrodisiacs, and the authors caution that “further rigorous clinical trials are needed before mainstream practitioners can recommend any of these products.”

In short, when it comes to aphrodisiacs, be very, very cautious.

Want to learn more about Sex and Psychology ? Click here for previous articles or follow the blog on Facebook (facebook.com/psychologyofsex), Twitter (@JustinLehmiller), or Reddit (reddit.com/r/psychologyofsex) to receive updates.

Image Source: 123rf.com/zerbor

You Might Also Like: