Highlights From a Sex Research Conference

A few weeks ago, I attended the annual meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality (SSSS). I’ve been going to this conference for a few years in a row now and truly love it. In fact, I love it so much that I’m going to serve as co-chair of the conference planning committee for the 2017 and 2018 meetings!

As always, I learned a lot at this year’s conference and wanted to cover some of the highlights on the blog. However, I can't do it justice in a single post. What I’m going to do instead is offer a brief summary of some of my favorite presentations today, followed by some in-depth posts about a few particularly fascinating studies over the next few weeks. So, here goes:

· One of the big research themes at this year’s conference was consensual non-monogamy (CNM). In fact, I attended four separate symposia that addressed CNM issues! In total, I listened to 10 talks on this topic and gave one presentation on it myself. I was thrilled to see so much research on CNM because it has largely been absent at previous conferences. To me, this is a sign that sex scientists finally view CNM as an important and emerging research area.  

· Speaking of CNM, one of the most interesting talks I heard on this topic focused on applying attachment theory in the context of CNM relationships [Ryan & Moors]. A lot of folks might assume that people who are involved with multiple partners simultaneously would have the same attachment orientation with each partner—but that’s not what this study found. To the contrary, attachment orientation was distinct across different partners and, further, the attachment style people had within one relationship did not predict the quality of the relationships they had with other partners.

· Another talk I really enjoyed looked at expressions of intimacy in the context of casual sex [Garcia]. A lot of people think of casual sex as being completely devoid of intimacy—however, new research suggests that this isn’t the case. For instance, in a study of 656 college undergraduates, 57.5% reported that they like to engage in cuddling or other intimate behaviors during sexual hookups. Importantly, these intimate behaviors were not simply a function of participants wanting to have romantic relationships with their hookup partners. This tells us that, for a lot of people, intimacy is simply part of their sexual script.

· I also attended a set of four talks looking at the effects of exposure to pornography on people’s sexual functioning and relationships. Among the main findings were that pornography had no association with: 1) erectile problems in men (a finding that has been replicated in at least three recent studies) [Prause], 2) love for one’s partner (another finding that was recently replicated three times--more on this in my next blog post) [Balzarini], or 3) attitudes toward gender equality [Kohut]. Together, this set of studies argues against popular claims that pornography is addictive and has universally negative effects on users. To be clear, this is not to say that porn never has negative effects—and the authors of these studies didn’t claim that either. Instead, what this research tells us is simply that the negative effects of porn that other researchers have found don’t seem to be very reliable. This should lead us to question those who make bold claims about the inherent dangers of porn.

Again, these are just a few of the many research highlights from the 2016 meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality. Stay tuned for more!

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Image Source: 123RF.com/Anastasia Ivlicheva

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