What Counts as “Pornography?” It Depends Who You Ask

What Counts as “Pornography?” It Depends Who You Ask

As a sex researcher, I’ve read a lot of studies on the subject of pornography. One thing that’s been pretty consistent across most of them is that what counts as “porn” is usually left undefined. In other words, when people are asked about their porn usage habits, it’s generally up to them to determine what counts and what doesn’t. 

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5 Things Americans’ Google Searches Have Taught Us About Sex

5 Things Americans’ Google Searches Have Taught Us About Sex

In the last few years, Google Trends has become a favored research tools of sex scientists. Because not everyone is willing to participate in sex studies for various reasons, Google searches offer a handy means of looking at what a broader swath of the population thinks about sex. The appeal doesn’t stop there, though.

We also know that people don’t always answer survey questions honestly (even when they’re guaranteed anonymity) due to fear, shame, and embarrassment. For instance, some people may not honestly report their turn-ons because they’re embarrassed, while others might lie about how many people they’ve had sex with in order to look good to the researcher (some might overreport, while others might underreport). When people go to Google, however, they have a powerful incentive to tell the truth: if they don’t, they won’t find what they’re looking for.

Google searches are therefore thought to be very revealing because they can give us a glimpse into the things that people might not otherwise be willing to share. Several research papers have been published recently that explore the contents of Americans’ Google search histories. Here are five of the most fascinating things we’ve learned so far from this unique research tool.

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There’s Just One Problem With Suppressing Sexual Thoughts—It Doesn’t Work

There’s Just One Problem With Suppressing Sexual Thoughts—It Doesn’t Work

Let’s say you have a sexual fantasy about something—or someone—you’re not “supposed” to do, perhaps because it conflicts with the teachings of your religion. When a thought about this pops into your head, what do you do?

One of the most common responses people have to unwanted thoughts is to actively suppress them. While this may work in the short term as a means of reducing these thoughts, unfortunately, it’s not a very effective strategy for clearing your mind of them. As it turns out, suppressing a given thought just makes us think about it more in the long run.

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Why Abstinence and "Purity" Pledges Don't Work

Why Abstinence and "Purity" Pledges Don't Work

In the United States today, 37 states mandate that information on abstinence be provided in sex education courses. As you might imagine, it’s not uncommon for students to be asked to take “purity” or virginity pledges as part of the sex ed. curriculum in these states. 

Students are encouraged to take these pledges in order to reduce the spread of sexually transmitted infections, but also to prevent unwanted pregnancies. As it turns out, however, abstinence pledges don’t necessarily accomplish either of these goals. In fact, a recent study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family suggests that they might do just the opposite!

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Is Watching Porn a Form of Infidelity?

Is Watching Porn a Form of Infidelity?

What “counts” as cheating on a romantic partner? It depends who you ask. Research finds that people define infidelity in very different ways. However, there are some things that people seem to agree on more than others.

For example, people largely agree that having sexual intercourse with someone who isn’t your partner is a form of cheating (assuming, of course, that you agreed to be monogamous with that partner). The same goes for taking a shower with another person or sending them naked photos. But what about just watching porn by yourself? Do people typically categorize that as a form of infidelity? A recent study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior offers some insight into this question.

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Porn Use Is Linked To Lower Sexual Satisfaction In Men—But Only If They’re Religious

Porn Use Is Linked To Lower Sexual Satisfaction In Men—But Only If They’re Religious

Several studies have found that pornography use is associated with lower levels of sexual satisfaction (see here and here and here for a few examples). On the basis of this pretty consistent finding, many have concluded that porn necessarily has negative implications for people’s sex lives. As it turns out, however, porn per se probably isn’t the problem here.

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5 Fascinating Things Americans’ Google Searches Have Taught Us About Sex

5 Fascinating Things Americans’ Google Searches Have Taught Us About Sex

Google Trends has quickly become one of the favorite research tools of sex scientists. Why? In part, because not everyone is willing to participate in sex studies and, among those who are, we know they don’t always answer survey questions honestly. For instance, some people won’t report what actually turns them on because they’re embarrassed by it. Likewise, others lie about how many people they’ve had sex with in order to make themselves look better in the eyes of others. When people go to Google, though, they have a powerful incentive to tell the truth because, otherwise, they won’t find what they’re looking for. As a result, Google searches are thought to be very revealing because they can give us a glimpse into the things that people might not be willing to share with scientists, or anyone else for that matter.

In the last few years, several research papers have been published exploring the contents of Americans’ Google search histories. In this post, we’ll take a look at five of the most fascinating things we’ve learned so far from this unique research tool.

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The Problem With Abstinence Pledges

The Problem With Abstinence Pledges

In the U.S. today, 37 states mandate that information on abstinence be provided in sex education courses. In those states, it is not uncommon for students to be asked to take “purity” or virginity pledges as part of the curriculum.

Students are often encouraged to take these pledges in order to both reduce the spread of sexually transmitted infections and to prevent unintended pregnancies. As it turns out, however, abstinence pledges don’t necessarily accomplish either one of these things. In fact, a study published earlier this year in the Journal of Marriage and Family suggests that they may do just the opposite!

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Five of the Most Absurd Sex Laws in History

Five of the Most Absurd Sex Laws in History

History is full of examples of governmental and religious authorities going to great lengths to regulate people’s sex lives. Of course, these efforts continue in the modern world--however, sex today isn't regulated to quite the same extent as it was in the past, at least in the Western world. 

By today’s standards, many of the older laws—and their corresponding punishments—seem, well, downright absurd. Below are five such examples drawn from the book, Sex and Punishment: Four Thousand Years of Judging Desire by Eric Berkowitz.

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A Surprising Look At Millennials' Sexual Attitudes (Infographic)

A Surprising Look At Millennials' Sexual Attitudes (Infographic)

Millennials are often portrayed in the popular media as an extremely liberal bunch when it comes to sex. The impression given is that, among other things, millennials are totally cool with homosexuality, they love their casual sex, and they're shunning the notion of marriage. However, this doesn't quite match up with the data. Believe it or not, millennials' sexual attitudes may be a little more conservative on average than you've been led to think.

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People In Conservative States Google The Most Online Sexual Content

People In Conservative States Google The Most Online Sexual Content

It is no great secret that political and religious conservatives in the United States have a tendency to disapprove of any kind of sexual activity that is inconsistent with “traditional values” (i.e., anything other than vaginal intercourse within a heterosexual, monogamous marriage). Likewise, they tend to be more supportive of abstinence-only education and many of them discourage any kind open discussion about sexual matters. However, as we have seen time and again, conservative leaders (both political and religious) are often caught engaging in the activities that they themselves have so strongly protested, from having same-sex affairs to paying for sex (or both). Research provides additional support for the idea that there is sometimes a disconnect between what conservatives say publicly and what they do privately by revealing that the most online sexual content is actually sought in the most conservative of states.

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Are Religiously Motivated People Able To Change Their Sexual Orientation?

Are Religiously Motivated People Able To Change Their Sexual Orientation?

Historically and even today, many religious groups and organizations have promoted the view that any sexual activity outside the context of heterosexual marriage is immoral and harmful. One of the most vocal such groups in recent years has been the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also known as LDS or Mormon). Not only have they spoken out against masturbation (e.g., consider this recent PSA likening a guy who doesn’t stop his college roommate from masturbating to leaving a wounded soldier on the battlefield), but they have also repeatedly communicated their belief that homosexuality is wrong (e.g., consider that they were one of the biggest financial backers of California’s 2008 same-sex marriage ban, Prop 8). In light of their views, it is perhaps not surprising that the LDS church has also been a big proponent of the idea that sexual orientation change is possible, and they have encouraged gay, lesbian, and bisexual members to seek treatment designed to alter their sexuality. So what happens to LDS church members who follow these directives to “convert” their sexual orientation? Are religiously motivated individuals able to successfully eliminate their feelings of attraction to members of the same sex?

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How Important Is It To Have Sex Before Marriage?

In a recent piece on Salon entitled “My Virginity Mistake,” author Jessica Ciencin Henriquez talks about how an abstinence pledge ruined her marriage. In her words: “Without having sex before marriage, I blindly walked up an aisle and committed myself to a man who didn’t know me and gave my long-held virginity to someone with whom I had no more chemistry than a second cousin.” The crux of her piece is that sex is too important to a relationship to save it for the wedding night and that couples need to establish sexual compatibility before tying the knot. In light of this article, I thought it would be worth taking a look at what the science has to say on this topic. Does your sexual satisfaction and chance of relationship success really depend upon when you start having sex?
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Why Are Some People Against Same-Sex Marriage?

Why Are Some People Against Same-Sex Marriage?
Everyone was talking about same-sex marriage last week. First, voters in North Carolina approved a constitutional amendment banning legal recognition of same-sex relationships. Just a day later, even bigger news was made when President Obama publicly stated his support for extending marriage rights to gay and lesbian couples. All of this talk about same-sex marriage got me thinking about why so much variability exists in people’s attitudes toward this issue and, particularly, why some people are so resistant to it. Of course, religion plays a very large role in determining people’s views on marriage. However, research suggests that there may also be some important psychological processes underlying opposition to marriage equality.
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Should Newlyweds Promise “Till Death Do Us Part” Or “For About 20 Years?”

Most of us have attended weddings before where the couple getting married explicitly promised to love each other “till death do us part.” And if you’re anything like me, you probably thought to yourself “yeah, that’ll happen” at least once, not necessarily because you are pessimistic or jealous (or maybe you are), but because you know all too well that a large number of marriages just don’t go on forever. So what’s a realistic expectation for how long a new marriage will last these days? New research suggests that, among heterosexuals, most people would be pretty fortunate to have a 20-year partnership [1].
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Should Men Be Circumcised?

Should Men Be Circumcised?
In the not too distant past, circumcision (i.e., surgical removal of the foreskin from a penis) was a routine procedure performed on virtually all infant boys in the United States. However, circumcision has become increasingly controversial in recent years and the number of parents opting to perform this procedure on their male children has dropped considerably. The Centers for Disease Control currently estimates that 55-57% of newborn boys in the U.S. are circumcised [1]. The percentages differ greatly around the world, with higher rates in the Middle East and lower rates in Europe. So is circumcision a good idea? Unfortunately, there is not a definitive scientific answer to this question. Thus, the goal of this article is not to advocate one position or another, but rather to present you with some different perspectives and allow you to come to your own conclusions.
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