Category Archives: Sex

A look at the biology, psychology, and sociology of human mating and sexuality in America. Blogs include sexual orientation, gender differences in sexuality and culture-bound practices.

Is Marriage Becoming Extinct?

stockvault-happy-family124699The shape of our families is changing. People are marrying for the first time later in life, and the divorce rate is soaring, giving way to many single parent households. Single life is no longer a short rite of passage; it’s an important consumer demographic. For the first time in history (since the immigration of mostly male, early settlers), almost half of adult Americans are now unmarried. There’s even a magazine devoted to the lifestyles of those who have made a commitment to be single. It includes ads for commitment rings to purchase for oneself.

But has love changed? Has committed love been replaced by a revolving door of dates? Is long-term monogamy even necessary for our species’ survival? The answers are complicated. Marriage may be changing, but it will never go out of style.  In case you’ve been living under a rock, there’s a fight going on right now in America to allow more people to be granted marital rights.

Marriage may not be going away, but its purpose has shifted. Historically, marriage was a place for women and children to have economic protection. It was a place where religious values could be taught and extended to the next generation, and a place where family fortunes could remain intact. More recently, marriage became a place for a relatively new invention: romantic love. But since dating and hooking up have morphed into America’s favorite pastime, full of hopeful highs and disappointing lows, even romantic love is losing its luster.

So why choose marriage today? Because it is an intellectual decision that leads to survival of the species. Anthropologists have always said that it was human’s sophisticated social structures, including the adoption of long-term monogamy, that help our species procreate and thrive.

Humans are the animals that require a huge amount of nurturing for our psychological and physical survival, more than virtually any other animal on earth. While most newborns are up on four legs and running with the herd just hours after birth, we Homo sapiens have a vulnerable in-arms (or stroller) phase that lasts almost four years. And it’s really, really hard to nurse and carry a baby while extracting resources from the environment. Just ask any single mother. Doable, yes, but very difficult. Remember the mission: to grow up healthy and create offspring that are also healthy and ready for careers and parenthood.

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Family therapists know that dysfunctional family systems eventually fall out of evolution’s chain. Each generation has fewer and fewer offspring that survive through the next procreation, until the family line finally dies off. Apparently, neglectful parenting can create drunk drivers, criminals caught in crossfire, hermits, drug addicts, and narcissists too selfish for parenting — all people with lower chances of reproducing. But let me make one thing clear before I get inundated with e-mails about this: I am IN NO WAY SAYING that all single mothers create dysfunctional families. What I am saying is that every time one factor is removed from a system that has been selected through evolution, the chances for dysfunction increase. Plenty of single mothers are raising healthy kids with the help of extended family, surrogate male role models, and friendship villages that act as a de facto family. And this is part of our changing family structure.

Evolution has shown that our best chances for survival and for the survival of our offspring’s offspring is a team approach to raising humans. And the best team captains are people who have a biological interest in the child. And to create that, we need to sometimes put the notion of romantic love aside and make an intellectual decision to do what’s best for our genes, ahem, I mean kids.

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How to Make Your Relationship Happier

Research has led some couples astray. Couple Fights in BedIn plenty of studies, couples who are happier also have more sex. Knowing that finding, it would make sense that having more sex should lead to increased feelings of happiness. But it turns out that having sex specifically to improve feelings of well being in a relationship more often back fires. Instead unhappy couples were left feeling tired and less interested in sex.

The truth is, happy people have more sex, and if you want to know how to make your relationship happier, there are many factors, unrelated to the bedroom, that can help. To name a few:

• A firm work/life boundary (cell phones off at home)

• Regular exercise (love those endorphins)

• Less isolation (more friends and family at the table)

• Music

But are there things that science tells us couple can clearly do more of to increase relationship satisfaction? Turns out there are two big ones: Frequent kissing and hugs of long duration. Surprisingly, frequency of kissing is linked to better relationships even more than frequency of sex. And, long bear hugs, the kind where bodies melt into each other, seem to help us release a dopamine in the brain.

So, if you’re relationship is in the doldrums, forget about high-pressured sex. Instead, turn off technology, and snuggle together for a cozy hug.


The Psychology of Human Mating




Dr. Patti Britton: A Sex Positive Coach

Dr. Patti ImageI know. Who really sees a sexologist, right? Apparently plenty of people. I mean, if there are doctors for our mental health, our nutrition, our physical health, why not a doctor who specializes in our sexual health. That’s why I invited pioneering sexologist and sex coach, Dr. Patti Britton to join the  Love Lab LIVE! (Santa Monica, April 18th.) At the show you’ll be able to ask Dr. Brittain anything about sex, but here’s a sneak peak at her specialty.

DR. WENDY: As a sexologist, what would you say your most important role is?

DR. PATTI: I hold the space for my clients to discover who they truly are as sexual beings. I like to call it “Sexual Self Realization.” I am a clinician, coach, educator, trainer, speaker and advocate for positive sexuality. What I love most is coming from the sexological perspective: sex positive, client-driven, depathologizing, empowerment-based, whole person centered, seeing the center of a person’s life–the sexual component– like a bulls eye in which when they heal the sexual patterns, they heal the whole self, and embracing what is; we don’t ever get rid of parts of ourselves we learn to manage them. I work primarily in a modality I created, known as MEBES: Mind, Emotions, Body/body image/behaviors, Energy and Spirit.

DR. WENDY: What is the most common sexual problem presented in your practice?

DR. PATTI: I work with over 46 different sexual concerns, but I like to specialize in these four: Older virgin males; sexless couples; pre orgasmic women and Boomers. I host an Internet radio show with my partner, Dr. Robert Dunlap, co founder of Sex Coach University, known as “” where we talk about all things related to the lives of Boomers, including sex.

DR. WENDY: If there is only one thing that a couple can do to improve their sex lives, what would that be?

DR. PATTI: Touch. I find that most people are touch deprived; sex is more than just mechanics and sometimes moving into sensual touch is the key for reconnecting with their own sexual expression. I wrote an Idiot’s Guide to Sensual Massage in which I talk about the Touch Continuum, and deconstruct for clients and students how important is touch and what those 5 different types and levels of touch mean. I’ll have more to say, at Love Lab LIVE!

DR. WENDY: Dr. Patti will be taking your question live at Love Lab LIVE! on Saturday, April 18th at The EDYE Theater in Santa Monica, California. Get your tickets here.


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A Conversation About Sexual Consent

Married couple having an intimate discussionA national conversation about sexual consent has begun. In recent decades the concept of sexual consent has bogged down courts and left campus officials scratching their heads as lawmakers struggle to define the line between unlawful sex and “buyer’s remorse,” (as too many police officer’s, sadly, define date rape.) We all clearly recognize a rape when it occurs in a dark alley with a stranger and a weapon. But far more often, rape happens with someone we know. In fact, it can happen with someone we really like. When unlawful sex is preceded by consensual touching causing aroused bodies or the consensual sharing of alcohol or drugs, that line between sexual assault and permissive sex becomes terribly blurry.

But the good news is this. Sexual consent now has a clear definition and laws are finally catching up. A new law in California, for instance, states that in order to have sex on any California college campus that receives State funding, both sexual partners must give verbal or written consent. Lawmakers hope that if people talk about sex — their boundaries and their expectations — before they have sex, we’ll see a reduction in reports of date rape. I’ve always been one to vote for honest words before coitus. I mean, if you two aren’t intimate enough to talk about sex, you probably shouldn’t expose your eggs or your bloodstream to that partner.

As we continue this public conversation about what constitutes legal or illegal sex, let me outline the five rules for sexual consent:

1. YES MEANS YES. In fact “yes” is the only word that means yes. Silence isn’t consent. Moaning and smiling isn’t consent. “I think so” isn’t consent. “Maybe” isn’t consent. The words, “Yes, I want to have sex with you” are the only thing that counts in a court of law. And “NO” really does mean no. It should never be used as foreplay to help preserve a woman’s reputation.

2. BOTH PARTNERS MUST GIVE CONSENT. Ladies and gay men, listen up. Just because a guy has a throbbing flag pole does not mean that he wants to have full on intercourse with you at that very moment. An erection is not consent. Both partners, no matter their gender or orientation must give verbal consent.

3. YOU CANNOT GIVE CONSENT IF YOU ARE UNDER THE INFLUENCE of drugs or alcohol. All these conversations about sex have to take place before the first drink is poured.

4. CONSENT FOR ONE ACT DOESN’T MEAN CONSENT FOR ANOTHER ACT. I know. It gets a bit awkward here. Just because someone consents to kissing, petting or even oral sex, does not mean they are consenting to intercourse. It’s important to get verbal consent at every stage, even if that means a little coitus interruptus along the way. One solution is to have a spicy conversation about expectations at the onset.

5.  IT’S YOUR RESPONSIBILITY TO KNOW YOU HAVE CONSENT. Ignorance of the law is no excuse. Just like you can’t tell a traffic cop you didn’t know there was a speed limit, you can’t tell a jury that you didn’t know she had to verbally say yes.

The best solution of all? Establish emotional intimacy and trust long before you hit the hay. And have a sexy conversation when you are fully clear headed. Then enjoy some great consensual sex.


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Five Sexual Myths That Keep Women Single

Women gossipingFor my book The 30-Day Love Detox, I interviewed some of the brightest minds in the country who focus on sexuality, mating strategies, and attachment. Even I had to take a deep breath and let go of some of my cherished arguments for sexual equality when I saw how solid the research ran contrary to my beliefs. Sigh. These are the sexual myths that will keep you single if you continue to believe them.

1. The Sexual Myth of The Hook Up Culture

As I mentioned earlier, the hook-up culture is more urban legend than reality. A recent National Survey of Family Growth study with over thirteen-thousand participants showed that fully one quarter of college students are virgins.

Yet, most people assume that college campuses are a hotbed of non-committed sex. And they believe this uncommitted sex happens earlier than it does. In fact, young adults who do not attend college have more sexual partners.

But, since the perceptions exist, many women feel subtly pressured to have sex before they are ready. One study showed that the vast majority of college students talked about hook-ups yet reported very few actual sexual scores. But the talk was the damaging part for women. It has the effect of “normalizing” the practice and creating more approval for hook-ups. That new false norm causes many women to engage in risky sexual behavior.4

The truth is there are two, distinct dating markets. One sells bulk sex at a low price, perhaps the price of one drink, and the other sells a select variety to a narrow market. Women who want a healthy relationship “charge” a high price for sex: attention, love, care, commitment, and social status. In today’s times, social status may not mean marriage if you don’t need it, but it can certainly mean that he changes his Facebook status to indicate he’s in a relationship with you.

2. The Myth that Sexual Chemistry Helps Relationships

Many women believe that jumping into bed in the early stages of a relationship is a way to test sexual compatibility, a way to audition a man, if you will. Someone – probably a man – created the myth that “sexual chemistry” is necessary before couples can move to a committed relationship.  If this theory were true then people who do not test out sexual chemistry before commitment should have shorter, more unhappy, relationships. But psychology professor Dean Busby and his colleagues at Brigham Young University were unable to make this connection is a study of more than 2,000 couples. People with good sexual chemistry early on did not stay together longer. He explained his results to me this way. “The mechanics of good sex are not particularly difficult or beyond the reach of most couples, but the emotions, the vulnerability, the meaning of sex and whether it brings couples closer together are much more complicated to figure out.” (Dean Busby, personal communication, 2012).

“Sexual chemistry isn’t made by some effortless match, as if the couple won a lottery,” says University of Texas sociology professor Mark Regnerus and author of Pre-Marital Sex in America. “I think sexual chemistry is the title we give to the erotic novelty often found in early sexual relationships: if they’re “hot,” then chemistry must exist. But all relationships settle down into more sustainable patterns of romance, and THAT is when sexual chemistry is fashioned.”

3. The Myth That People Have Sexual “Needs”

Sex researchers have long known that women have different kinds of sexual “needs” than men. Women’s sexuality tends to be responsive, meaning that we respond to sexual opportunity, rather than seek it out to fulfill some kind of necessary quota.

When women meet someone they are attracted to, their sexual responses turn on. When they break up from a sexual relationship, they aren’t as likely as men to replace that relationship with daily masturbation or pornography. When single women feel “horny” it is often an extension of their emotional need for companionship. Some researchers have found that women often desire to be desired.

That’s a whole lot different than a biological desire for sex, any sex, with almost anyone. Men are more like that. This model of female sexuality is supported by the fact that drug companies can’t come up with a drug that enhances female libido. Women’s sexuality is a complicated mix of psychology, social conditioning and biology. Men’s sexuality is closer to basic plumbing.

But in this high-supply sexual economy where women have adopted everything male, I often hear women say, “But what about my sexual needs? I have to put my needs aside?”

I believe the bodies of those women could be responding to our highly sexualized culture, including provocative advertising, half-naked men on Facebook and sexual invitations at every turn, making women believe that sex is urgent. Rather than having a sexual response to a single suitor whom they are attracted to, women could be having a sexual response to our crazy sexualized environment. Or, they could simply be parroting men. Worse, they could be giving in to the power wielded by the shrinking supply of good men, and bowing to their requests out of fear.

These women believe the myth that sex is, in fact a human need. Granted, psychologist Abraham Maslow’s famous hierarchy of human needs puts sex at the base of the pyramid right alongside pooping, but he isn’t referring to sex as a commodity.

He was referring to sexual competition as a motivating factor for people’s behaviors. And I think it’s clear that we have enough sexual competition these days.

Can both genders control their sexuality? Of course we can! Sex is no more a need than a trip to Saks Fifth Avenue. For our human survival we need, air, food, water, shelter and companionship. Ask any priest, nun, military person stationed abroad, prisoner, or elderly widow. Is sex necessary for their survival? Nope. But it’s a nice perk that comes with freedom, prosperity and good health.

I think the important question women need to ask themselves is this: Does more sex make a woman feel liberated or trapped? I vote for trapped. By adopting a male model of sexuality we have imprisoned ourselves in a hook-up culture that trained a generation of men to avoid marriage and parental responsibilities. Is this getting our “needs” met?

4. The Sexual Myth That Sex Leads to Love

While slightly more than half of college women believe that a sexual hook-up can be a stepping-stone to a relationship, the research points to a more ominous outcome. According to the author of Pre-Marital Sex In America, “It’s a race to the bottom. By having sex early in a relationship  — or worse, before it even starts — is a guaranteed failure. It’s just a matter of time. Men won’t sacrifice for someone who’s easy. They don’t work that way.”

Or, how about this little jewel of research? Renowned evolutionary psychology professor David Buss at the University of Texas at Austin and Martie G. Haselton at the University of California, Los Angeles found that the more previous sexual partners a man has, the more likely he is to quickly perceive diminished attractiveness in a woman after first intercourse.

Diminished attractiveness. Sex doesn’t lead to love for men. If the guy is a player, sex more often leads to distain for you.

My Facebook page, like yours, is crammed with visually wired men who click on any cute photo that might mean a sexual opportunity, thus the majority of my Facebook “friends” are men. When I posted the Buss & Haselton study on my Facebook page, one guy summed it up perfectly. “Sure…. It’s a test. We see how quick we can get you in bed. The quicker you are, the less wifey material you are.” Sigh. Feminism has yet to reprogram men’s brains in the area of sexuality.

5. The Myth that Promiscuity Can be Turned Off

Plenty of people believe that sex is a behavior that is very malleable, that sexuality can be turned on and off, like a light switch. Many of the women I spoke with told me that they are hooking up as a way to audition mates, but they are quite sure they can be faithful when they decide to be. But research doesn’t support this. More likely is the scenario that these women are training their body to be a future cheater. We can train ourselves for most anything. And the only way to train for monogamy is to either abstain or to be monogamous.

“Many will say, ‘when I get ready to settle down I’m going to take things more slowly,” says Dean Busby, Ph.D., whose work studying thousands of singles and couples has produced relevant and timely data.  “Unfortunately, some of our more recent research seems to suggest that the patterns that develop in young adulthood, and their relational consequences, can’t just be turned off or avoided once a person decides it is time to marry.  Every relationship we have, however brief and insignificant, influences every other relationship we have, and the patterns that we repeat across relationships become very difficult to change.”

Exiting the High-Supply Sexual Marketplace

I hope by now you’ve gotten the message that you have mating control but you are in a race against your fertility clock and an ever-increasing competition for a narrowing market of good mates. I hope that those fears will out weigh any fears you may have of dealing with the after shock of pulling yourself off the high supply sexual market. Think of it this way. Even in a tomato bumper crop year, when high supply forces the price of tomatoes down to a nickel a head, there will still be a market for an artisan grown, organic, heirloom tomato that sells for a dollar a head. So which are you? A mass market, low “priced” date? Or, a woman who sets the price of intimacy with her? And the price should be love, care, commitment and financial partnership if you plan to become a mother. It’s time to purge low-criteria relationships.


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