Sex and Science: Do Open Relationships Make Us Happier?

People tend to have strong feelings about non monogamy.

People in non monogamous relationships are convinced they are the happiest people in the world and the ‘vanilla’s’ are all boring, brooding fools.  People who are monogamously committed, tend to see open relationships as risky, reckless, sinful and doomed.

So who has art right? The sinful swingers or the dutiful monogamists?  According to a new study from the University of Michigan.. both.  A survey of over 2,000 people (a decent sample) found that monogamous and non monogamous couples had almost identical levels of relationship satisfaction.

Interestingly, most of the media reporting on the study focussed on the ‘surprising’ result that non monogamous couples would be as happy as those in monogamous relationships. The assumption being, I suppose, that society would expect monogamists to be happier.  In my experience – knowing many people in open relationships and many on monogamous relationships – I had the exact opposite opening perspective.  In my experience in these two worlds, I certainly would have thought swingers and those in open relationships would be significantly happier than those leading a monogamous lifestyle. In our experience, swingers are the happiest people in the world and enjoy life and relationships at levels unparalleled in the vanilla world.

So I’m wrong.. the vanillas are happier than I thought.  At least (1) they report to be and (2) those in this study are.  I do wonder if, as couples are in their relationships longer, the vanillas have a tougher time of it. This would certainly fit my lived experience.  Many monogamous couples we have known for years had been very happy at one point in their relationship, but many are significant less happy as the years pass.  Our swinger friends, on the other hand, seem to maintain a vitality, happiness and energy as their relationship ages that alludes their monogamous counterparts.  For my wife and I for instance, as we age we are finding we enjoy spending more and more time with our swinger friends… just because they are happier.

So, maybe I’ve been too hard on the vanillas.  Maybe.

Do People Masturbate Less Than We (I) Think?

My wife and I had an interesting conversation last night about how often we thought people masturbated.  We’re both pretty sexually liberal and real, really like sex, so our assumption was that pretty much everyone masturbates pretty regularly.

Maybe not as much as we thought.

We started our search for answers with some of the websites we like best.  Jezelbel did a survey finding that 92% of women masturbate. Mic Network puts the figure in the high 80s.

This was pretty much what we were expecting. But then we considered.. are these really the most objective sources.  These are pretty edgy, sex positive sites.  What if we looked at more traditionally-oriented sources.

Psychology Today – a very respectable main stream publication – cites a very significant University of Chicago study that found only 61% of men and 38% of women had masturbated during the previous year.  Huffington Post – a mainstream and even slightly left of centre news outlet reported similar results.

So, only 60% of men and 40% of men had masturbated during the last year.  This was a surprise.  Until we thought about it more.  As much as my wife and I love sex, we are often flabbergasted at how ambivalent some/many of our friends seem to be about sex.  We are often amazed (and a little disappointed) at how often our friends come up with statements like

  • Sex just isn’t a big part of my life anymore
  • I don’t have the time or energy for sex anymore.. so it has just kind of gone away
  • I don’t really connect anymore with my wife/husband, so my desire for sex is kind of gone
  • Sex… too complicated.. I’m over it

While I’m aways a little saddened when I hear something like this, the truth is I hear it quite often.  For them, the small (or big) pleasure that is sex has become lost to them.  So, while sad, it is a reality for many.

So, when we stated discussing these numbers, while I suspect masturbation is somewhat underreported in surveys, the figure of 60 and 40 percent of men and women masturbate… likely not too far off.

Bi-curious vs Bisexual – What’s the difference?

A Guest Blog by my Wife:

A girl friend of mine recently got into the lifestyle (that is, she and her husband started swinging). She is very bisexual, and had previously dated both women and men. She came over for a drink the other night, and wanted to share a discovery she’d made through the last couple of months on Adult Friend Finder (AFF) … in a loud stage whisper, she leaned toward me and said “Bi-curious and bisexual … not the same thing. Who knew?”

We had a good laugh over that, and it got me thinking about the difference between bi-curiosity and bisexuality. I’d say bi-curious women can be divided into 3 camps:

Camp 1 – This Feels Naughty and The Guys Like It

The title kind of says it all. These women are open to light experimentation because it feels like they’re doing something taboo, and they love the reaction they get from their men. They’re into kissing and fondling, but have NO interest in going further and never will. I’ve heard this called “Bi for Guy” because it’s all about the reaction. This is not the group my friend is looking for.

Camp 2 – Exploring Uncharted Territory 

This group of women have figured out somehow (let’s be honest … likely through porn) that they’re turned on by women, and want to explore this. As they start to play with other women, they’ll end up figuring out how much they like the experience compared with how much they thought they’d like it. Each person will end up somewhere on a spectrum ranging from “this is okay, but I really don’t want to touch someone else’s pussy, and maybe I’ll stick to fantasizing” to “OMG, women’s bodies are so sexy and this opens up a huge world of possibility and I want to try everything”. Admittedly, this isn’t a very refined spectrum, but you get the idea. This camp really doesn’t know what they’ll find on their journey, but call themselves bi-curious as the entry ticket that allows them explore, experiment, and figure this out. Some of these women would get along very well with my friend; others, not so much.

Camp 3 – Fighting the Label

The third camp are women who are at the far right of the spectrum I talked about in camp 2 (the OMG end), but who still shy away from calling themselves bisexual. They’re not comfortable with this label, and who can blame them … bisexuality still isn’t widely understood, talked about and accepted by society. So accepting this label proclaims that you’re not part of the mainstream, and this can feel uncomfortable for many people. But they love bisexual play in practice. Many women in this camp may one day graduate to calling themselves bisexual, but for now they play it safe and stick with bi-curious, a term that leaves you undeclared. This sub-set of the bi-curious may be tough to find, but are worth looking for!

The good news in all of this is that many women are starting to explore their sexuality, and are recognizing that sexuality is a continuous scale (not just straight or gay). Young people are way ahead in this: a recent YouGov survey (https://today.yougov.com/news/2015/08/20/third-young-americans-exclusively-heterosexual) asking people to place their sexuality on a scale of 0 to 6, where 0 is completely heterosexual and 6 is completely homosexual, found that 29% of millennials placed themselves somewhere other than 0 or 6 on the scale (i.e. indicated they have some degree of bisexuality), compared with only 8% of baby boomers. So while down the road we’ll likely hear the term bi-curious a lot less, for now it’s important to recognize it can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people, and that’s okay.

So if my friend is looking for a true bisexual experience, she may need to ask a few more questions to figure out what camp the other person is in.

 

Sexy Science – Attractive People and Divorce

They say that good looking people get all the breaks.. the best jobs, the best sexual partners, the best service n a restaurant.

Well, it turns out they also get the most relationship instability.  A fascinating study by Christine Ma-Kellams at Laverne University asked 2 women to rate the attractiveness of 238 people based on their photos in old high school yearbook photos.  She then looked at the relationship history of these 238 individuals as their progressed through their lives.  It turns out that those ranked most attractive had a significantly higher rate of divorce, as compared to their less attractive classmates.

So, while the world seems pretty rosy for attractive people, there appears to be a downside.

It makes you wonder why attractive people divorce at such high rates.

I suspect opportunity has a lot to do with it.  Bill Maher, the comedian, had a great line – ‘men are only as faithful as their options.. his fidelity is probably less about his love for you as it is about the fact that no one else will fuck him.’ I suspect there is a lot of truth in that. If you are still attractive to other people and are presented with opportunity, you will avail  yourself to those opportunities.

I also wonder if the act of keeping yourself attractive makes you more prone to divorce.  This may be more of a stretch, but I suspect that those to work to be attractive do so, in part, from a personal ambition to continue to enjoy life.  They know that staying attractive opens all kinds of doors that are closed to those who ‘let themselves go’.  And some of the doors are sexual in nature. I’ve been accused of liking attractive people more than unattractive people.  And its true – I do.  But its not because of their attractiveness that I like them.  It is their quest for attractiveness that I like.  In my experience – and this is not a hard-and-fast rule attractive people – or at least people who consciously work to be attractive – are more energetic, adventure seeking and fun than those who are not.  And I love this.

So, it may not be surprising that attractive people divorce more. It is unfortunate, but it may simply go with the territory.

 

Choosing Happiness

I’m reading a book, The Happiness Advantage, that is built not the premise that our state of mind determines our success.  Simply put, happiness makes you successful, rather than the conventional belief that success makes you happy.

Its a non fiction book, full of scientific support – both theoretical and experimentally tested – that shows that people who are happy and/or focus on happiness are far more successful and fulfilled. The idea is that if we approach things with a happy and positive attitude, success will ensue.

An amazing example I read last night.  A group of 70 year old men spent a week at a resort that was transformed to 20 years in the past. The resort had newspapers and TV programs from 20 years ago; guests were encouraged to debate political issues they were engaged in 20 years ago, and they did activities they did 20 years ago.  Essentially, they were told to live like they were 50 years old, rather than 70 years old.  The findings were amazing.  Their health improved – 10% improvement in insight, improvement in cardiovascular health, they got physically stronger.  And mentally they were sharper, scoring better on standard tests’ their posture improved.  It was startling… by acting younger they become physically younger.

It caused me to focus on the importance of the attitude we bring into life. My family, we lead a pretty messed life – good kids, good relationship, good friends, great sex and financial security.  But my wife has been going through a bit of a challenging period.  Within a couple months, there was a work setback, a relationship setback w a friend and a health issue.  These are all things we’re not uses to dealing with.  Yet, at the same time, we have a lot a super positive elements of our lives.

So last night, we both made a pledge (it was an idea in the book) to, even night, list three things from the day that were happy.  For me (we are on a southern vacation with inflows now), my three were

  • our youngest daughter was at her most mature and helpful today – cheerful, helpful around the house, super fun as we played pool volleyball and did her ‘vacation homework – yes, I’m an ogre, I assign vacation homework – with keenness;
  • our older daughter really, really didn’t want to come swimming with my other daughter and I. I had to make her come and she was unhappy about it  Yet, as soon as she got in the pool she did not sulk but played joyfully with us for about an hour
  • My wife’s parents are happy and in great spirits – not always the case so its great to see when they are.

Sex on Family Vacations

There is nothing better than vacation sex. Except…

We leave today for a two week family vacation in Florida. Its us and our two kids, staying with my inlaws.

Sex is am important part of mine and my wife’s relationship and the idea of having two weeks of little privacy and non-stop PG and G rated activities is a little distressing.  This is an annual ritual for us (the family March break vacation), so we’ve developed a few tips for make it more sexually bearable:

  1. It starts with the packing.  Make sure you back in a way that anticipates some sexy distractions while you’re on vacation. Sexy underwear, sexy discussion card, [quiet] sex toys.. anything that can remind you that its an adult vacation as well as a family vacation;
  2. build in couples time.  Not every minute of every day needs to be spent with family in order to make it a successful family vacation.  My wife and I make sure we build in time for mini-dates (have a coffee together) and real dates (go out alone for dinner);
  3. build in sex time.  On some of the dates – and this is not cheap I suppose – the ‘date’ involves going to a hotel and spending two hours revising each other.  For all you’ve spent on the vacation, another coulee hundred dollars to buy two hours of erotic bliss… priceless;
  4. quiet sex.  Not all sex needs to be mind blowing with screaming orgasms.  Even in a bedroom right next to the kids or inlaws, you can make it work

I love family vacations – the quality time, the relaxation. sun. But we cannot imagine all of that devoid of some sexy fun.

Sexy Science: Sex and Happiness

In what should come as a surprise to virtually no one, science has confirmed – once again – the link between a fulfilling sex life and happiness.  A series of scientific studies have shown a strong positive link between those who have frequent sex and the happiness/well being they feel in their lives and their relationships.

The details are a little more complicated.  A study  by Anik Duborc tried to figure out the reasons for the positive association between sex and well being.  The result was a little surprising – the well being and happiness seemed to be linked to the cuddling and feeling of intimacy that accompanies sex, as opposed to the sexual act itself.  At the very least, the researchers found, the cuddling and closeness were at least as important as the sexual act.

I suppose this makes sense. I’ve long believed that humans crave touch and connection even more than we crave sex.  As social creatures in a digital age we miss physical closeness and seek it out.  Sex is a great way to get this, but it is the both sex and the closeness we want – to more-or-less the same degree.

This idea that sex and intimacy are equally important really appeals to me.  I will admit to (infrequently) having had sex with women in the past who I didn’t feel particularly close to.  It was fun and felt great at the time, but I wouldn’t say it had any enduring effect on my happiness.  But when I’ve had sex with women I feel a closeness and a connection with… the afterglow will last for weeks.

I’m at one of those stages of life where a number of close friends are getting divorced.  They reach a point where their kids are getting a little more independent and not needing their attention 24/7.  As they look to their partner, they realize that the connection and the intimacy has been lost.  I can think of three friends in particular – in only the last month – who have found new partners. Each of them said what they liked about the new relationships they are entering into was (i) sex was exciting again; and (ii) it felt good to be touched in a  way that made me feel wanted.

This idea of touching and being touched in a way that makes you feel wanted, desirable and intimate is really important I believe.  While sex and orgasms are fantastic, so is the feeling of closeness we get as we achieve them.