measuring the influence of sexual activity on reactions to pictures of faces

Submitted by bebop on
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Hi All,
I appreciate the work you are doing on this site. I too lean toward the theory that orgasms (or more specifically, at least in males, ejaculations) tend to, over time, trouble rather than bond relationships, based on my own personal experience and observations, although few people I know would believe this. And I truly I appreciate the scope and effort of keeping up with so much relevant research, which Gary and Marnia share so well on this site.

I read the comments on some recent research in the June newsletter, about a study of women, and the relationship between their sexual activity and their reactions to pictures of unfamiliar male faces. I followed the link to the research cited. I read their abstract – but didn’t fork out the $31.50 for the article itself. I have a question, comparing the commentary with the abstract. These women in the study were ranking pictures of the faces of *strange* men - not pictures of their partner’s face. That is an interesting line of inquiry in and of itself – how much does being “horny” (not having had a lot of sexual “gratification” recently, not being ‘prolactinized,’ if you will, not being under the influence of a prolactin hangover) influence how “attractive” or “unfriendly” a man’s face looks to a (presumably) heterosexual woman? (Or does orientation matter in this case?) The basic idea behind this seems to make sense, that “horniness” would influence receptivity to unfamiliar faces in terms of “attractiveness.” The suggestion that aggressive facial looks in a man get more "attractive" to a (heterosexual) woman as she gets "hornier" is provocative. This isn't the way the abstract puts it - they don't speak in terms of "horniness," but just "frequency" of sexual activity, but that seems to me to be important to focus on. Not all sexual activity ends horniness and desire, of course. But this focus on reactions to *strangers* does not seem to me to be quite to the point of this site. I am not sure how this question of whether sexual activity influences the attractiveness of *unfamiliar* faces relates to the central idea promoted here, that orgasms can negatively influence the quality of *intimate* relationships. Wouldn’t the suggestion be, according to this theory, that non-orgasmic partnered sex, unlike orgasm-centered partnered sex, would tend to have a more positive influence on how a woman relates to pictures, not of unfamiliar men, but of her own partner (or partners)? Not having read the article, of course, I might be missing something important.

Both these comments and the article abstract are copied below for quick reference, btw.

On to some “what-ifing” these comments and this abstract stimulate for me … Wouldn’t it be interesting to see what might happen in a similar study, but this time, narrow down the sexual activity to the two kinds of couple’s sexuality this site focuses on, orgasm-centered vs. non-orgasm-centered. What might this look like? I suppose you could ask some women to masturbate to orgasm every day or so for a month, or even better, have frequent orgasms with their partner – in what would likely be considered a great month of having sex in our mainstream culture (one might be able to get a lot of volunteers for that! – having researchers encourage your partner to give you orgasms for a month! all in the name of science, of course) - and during that month, have these women look at a variety of pictures of their partner’s face, and rank them for attractiveness, sexiness and so forth. It might be interesting to have a full spectrum of facial expressions of their partner to rate - angry, disgusted, aggressive, nauseous, bored, etc., as well as friendly. That variable might help measure whether orgasming/not orgasming has an influence over tolerance of each other’s negative emotional states as well as receptivity to positive ones. Both partners could do this picture-ranking thing, actually – this study need not be just focused on women. On some other month, get the same couple to have frequent PVI or other forms of intimate sex, but without orgasms, or at least a lot fewer of them – and do so along the lines you suggest on the site, as powerful erotic/emotional experiences - and then see if these participants actually do have different reactions to the same pictures, see if there really is some significant difference in emotional responsiveness. Not an easy study to create, or monitor for consistency (when is any kind of self-reporting on sex really reliable? LOL), and there could be a problem with showing the same pictures too many times, so that would need special attention, but it seems that done properly, this kind of study could create some of the basic elements of the essential idea this site is suggesting, and offer a meaningful comparison of the emotional consequences of these two approaches to intimate sexuality. The only special technique involved, besides needing partners skilled enough in both approaches to do each one for a month (would such couples be hard to find? I would guess they would be – and is a month enough? Or would a week be enough?) is this creation of a series of pictures of one partner – while having the other partner rank these pictures for attractiveness. More telling measurements to contrast the orgasm-centered sex “month” with the non-orgasm-focused month might be things like frequency and intensity of conflicts, or frequency and intensity of positive emotions felt, but those are so difficult to measure and compare in this kind of situation, since so many other life factors influence such things during the course of a week or month. But this picture-ranking technique seems relatively simple and inexpensive to use (well, capturing a true variety of expressions would take some professional photography skills and maybe some ability at method acting on the part of the participant! so maybe not that simple), and appears to be potentially reliable as a way of measuring reactions to and perceptions of emotional states - since the pictures don’t change, just the perceptions of the person looking at them do.

Anyway, just some brainstorming. Keep up the great work!

- bebop, Seattle, Washington

From June 2008 Reuniting newsletter:
The more orgasms, the less attractive women find men
Last year a sexologist did research on women engaging in various kinds of sexual activity for 30 days - and tested them to see how attractive and friendly they found (unknown) men's pictures. He was trying to prove that women engaging in PVI (penile-vaginal intercourse) would find pictures of strange men less attractive than the other women did, because they would be more bonded with their mates.
Instead what he found matched with what we've been theorizing. The more orgasms the women had across the board...the more unattractive and aggressive they ranked the pictures of the men.
And the women who only masturbated during that time ranked the men the lowest. (Women engaging in oral sex with a partner and so forth didn't like the men much either.) The PVI women ranked the men the highest - which suggests that it was the intercourse (deep connection with a partner), not the orgasms, that truly benefited the women.


Sexual activity is inversely related to women’s perceptions of the facial attractiveness of unknown men
Personality and Individual Differences, Volume 43, Issue 8, December 2007, Pages 1991-1997
Ursula Hess, Stuart Brody, Job van der Schalk, Agneta H. Fischer

A study was conducted to assess whether individual differences in sexual activity during the past 30 days, in particular penile–vaginal intercourse (PVI; which is associated with measures of relationship quality), are related to the perception of the facial attractiveness of unknown men. Forty-five women reported the frequency of a variety of sexual behaviors and rated the facial attractiveness and friendliness of 24 men. Women who reported more frequent orgasm from masturbation rated men as less friendly. This finding might be reflective of the more anti-social attitude associated with more frequent masturbation. The results also show that women who engaged more frequently in most kinds of sexual behavior, not only PVI, considered unknown men to be less facially attractive. That is, individuals who engage more frequently in a variety of sexual behaviors with their partner perceived unknown men as less attractive and thereby may be less susceptible to the lure of other (or if the only sexual behavior is masturbation, any) men.
Keywords: Sexual behavior; Person perception
Article Outline
1. Sexual activity is inversely related women’s perceived facial attractiveness of unknown men
2. Method
2.1. Participants
2.2. Facial stimuli
2.3. Dependent measures
2.4. Individual difference measures
2.4.1. Sexual behaviors
2.4.2. Social desirability
3. Results
4. Discussion

Hi Bebop

Welcome to the site. Thanks for posting the abstract. We got the full study through our interlibrary loan, so we didn't have to spend 31.50. Wink

I agree that the study isn't the best possible study. However, you may not recognize that psychologists can *not* study sex-with-orgasm vs. sex-without-orgasm. The latter is considered a sexual disorder so risky that to ask people to abstain for 30 days would be unethical. LOL (Celibate people are a lot sicker than we thought, according to this model.)

As for measuring reactions to one's own partner...that would be great, but *very* difficult. Remember, humans have a rational neo-cortex that filters feelings. So even if I bit my husband's head off (figuratively) in the morning, I would probably still rank his picture as "cute" on a questionnaire later that same day...because I know that *in general* I find him cute. I'm not saying subtle changes wouldn't show up, but I don't think they would be as valuable as actual observation of couples interactions, with and without orgasm.

The interesting thing about that study was that the researcher fully expected to see that PVI bonds partners so tightly that they don't like strangers. Instead it was the women who were having intercourse who felt kindliest toward the opposite sex. (At least that's how I read it.)

I admit my views are influenced by the fact that female friends relying on vibrators, etc. seem to have a real "edge" where *all* men are concerned. This is one reason they put off potential partners.

Anyone else have a thought?


Regarding your "edge" comment, Marnia, I think anything that ramps up your sensory experience of orgasm (like a vibrator) is going to ramp up the addiction potential. Then the dilemma becomes whether a human partner can supply that intensity, which, of course, they can't.
Masturbation does not lend itself to connection with another person.
So, the edge might come from not wanting to relinquish the accustomed intensity or from the discomfort of having to factor in intimacy. I think many people, however unconsciously, would rather hold onto the private ritual than make themselves vulnerable to a deeper and more satisfying connection.
That was my experience when I was married to someone with a masturbation addiction; every sexual encounter was so goal driven that there wasn't room for intimacy. Many times it felt "scripted", and predictable. Part of that was his perception that my pleasure was his "job", part, I think, was all the absolutely goal-driven solitary sex he had engaged in on a daily basis for thirty years before I met him and the fact that it was unlikely I would ever be able to arouse him as expertly as he could himself.
It would be interesting to see where in the dopamine cycle the rating of faces happened; I may have always rated my ex as attractive to me, but in the beginning before we had orgasmic sex it was because my heart was full of him. Later after the orgasmic sex started, it was because on some level, he looked like a "fix".