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  • October 09, 2014 11:06 AM | Shannon Claxton

    Elizabeth A. Baker is a graduate student at Kent State University working in the Interpersonal Relationships and Developmental Psychopathology Lab. She is interested in conducting research that uses cognitive science as a tool to better understand romantic relationships. Specifically, she is interested in utilizing a dyadic approach to better understand the mechanisms underlying communication between couples.

    “Man, I wish had the self-control for that.” We hear this many times in conversation throughout our lives –about someone who is able to stop eating after “just one chip,” about another person who doesn’t have to check their Facebook a thousand times a day, or about someone who doesn’t roll their eyes when they read an awful pun in a blog post – but what about having the self-control to stop ourselves from engaging in casual sex?

    We know from many areas of research that self-control is associated with risky behavior, so wouldn’t it make sense that this relationship would extend to engaging in casual sexual relationships and experiences (CSREs)? While it may seem logical, this doesn’t necessarily seem to be the case.

    So, having low self-control is linked with “risky” sexual behavior (Birthrong & Latzman 2014). Given this connection one might suspect that individuals with low self-control would be more likely to engage in unprotected sex with a stranger. Sex with a stranger seems pretty risky when you consider that you don’t know the person, and therefore don’t know their sexual history or if they have STIs. Also, if pregnancy results from the one-night-stand, raising a child with a stranger who you may not have a last name or number for seems risky. But does this mean that self-control and engaging in CSREs are related? Research suggests that the majority of CSREs are actually with people that we know fairly well, not with strangers (Grello, Welsh & Harper 2006). So maybe these individuals who are engaging in CSREs with people that they know don’t view these encounters (which can be any form of sexual behavior, and usually are with people we know) as “risky” in the same way that they would conceptualize other risky behaviors.

    Research from our lab (to be presented in November at the National Council on Family Relations Meeting in Baltimore, MD) suggests that these CSREs aren’t “woopsies” moments with “randos at the bar,” but rather that they are planned behaviors. In a study conducted by our lab including a daily diary around Halloween party night, a night where CSREs have been known to happen once or twice, we found that intent to engage in a CSRE the night before a Halloween party night independently increased the probability in engaging in a CSRE on Halloween party night, even after controlling for getting drunk (Baker, DeLuca, Claxton & van Dulmen 2014), which we also know is a well-known predictor of CSRE engagement (Cooper, 2006; Claxton, DeLuca, & van Dulmen, in press). What is possibly more interesting is that trait self-control was not a significant predictor of engaging in CSREs.

    So maybe people don’t “need” self-control to stop from engaging in these CSREs because they don’t view CSREs as “risky,” and they may not see engaging in CSREs as a negative event they would later regret. Rather, engaging in a CSRE is often a planned and purposeful event, facilitated by “the one night a year when a girl can dress like a total slut and no other girls can say anything about it.” 

  • October 01, 2014 5:50 PM | Shannon Claxton
    “Tinder is the fun way to connect with new and interesting people around you. Swipe right to like or left to pass. If someone likes you back, it’s a match!” This upbeat description comes from the relatively new mobile dating app Tinder. This app has been making headlines and sparking debates across the country. The app itself is often synonymous with casual sex and hooking-up. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that tinder is used by many to find more long term dating partners. In fact, co-founder Sean Rad reports that Tinder is responsible for over 150 marriages.

    One draw for users is that Tinder can reduce the guesswork in dating; when two individuals are matched with each other, they already know that the other person is interested and can begin messaging the other person immediately. Thus, emerging adults may prefer Tinder over meeting someone at a more traditional location such as a bar or a coffee shop, where flirtation can be misread and signals can be missed. Tinder provides minimal information (e.g., name, age, photos, and a description) about potential matches who are in close proximity, and individuals make quick decisions about whether to “like” another individual. Compared to more “traditional” online dating models (e.g., Match.com), Tinder is relatively fast paced, with little need to search or spend time reading and evaluating profiles of potential partners.

    The ease of Tinder has made it popular with many individuals. The app is used by millions and is particularly popular among emerging adults. Furthermore, spinoff apps catering to specific crowds have already begun to materialize. For scholars of emerging adulthood, the widespread nature of this app raises a number of interesting questions. Tinder may appeal to emerging adults who are exploring their relationship options and who may find it difficult to find time for traditional dating. But, does this app keep people looking for the next “right swipe”? Or does it help improve an individual’s pool of available partners and allow individuals to spark a relationship that may not have been possible otherwise? What might Tinder do for gender dynamics? Can tinder be beneficial and help people grow and explore their dating preferences? Or does Tinder lead to shallow relationships, emphasizing physical appearance alone? 

    Unfortunately, it is often difficult for researchers to study these issues as the popularity of apps can change rapidly; a study launched on Tinder now could be irrelevant by the time it is published. What do you think? Is there a good way for researchers to study this phenomenon? Is Tinder a way for emerging adults to swipe right for love, or will it lead to problems and relationship difficulties in the future?

  • September 24, 2014 11:11 AM | Shannon Claxton

    Eva S. Lefkowitz is an associate professor and Professor-in-Charge of the Human Development and Family Studies Graduate Program at the Pennsylvania State University. Her research takes a developmental perspective on sexual behaviors and attitudes during adolescence and emerging adulthood, emphasizing the multi-dimensional nature of sexual health, and considering physical, psychological, and relational aspects of sexual health and wellbeing. She also blogs about professional development issues at http://www.evalefkowitz.com/prof-dev-blog.

    Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the United States, with an infection rate highest among women age 20-24  (Baseman & Koutsky, 2005; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2012; Dunne et al., 2007; Gerend & Magloire, 2012; Weinstock, Berman, & Cates, 2000). Individuals acquire HPV through genital skin-to-skin contact during sex. HPV can lead to genital warts and cervical cancer, as well as less frequently occurring cancers, such as cancer of the anus, penis, vulva, and throat (Bosch, Lorincz, & Munoz, 2002; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2012; Christian, Christian, & Hopenhayn, 2009; Walboomers et al., 1999). In June 2006, the HPV vaccine, Gardasil® (Merck), was approved and released by the U.S. FDA. This vaccine protects against types of HPV responsible for 70% of cervical cancer cases, and types responsible for 90% of genital warts (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2012).

    In the United States, the HPV vaccine is recommended at age 11 to 12 (Committee on Infectious Diseases, 2012). Now that the vaccination has been available for several years, many adolescents will get vaccinated in middle school or high school while still living with their parents. Why, then, is it an emerging adulthood issue? Despite availability of the vaccination, some individuals will reach emerging adulthood without yet receiving vaccination. Several factors might determine lack of vaccination –cost/access being an important one. But another factor might be that some adolescents’ parents may not want to vaccinate them due to perceived health risks or religious or moral reasons. For example, as recently as 2010 only 1/3 of adolescent girls in the United States had received at least one HPV vaccination (Committee on Infectious Diseases, 2012; Laz, Rahman, & Berenson, 2012). Thus, an interesting question with this next generation will be what determines whether previously unvaccinated young people choose to get the HPV vaccination after leaving their parents’ home and/or reaching age 18.

    We recently published a paper on HPV vaccination among female college students. Our primary findings were:

    • Almost half of female students had received the HPV vaccination by their sophomore year. We collected these data very soon after Gardasil became available, so it was relatively quick uptake for half the sample.
    • Vaccination was more likely among students:
      • whose mothers were more educated
      • who were not African American/Black
      • who reported stronger adherence to their religion’s teachings about sex-related principles
      • who recently engaged in penetrative sex

    The most surprising finding was the positive association between adherence to religion’s teaching and HPV vaccination. Past research suggests that parents who attend religious services more frequently are less likely to intend to vaccinate their children (Barnack, Reddy, & Swain, 2010). Researchers have interpreted this finding to mean that more religious families hesitate to provide their offspring with a vaccination that protects against an STI, given the implication that it might provide more sexual freedom or a license to have sex. However, our reverse findings in emerging adulthood suggest that young women may not only see HPV vaccination as an avenue toward safer sex, but as a more general health issue. It is also possible that more religious women were more concerned than other women about the stigma of STIs, and therefore were more likely to protect themselves.

    Overall, the findings provide university health clinics, health care providers who work with emerging adults, and prevention scientists information about groups to target for intervention. Vaccination rates were lower among sexually inexperienced young women. Given that vaccination is more effective if received before the initiation of sexual activity (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2012), sexually inexperienced women should be targeted for intervention. Our findings also suggest that African American/Black young women are particularly important to consider for vaccine education and access. Providing HPV education, access to vaccination, and, when possible, free vaccination programs to young women from lower SES backgrounds is of particular importance.

    Although I don’t currently have the data to address it, if I were to follow up this line of research, I would want to examine the following:

    • Sexual behaviors subsequent to getting vaccinated (for instance, does vaccination decrease likelihood of using condoms, because students feel less at risk?)
    • Now that vaccination has been available for longer, differences between students who enter college already vaccinated, those who choose to get vaccinated after starting college, and those who do not get vaccinated.
    • HPV vaccination among young men, comparing rates and correlates for men vs. women

    What do you think? Do you think that emerging adults will approach HPV vaccination the way they approach other vaccines? Do you think young men will be as likely to get vaccinated as young women? Share your thoughts in the comments. 

  • September 11, 2014 9:26 AM | Shannon Claxton


    There has been an influx of interest in “hooking up” and casual sex in both the popular media and in research. This topic is particularly pertinent to emerging adulthood, as most of this attention has focused on individuals in their late teens and early twenties. What qualifies as a hookup, though? A drunken night between two strangers who will never meet again? A relationship between two friends who don’t want to deal with the strings attached to a committed romantic relationship? An ongoing relationship between two people who only get together for sexual encounters? Or perhaps it is something else entirely.

    One of the challenges of the term hookup (or hooking up) is that it is not used consistently by researchers (or emerging adults for that matter). The term sometimes denotes one-time sexual encounters between strangers/acquaintances (e.g., Paul, McManus, & Hayes, 2000), whereas other researchers have used broader definitions that may include reoccurring encounters (e.g., Fielder & Carey, 2010). Thus, “hookup” is sometimes used as an overarching term to describe any sexual encounter outside of a committed relationship and sometimes used to denote a specific type of casual sexual relationship or experience such as a one-night stand. The term also differs in regards to the types of sexual behavior involved, with some researchers (and emerging adults) using the term to incorporate any sexual behavior (including kissing) and others focusing on sexual intercourse and/or oral sex (see Garcia et al., 2012 ). Although this ambiguous term can be useful for emerging adults discussing their weekend with friends over brunch, it can make it difficult for researchers to draw conclusions and compare across different studies.

    So what is a researcher to do? Using a broad definition of a hookup (e.g., any sexual experience outside of a committed romantic relationship) can be useful for understanding general sexual behavior, but it can also be problematic given the uncertainty regarding exactly what types of sexual behavior and relationships/experiences are included. If the term includes both vaginal sex with a stranger and kissing a friend with benefits, it becomes difficult to understand the relationship between hooking up in general and positive and negative outcomes (e.g., satisfaction, regret, depression). Thus, in many cases the term hookup may be too general. Overall, it must be clear to participants as well as other researchers how casual sexual relationships and experiences are defined (CSREs; Claxton & van Dulmen, 2013) - whether the focus is on CSREs in general or on a specific CSRE such as a one-night stand or friends with benefits relationship. That is, researchers need to provide clear definitions to participants and then explicitly state these definitions when describing methods and results. It is also important for researchers to work to develop consistent definitions for CSREs. As the study of hooking up evolves, it is important to solidify these definitions in order to create a commonly understood language. Social science is not chemistry. Hookups vs. friends with benefits are never going to be as clearly defined as iron vs. helium because they are socially constructed. But, as researchers, we need commonly shared definitions to move research forward.

  • September 02, 2014 10:49 AM | Shannon Claxton

    1.) Are you a researcher interested in sexuality during emerging adulthood?

    2.) Do you hope to connect to other individuals who have similar interests?

    3.) Are you looking for a new place to share ideas and discuss interesting topics?

    If you answered yes to any of these questions, then the newly created SSEA Sexuality Topic Network and this Sexuality Blog are right for you!

    Who am I and why am I writing this blog?

    You may be asking yourself at this point who I am. My name is Shannon Claxton and I am a 5th year doctoral student working with Dr. Manfred van Dulmen in the experimental social psychology program at Kent State University. I also have the honor of serving as the emerging scholar co-chair of the sexuality topic network for SSEA (working with the chair Dr. Eva Lefkowitz).  

    My research centers on romantic and sexual relationships during emerging adulthood. In particular, I have recently focused on engagement in casual sexual relationships and experiences (aka casual sex or hookups). (See the van Dulmen lab webpage for more info).

    What I will be blogging about?

    Anything and everything related to doing research on sexuality during emerging adulthood: challenges in finding research participants, new journal articles, coding decisions, and sexuality in the news to name a few. Do you have other suggestions/ideas? Please share them (here or by e-mailing me at sclaxton@kent.edu)!

    Which brings me to my next point…

    How can you contribute?

    Feedback, comments, ideas, and most importantly your participation! We hope that readers will comment on blog posts and start a dialogue. Sexuality and relationship research is complex, challenging, and nuanced, so sharing differing perspectives is highly valuable. We also hope that other topic network members will contribute guest posts to the blog. We hope that this blog will spark new ideas and connections between researchers in this important field of study.

    Finally, if you are not already a member, please consider becoming a part of the SSEA Sexuality Topic Network. To join, send an email message to coordinator@ssea.org and mention that you would like to be part of this Topic Network.  Please feel free to invite friends/fellow researchers who are interested in sexuality to join (note that members of the topic network must be SSEA members as well)!

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