Category: news

Viagra for flaccid….fannies?

Posted in news by jenapincott on March 20, 2009

SPL31781_003Yesterday’s glimpse of springtime reminded me that bikini season is nigh, and with it the dread of cellulite thighs. Cellulite — likened to orange peels, cottage cheese, and pillow-top mattresses — is caused by stretched-out fat cells. Unable to hold their shape as they bulge out, these fatty deposits stipple the skin.

What to do?

Look for answers from the country that’s almost all coastline. Croatian doctor Karmela Altabas and her colleagues recently published a provocative hypothesis in my favorite journal, Medical Hypotheses. Cellulite, they say, might be be cured by sildenafil citrate, aka Viagra.

Thus far, Viagra has been useful to women indirectly — the drug aids and abets male arousal, keeping a a lover erect far longer than nature would allow. Basically, it triggers a chemical process that relaxes the smooth muscles of the penile artery. Turgid with blood, the penis stays erect until the drug wears off. (It doesn’t work on women because female arousal, desire, and orgasm are more complicated.)

According to the researchers, cellulite bulges are like flaccid penises — they’re both caused by weak blood flow. Viagra may solve the problem. The same chemical reaction that opens the phallic valves may also improve “microcirculation” under the skin, increasing blood flow and keeping cell membranes taut. Just as erectile tissue becomes smooth and tight, so, hopefully, would the butt and thighs. Moreover, high doses of sildenafil citrate has been shown to kill fat cells in cultures.

Altabas and her colleagues predict a topical form of sildenafil citrate within a few years — a cream, perhaps. To penetrate the skin, application would be followed by iontophoresis, a tiny electric charge. Smear and zap — perfect thighs! But how long would the magic last? If it’s any measure, a Viagra-fueled erection can last four hours — or one afternoon of sex on the beach.

Why make your lover write about you?

Posted in news by jenapincott on March 15, 2009

1481 Let go and explore your very deepest emotions and thoughts about your relationship. That’s what psychologists James Pennebaker and Richard Slatcher told their study subjects to do, in a journal or diary, for twenty minutes a day. The participants — University of Texas at Austin undergrads — were in long-term relationships, but temptation, hormones, and stress are known to take their toll on young love. Slatcher and Pennebaker had a theory that writing about a lover could make love last longer.

The psychologists weren’t interested in what the subjects wrote about their girlfriends or boyfriends. Those writings were kept private. But another set of daily correspondence was fair game: instant messages (IM). Under the premise of a word quantification procedure, participants were asked to forward all instant message (IM) chats between themselves and their partners. Because IMs are frequent, impromptu, and real-time, they’re precious in the world of psychological studies. The researchers wanted to know if expressive journal writing on a daily basis made a difference in a couple’s everyday interactions. The frequency and emotional content of IM conversations, they figured, reflect the state of the relationship.

It turns out that men and women required to write privately about their feelings do communicate more with their loved ones. Comparing the instant messages of the 44 subjects assigned to express their feelings in writing on a daily basis versus the 42 who did not, the researchers found that the diary writers were more expressive with their partners. Without realizing it, men and women who had previously reflected on their relationship in writing used more emotion words such as happy, love, nervous, and mad when they IM’d their partners. Three months into the study, 77 percent of the participants who had written about their relationship were still with their partners, compared to 52 percent of the participants in the control group.

Why does daily journaling about a relationship help so much? According to the researchers, it helps lovers to better articulate their feelings. And in so doing, it also helps to reinforce those feelings. Thoughts and feelings are so often vague and fleeting; capturing them in words amplifies them and loops them back to you. Our brains love patterns — mulling over emotions helps reify them, makes them concrete. You may find yourself expressing yourself with your partner the same way you do in your private writing. Focus on positive thoughts in your journal writing and you may find that those happy emotions spill over into everyday life. In a virtuous cycle, the partners of the study participants also became more expressive as well. (It’s another amplifying feedback loop, not unlike how having a lot of sex may make you want even more of it.)

Take a moment and reflect: How expressive are you with your partner? To what extent are you on autopilot, filling your conversations with practicalities instead of emotion? Can you commit your feelings to words? If you can, you may find yourself more committed to your relationship.

DIY Pheromones!

Posted in news by jenapincott on March 11, 2009

morty In BLONDES I describe how pheromones such as androstenone and hormones such as oxytocin have been found to influence mood and possibly attraction — but the effects are subtle and context-dependent.

Several readers saw the text box in which I mention the DIY-ers who are concocting their own pheromones (so-called -mones or pheros) in basement labs, or ordering commercial formulas online, and trying them on in social situations such as on the subway or a first date. No shock: most of the dabblers are guys. Some suffer from social anxiety and a gaping suspension of disbelief. (But insatiable curiosity is always an acceptable excuse.) Others are women, sometimes lovelorn girlfriends seeking to jumpstart a sputtering sex life or recapture the magic of the first few months of a love affair. To these idealists, the chemical route to a person’s heart is more compelling than the psychological. If only there were really such a thing as a love potion.

“How do I find these forums?” eager readers have asked. Here are a few links below — some are interesting observations, others analyze sprays and so on. There’s no harm in dabbling with dab-ons, I believe. Make-your-own-mones! Find-your-own-pheros! As long as you don’t take it too seriously.

Many of the pheromones discussed are related to androstenone (male scent) and copulins (female scent) and the hormone oxytocin. Wearers experiment to get the right amount and type of chemical that match their own body chemistry. (The book describes the actual pheromone studies in some detail.) There is real scientific evidence that sweat-derived chemicals have a moderate effect in some situations. But these underground Boyles and Curies have their own approach, totally unburdened by the scientific method:

The Pheromone Information Library

In the confusing world of pheromone retailers telling their customers whatever they want to hear to get them to buy their products, the Pheromone Information Library provides unbiased and accurate information written by existing users of pheromones.

Love-Scent Forum
Discussion of pheromones and other topics related to the science of attraction
A few interesting threads:
The pheromone help list (dosing, technique, experiences, philosophy, etc.)
Sweat the secret to making pheromone sprays work?
Getting an ex-boyfriend back

Advice, tips & tricks for chemical DIY-ers as well as good old-fashioned advice on basic interpersonal relations. Members share their formulaic faves
A few interesting threads:
The Snook’s big book o’ pheros for rookies
[Research] Vagina lovers: Who can best describe the aroma at its most attractive?
What works: Intimacy/Long Term Relationships (& sex, sex/sensual “enhancers”)
Kitty’s Curious Combos (aka MixMistress)

Discusses pheromones along with commercial fragrances

Drugs-forum strives to be a information hub of high standards and a platform where people can freely discuss recreational drugs in a mature manner.

Oxytocin Forum
Oxytocin is the pair bonding hormone that creates a feeling of trust, bonding and love within mammals. This forum explores whether it works as a spray.

Not to detract from the fun, but do take all these anecdotes with a healthy dab o’ doubt. A recent study led by biologist Craig Roberts suggests that, sure, spray-ons work. Women judged men wearing a special male scent as more attractive. Funny enough, they also thought the fragrance-wearing men were more attractive when watching them in a video where they could not be smelled. In still pictures, however, fragrance wearers were no more attractive than men who didn’t wear fragrance. It turns out it’s not the chemical that makes men more attractive. It’s their mien and bearing — the confidence they got from believing it works.
Then again, maybe they hadn’t yet struck that perfect pheromonal chord.

Why breaking up is easier than you think

Posted in news by jenapincott on March 5, 2009

breakup1A friend of mine is thinking of breaking up with her boyfriend. He forgot their one-year anniversary last week. He also kicked her dog and insulted her sister. Utterly mediocre, she calls the relationship. But break-ups are painful. She wonders if she could bear it.

Should she keep him or cut him loose?

The answer is cut, if you take to heart a popular study led by researcher Paul Eastwick and his colleagues at Northwestern and Carnegie Mellon Universities. The psychologists recruited undergrad couples and asked them about the strength of their relationships, how they think they’d deal with a break-up, and for how long they think they’d be upset. Not surprisingly, many lovers thought they’d be crushed.

But the heart is a fickle thing. By the end of the nine-month study, about one-third of the love affairs crashed and burned. And as the lovelorn healed, Eastwick and team evaluated how they coped.

What the psychologists discovered is this: The heart is hardier than you imagine. Newly single men and women were significantly happier than they predicted in the days, weeks, and months after their break-up. This was even true of lovebirds who didn’t think they’d rebound so quickly. Sure, there were tears and pain. But they all recovered quickly and more easily than they thought they would. The people who were most inaccurate at predicting their feelings — and were happily surprised by their own recovery — were those who said they had been very much in love and had not initiated the break-up.

Granted, it’s possible that breaking up is easier for people in their twenties. Healing from multi-year relationships likely takes a lot longer than a few months. But there’s a lesson here for us all, according to the researchers. Facing the prospect of a loss, we overestimate our future distress. Psychologists call this an “impact bias.”

Impact bias research, popularized by Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert and his colleagues at Carnegie Mellon and Princeton, has been gaining a lot of traction in the last few years. According to these experts, we’re all terrible at predicting the emotional consequences of things that happen to us. Like fools, we’re too often shocked when it turns out that good things — winning the lottery, buying a dream house, or getting the trophy wife — aren’t as good as we think they’ll be, at least not in the long-term. But bad things — breaking up, getting laid off, or advancing into a recession — aren’t as bad as we think either. After the initial trauma, we snap back to our emotional baselines faster than we think.

Applied to our love lives, the big break-up blowout seems worse than a slow attenuation of affection. But the truth is that we often overestimate the pain of blowouts and underestimate the pain of drawn-outs. That’s why, for some of us, it takes years to break up — even when a relationship is abusive or too tired or troubled to fix. As discussed in BLONDES, the impact bias is a self-protection measure. From an evolutionary perspective, It gives us hope and drive. It helps us value what we have, and can prevent us from being impetuous and destructive. (As a result, we’ll probably take love-preserving drugs in the future.) The downside is that we sometimes stymie and sabotage ourselves out of fear of losing something that has less value than we think. (A plausible argument for fall-out-of-love drugs.)

Tapping into this wisdom, I told my friend that in the long-term she won’t regret leaving a man she doesn’t love enough. Don’t settle for suboptimal. Like removing a band-aid, a break-up may be more painful when done slowly than quickly. And healing, however broken the heart, may happen faster than you think.

Men prefer…Mom’s lips and chin

Posted in news by jenapincott on March 3, 2009

mccainwomen533For long-term relationships, like often seeks like. Pretty Woman fantasies aside, husbands and wives tend to have similar socioeconomic status, education level and intelligence, and religious background.

It turns out they also tend to look alike — or at least choose mates who resemble their opposite-sex parent. As described in BLONDES, studies have found that women go for men who resemble their fathers ( unless they don’t like their dads) and men go for women with certain features of their moms. Freud called this sexual imprinting. Evolutionary psychologists call it assortative mating, meaning that people look for long-term mates with the ideal balance of genes that are like and unlike their own.

And the evidence is mounting. Another study has confirmed that people do pick partners that look significantly like their opposite-sex parent (but not the same-sex parent) when compared to the general population. Psychologist Tamas Bereczkei and his colleagues at the University of Pecs in Hungary measured fourteen facial proportions — the width, height, and length of eyes, noses, jaws, and other features — of more hundreds of couples, their partners, and parents. [*]

And here’s the interesting part: men and women home in on particular parent-resembling features. It’s not necessarily the whole face that counts.

Men pay attention to the lower half of a woman’s face. That is, a guy’s partner is likely to have his mom’s proportions of lip fullness/width, mouth width/face width, jaw length/face length, and jaw width/face width. They also go for an overall facial shape that is similar to their mother’s.

Women, meanwhile, zero in on the center of men’s faces. A gal’s partner is likely to have her dad’s proportions of mouth-brow distance/face height, distance between pupils/face width, eye width/face width, eye width/face width, distance between the inner eye corners/face width, nose length/face height, and nose width/face width.

bradangelind_468x5404Why is it that men go for Mom’s jaw and mouth while women go for Dad’s nose, eyes, and cheekbones? The researchers speculate that it has to do with how men and women process visual information differently. Women pay attention to center of men’s faces because those features are distinctive and stable over time. Facial hair may come and go, but eyes, noses, and cheeks stay the same. Men by default pay most attention to the lower half of the face because that region is most sensitive to sex hormones. Lip fullness, jaw size, and overall facial shape are cues of estrogen and testosterone levels.

Of course, Dad’s nose and Mom’s lips might not be considered optimally attractive. But for long-term relationships, lust is just one part of the equation. Everything in proportion…

* A kind reader brought to my attention an article reporting that Bereckzei’s study, published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, was recently retracted. Another scientist noticed discrepancies in the data that, for instance, found a correlation of 92.8 percent between the jaw width of a man’s mother and his mate. Bereckzei admitted that an error was made, but that the results are still very strong (a 70 percent correlation in jaw width) after he fixed the errors. It will be interesting to see if the paper is republished after the data are re-crunched.

Why Tiger Woods lost

Posted in news by jenapincott on February 26, 2009

tiger-woods-son-240x320 For the past eight months before today’s loss in the World Golf Championships- Accenture Match, champion Tiger Woods had been recovering from a knee injury. He told several reporters that he enjoyed the time spent at home. More than ever before, he got to hang out with his pregnant wife, Elin, and their two-year-old daughter Sam Alexis. Earlier this month Elin gave birth to a son, Charlie Axel.

Tiger’s ignominious loss today could be attributed to the possibility that he’s out of practice. Maybe his knee was still acting up (although he said it felt fine). Perhaps he hasn’t been getting enough sleep, or he had an off day. But there’s another theory: it’s hormonal. It could well be that Tiger’s testosterone levels are down.

That would certainly be the case if Tiger Woods is like the many loving husbands and dads participating in studies by medical anthropologist Peter Gray at the University of Nevada. As discussed in BLONDES, studies have shown that men’s testosterone levels take a nosedive when they’re in serious, committed relationships. Spending time at home in the comfort of a loving relationship can do the trick.

When a child is born, a dad’s circulating testosterone may be at an all-time low. Gray and his colleagues have seen this effect in dads all over the world. Lower testosterone levels make a man less aggressive, less focused and competitive — and more agreeable and responsive. Even holding a baby doll can make expectant father’s testosterone levels plummet. If Tiger’s T-levels are lower, it’s good news for his newborn son but bad news for his game. From an evolutionary perspective, newborn Charlie Axel is manipulating Tiger’s hormone levels so he’ll be a better dad.

Of course, little does Mother Nature know that when Dad’s a professional athlete, it’s best to leave his hormones well enough alone.

Why do teens get zits?

Posted in news by jenapincott on February 24, 2009

acne If there’s any proof that youth is overrated, it’s zits — red oozing pustules of them, whiteheads and blackheads, all over the face and neck, from ages twelve up to twenty.

Acne vulgaris came up during my interview about BLONDES on Michio Kaku’s show, Science Fantastic. Does acne play a role in sexual selection? My hunch is that it does, and today I found some support while skimming the annals of Medical Hypotheses.

The evolutionary theory behind acne, according to the article by Dale Bloom, is that it plays a role in mate selection. Fact is, pimples are as repulsive as they are conspicuous. They suggest disease and trigger a “disgust” reflex. At the expense off a teen’s self-esteem, they signal “stay away from me sexually.” Those big red spots are stop signs.

The reason ? To delay pregnancy. Think about it: Pubescent people don’t make the best parents. Women who recently got their first period have bodies and brains unprepared for pregnancy and childbirth. Even in ancestral times, pregnancy put very young women at an extreme disadvantage, compromising their health and that of their babies. With the baby diverting precious gluteofemoral fat, adolescent mothers may inadvertently arrest their own physical and mental development. And it goes without saying that teen boys are unfit fathers — in fact, the prefrontal cortex doesn’t even fully develop until a guy’s early twenties. Case in point is Alfie, the tiny, squeaky, grim-looking Gameboy-playing 13-year-old British boy who became a dad earlier this month. (Curiously, Alfie appears too young to have pimples yet, and his girlfriend’s face is as smooth as porcelain.)

Are pimples Nature’s way of steering away potential mates until a young person has reached true reproductive maturity? Bloom thinks so, calling them a “high-order psychoneuroimmune interaction,” the body protecting itself by becoming temporarily unattractive when it is most vulnerable. It’s an interesting idea. I, for one, had so many pimples in junior high that I wasn’t at risk for even a kiss. So do teen pregnancy rates coincide with Stridex sales? Do flawless girls get knocked up more often than pimply ones? If so, perhaps dermatologists should start prescribing birth control.

Turn up the heat for a hot date

Posted in news by jenapincott on February 20, 2009

pic_0014 A friend asked me for a quick tip from BLONDES that she could use for her date that evening. I threw out a few ideas — home-cooked-meal smells may be aphrodisiacs, for instance. But this was a first date, she said, and she wanted to be cool and casual. She had in mind a wine bar.

I had a better idea. I told her to go somewhere that serves hot stuff in huge mugs. Hot chocolate, coffee, tea. Anything warm, nothing cold. And not just because it’s cold outside.

My advice draws on a popular study by Yale psychologist John Bargh (an advisee of Robert Zajonc), who studies nonconscious social behavior. Bargh asks: “What in our surroundings causes us to think, feel, and behave in ways without our intention or awareness?” The smell of lemon, for example, makes people feel compulsed to clean. The sound of Christmas music makes people want to shop longer.

And, it turns out, the feel of a warm cup in the hand makes people perceive others as warmer, i.e. more generous and caring. It’s a warm and fuzzy feedback loop, because people who hold warm cups act warmer, too. In Bargh’s experiment, people who held a warm cup were likely to be much more generous than people who were holding a cold cup. (One wonders: Are baristas warmer than sommeliers?)

In a second study, the researchers had subjects briefly hold either a cup of hot coffee or cold coffee before evaluating a stranger’s personality traits based on some stories. Subjects who had held the hot coffee assessed the person as being “warmer” on the likability scale than subjects who had held the iced coffee (4.7 vs 4.3). And there’s nothing magical about coffee: in other experiments, subjects who merely held a hot therapeutic pack judged others as warmer, and in turn acted more generously, than people who held ice packs.

What’s going on, according to the researchers, is a sort of conflation of physical and emotional warmth. A high temperature triggers activity in the insular cortex, an “old” brain structure that plays a role in processing both emotional and sensory experiences. It’s also the part of the brain that contains mirror neurons, which help people connect emotionally with others.

Of course, it all makes you wonder if the same phenomenon applies to climates. Is there any truth to the stereotype that Southerners are warm-hearted whereas Northerners are cold, Finns are temperamentally frigid and Haitians are hot? Is it any accident that the ice between couples melts when they go on beach vacations?

As instructed, my friend made her date wrap his hands around a mug of cocoa. It went well. He even called her later this evening to say how much he liked her. Of course, the feel-good dopamine blast from all the milk fat and sugar in the cocoa probably didn’t hurt either.

Sex for a stuffy nose

Posted in news by jenapincott on February 16, 2009

flu3 At the height of cold season, it seems worth mentioning a recent article in one of my favorite journals, Medical Hypotheses, that claims that sex alleviates cold symptoms.

The logic is as follows: a cold results in congestion and inability to breathe through the nose. Decongestants can solve the problem, but they’re addictive, ultimately ineffective — worse yet — they may blunt the taste buds. Of course, blowing the nose clears the nasal passages, but a recent Times article reported that nose blowing is actually bad because it reverses the flow of mucus into the sinuses, building up pressure and slowing down drainage.

The safer, more natural way to alleviate sinus pressure, according to the Medical Hypotheses authors, is to have sex — and to adhere to “proper scheduling….[to keep] the nose clear for the rest of [one’s] life.” Arousal stimulates adrenergic receptors, which are under the control of the sympathetic nervous system. The receptors in turn trigger vasoconstriction of blood vessels, which in turn help unstuff the stuffy nose. (According to a similar theory, sex may also cure a headache.) Focusing on men, the authors note that relief should immediately follow orgasm. In short, the nose shouldn’t be blown — rechannel your blowing efforts below the belt.

But does it really help? In theory, frequent sex (or masturbation) should keep the blood vessels constricted and the nose clear. Anecdotal reports say yes, sex clears the nose (and even the mind), but no serious study has been done to prove it really works.

My guess? I suspect that it’s true, sex really does clears nasal passages, but relief probably doesn’t not last long before you need to do it again — in which case, Sudafed must be replaced by Viagra.

Do people really look like their dogs?

Posted in news by jenapincott on February 11, 2009

Clicking through the New York Times photo montage from the Westminster Dog Show yesterday, the classic question surfaced: Do dog owners resemble their dogs? There was the portly man with the shiny bald head lumbering around with his bulldog, the sleek dame and her whippet, a man resembling an Eastern potentate padding around the green with his Pharoah dog….

It’s no surprise then that a study from the University of California found that it’s true — dogs look like their owners, and owners look like their dogs. Psychologists photographed 45 dogs and their owners separately, then asked judges to guess which dog (of two) belongs to each owner. The judges were extremely accurate at matching — they were right much more often than by chance — but only for purebred dogs. There was also a trend for people and their pets to be rated similarly for friendliness. The researchers conclude that people who buy purebreds deliberately seek an animal that resembles themselves, and perhaps even acts similarly.

As discussed in BLONDES, the same has been found true for some people, especially women, in long-term relationships. They end up with spouses who resemble themselves, either physically or temperamentally. It turns out to be more a matter of comfort than aesthetics. Not everyone looks for a similar-looking mate, but a significant percentage do.

More interesting is the question of whether the type of people who have look-alike canine companions also seek look-alike human companions. On the streets of NYC I see look-alike couples — often two Wrangler-wearing leathermen — swaggering down the street with their identical mini-me pitbulls. So many questions: Did the guys own their dogs before meeting each other? After all, dog owners are more likely to get dates. If so, were the men attracted to each other’s pets before they were attracted to each other? (Or was the initial spark entre chiens?) Is owning the same breed of animal more bonding than owning the same brands of clothes or cars?


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