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Jun and Burn: From strength to strength

Jun believes that “there is a bloated and unfair focus on the ‘gay’ part of gay relationships,” he says. “Straight relationships face the same odds.” Thus, for him, it already feels like he’s married to Burn.

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Burn: “I don’t think I’ve had any difficulty managing perception as an out couple here in the Philippines. We never put ourselves in a position where we’re in a part of Manila that would be dangerous for us.”

Their meeting was somewhat providential.

“(Jun and I) met about six years ago, at a gala performance of the San Miguel Foundation for the Performing Arts. I was dating a tenor from the master chorale at the time, and (Jun’s) brother was also a tenor, so we were going to end up being alone in the audience. Thankfully, we all grabbed a cup of coffee before the show started and got our tickets swapped so we could keep each other company,” Burn says thoughtfully. Then, he adds, with a smile: “Jun was wearing a striped t-shirt tucked into a pair of acid-wash denim without a belt, and socks with sandals. To a gala. But the minute I lay my eyes on him I knew I was going to be in a lot of trouble. It was love at first sight for me, which was just awful timing as I was dating someone else at the time.”

Jun counters: “I don’t know if you can call it love at first sight, I tend to not believe in that. But what he didn’t know at the time we met was that I had already seen pictures of him a few weeks prior to that concert. He’d gone on a trip with my brother and some friends to Baguio City, and I processed the pictures from my brother’s camera on our computer. I kind of knew what I was getting myself into already, by the time I met him.” And then he adds, responding to Burn’s observations on his fashion sense: “And I still believe in socks and sandals, they just make sense if you want to keep your feet warm.”

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“If you wanted to keep your feet warm you would wear closed shoes,” Burn says.

This way of talking, the bantering, is actually perceptible in Burn and Jun’s talks – playful, and, well, familiar, very familiar, in fact.

“I’ve had five relationships (before), all girls, including one I almost married,” Jun says.

“Whose identity he still keeps a secret from me as I have been prone to murder,” Burn chimes in.

“Which is exactly why I keep it a secret.”

“Whatever!” Burn says, still smiling. Then: “I had two ‘girlfriends,’ if you can call them that, from my early teens. And four prior relationships, including the guy I was dating when Jun first started stalking me.”

“I didn’t stalk.”

“You had photographic surveillance prior to our first meeting. That’s stalking.”

“No, it isn’t.”

“Yes, it is.”

Again turning serious, Jun says that, for him, at least, it was initially difficult to be a part of an out couple in the Philippines. “The main challenge was informing the friends and family. I wasn’t out when we first started, and Burn kept trying to grab my hand in the mall. I instinctively jerked my hand away, fearing the social stigma, but once we got used to the stares, it wasn’t such a big deal anymore. Now it feels weird to be walking around the mall without holding his hand,” he says.

Burn didn’t share the problem, though. “I don’t think I’ve had any difficulty managing perception as an out couple here in the Philippines. We never put ourselves in a position where we’re in a part of Manila that would be dangerous for us,” he says, adding that, “of course it’s different when we travel outside the country where we have to respect the local customs, like in Malaysia. But whenever we go out here, the only real hurdle for me were the initial stares. People are usually polite, but there are those who point and stare, and there are some backhanded slurs thrown around by homophobes. But we just make our peace with it.”

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Burn isn’t apologetic in anything. “Coming out of the closet was the best decision I made in my life,” he says. “But because of my dad’s high-profile circle of friends in the armed forces, a certain amount of discretion is called for from time to time. We just stay away from those times as much as we can,” he adds with a laugh.

Jun believes that “there is a bloated and unfair focus on the ‘gay’ part of gay relationships,” he says. “Straight relationships face the same odds.” Thus, for him, “it already feels like we’re married.”

Jun’s coming out experience was the reverse. “I had a real problem with (coming out) at first. I had my reservations. Eventually, I realized I just had to deal with it,” he says. “My plan of action was to slowly break it down to my circle of friends because no one knew I was gay before Burn.”

“I still don’t think he’s gay, what with his passion for cars and gadgets,” Burn interjects.

“What’s that got to do with anything?”

“Name a single designer that was in this year’s New York Fashion Week.”

Jun ponders, but is unable to answer.

“See?” Burn says, somewhat triumphantly.

Jun believes that “there is a bloated and unfair focus on the ‘gay’ part of gay relationships,” he says. “Straight relationships face the same odds.” Thus, for him, “it already feels like we’re married.”

Burn’s forehead creases. “No, it doesn’t,” he says.

“This is a sensitive issue for us,” Jun explains.

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“Because he won’t marry me,” Burn says.

“I will.”

“I’m still waiting, six years later.”

Jun stays quiet.

“Jun’s always moved slowly, but surely. It took him forever to decide that we should start living together. He lived in Binangonan, and I lived near De La Salle University (DLSU) before. With the amount of time it took to see each other on a daily basis, we figured this was an arrangement that would work best,” Burn says. Then turning back to Jun: “Still waiting on that proposal though.”

On a more serious note, though, Burn believes that “I don’t know that I’d call it marriage. A legal way to protect our relationship has to be in place. Not very many people realize that there is absolutely no protection afforded to us, not in the way a heterosexual couple is protected under the law. Even common-law heterosexual partners (live-in couples) have more protection than we do.”

Jun doesn’t say anything, and instead opens a bar of chocolate, chewing on it quietly.

Burn says that “cliché as it sounds, I just knew (Jun is the right one for me). As soon as I saw his sock-covered feet in sandals, I knew he was the one. There have been tough times of course, but at the end of the day, the bigger pieces of the puzzle fit perfectly. He’s the calm in my sea of storm,” he says.

Both agree, without the jousting, that having each other is what’s best about the relationship.

“I’ve never lived with a significant other, before. So, every day, I’m stimulated to do good,” Jun says. “My world used to revolve around myself, now it revolves around someone else and it always keeps me motivated to do right by him.” Then, he adds: “Of course now I have to live with him always picking fights with me.”

“Go to your corner!”

“See?”

"If someone asked you about me, about what I do for a living, it's to 'weave words'," says Kiki Tan, who has been a writer "for as long as I care to remember." With this, this one writes about... anything and everything.

Love Guides

How social media makes breakups that much worse

Before social media, break-ups still sucked, but it was much easier to get distance from the person.

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Photo by Nick Fewings from Unsplash.com

Imagine flipping through your Facebook News Feed first thing in the morning and spotting a notification that your ex is now “in a relationship.”

Or maybe the Memories feature shows a photo from that beach vacation you took together last year. Or your ex-lover’s new lover’s mom shows up under People You May Know.

Scenarios like these are real and not uncommon, according to a new University of Colorado Boulder study exploring how breaking up is even harder to do in the digital age.

“Before social media, break-ups still sucked, but it was much easier to get distance from the person,” said Anthony Pinter, a doctoral student in the information science department and lead author of the study published in the journal Proceedings of the ACM (Association for Computing Machinery).”It can make it almost impossible to move on if you are constantly being bombarded with reminders in different places online.”

The research team recruited participants who had experienced an upsetting encounter online involving a break-up within the past 18 months and interviewed them for over an hour.

Among 19 who underwent in-depth interviews, a disturbing trend emerged: Even when people took every measure they saw possible to remove their exes from their online lives, social media returned them – often multiple times a day.

“A lot of people make the assumption that they can just unfriend their ex or unfollow them and they are not going to have to deal with this anymore,” said Pinter. “Our work shows that this is not the case.”

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News Feed, the primary interface that opens when one launches Facebook, was a major source of distress, delivering news of ex-lovers announcing they were in a new relationship. In one case, a participant noticed his roommate had already “liked” his ex’s post. He was the last of his friends to know.

Memories, which revives posts from years’ past, was equally heart-rending, with one participant recalling how a sweet years-old message from his ex-wife popped up out of nowhere delivering an “emotional wallop.”

Many shared stories of encountering exes via their comments in shared spaces, such as groups or mutual friends’ pictures.

“In real life, you get to decide who gets the cat and who gets the couch, but online it’s a lot harder to determine who gets this picture or who gets this group,” said Pinter.

Take A Break works – for some

In 2015, Facebook launched the Take A Break feature, which detects when a user switches from “in a relationship” to “single” and asks if they want the platform to hide that person’s activities. But people like Pinter, who don’t use the Relationship Status tool, never get such an offer.

“Facebook doesn’t know we broke up because Facebook never knew we were in a relationship,” he said.

Even when someone unfriends their ex, if a mutual friend posts a picture without tagging them in it, that picture may still flow through their feed.

And even when they blocked their exes entirely some reported that the ex’s friends and family would still show up on Facebook as suggestions under People You May Know.

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“Am I never going to be free of all this crap online?” asked one exasperated participant.

The research stems from a larger National Science Foundation grant award called Humanizing Algorithms, aimed at identifying and offering solutions for “algorithmic insensitivity.”

“Algorithms are really good at seeing patterns in clicks, likes and when things are posted, but there is a whole lot of nuance in how we interact with people socially that they haven’t been designed to pick up,” said Brubaker.

The authors suggest that such encounters could be minimized if platform designers paid more attention to the “social periphery” – all those people, groups, photos and events that spring up around a connection between two users.

For those wanting to rid their online lives from reminders of love lost, they recommend unfriending, untagging, using Take a Break and blocking while understanding they may not be foolproof.

Your best bet, said Pinter: “Take a break from social media for a while until you are in a better place.”

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Love Stories

A serodifferent love

HIV-positive Louie, 34, said that that when you have HIV, sometimes you think won’t find love. But he met HIV-negative Matt, 28, in 2016. And while many people still doubt their relationship, he says: “What’s important is we inspire each other… while loving and caring for each other.”

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People think that when you have HIV, you won’t find love, said Louie, 34, from Biñan, Laguna. “But that’s not true. This thought never entered my mind.”

Louie was diagnosed HIV-positive on July 3, 2013.

At that time, “I felt two emotions. On one hand, I was happy. My live-in partner then had HIV, and I knew he was dying. That’s also what I thought before; that when you have HIV, you die. When I was diagnosed to have HIV, I thought I’d also already die. So we can happily die together. (But) on the other hand, I was also sad. I was thinking, what will happen to my family?”

For Louie at that time, “more than my HIV status, I had a harder time accepting that nothing is permanent. Like my live-in partner who died. I had a harder time moving forward from this.”

In 2016, Louie started feeling… lonely. “I realized how I missed being in a relationship. I missed having a relationship no matter its form – as lovers, partners in crime… so long as you love each other.”

He was working as HIV counselor for Klinika Bernardo in Quezon City then, and “we have targets on the number of people we test for HIV. To reach mine, I joined group chats.”

Matt, 28 from Tondo, Manila, was in one group – HTS.

“One time, his photo appeared in my phone (via the group chat). He was skinnier then. I said, ‘Wow, he’s cute.’ So I gave his photo a heart, and I sent him a personal message. I PM’d him, and he answered,” Louie recalled.

Louie also invited Matt to get tested for HIV.

Some people may also think Matt is putting himself in harm’s way. But “people should not think I am putting myself in a situation that I can’t handle. I am an adult/a grown up. Maybe they just envy us because we lasted long.”

FINDING LOVE

“Every Friday, we (do HIV testing in a bar) in Cubao. Our team from Klinika Bernardo go there to do HIV testing, and give out condoms. I invited him to come over,” Louie said.

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They met in a bar in Cuba, Quezon City.

“I asked him (later) if he wanted to check into a hotel so we can be together. By asking him, of course, I wanted something to happen between us. But he had an (alibi not to join me),” Louie said.

On a later date, Matt visited Louie at Klinika Bernardo.

“I told him I wanted to have sex with him. He actually refused me. It was a first time for me, so I asked him: Why not? He told me he only has sex with his BF. I think this guy’s old fashioned. I told him we’re not kids anymore, we’re not teenagers. If it works out, fine. If it doesn’t, let’s part ways,” Louie said.

Louie stressed that “of course I’m aware I have HIV. But I also know there’s no risk of infecting him because my viral load is undetectable. But I also knew how to take care of myself, and how to look after him. This is why I had the guts to ask him to have sex with me.”

Even early on, Louie said he wanted to tell Matt about his HIV status.

“But I was afraid he’d get angry, he’d fear me, he’d sue me, or he’d bash me,” he said.

That moment came after their first catching up.

“What’s important is we’re happy. What’s important is we accept each other. What’s important is we inspire each other… while loving and caring for each other.”

DEALING WITH DISCLOSURE

In 2015, a radio station interviewed Louie. “I was asked to share my story. They made a ‘teledrama’ out of it. I made him listen to a recording of this,” Louie recalled.

After listening to the recording, Matt hugged Louie.

“I was surprised when he hugged me after listening to the recording. He didn’t say anything. I asked: ‘What can you say?’. It was funny; he said: ‘Nothing.’ I never felt he feared me. I forced him (to react). I told him it’s fine; I’d understand. He whispered to me; he told me ‘I love you.’ He said he loved me more.”

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For Matt: “I couldn’t care less. So what if you have HIV?”

As a side note, Matt had former partners who had HIV.

“Three BFs passed away, all from AIDS-related complications. They were diagnosed late. I knew of their HIV status after they passed away,” Matt said. “So when he told me he has HIV, I didn’t care. It’s normal for me to have a PLHIV for a partner.”

This point does not escape Louie, though.

“I had fears. Based on his stories, all his exes died. I thought: Will I be next? I said to him: ‘Maybe you’re cursed.'”

“When we just started going out, some said we won’t last. I know some of them we just joking. Some said we’d be together only for days, for weeks. We proved them wrong.”

LIVING AS A COUPLE

As a partner, Matt said Louie can be “difficult… he can get moody. At times at night, after taking his ARV, he’d complain about ailments. I really had to learn to adjust.”

But this is something he now relishes; a part of his life.

“Whenever he gets sick, his mom sends me a text message: ‘Come over, (Louie) is sick.’ And so even if I’m supposed to to go somewhere, I go to Laguna from Tondo to look after him.”

In hindsight, Louie said he knew he already loved Matt when “I miss him when he doesn’t send me text messages. If he doesn’t immediately respond to my messages, I quarrel with him. (I like that his) messages are very sweet. Almost every night, we chat over the phone. When we don’t do any of these in a day, I already miss him.”

For Matt: “It’s good to love someone with HIV because it broadens your way of loving. It broadens your adaptability skills. You will experience real love because a PLHIV will love you completely. Those without HIV can still cheat on you. But if you love someone with HIV, they won’t look for another. Like us, he won’t look for another because I give him the love he deserves.”

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Louie admitted that “a person living with HIV may not believe he will be loved by a person who does not have HIV. You may think he’s only there out of pity. That he’s only staying with you because if he leaves, you’ll get depressed and kill yourself. That was my thinking (before): I have HIV. Will someone still love me? Processing this took a while.”

Now, “if people ask me if it’s worth it, I say yes. I believe that aside from my ARV treatment, love also prolongs my life,” he added.

For Matt: “It’s good to love someone with HIV because it broadens your way of loving. It broadens your adaptability skills. You will experience real love because a PLHIV will love you completely.”

LOVE IS WORTH FIGHTING FOR

People may not support what they have, but Louie said “I don’t care what people will say when they discover our relationship. Maybe they just envy us. When we just started going out, some said we won’t last. I know some of them we just joking. Some said we’d be together only for days, for weeks. We proved them wrong. We did not focus on ‘being in a relationship’. We focused on creating happy moments together.”

Some people may also think Matt is putting himself in harm’s way. But “people should not think I am putting myself in a situation that I can’t handle. I am an adult/a grown up. Maybe they just envy us because we lasted long.”

In fact, Matt said, “people asked me: Why him? You had a lot of suitors who were better looking, who doesn’t have HIV. He’s the one I love. What do you want me to do?”

To find love, Louie said: “Just be honest. If the person (you disclosed to) does not accept you, find another. If you’re honest and he does not accept you, that’s not love. In that case, love won’t materialize. But if a person accepts you even if you have HIV, he’d love you for real.”

Now, “if people ask me if it’s worth it, I say yes. I believe that aside from my ARV treatment, love also prolongs my life,” Louie said.

There’s no “looking forward” for Louie and Matt.

“We sometimes kid: What if we break up? What if (things don’t turn out well)? We discuss these affectionately. But really, we don’t think of the future; we just think of the present,” Louie said. “What’s important is we’re happy. What’s important is we accept each other. What’s important is we inspire each other… while loving and caring for each other.”

In YouTube, follow @PLHIV Diaries.

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LOVE AFFAIRS

A happy partner leads to a healthier future

An optimistic partner may encourage eating a salad or work out together to develop healthier lifestyles. For example, if you quit smoking or start exercising, your partner is close to following suit within a few weeks and months.

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Photo by Mayur Gala from Unsplash.com

Science now supports the saying, “happy wife, happy life.” Michigan State University research found that those who are optimistic contribute to the health of their partners, staving off the risk factors leading to Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and cognitive decline as they grow old together.

“We spend a lot of time with our partners,” said William Chopik, assistant professor of psychology and co-author of the study. “They might encourage us to exercise, eat healthier or remind us to take our medicine. When your partner is optimistic and healthy, it can translate to similar outcomes in your own life. You actually do experience a rosier future by living longer and staving off cognitive illnesses.”

An optimistic partner may encourage eating a salad or work out together to develop healthier lifestyles. For example, if you quit smoking or start exercising, your partner is close to following suit within a few weeks and months.

“We found that when you look at the risk factors for what predicts things like Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, a lot of them are things like living a healthy lifestyle,” Chopik said. “Maintaining a healthy weight and physical activity are large predictors. There are some physiological markers as well. It looks like people who are married to optimists tend to score better on all of those metrics.”

The study, published in the Journal of Personality and co-authored by MSU graduate student Jeewon Oh and Eric Kim, a research scientist in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, followed nearly 4,500 heterosexual couples from the Health and Retirement Study for up to eight years. The researchers found a potential link between being married to an optimistic person and preventing the onset of cognitive decline, thanks to a healthier environment at home.

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“There’s a sense where optimists lead by example, and their partners follow their lead,” Chopik said. “While there’s some research on people being jealous of their partner’s good qualities or on having bad reactions to someone trying to control you, it is balanced with other research that shows being optimistic is associated with perceiving your relationship in a positive light.”

The research also indicated that when couples recall shared experiences together, richer details from the memories emerge. A recent example, Chopik explained, was Google’s tearjerker Super Bowl ad, “Loretta,” in which an elderly man uses his Google Assistant to help him remember details about his late wife.

“The things he was recollecting were positive things about his partner,” Chopik said. “There is science behind the Google ad. Part of the types of memories being recalled were positive aspects of their relationship and personalities.”

With all of its benefits, is optimism something that can be prescribed? While there is a heritable component to optimism, Chopik says there is some evidence to suggest that it’s a trainable quality.

“There are studies that show people have the power to change their personalities, as long as they engage in things that make them change,” Chopik said. “Part of it is wanting to change. There are also intervention programs that suggest you can build up optimism.”

Across the board, everyone benefits from a healthy dose of optimism from their partner. For the glass-is-half-empty people, a partner can still quench their thirst. For the glass-is-half-full people? Their cup runneth over.

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LOVE AFFAIRS

Unhealthy and unhappy – The mental toll of troubled relationships

A study found many victims of intimate partner violence at 21 showed signs of mental illness at the age of 30, with women more likely to develop depression and men varying anxiety disorders.

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Photo by Kelly Sikkema from Unsplash.com

Some forms of domestic violence double victims’ risk of depression and anxiety disorders later in life, according to University of Queensland research published in Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology.

The UQ School of Public Health study found many victims of intimate partner violence at 21 showed signs of mental illness at the age of 30, with women more likely to develop depression and men varying anxiety disorders.

Intimate partner violence classifies physical abuse as pushing, shoving and smacking.

UQ researcher Emeritus Professor Jake Najman said the team also found equal levels of abuse by men and women.

“The number of men and women who experience intimate partner violence is very similar, leading us to believe couples are more likely to abuse each other,” Professor Najman said.

“People generally don’t end up in the hospital or a shelter, but there is a serious mental burden from this type of abuse.”

The research showed defacto couples and those from lower socio-economic backgrounds were more likely to be involved in these types of abusive relationships.

Emotional abuse involves comments that make the person feel worthless.

Then there is harassment – a constant and distressing nagging that may have long-term consequences for those on the receiving end.

“It also raises the question, to what extent is this type of violent behaviour not just a characteristic of the relationship the couple has with each other, but with other people around them and possibly their children,” Professor Najman said.

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“There is a range of treatment and counseling programs available for couples and families to try and improve the way they relate to one another.”

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LOVE AFFAIRS

6 Unique ideas for date nights

Date night provides a dedicated evening you can spend together while avoiding the usual busy-ness of everyday demands and allows you the chance to reconnect and try something new without life getting in the way.

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Date night should be a priority for any couple, whether you’re new and starting out, or whether you’ve been married for years. Date night provides a dedicated evening you can spend together while avoiding the usual busy-ness of everyday demands and allows you the chance to reconnect and try something new without life getting in the way.

With that in mind, here are six great date night ideas if you’re looking for inspiration. 

Exploring a new town or city can put you both in the same position to discover and experience a great new place together.

1. Explore a New Location Together

There may be a lot of pressure during date night for one person to make a suggestion based on what they know and enjoy. However, why not do something entirely new, in a place neither of you have been to before? Exploring a new town or city can put you both in the same position to discover and experience a great new place together.

2. Catch a Sports Game

Whether you’re both big sports fans, or perhaps neither of you have ever been to a sports game before, a live game can be an exciting experience, especially if you’re always been curious about a certain sport. You can grab tickets for games like the NFL at Ticket Sales, for a variety of different teams, and you can make a whole night of it with some great food and drinks too. 

3. Try a New Hobby

There’s nothing like getting stuck into a new hobby and learning a new skill – so why not do it together as part of your date night? Maybe there’s something new you’ve always wanted to try, like painting, so you could always head out to a painting class together. There are many art classes which now offer drinks and all supplies included in a set price for the evening, making your date night easier to plan. 

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4. Take a Cooking Class 

If you’re both foodies – or perhaps you’re both simply awful cooks and would like to learn how to improve – then a cooking class can be a fun (and delicious) way to spend an evening together. You could even spend your next date night at home practicing the dishes you have learned to cook and trying out new recipes going forward.

A cooking class can be a fun (and delicious) way to spend an evening together.

5. Head for a Spa Treatment 

You need rest and relaxation sometimes, and a little TLC, especially when it comes to health and beauty treatments. While your date night is about caring for your relationship, go a step further and care for one another by spending time at a spa, either to simply relax using the facilities or by booking in treatments. You could even do joint treatments like a couple’s massage to ensure that you’re spending the time unseparated.

6. Have a Games Night 

Whether it’s spent at home playing classic board games, video games, or heading out to the nearest arcade to get stuck into some nostalgic gameplay like Pacman or racing games, an evening spent together like this is a must for gaming couples – and there’s nothing like a little friendly competition!

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LOVE AFFAIRS

When possibility of sex looms, people more likely to tweak truth

People will do and say just about anything in order to make a connection with an attractive stranger.

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Photo by Gabriel Matula from Unsplash.com

In a world of seemingly endless opportunities for finding a mate, competition for a partner can be fierce. Not all that glitters is gold, as the old adage goes. If you’ve long suspected that people fudge the truth when it comes to presenting themselves to a potential partner, here’s the research to back you up.

In a new study, published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, two researchers from the University of Rochester’s Department of Clinical and Social Sciences in Psychology and the Israeli-based Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya conclude that when the possibility of sex looms, people are more likely to change their attitudes and engage in deceptive self-presentation. In other words, they conform, embellish, and sometimes lie.

The duo of Gurit Birnbaum, a social psychologist and associate professor of psychology at the IDC Herzliya, and Harry Reis, a professor of clinical and social sciences in psychology and Dean’s Professor in Arts, Sciences & Engineering at the University of Rochester, hypothesized that sexual thoughts–or, in the researchers’ more precise terms, the activation of an individual’s sexual system–would increase a person’s efforts to manage first impressions, bringing with it deceptive self-presentation.

Sex on the brain

What laypersons might describe as having sexual thoughts, researchers refer to more precisely as the activation of the sexual system or sexual priming. The phrase, Harry Reis explains, “means getting people to think about things in a sexual way. Technically it means activating a certain set of concepts in the brain. So, the parts of the brain that represent sexuality are being activated. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that people are getting genitally aroused.”

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They tested that hypothesis on 634 students–328 female and 306 male–with an average age of nearly 25, all identifying as heterosexual. Over the course of four studies, the psychologists exposed one group to sexual stimuli and the control group to neutral stimuli. Study participants, all students at an Israeli university, then interacted with an opposite-sex stranger.

Study 1 asked two study participants at a time to solve a dilemma faced by a fictitious third person–whether to accept a job offer abroad or to reject the offer to stay close to family and friends. Both participants were assigned one specific position–one for and one against the move abroad–to argue in a face-to-face interaction.

Afterwards, participants rated the extent to which they outwardly expressed agreement with the other participant’s position during the interaction. Compared to participants in the control group (without prior sexual stimuli), participants who had been sexually primed were more likely to express agreement with a contrary opinion advocated by an opposite-sex participant. The researchers interpret this behavior as a strategy to make a favorable impression with the stranger, thereby increasing the likelihood of getting closer to this person.

Study 2 examined whether study participants would actually change their declared preferences to conform to a stranger’s ideals. Participants were asked to complete a questionnaire that assessed their preferences in various life situations (such as “to what extent does it bother you to date someone who is messy?” or “do you like to cuddle after sex?”). Next, participants were subliminally exposed to either a sexual or a neutral picture prime.

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Participants were then told they would be part of an online chat with another participant, who in reality was an insider–an opposite-sex member of the research team. They looked at an online profile that purported to present the insider’s preferences on various subjects. After viewing the profile, participants were asked to create their own profile to be emailed to the other participant, and asked to complete their profile by rating the same items that had been presented in the insider’s profile.

The researchers found that even a non-conscious sexual stimulus (such as showing an erotic picture in a flash frame inside an otherwise neutral video) led participants to conform more to a potential partner’s preferences across various life situations.

“The desire to impress a potential partner is particularly intense when it comes to preferences that are at the heart of establishing an intimate bond,” writes the team. “Such attitude changes might be viewed as a subtle exaggeration, or as a harmless move to impress or be closer to a potential partner.”

Studies 3 and 4 addressed whether participants would lie about the number of past sexual partners. The researchers hypothesized that people would reduce the actual number of partners so as to appear more selective–or less promiscuous–to a potential mate. To test the hypothesis, researchers had participants talk about the total number of sexual partners they had had during a chat with an attractive study insider. Then they were asked the same question in anonymous questionnaires to provide a true baseline for the researchers. The findings were clear: study participants who had been sexually primed were more likely to lie, reporting lower numbers of previous sexual partners to a potential mate compared to the group without sexual priming.

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The researchers found that both men and women (all of whom were sexually primed) tended to decrease the reported number of past sexual partners when chatting with an attractive stranger. (By the way, around seven previous partners was the magic number that most people reported in their doctored answers).

Interpreting the findings

Interestingly, Birnbaum and Reis, who have collaborated for decades (Birnbaum was a post-doctoral fellow in psychology at Rochester in 1998-99) have slightly different takes on what the findings ultimately mean.

“People will do and say just about anything in order to make a connection with an attractive stranger,” says Birnbaum. “When your sexual system is activated you are motivated to present yourself in the best light possible. That means you’ll tell a stranger things that make you look better than you really are.”

But, says Reis, “a lot of it is not necessarily what you’d call a bald-faced lie. Even though it’s clearly not the truth, it’s a way of people finding ways to emphasize different parts of how they see themselves.” And yet: “I think there’s some degree to which it is finding ways to shade one’s perception of the truth. It still counts as a lie, there’s no question about that.”

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