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The 10 Most Fascinating Things Science Taught Us About Sex in 2015

The 10 Most Fascinating Things Science Taught Us About Sex in 2015: © Colin Anderson / Blend Images / Corbis

© Colin Anderson / Blend Images / Corbis

With 2015 coming to a close, it’s as good a time as any to revisit some of the more useful things the scientific process has revealed about sex in the last 12 months. Researchers certainly didn’t disappoint: Among other things, published studies taught us what “squirting” really is, debunked the idea that porn is “addictive,” and showed us that kissing isn’t nearly as common as everyone thinks. Below, I’ve compiled the 10 most interesting things we learned about the science of sex this past year.


1. Millennials aren’t the sex-crazed generation that everyone assumed.
Although millennials have been dubbed “the hookup generation,” several studies published in 2015 tell a very different story. In fact, millennials are the least sexually active generation in decades. They are actually having less sex with fewer partners and, contrary to popular belief, they haven’t shunned the idea of marriage either.

2. The FDA approved a libido pill for women—and it totally bombed.
In August, the FDA approved the first-ever pill to treat low sexual desire in women, Addyi (flibanserin). This was met with cheers from the pharmaceutical industry, which thought they had a drug that would rival Viagra’s sales on their hands. Just one day after the FDA decision, the company behind Addyi was bought for one billion dollars. The scientific and medical community was less enchanted, and spoke out loudly against the drug’s effectiveness data (it’s barely better than a placebo) and its serious risk of side effects (the drug carries a so-called “black box warning,” the highest alert level). In the end, the drug was a total flop. Just 227 prescriptions were sold in the first month—nowhere near the 600,000 Viagra sold in the same time span.

3. It’s official: porn “addiction” isn’t an addiction.
In July, UCLA neuroscientists published a study about what goes on inside the brains of so-called porn “addicts” and found that their brain activation patterns don’t resemble those of people who have other addictions. There are certainly many people out there who struggle with regulating porn use and other sexual behaviors. But this research shows we’re not talking about addictive behaviors here—and we should stop treating them as such.

4. Romantic kissing isn’t present in more than half of cultures around the world.
Kissing is often described as a universal sexual and romantic activity. But a September study published in the American Anthropologist challenges this idea. Researchers analyzed 168 different cultures around the world and found that romantic kissing was present in less than half of them. Kissing was prevalent in Western societies, but far less common in other world regions, including Central and South America, as well as Africa.

5. Americans think sex is absolutely terrifying.
Americans are irrationally afraid of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and think that sex is far riskier than it really is. According to a study from the International Journal of Sexual Health, people rate the odds of dying from a single act of unprotected sex as 17 times higher than taking a very long road trip, despite the fact that driving is an objectively riskier behavior. Scientists believe that this might be the unintentional byproduct of American sex education efforts, which focus largely on teaching kids that sex is little more than a pathway to disease and death.

6. Being in a monogamous relationship doesn’t mean you’re safe from STDs.
An October study from The Journal of Sexual Medicine found that people who say they’re in monogamous relationships are no less likely to report having had STDs than people who are consensually non-monogamous. Why is that? It seems that a lot of supposedly “monogamous” people aren’t upholding their end of the bargain—many of them are cheating, they’re not practicing safe sex with any of their partners, and they’re not getting tested for infections.

7. Squirting is “an involuntary emission of urine.”
Some women experience a large expulsion of liquid during orgasm, a phenomenon often referred to as “squirting.” The nature and origin of this fluid has long been a source of scientific debate, but according to a January study in The Journal of Sexual Medicine, it appears to be urine. Pelvic scans performed before, during, and after sexual stimulation showed the bladder filling and emptying. A chemical analysis of the fluid showed that it was comparable to urine, although for several women, it also contained elements similar to what a man’s prostate gland releases during ejaculation.

8. Men like curvy women—but what they’re really drawn to are curved spines.
According to a study published in Evolution and Human Behavior, men aren’t drawn to curvy women per se, but rather women who have a prominent curving of the lower (i.e., lumbar) spine. Why? It is thought that our male ancestors evolved a preference for this trait because such a curvature is adaptive during pregnancy. Specifically, it helps to keep women’s center of mass over the hips, thereby reducing the risk of pain and injury.

9. Women’s ideal penis size is pretty close to average.
Is bigger really better when it comes to penises? Not according to a September study from the journal PLoS ONE, which reported that the penis size women say is ideal (6.3-6.4 inches in length and 4.8-5.0 inches in girth) is pretty close to what the average guy is packing. In other words, you’re probably worried about your penis size for nothing.

10. Human mating practices are pretty tame compared to how animals do it.
In October, scientists took to Twitter using the hashtag #humpoff to celebrate some of the most unusual sexual practices ever documented in the animal kingdom. These include the male squid that deposits sperm packets inside his female partners by stabbing them, as well as the female spoonworm, which sucks male partners in through her feeding tube and keeps them there for the rest of their lives. Don’t you feel positively normal now?

Here’s hoping 2016 is another banner year for sex science!


Justin Lehmiller, PhD is a sex educator and researcher at Ball State University and author of the blog Sex and Psychology. Follow him on Twitter @JustinLehmiller.


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