Sex Q&A

Sex Question Friday: Do Committed Couples Have Better Sex? Does the “Pull and Pray” Method Work? And Can You Change Your Sexuality?

March 16, 2012 by Justin Lehmiller

Every Friday on the blog, I answer a few burning sex questions submitted to me by actual college students. This week, we’re talking about whether married couples have better sex than single people, whether the pull-out method of birth control actually works, and whether it’s possible to change your sexual orientation if you don’t like it.

Do studies show that people in committed relationships enjoy sex more or have better sex?

They most certainly do! Contrary to the popular stereotype of the “sexless marriage,” people who are married actually have sex much more often than their single counterparts [1]. In fact, this finding holds across people of all ages and genders. Thus, while television shows like Jersey Shore may give you the impression that singlehood is a non-stop sex romp, it actually isn’t that way for most singles. In addition to having more sex, married people also report greater levels of sexual satisfaction, including more consistent orgasms [2]. Of course, keep in mind that we’re talking about general trends here and there are always exceptions to the rule. Overall, however, married people tend to have the better sex lives.

Is there any research on the effectiveness of the pull-out method?

Yes, and you would be surprised at how effective this method (also known as “withdrawal” and “pull and pray”) can be when it is performed with perfect use. For couples who use the pull-out technique consistently and correctly every time they have sexual intercourse, it is 96% effective at preventing pregnancy [3]! This means that with perfect use, only 4 out of 100 women would become pregnant each year if they relied upon this method alone. However, perfect use is rarely achieved with any form of contraception. Thus, with typical use (i.e., when we account for human error), the effectiveness rate plummets to 73%. Even with typical use, the pull-out method is better than nothing, but it is far less effective than most other forms of birth control, including condoms, the pill, and diaphragms. Also, please keep in mind that withdrawal provides no protection against STDs, so it’s not a particularly desirable option if you aren’t the monogamous type.

Is it possible for someone to change their sexual orientation if they are unhappy with who they are?

It sounds like you’re asking whether sexual orientation is a choice, and what I can tell you is that there is absolutely no scientific support for this idea. Most research on this topic suggests that sexuality is at least partially determined by our biology and that people generally do not have conscious control over who they are attracted to [4]. However, this hasn’t stopped some people from trying to change their sexual orientation through a process known as reparative therapy. Most commonly, this involves attempting to convert one’s sexuality from homosexual to heterosexual. There is no evidence that this “therapy” actually works and most research suggests that it is traumatizing to those who undergo it. You can read more about the pseudoscience some have offered as support for reparative therapy and the dangers associated with this practice by checking out this article.

For previous editions of Sex Question Friday, click here. To send in a question for a future edition, click here.

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[1] National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior (NSSHB). Findings from the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior, Centre for Sexual Health Promotion, Indiana University. Journal of Sexual Medicine, Vol. 7, Supplement 5.

[2] Laumann, E. O., Gagnon, J., Michael, R., & Michaels, S. (1994). The social organization of sexuality: Sexual practices in the United States. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

[3] Trussel, J. (2007). Contraceptive efficacy. In R. A. Hatcher, J. Trussell, A. L. Nelson, W. Cates, F. H. Stewart, & D. Kowal (Eds.) Contraceptive technology (19th ed.). New York, NY: Ardent.

[4] Dawood, K., Bailey, J. M., & Martin, N. G. (2009). Genetic and environmental influences on sexual orientation. In Y. Kim (Ed.), Handbook of Behavioral Genetics (pp. 269– 280). New York, NY: Springer.

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Written by
Dr. Justin Lehmiller
Founder & Owner of Sex and Psychology

Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He runs the Sex and Psychology blog and podcast and is author of the popular book Tell Me What You Want. Dr. Lehmiller is an award-winning educator, and a prolific researcher who has published more than 50 academic works.

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