This Week in Sex: New Research on Improving Intimacy, and a Kegel Counter That Vibrates

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Roundups Sexual Health

This Week in Sex: New Research on Improving Intimacy, and a Kegel Counter That Vibrates

Martha Kempner

This week, new research suggests that orgasms promote positive pillow talk and improve intimacy but alcohol has the opposite effect; a study finds that the new HIV-prevention drug Truvada may also reduce the risk of genital herpes; and a vibrator company introduced a Fitbit for your vagina.

This Week in Sex is a weekly summary of news and research related to sexual behavior, sexuality education, contraception, STIs, and more.

Want Better Pillow Talk? Try More Orgasms and Less Alcohol

A new study in the journal Communications Monographs asked couples to document their conversations and feelings after engaging in genital sexual behavior of any kind. Respondents were also asked whether they had consumed alcohol before the sexual event and whether they’d had an orgasm. The results should not come as much of a surprise: Orgasms made post-coital feelings better, and alcohol did not.

Specifically, the study found that individuals who had an orgasm disclosed more information, more important information, and generally more positive information than those who did not. They also perceived more benefits to disclosing to their partners than those who did not orgasm. As for alcohol, those who drank more found themselves disclosing less deep and less positive information and felt fewer benefits after having done so, perhaps because they were more unintentional with their disclosures than those who hadn’t been drinking.

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The researcher explained that after an orgasm the body releases oxytocin, which has been called the “bonding hormone” or the “love hormone” because it makes people feel calmer, less stressed, and more connected to the person they’re with. (Oxytocin also is released during breastfeeding.) Alcohol has a very different effect on the brain. As Tamara Afifi, one of the co-authors of the study, told the Huffington Post, “Oxytocin is an ‘upper’ and alcohol is a ‘downer,’ so it’s not surprising that they have opposite effects on behavior.”

Alcohol also depresses the central nervous system, making it harder to orgasm. In the study, the worst results were among those who drank alcohol and did not orgasm.

So maybe this summer we should all skip the frozen cocktails, concentrate on the big O, and enjoy some positive pillow talk, because the authors of this study think it “may play a pivotal role in maintaining intimacy.”

HIV-Prevention Drug Also May Prevent Herpes

The HIV drug Truvada has been making news lately, as research has found that daily use of the drug by those who are HIV-negative can cut the risk of HIV transmission by as much as 90 percent. While many in the public health community are thrilled by the prospect of a new, effective prevention method, others worry about the cost of the drug (about $1,000 a month in the United States) and question whether those using it will stop using condoms, thereby putting themselves at risk for other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

A new study suggests that the drug may prevent herpes as well.

Truvada is actually a combination of two HIV drugs: tenofovir and emtricitabine. The new study enrolled 1,500 heterosexual adults in Africa who were randomly assigned to receive either tenofovir alone, the combination of drugs in Truvada, or a placebo. Initial enrollment spanned 2008 to 2010, and the participants, none of whom had HIV or herpes simplex 2 (HSV-2, or genital herpes) when the study began, were monitored until 2011. The study found that tenofovir alone reduced the risk of getting HSV-2 by 24 percent, and the combination found in Truvada reduced the risk by 36 percent.

These results are encouraging, and it is good to know that those taking Truvada have extra protection against herpes, as HIV and herpes often occur together. Still, this does not mean that the drug will be prescribed solely to prevent herpes. Dr. Myron Cohen, associate vice chancellor for Global Health at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, told HealthDay, “No one is going to use tenofovir specifically to reduce herpes. There are some side effects and the drug is not cheap. It will only be used as prevention for HIV—not herpes—for high-risk people.”

Count Your Kegels

A new device can help women know if they’re “kegelling” correctly. As most women know, kegels are exercises done to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, which can help during childbirth, prevent or control urinary incontinence, and improve orgasms. The muscles involved in kegels are the same ones used to stop the flow of urine. Women are often told to use this as a way to identify the correct muscles and then to do kegels at various intervals throughout the day. But how can we know if we’re doing them correctly, and how can we remember how many we’ve done? Enter the kGoal, produced by the sexual health company Minna, which is being dubbed by the media as a Fitbit for your vagina.

Jon Thomas, the vice president of manufacturing for kGoal, told Fast Company that studies have found 30 percent of women are doing these exercises wrong. The device, which is shaped like an unequal U, is designed to train the body and motivate the user. The wider side goes into the vagina and can measure how well a women is squeezing, how often she does it, and for how long. The other side can be hooked up to a smartphone, and an accompanying app can keep track of these measurements so women can try to improve their performance.

Other devices called biofeedback machines (which are far more clinical than fun) are used by physical therapists with women who have urinary incontinence or vulvodyinia (a chronic pain condition) to measure the strength and duration of kegels. Thomas told Fast Company that physical therapists say compliance is a problem because women just don’t do their exercises. To make them more fun, Minna, which also manufactures vibrators, has added vibration. When the user gets it right—the device vibrates. A positive feedback loop to be sure.