I Know You Less Than I Did Before

A recent article in the Journal of Consumer Psychology presents evidence for a counterintuitive aspect of human relationships:
couples who had been together longer – on average 40 years longer – knew less about each other’s preferences (favorite foods, movies, etc.) than younger couples.
The article is entitled “Older but not wiser–Predicting a partner’s preferences gets worse with age.” You can read the original here and a writeup at Wired.com here.

On reflection, this phenomenon is not completely unexpected.
When you first get to know a person, be it in friendship or dating, there are countless undiscovered things you have to learn about each other.
Each new experience is an exciting revelation, and each new fact adds to your understanding of the other person.
But after a time, you start to feel as though you know each other pretty well, and you stop digging for surprises.
Or you might think that the other person’s preferences and beliefs are fairly constant, and don’t bother investigating whether they have changed in the time that you have been together.
An interesting idea would be for a couple to try to maintain a simple, healthy tension in their relationship – the tension of being aware that there are still countless things they don’t know about the other person, and to treat those unknowns as a treasure of surprises to be discovered.
To give a somewhat silly example, do you know whether your significant other prefers flip-flops or sports sandals?
If it’s the former, are they a Rainbows fan or a Rainbows skeptic?
If it’s the latter, do they favor the tricked-out ones with massage footbeds and gel cushions?
The conclusion of this exercise:
if you don’t know, try finding out!
You might be surprised at what else you learn about the other person.

This idea of re-discovering the person by engaging with him/her on different ideas and in different situations relates to another phenomenon – couples who have been married longer often find themselves doing the same things for “date nights” that they have been doing throughout their relationship.
However, the spouses report feeling much closer to each other when they do something new or adventurous instead, such as going rollerblading at night and getting ice cream instead of going through the hum-drum “dinner and a movie” routine for the nth time.

This paper raises several other fascinating issues (for example, the role of “white lies” in long-term relationships), and I will be discussing it more in the weeks to come. Stay tuned!

Virginity Added to List of Sexual Disorders in DSM-5

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No, I’m kidding. Don’t believe everything you read online. The 5th edition of the APA’s “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders,” due out in 2013, will include no such entry. But riding back from NY on the train recently, I had a glimpse of what such a future might look like: on the walls of many of the train platforms, there were ads in plain black and red print blaring, “Still a Virgin? For Help Call 888-743-4335.” Some Googling revealed that it was a promo for an upcoming movie called “The Virginity Hit,” co-produced by Will Ferrell. According to the movie’s site, the R-rated movie is “a comedy about three pals documenting the progress of their socially-awkward friend, who tries desperately to lose his virginity.”

It may be true that the “Virginity Hotline” (see here for details about what happens when you call it) and the movie are just for laughs. But they are laughs that require the audience to buy into the idea that there is something pitiable and almost shameful about being a virgin, especially a male virgin. When I first saw the ads, I was relatively sure they were a joke, but what made me pause was the chord of familiarity they struck in me – I had heard this message many times before, especially on campus. The message generally takes the following form: “The only reasons you could have for being a virgin are 1) outdated religious hangups or 2) your incompetence – you tried but no one would take you.” It’s by no means a universal sentiment at Princeton, but I’ve encountered it often enough, especially through my involvement with the Anscombe Society, to be thoroughly tired of it and amazed at how stubbornly people hew to this belief. To see this message reinforced by these movie ads brought the alternate reality of this entry’s title another disturbing step closer.

It’s too soon to come to a final verdict about the intentions behind “Virginity Hit” and the effects it will have on social perceptions of sexuality, since the movie hasn’t been released yet. Perhaps the movie’s directors and actors will have found something different or even insightful to say about virginity by the end of the movie. However, you’ll forgive me for not being terribly optimistic.

Stress, Sex, and Neurogenesis

5384-neurons-thumb-200x150-5382.jpgOver at wired.com, Jonah Lehrer discusses some surprising aspects of sex: 1) even as a pleasurable experience, it often causes a large stress response in the body, including the release of chemicals that help the body deal with stress, and 2) as discovered in recent research in rats, it can promote neurogenesis, or the growth of new neurons, in the adult rat brain. One research team in particular, which included Princeton professor Elizabeth Gould, also found that when male rats were allowed to mate with female rats multiple times over the course of the experiment (“chronic” sexual experience) as opposed to just once (“acute” sexual experience), the level of stress-response chemicals went down, but neurogenesis continued. In other words, repeated sexual experience in rats led to beneficial neurogenesis without the harmful chemical stress response. 

You can read Lehrer’s full article here.

I should provide the ever-needed caveat in animal research: we can’t jump to the conclusion that the same holds true in humans, because of the striking differences in anatomy, brain organization, development, etc. And even if it could be proved that the same were true for humans (which might take a while – you can’t kill humans at the end of an experiment and dissect their brains the same way that you can with rats and mice), it would certainly not mean that we students should start having sex all the time in order to boost our GPAs. This is only one isolated aspect of sex, detached from all other ethical, behavioral, and interpersonal considerations. But this type of focused, specialized research is still important: by uncovering these smaller bits of knowledge about sex, piece by piece, we can begin to better understand this complex and fascinating facet of human life.  

Brave New World and the Commodification of Sex

by Shivani Radhakrishnan


5333-brave-new-world-thumb-100x152-5331-thumb-150x228-5332.jpgIn an effort to catch up on some summer reading (and to fill gaps in my own reading), I started Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World a few days ago. I was surprised to find just how pro-family the book is, particularly as the commodification of sex is presented as an especially dystopian aspect of the “brave new world” that Huxley describes. 


Huxley’s state eagerly rewards pursuing sex without commitment–characters like Lenina find it unthinkable that someone would require exclusivity or permanence before sex. But the heroes of the work are Bernard Marx and the Savage, two characters who find Lenina’s view of sexuality disturbing. Marx, for instance, wishes she wouldn’t consider herself just “another piece of meat.” The Savage, too, finds Lenina’s view inhumane–he consistently constrasts her lack of sexual restraint with the love of Shakespearean characters.

Huxley’s cautioning of a sexuality removed from permanent and exclusive commitments in marriage is articulate and insightful. 
Brave New World is certainly worth a read (or a re-read) when you get a chance.

Are Soccer Players Fair Game for Objectification? (Part II)

5255-Philipp_Lahm_after_goal-thumb-250x226-5254.jpgThis is the fourth and final post in a series about the 2010 World Cup.

Several days ago, I outlined the problem of physical objectification, specifically in the context of the “ogling” that became something of an international pastime during the World Cup, and criticized the arguments that some proponents of this behavior had offered in their defense. I would now like to give a brief treatment of the question that naturally follows, i.e. whether it is possible for us to express our admiration for these athlete’s bodies without falling into the trap of physical objectification.

For it does seem too extreme to say that we need to strive to become unresponsive to the attractiveness, strength, and beauty of those around us in order to minimize the chances of physical objectification. Rather, one might protest, we should be at least be able to admire these athlete’s bodies from an aesthetic point of view, the way one might appreciate Michelangelo’s David, or state with an air of scientific observation, “He is objectively hot.” Could we even relax those standards further and allow ourselves to say, “Check out those abs!” while claiming, “I’m just appreciating a healthy, athletic body, that’s all!”

I would answer: yes, depending on the attitude and intention of the first type of exclamation and the sincerity of the second. It may be possible to “objectively appreciate” an athlete’s physical attractiveness, but it only takes a small step in the wrong direction to stop thinking of that athlete as a person and start thinking of them as an attractive body to make raunchy comments about and drool over. The solution, I think, is something of a mental balancing act: when you find yourself visually focusing on someone’s awe-inspiring six-pack or gawking at them as a whole, keep reminding yourself that this is a living, breathing person with the dignity of the individual. While holding those two different attitudes in your mind’s eye, bring them into an equilibrium that will keep not just your vocal comments but also your thoughts respectful of that person. It is important to note that even without the element of sexuality, one can begin the process of reducing a person to their physical appearance, judging them based on their weight or the attractiveness of certain body parts. This is not something that we only have to worry about with gorgeous celebrities and athletes on our TV/computer screen – this is a balance we need to strike with our significant others, co-workers, and even strangers on the street.

It is a fine line to walk between appreciative admiration and dehumanizing objectification, but that does not mean we can ignore it. The goal line on a soccer pitch is relatively narrow, but, as the World Cup has shown, this does not stop a global obsession with getting the ball on one side of the line rather than the other.

Are Soccer Players Fair Game for Objectification? (Part I)

5172-andres.iniesta-thumb-250x231-5171.jpgThis is the third in a series of posts about the 2010 World Cup.


During the World Cup, anyone with access to a TV was able to watch the world’s best soccer players in action, but for some, “ogle” would have been a better word.  Among the foremost offenders were sites like Jezebel and Cosmopolitan, with the former posting “Thighlights” and shirtless shots under the tag “shameless objectification,” and the latter compiling a slideshow of “The Hottest World Cup Players” which was saturated with not-so-subtle sexual innuendo. Apparently it dawned on some that this same behavior toward women would be considered less than polite, for midway through the tournament, a post appeared at Jezebel defending this double standard.

The author laid out five points as to why this behavior wasn’t hypocritical. Three of the points apply just as easily to women athletes (I’m thinking especially of women’s beach volleyball, which has become increasingly sexualized) and therefore give no strength to the argument: these athletes are healthy and achieved this level of fitness naturally (point 2), they are willingly doing something they enjoy (point 4), and there are no racial boundaries (point 3). However, the author of the post clearly states that she would be up in arms if someone had been posting photos of female athletes’ body parts for men to stare at. What is it, then, that differentiates woman-ogling from man-ogling? The punch comes in points 1 and 5 – apparently it is all about historical context and equal access. Men have historically had, and arguably still do have, the upper hand in physically objectifying, and women have suffered the consequences, from workplace harassment to rape and even sex slavery: so, the argument goes, it’s only fair that we women reverse the roles.

I will first discuss the alarmingly unsound reasoning behind this point, and then in Part II, address one argument that comes closest to allowing us to express our admiration for these athlete’s bodies without falling into the trap of physical objectification. 

Continue reading

Worth Revisiting: Robert George on “Gay Marriage, Democracy, and the Courts”

5094-SSM.constitution-thumb-200x150-5090-thumb-200x150-5091-thumb-200x150-5092.jpgWritten almost exactly a year ago, Robert George’s article on “Gay Marriage, Democracy, and the Courts” is more applicable than ever in light of recent events in California.

Click here to to read the full article in the Wall Street Journal. An excerpt: 

“…as a comprehensive sharing of life–an emotional and
biological union–marriage has value in itself and not merely as a means to
procreation…Only this understanding makes sense of all the norms–annulability
for non-consummation, the pledge of permanence, monogamy, sexual
exclusivity–that shape marriage as we know it and that our law reflects. And
only this view can explain why the state should regulate marriage (as opposed
to ordinary friendships) at all–to make it more likely that, wherever possible,
children are reared in the context of the bond between the parents whose sexual
union gave them life.”

Graduate Student Faces Expulsion for Views on Homosexuality and Gender

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by Marlow Gazzoli

Unsettling news from the great
state of Georgia: apparently, opposing the orthodoxy on homosexuality and
viewing gender as more than just a social invention precludes one from being a
counselor in our multicultural world. Jennifer Keeton, 24, is studying for her
master’s degree in counseling at Augusta State University, and sued the
University to prevent her expulsion. An excerpt from the 
story:

“The suit
alleges the university retaliated against Keeton for stating her belief that
homosexuality is a lifestyle choice and not a “state of being,” and that gender
is not a social construct subject to individual change. According to the suit,
the school wants her to undergo a ‘thought reform’ program intended to change
her religious beliefs. She faces expulsion unless she complies, and the suit
seeks to block the university from throwing her out for noncompliance.”

It seems to me that the faculty
have a totally distorted view of what a counselor is. A counselor should not
merely confirm his patient’s choices and lifestyle out of some misguided
respect for diversity. Rather, he is supposed to better the life of his
patient, not just encourage him to do whatever he wants.

A doctor’s purpose is to
safeguard the health of his patient, not defer to his patient’s views of what
is or is not healthy. Absent an objective moral law and order, the counselor is
merely an encourager of whatever life the counseled wants, a “life-coach.” This
is what we can expect in a world awash in relativism. “You can hold your own
views but can’t force them on others. Who is to say what is right? What is
truth?”

Discrimination and the First Amendment: Christian Legal Society v Martinez

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by Shivani Radhakrishnan

Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court faced a landmark case on the issue of whether or not a public university law school, Hastings College of the Law, could deny school funding (and related benefits) to a religious student organization because the group requires its officers and voting members to agree with its core religious viewpoints. The Court ruled 5-4 that a public university law school could deny these groups such funding. The majority appealed to a neutral university policy that school funding is contingent on whether a student group allowed all-comers to become members and officers.

But to see the case as upholding a neutral policy that student groups should only receive funding if they allow all-comers is too simplistic. The pith of the issue turns around whether a public university’s attempts to secure equality of access impede on a student group’s free exercise of its beliefs (beliefs that by its very nature exclude other beliefs).

It is interesting to think about what an all-comers policy would mean, if taken to its logical conclusion. What would have happened had a political group, say Students United Against the Death Penalty, required students to be anti-death penalty in order to join? If Hastings enforced the “all-comers” policy, the anti-death penalty student group could be forced to admit a majority of students that support the death penalty. In effect, this could result in the silencing of the anti-death penalty students’ expression, a serious First Amendment concern. For groups that are formed based on a shared group of beliefs, Alito astutely argued, “the consequence of an accept-all-comers policy is marginalization.”

See the full ruling here.

Lady Gaga and the Hook-up Culture

by Shivani Radhakrishnan


Despite being somewhat skeptical about the relevance of this post to “philosophy”, I found this observation from the NY Times philosophy blog, The Stone, pretty interesting:

“If there’s anything that feminism has bequeathed to young women of means, it’s that power is their birthright.  Visit an American college campus on a Monday morning and you’ll find any number of amazingly ambitious and talented young women wielding their brain power, determined not to let anything — including a relationship with some needy, dependent man — get in their way.  Come back on a party night, and you’ll find many of these same girls (they stopped calling themselves “women” years ago) wielding their sexual power, dressed as provocatively as they dare, matching the guys drink for drink — and then hook-up for hook-up.”

Read the full article here.