Article Review: "Pillow Talk: Exploring Disclosures After Sexual Activity" by Amanda Denes

By Alexander E. Hopkins
2012, Vol. 4 No. 09 | pg. 2/3 |

Denes should be commended for studying an aspect of interpersonal communication that has not been studied in-depth. While the “hard” sciences—biology, chemistry and psychology— could explain the Oxytocin interactions within an individual’s mind and their perception towards their surroundings, communication plays a key role because it is the missing link. Communication examines how a person projects their feelings upon others, as well as the response that they will ultimately receive. Understanding these interactions helps to explain why relationships strengthen or weaken.

The data collection methods were likely effective because it was convenient for both Denes and her subjects. Based on Denes’ own description of the research design, she kept open-ended questions to a minimum. Since her study mostly uses closed-ended questions, the questions are easier for the subjects to answer. Likewise, while Denes is collecting her data, she does not have to re-code a broad range of responses for open-response questions. Her subjects were allowed to engage in sexual activity as they normally would—outside of a lab setting in the privacy of their own homes. The data was not compromised by an observing third-party because there was no one watching the subjects while they are testing the effects of Denes’ study. As such, the Hawthorne Effect was absent.

Denes early-on in her study cited that her main limitation was that she could not actually measure the Oxytocin levels within the subjects’ bodies. Therefore, the use of the standardized Likert Scale made-up for this limitation because it’s standardized 1-5 scale still allows room for the subjects to respond in a broad range of ways When analyzing these results, the t-test was an appropriate form of measurement because her sample size was fairly small and the standard deviation was unknown to begin with.

Discussion

While Denes’ study had many strong points, there were several weaknesses that, if remedied, could make the study more conclusive. I categorized the weaknesses as either being: absent of methodological data, structural bias or containing known or unknown outliers.

By far, the biggest drawback of Denes’ study is that control factors are completely absent. As a result, other outlying factors can compromise the data and, subsequently, her findings. A few key controls that would have been helpful are contained in the chart below:

Possible Control Possible Effect(s)
Gender Denes’ study mostly focused on the experiences of women. She discounts men because Oxytocin has a more dramatic effect in estrogen than in testosterone. However, that does not mean that men do not engage in “pillow-talk”
Religion Views on pre-marital sex. Views on having multiple partners.
Ethnic Background Views on pre-marital sex. Views on having multiple partners.
Prescription and over-the-counter drugs Decrease or increase sexual libido
Illicit Drugs Can increase the speed of “feel-good” hormones to enter the brain
Alcohol Since alcohol is a depressant, sexual libido would decrease. If the subject consumes too much, they may disclose personal details that they may not remember or would never disclose when sober.
Peer Pressure Those subjects not in a committed relationship are more vulnerable to experiencing peer pressure to have sex.
Behavioral disorders Can decrease or increase the effects of the “feel-good” hormones that enter the brain
Homosexual/Lesbian/Bisexual Sex Instead of focusing just on penile-vaginal sex, same-sex couples’ hormone pairs would likely have different effects than just the interaction between estrogen and testosterone. Likewise, bisexual men and women will experience both matching and un-matching pairs of hormones, leadings to a completely different experience than their straight or homosexual/lesbian counterparts
Location of Sexual Activity Engaging in sexual intercourse, especially in public places or under time constraints, can likely lead to increased stress during and after sex. Thus, it would be expected that there is a marked decrease in the effects of Oxytocin
Condom Usage Condom usage on one or both partners decreases sensitivity, thereby decreasing the effects of Oxytocin

The main methodological data that could have been explained better was the t-test. While the author was clearly familiar with how to conduct a t-test using specialized computer software, readers would likely appreciate a step-by-step explanation as to how she came to her data averages and standard deviations. At least for the t-test, she would have to formulate a hypothesis that she is trying to disprove (the “null hypothesis”) and visually show that the null hypothesis can be disproven based upon her statistical data.

According to Denes’ paper, she did not cite the school where she gathered her participants (Denes, 97 ). This would have been helpful to know, as not every college campus would have an identical social scene, much less the same views on committed and casual relationships. However, since Denes is affiliated with the University of California-Santa Barbara, it would be safe to assume that this was where she conducted her study. The school could be classified as a “large western university” because of it's geographic location and fairly-large student population (University of California—Santa Barbara, 2012). Likewise, since she is a doctoral student at the school’s communication department, it would be simple for her to utilize the Communications department for participant recruitment efforts.

Assuming that UCSB was in fact the school that Denes undertook her study, it is possible to examine that school’s campus . The university, known for fairly-sunny weather year-round and its location near the shores of the Pacific Ocean, offers students a more-relaxed environment than many other national colleges and universities. With this being said, it is not surprising that several news outlets such as Fastweb and The Princeton Review have all named UCSB as one of the top-five “party schools” in the nation (Knight, 2011; Princeton Review, 2012). Most surprisingly, however, is that even UCSB itself acknowledges it's social scene as “…a party school to anyone who wants to party all the time. There's always something going on” (The Regents of the University of California, 2011).

A school’s reputation as a “party school” indicates that it's social culture is at one end of a social extreme. In this case, since parties indicate relaxation for a given duration , casual sex—a “hook-up”— is much more prevalent. This view of sex would, in many ways, undermine Denes’ study. Based upon her 200-student population sample, it is likely that more of these students would fall into this “hook-up” culture than most national universities. Indeed, Denes’ initial survey of her population reveals that most students fell into this culture: “Sixty-nine percent of the sample identified as ‘in a relationship,’ with an average relationship length of 13.9 months. When asked about the status of their relationship, 53% of participants (n=106) said they were in a monogamous or committed relationship, 24% (n=48) said they were in an open or casual relationship, and 16% (n=33) reported a combination of these categories. Thus, the seriousness of the relationship varied greatly for this sample. All participants identified as single except for 1 participant who was married and 3 others who identified as engaged” (Denes, 98).

While a sizeable majority of her subjects identified as being “in a relationship,” Denes subtly disproves the belief that being “in a relationship” solely means being in a committed, monogamous relationship. This is helpful in the sense that roughly half (53%) of her “in a relationship” population are in a committed relationship and the other half (47%) are in a casual relationship.

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