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

By Alexander E. Hopkins
2012, Vol. 4 No. 09 | pg. 1/3 |

In the March-April 2012 issue of the Western Journal of Communication, a piece appeared by University of California-Santa Barbara (UCSB) Communications doctoral candidate Amanda Denes entitled “Pillow Talk: Exploring Disclosures After Sexual Activity.” In her study, Denes explored whether oxytocin had any influence on communicative disclosures, otherwise known as “pillow talk.” Unlike previous studies examining “pillow talk” after sexual activity, no other study addressed “…how feelings of comfort and decreases in stress may also facilitate disclosure” (Denes, 91-92). Given that Oxytocin is associated with pleasure, Denes reasonably infers that the hormone can dull prudent risk assessment, thereby making an individual more likely to disclose intimate details about themselves (Denes, 92).

With a theory in mind, Denes sought to answer questions that have been unexplored by researchers in the field of communications. Besides seeking to find out which gender more frequently engages in “pillow talk,” Denes wanted to see if the type of sexual activity influenced the other partner’s reaction toward “pillow talk” (Denes 92-93). Denes subsequently hypothesized: “Because of the positive nature of this communication [in committed relationships], it can [thus] be predicted that increases in the amount of positive relational disclosures during pillow talk will be associated with increased trust, relationship satisfaction, and closeness between the individuals engaging in the sexual activity” (Denes, 95).

Based upon her previous research, Denes knew that Oxytocin’s affect is more profound in estrogen rather than testosterone (Denes, 103). Denes hypothesized that, because a woman’s hormones were more receptive to a hormone associated with pleasure, females would be more likely than males to disclose more positive personal information during “pillow talk” (Denes, 96) While Denes presents convincing evidence suggesting positive disclosure is more prevalent among committed partners than casual partners, her study neglects several outliers that affect her conclusion. This paper begins by summarizing the essential theories, techniques and measurements employed within Denes’ article. Concurrently, it identifies outliers that cast doubt on her results. Finally, I offer suggestions for alternative sample and data-collection techniques in hopes of a more in-depth and accurate future study.

Like any good scientist, Denes’ thesis was based upon exhaustive multi-disciplinary studies. Since Oxytocin affects the brain’s “pleasure centers” during sexual activity, Denes skillfully presents the unassuming reader with common health benefits of sex. Among many known health benefits, Denes cited a decreased likelihood of developing alexithymia or coronary-related health issues (Denes, 93). When other researchers studied the chemical reactions of the brain during sexual activity, they pinpointed Oxytocin as one of the more influential hormones. Likewise, other researchers concluded that “…Oxytocin decreases aggressive behavior and enhances approach behavior and social recognition abilities” (Denes, 93).

As previously mentioned, Denes theorized that the euphoric effects of Oxytocin would dull the risk-taking assessment associated with disclosing personally-intimate details about oneself. Denes cites that the Affective Exchange Theory (AET) was influential in her initially theoretical investigations because the AET advocates affectionate behavior in developing and maintaining healthy relationships (Denes, 92). Specifically, the third posit of the AET asserts that this affectionate behavior attempts to accomplish two goals: acquiring material/emotional resource and showing reproductive capability (Denes, 92). Since one of the essential cores of the AET involves touching another person, Denes transplants this theory to sexual activity (Denes, 92).

The positive or negative response towards “pillow talk” disclosures is believed by Denes to be influenced by the type of relationship that partners are in. She identifies two types of relationships committed and casual. If a couple is in a committed relationship, the disclosure would be a source of “routine maintenance” towards the relationship’s emotional foundations. In the latter category, she believes that “Positive relational disclosures may be a source of regret if the communication is too intimate for the status of the relationship” (Denes, 92).

With the two relationship categories acting as the dependent variables, she hypothesizes five assertions that act as the causal mechanisms for the independent variable of disclosure. They are:

  1. “…individuals who engage in more positive relational disclosures after sexual activity with their partners will report more (a) trust, (b) relationship satisfaction, and (c) closeness” (Denes, 96).
  2. “…women who orgasm will engage in more positive relational disclosures after sexual activity than men who orgasm” (Denes, 96).
  3. “…women who orgasm during penile-vaginal intercourse will engage in more positive relational disclosures than (a) women who do not orgasm and (b) women who orgasm from other sexual stimulation” (Denes, 96).
  4. "…individuals in monogamous/committed relationships will engage in more positive relational disclosures after sexual activity than individuals in casual/open relationships” (Denes, 97).
  5. “…individuals in monogamous/committed relationships will experience (a) less feelings of regret and (b) higher levels of relationship satisfactions following postsexual activity disclosures than individuals in open/casual relationships” (Denes, 97).

With her hypothesis in mind, Denes found 200 participants consisting of 153 females and 47 males from an un-named large western university (Denes, 97). The sample consisted of students who came from differing racial and ethnic backgrounds between the ages of 18-26, with an average age of 19.6 years. The individuals were instructed to log-on to a website just after sex to answer several closed-ended questions that used the Likert Scale. Since the short study was exploring an issue not studied in-depth in communicative studies, Denes pointed out the main limitation—lack of Oxytocin measurements. Since the physiological measures of Oxytocin were not collected, Denes could not use an objective, standardized measurement system to determine the effect of Oxytocin on individuals in the study. Instead, Denes used the Likert scale to gather psychological measurements of Oxytocin.

For the most part, Denes’ findings confirmed every assertion under her main hypothesis. The only exception would be the second assertion. Since men were outnumbered by over 3 to 1 in her sample, it was predictable that Denes would focus mostly on the responses of women. Since Denes collected most of the data from women, it can be assumed that the men acted as the main stimuli for women to release Oxytocin. Needless to say, the perceptions of a relationship varied greatly among couples who had a strictly casual relationship and couples who were in a committed romantic relationship. She concluded that it was “…the relationship between the couple engaging in the sexual activity, rather than the sexual activity itself, that promotes positive postsexual activity communication” (Denes, 103).

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