This year was full of scientific findings about us, with a host of discoveries that helped explain how our brains and bodies work. Among the more interesting were these nine, which focused on some of the things that are on our minds the most and which might leave some folks red in the face.
Men and Arousal
Guys certainly have willpower. Turns out, in general they are good at staving off an erection when watching porn. That's according to a study out this year that found guys who can regulate other emotions, such as holding in a laugh when listening to a comedian, are even better at controlling their mental and physical arousal.
Obsession with Naked Women
There's nothing like the sight of a statue of a naked lady to turn many of us into giggling teenagers. One statue discovered this year takes the cake for its blush-factor: The tiny figure, which dates back some 35,000 years, was that of a woman with "large, projecting breasts, a greatly enlarged and explicit vulva, and bloated belly and thighs," University of Cambridge anthropologist Paul Mellars wrote in a commentary essay on the discovery in the journal Nature. The archaeologists say the nude art, found in Germany, suggests people were obsessed with sex and nakedness long ago. Early carvings of phalluses appeared in Europe at about the same time.
Masturbation might not be a dinner-table topic, but new research out in 2009 suggests the mostly solo act is serious business. The study found that men who masturbated frequently in their 20s were more likely than men who didn't to get prostate cancer later in life. The link could be a hormonal one, rather than strict cause-and-effect, since hormones have been linked with prostate cancer as well as sex drive. But further study is needed, as other research has shown different results.
Sex – A Pain in the Genitals
Sex is supposed to be fun, right? Not for the 15 percent or so of women who experience dyspareunia, or recurrent genital pain during sex. Researchers found this year such women have more easily triggered pain networks compared with other women. Rather than a sex dysfunction, dyspareunia should be classified as a pain disorder, they say, and as such treatment should include cognitive behavioral and sex therapies.
Directing shockwaves at a man's privates could treat erectile dysfunction, researchers found. After three weeks of treatment with low-energy shockwaves directed at five sites on the penis, 15 out of the 20 men treated showed significant improvement. The scientists think the shocks could trigger the growth of new blood vessels and so would help those men whose penis problems stem from blood-flow issues.
Vibrators for All
About half of Americans say they use a vibrator, with 45 percent of men reporting such (though just 17 percent of these men use the battery-operated tickle toy for solo masturbation). While men and women alike may keep their vibrators hidden, scientists say their use is a sign of a positive and healthy sex life. In fact, female vibrator users were significantly more likely to have had a gynecological exam during the previous month than others.
Growing Penis Tissue
Lab-grown penis tissue could help men who need penile reconstruction due to cancer or injury, as well as those who just want some enhancement down there. In a study reported this year, rabbits that once had damaged penises had implantation with replacement tissue. The implants worked, as such rabbits had functional organs and could produce offspring. Reconstructing the spongy erectile tissue in damaged or diseased penises has traditionally been a challenge.
Penis Stretcher Works
This may sound like the sort of feat touted in spam mail, but doctors confirmed this year that the Andropenis extender can increase the flaccid length of a penis by nearly an inch. (The average flaccid penis ranges from 1 to 4 inches, or 2.5 to 10 cm.) That is if you're dedicated. This traction device is to be used at least six hours a day for at least six months. The penis stretcher could help men suffering from feelings of inadequacy, though often considered unfounded.
Happy About Genitals
Ladies who have a more positive attitude about female genitals find it easier to reach orgasm, according to a survey reported this year. Such women also are more likely to engage in sexual health-promoting behaviors, such as visiting a gynecologist for regular exams. Men had more positive attitudes about women's genitals than women themselves. "Women are often more critical about their own bodies — and other women's bodies — than men are," lead researcher Debby Herbenick of Indiana University said in a statement. "What we found in this study is that men generally feel positive about a variety of aspects of women's genitals including how they look, smell, taste and feel." She suggests teaching girls from a young age to feel more positive about their bodies, including the parts "down there."
- 5 Myths About Women's Bodies
- The 9 Most Provocative Sex Science Stories of 2009
- 5 Myths About the Male Body
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Jeanna served as editor-in-chief of Live Science. Previously, she was an assistant editor at Scholastic's Science World magazine. Jeanna has an English degree from Salisbury University, a master's degree in biogeochemistry and environmental sciences from the University of Maryland, and a graduate science journalism degree from New York University. She has worked as a biologist in Florida, where she monitored wetlands and did field surveys for endangered species. She also received an ocean sciences journalism fellowship from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.