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Sex And The Recession: Do Economic Woes Give Men A Biological Excuse to Cheat?

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First Posted: 10/20/11 05:59 PM ET Updated: 12/20/11 05:12 AM ET

Despite reports that the recession has put a damper on male desire, a new study claims that the downturn has actually revved up men's sexual appetites -- especially when it comes to playing the field.

The new research, which will appear in the November issue of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, suggests that the financial toll the recession has taken on men is a libido boost --
though the sex men are likely seeking is with multiple partners, the Daily Mail reports.

The study, by Omri Gillath of the University of Kansas, is founded in evolutionary psychology, arguing that when faced with a threatening environment, men are hard-wired to seek short-term mating strategies to ensure their genes survive.

"We're biologically wired to reproduce, and the environment tells us the best strategy to use to make sure our genes are passed on," Gillath told Science Daily. "When the environment is secure and you have enough food and things are working the way you would like them to, people are more likely to invest in their existing kids and stay with their current partner or prefer long-term mating strategies," said Gillath. "But if the environment is dangerous and your chances of survival are low -- if there is a famine or more enemies -- then people will adopt short-term strategies which allow them to reproduce more."

The research involved showing a group of men sexual images after first showing them either images focused on death (to mimic conditions of "low survivability”) or dental pain. Gillath found that men's heart rates increased more when primed with the idea of their own death before viewing sexualized images.

Gillath described the continued recession as a threatening environment, likening it to “living on the savannah and discovering you don't have enough fruit and the animals are scarce. In such times, guys might be more inclined to spread their genes and hence be highly prepared for sex."

The findings seem to contradict advice Dr. Drew's sex expert, Simone Bienne, gave last month. In an article entitled "Men Going Through A Sex Recession," Bienne told women that the recession has cause squelched male libido. “When men don't feel like they can provide for their families, they can lose their mojo,” she said, adding that “Stress is the biggest libido zapper we know, and for a man, it's specifically cash flow and work-related issues that can bring his drive way down.”

Martha White, writing for Time, doesn't see Gillath's findings as too far-fetched: "Although the situations that imperil us today, including economic ones like money worries and job loss, don't place us in immediate physical danger," she wrote, "our bodies don't make a distinction between them." She argued that the way a person's heart races when called into the boss' office isn't that different from the adrenaline-fueled reaction to predators our ancestors faced thousands of years ago.

If their sex drives have intensified since the recession began, men may be in good company: A survey of over 3,000 readers of Shape and Men's Fitness magazines on sex and the recession from 2009 found that "women are having sex 17 percent more than the average man since the recession." But the same survey also showed that most women are equally attracted to the partner if he has been laid off, suggesting that unlike for men, the detected increase in libido wouldn't necessarily induce women to stray.

The creators of the survey partially attributed the increase in women's libidos to their greater willingness to openly discuss what they are worried about, thereby alleviating stress and advised men to talk more about their anxieties.

Trisha Calvo, executive editor of Shape, told CBS that sex could be an important way for partners to get through tough economic times -- together: "Sex is a great way to fight stress and people don't really think of it that way, but if you can alleviate your stress, come closer together as a couple, it really does help you weather those crises and storms."

In other words, there are ways to use sex to cope with financial stress that don't involve "spreading your genes."

Check out the 2009 CBS interview with Trisha Calvo of Shape and then-editor-in-chief of Men's Fitness, Roy Johnson, below.

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Filed by Jessica Pearce Rotondi  |