Sex and Relationships Newsletter
May 3, 2010

Worth Quoting
"It doesn't hurt to be optimistic. You can always cry later. "

--Lucimar Santos de Lima

In This Issue
• New Clues Shed Light on Sperm Function, Male Fertility
• HPV Test Beats Pap Smear for Cancer Screening
• Even As Memory Fades, Emotions Linger
• A Simple 'Thank You' Brings Rewards to All

New Clues Shed Light on Sperm Function, Male Fertility

WEDNESDAY, April 28 (HealthDay News) -- Two proteins in a family of proteins called PLA2s play a vital role in sperm function and fertility in mice, say two teams of researchers.

The findings could improve understanding of male infertility and lead to new types of male birth control and treatments for infertility.

In one study, Japanese researchers found that the protein sPLA2-III is expressed in an area of the testis called the proximal epididymal epithelium. Male mice that lacked the protein had low levels of fertility because their sperm did not mature properly, which resulted in decreased motility and decreased ability to fertilize eggs.

In the second study, French researchers found that male mice that lacked the protein group X secreted PLA2 (also known as mGX) produced smaller litters than normal, and that sperm from mGX-deficient mice were not efficient at fertilizing eggs.

The studies were published April 26 in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about male infertility.


HPV Test Beats Pap Smear for Cancer Screening

WEDNESDAY, April 28 (HealthDay News) -- Doctors can detect more serious precancerous lesions in the cervix by testing for human papillomavirus (HPV) than through conventional cervical screening with a Pap smear, a new study suggests.

HPV, a common sexually transmitted disease, can cause cancers such as cervical cancer. The disease is especially prevalent in young women.

In the new study, led by Ahti Anttila of the Finnish Cancer Registry, researchers studied the experiences of 58,282 women aged 30 to 60 who took part in routine cervical screening between 2003 and 2005.

The women were randomly assigned to receive an HPV test or a Pap smear test. The researchers then tracked the women for five years.

The HPV screening tests did a better job at detecting serious precancerous lesions on the surface of the cervix, known as cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN III), according to the report published online April 28 in the BMJ.

The researchers cautioned that they didn't detect very many cervical cancer cases. Still, they wrote, "considering the high probability of progression of CIN III lesions in women aged 35 years or more, our results are important for prevention of cervical cancer."

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more on cervical cancer.


Even As Memory Fades, Emotions Linger

TUESDAY, April 13 (HealthDay News) -- People with memory loss can still "remember" feelings associated with happy and sad experiences, a new study has found.

University of Iowa researchers showed clips of happy and sad movies to five patients with memory loss. The patients couldn't remember what they had watched, but they did retain the emotions triggered by the movie clips.

"Sadness tended to last a bit longer than happiness, but both emotions lasted well beyond [the patient's] memory of the films," lead author Justin Feinstein, a student in the graduate programs of neuroscience and psychology, said in a university news release. "With healthy people, you see feelings decay as time goes on. In two patients, the feelings didn't decay; in fact, their sadness lingered."

The findings, published in the this week's online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, have implications for Alzheimer's disease patients, their families and caregivers.

"A simple visit or phone call from family members might have a lingering positive influence on a patient's happiness even though the patient may quickly forget the visit or phone call. On the other hand, routine neglect from staff at nursing homes may leave the patient feeling sad, frustrated and lonely even though the patient can't remember why," Feinstein said in the news release.

"What this research suggests is that we need to start setting a scientifically informed standard of care for patients with memory disorders," Feinstein added. "Here is clear evidence showing that the reasons for treating Alzheimer's patients with respect and dignity go beyond simple human morals."

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Aging has more about memory loss.


A Simple 'Thank You' Brings Rewards to All

SUNDAY, April 11 (HealthDay News) -- For those feeling dissatisfied with a friend or partner, saying "thank you" may improve your attitude about the relationship, new study findings suggest.

It turns out that expressed gratitude isn't just good for the recipient. It strengthens the relationship by causing the person expressing thanks to feel more responsible for their partner's welfare.

While previous research on gratitude has found that expressions of thanks strengthen a relationship by increasing satisfaction with it, the new research, published online recently in Psychological Science, looked at the effect of expressed gratitude on what psychologists call "communal strength" -- the degree of responsibility one partner or friend feels for another.

Gratitude, when expressed, boosted that communal strength, according to the study's lead author, Nathaniel Lambert, a research associate at Florida State University in Tallahassee. The finding makes sense because "when you express gratitude to someone, you are focusing on the good things that person has done for you," he said. "It makes you see them in a more positive light and helps you to focus in on their good traits."

Lambert and his research team tested the idea that expressing gratitude helps strengthen relationships in this way by doing three different studies.

In one study group, 137 college students completed a survey regarding how often they expressed gratitude to a friend or partner. Results showed that gratitude was positively linked with the person's perception of this "communal" strength.

In another study, involving 218 college students, expressing gratitude predicted boosts in the expresser's perception of the relationship's strength over time.

In a third study group, 75 men and women were randomly assigned to one of four groups. Over a three-week period, one group expressed gratitude to a friend; another thought grateful thoughts about a friend, while a third thought about daily activities and a fourth had positive interactions with a friend.

Those who expressed gratitude reported more relationship strength at the study's end than did those in the other groups.

"The person doing the thanking comes to perceive the relationship as more communal, to see the person more worthwhile to sacrifice for, to go the extra mile to help out," Lambert said.

Although the studies only looked at the people expressing gratitude, Lambert speculated that "those who are being thanked will often feel an urge to reciprocate. They will want to express their gratitude back. It can become kind of an upward spiral."

A simple "thank you" might be just what a relationship that's turning sour needs, he said. "In relationships today, often people get mired down into what the person isn't doing for them. That's one of the neat things about gratitude. It potentially can change the trajectory from a negative focus to more of a positive outlook on the relationship."

The new study is "an important extension of previous research," said Robert Emmons, a professor of psychology at the University of California Davis, a long-time gratitude researcher and author of Thanks!: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier.

To his knowledge, Emmons said, "this is the first research study that has examined expressed gratitude in the context of an ongoing, close relationship."

The researchers have documented an "easy and often overlooked way to strengthen relationships," he said. "Gratitude does knit together relationships and bind people into networks of reciprocal obligations."

One weakness of the study, he said, is that the participants were college students, but that is typical of much research. More women than men participated, and that could affect results, Emmons said. Only 15 of the 75 people in the third study, for instance, were men.

"Studies have shown that men are more 'gratitude-challenged,'" he added.

Even so, those who want to develop the gratitude habit can do so by becoming "more vocal about gratitude ... by expressing it more regularly," Emmons said. "Even if one does not feel it, research strongly demonstrates that going through the motions can lead to the emotion."

More information

To learn more about healthy relationships, visit the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women's Health.