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Researchers study the role of sex in marriage

Lately, some of the hottest topics in Carnegie Mellon’s research are sex and marriage. Through a study on the relationship between sex life and marriage happiness, and a state-wide poll on same-sex marriage, Carnegie Mellon faculty and students have been hard at work on these issues.

Tamar Krishnamurti, a Ph.D. student in social and decision sciences at Carnegie Mellon, noticed the amount of discussion on marriage in the public eye, and was compelled to examine the role of sex life in the happiness of marriages. She spoke about the urban myths that a healthy sex life increases one’s “health, happiness, and general well-being” in marriage. She noted, however, that there has never been any formal study or testing upon the subject. She is working closely with Carnegie Mellon professor George Loewenstein on this “important and understudied social topic,” she said.

Krishnamurti started involving couples in the last six months for the pilot testing. The couples fill out a questionnaire each day on their sex habits and levels of happiness. They then agree to change their habits, adding more or less sexual activity. Through the daily questionnaires, Krishnamurti is able to see the results.

Krishnamurti has yet to analyze the results, which she hopes to someday publish.

Krishnamurti hopes to expand the testing to all kinds of couples, including same-sex, but right now is looking only for monogamous married people between the ages of 40 and 65.
Carolina Velez, a junior social and decision sciences major at Carnegie Mellon and an H&SS Student Senator, got involved after hearing Krishnamurti speak last semester in one of her classes.
Velez has been working hard at recruiting couples for the study.

“All the couples that participate really like [the study],” Velez said.

Krishnamurti’s ongoing research, though, is not the only event concerning marriage taking place this week.

The Southwestern Pennsylvania Program for Deliberative Democracy, a public opinion polling organization based at Carnegie Mellon, has polled state voters once again. The program began with the the birth of the deliberative poll idea through research at Stanford University.

On Saturday, Carnegie Mellon was one of four poll locations representing Pennsylvania voters and their opinions on same-sex marriage.

The other three sites were Slippery Rock University, Shippensburg University, and the Community College of Philadelphia, all chosen based on their geographic location and the interest shown by the faculty and staff. To choose the 400 participants who would take part in the polling, a random selection was taken from voter registration over a two-month period.

Robert Cavalier, a Carnegie Mellon philosophy professor and one of the major forces behind deliberative polling at the university, said that Deliberative Democracy had been toying with using the issue of marriage in the polls for the last year. The Pennsylvanian state legislature then proposed the Marriage Protection Amendment, which states, “No union other than a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as marriage or the functional equivalent of marriage by the Commonwealth.”

It seemed appropriate to Cavalier, therefore, for same-sex marriage to be the next topic. Cavalier said that it would be a “wonderful example of how deliberative polling can create a situation for a civil decision about same-sex marriage,” especially considering the heated debate always aroused by the topic.

Cavalier said that the question of same-sex marriage is “intersecting society in significant ways which will certainly last.” He wants the Southwestern Pennsylvania Program for Deliberative Democracy “to be part of the national discussion” and feels that deliberative polling is its contribution.

Cavalier feels that a “good stratified random sample, representative of urban, rural, and political variation” has been chosen for the testing. The state legislature was then contacted, and many members attended and sent staff to attend the event.

Andrea Solomon, a junior philosophy major, and Tokiea Fitzgerald, a junior philosophy and psychology major, have served as interns under Cavalier. Two internships are offered every year to work with Cavalier and learn more about deliberative polling.

Joanna Dickett, the coordinator of Student Affairs, has been overseeing the logistics of deliberative polling and working closely with Solomon and Fitzgerald on day-to-day planning and implementing. She has also been working to integrate the Southwestern Pennsylvania Program into the Office of the Dean of Student Affairs.

Cavalier himself expressed “no public opinion" on same-sex marriage. He said that it is important that the Southwestern Pennsylvania Program has no opinion and that the organization is dedicated to the democratic process.

Cavalier believed the general opinion of Carnegie Mellon was to take a “civil-libertarian approach to this issue.”