Research

I am generally interested in how sexuality is related to psychological, social, and physical well-being. Sexuality, even in today’s modern world, is a highly contested topic, and still an uncomfortable one. Ambivalent feelings and messages – regarding what’s expected, appropriate, and desired – abound and have important implications for our health and happiness.

In particular, I study non-normative and non-traditional expressions of sexuality such as nonheterosexuality, casual sex, group sex, promiscuity, and non-monogamous relationships.

Casual sex/Promiscuity

Healthy sexual intimacy in the Western world is traditionally portrayed as occurring within emotionally committed, long-term relationships. Every Hollywood movie, every novel, every fairytale lauds sex as an expression of love; sex as a result of anything less than love (for example, pure physical attraction), is looked down upon, condemned, considered primitive, almost animal-like, and ultimately deemed destructive and unhealthy. However, despite overwhelming societal disapproval, many sexual encounters take place outside of a ‘love and relationship’-context, between individuals who do not know each other well, share no emotional attachment, and have no plans for a romantic future together. Why do they do it? Why do some people do it more than others? How do behaviors and thoughts about casual sex change over the life-course? How and why is casual sex related to mental and physical well-being? What does this relationship depend on?

Some of my casual sex/promiscuity papers:

Vrangalova, Z., & Bukberg, R. (2015). Are sexually permissive college students more victimized, socially isolated, and lonely? Personal Relationships. doi: 10.1111/pere.12076.

Vrangalova, Z. (2015). Does casual sex harm college students’ wellbeing? A longitudinal investigation of the role of motivation. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 44, 945-959.  doi:10.1007/s10508-013-0255-1

Vrangalova, Z. (2014). Hooking up and psychological wellbeing in college students: Short-term prospective links across different hookup definitions. Journal of Sex Research. doi:10.1080/00224499.2014.910745

Vrangalova, Z., Bukberg, R., & Rieger, G. (2014). Birds of a feather? Not when it comes to sexual permissiveness. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 31, 93-113. doi:10.1177/0265407513487638

Vrangalova, Z., & Savin-Williams, R. C. (2011). Adolescent sexuality and positive well-being: A group-norms approach. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 40, 931-944. doi: 10.1007/s10964-011-9629-7

Consensual Non-monogamy

In our society, monogamy is the norm when it comes to relationships, and cheating is the only understood avenue for having sexual and romantic interactions with people other than your partner. Openly or consensually non-monogamous relationships are highly stigmatized, yet more and more people are starting to consider them as an alternative to complete monogamy. Who are these people and how do non-monogamous relationships fare? I am just starting to venture out in a collaboration on a study on non-monogamy with Amy C. Moors of the University of Michigan.

My CNM papers:

Vrangalova, Z., & Moors, A. C. (in preparation). Why monogamy and who does not want it?

Mostly straights

We tend to think of sexual orientation as divided into straight (or heterosexual), bisexual, and gay (or homosexual). Recent research by our lab and other researchers suggests that there is a sizable minority of people who are not exclusively heterosexual, but not same-sex oriented enough to consider themselves, or be considered by others, as bisexual. These are the “mostly straights” or “mostly heterosexuals” who are more numerous as a group than either bisexuals and gays/lesbians, and perhaps even more numerous than all other nonheterosexuals combined. Who are the mostly straights? What motivates their small amount of same-sex sexuality and what does it mean to them? How do they differ from heterosexuals and bisexuals in their behavior and personality? What is their psychological and physical health profile?

My Mostly Straight papers:

Vrangalova, Z. & Savin-Williams (2014). Psychological and physical health of “mostly heterosexuals”: A systematic review. Journal of Sex Research. doi:10.1080/00224499.2014.883589

Savin-Williams, R. C. & Vrangalova, Z. (2013). Mostly heterosexual as a distinct sexual orientation group: A systematic review of the empirical evidence. Developmental Review, 33, 58-88. doi:10.1016/j.dr.2013.01.001

Vrangalova, Z., & Savin-Williams, R. C. (2012). Mostly heterosexual and mostly gay/lesbian: Evidence for new sexual orientation identities. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 41, 85-101. doi:10.1007/s10508-012-9921-y

Vrangalova, Z., & Savin-Williams, R. C. (2010). Correlates of same-sex sexuality in heterosexually-identified young adults. Journal of Sex Research, 47, 92-102. doi: 10.1080/00224490902954307

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1 Comment

  1. Sean Taylor

    Hello Dr. Zahna

    I was given your information from a childhood friend Coalton Bennett. I’m working on a research paper on the benefits of polymonogomous relationships and he had mentioned your dissertation was around the same subject. Would you mind sharing your research on this topic so I can use you as a reference?

    Best
    Sean