How puppy love can help your sex life
March 24th, 2011
12:20 PM ET

How puppy love can help your sex life

Ian Kerner, a sexuality counselor and New York Times best-selling author, blogs about sex on Thursdays on The Chart. Read more from him at his website, GoodInBed.

After my dog - a curmudgeonly Jack Russell terrier named Houdini - passed away in 2008, I was sure that I wasn’t going to get another one anytime soon. Not only had Houdini’s death thrown me into an awful state of prolonged grief, but so much had changed since my single days when I had had the luxury of time and freedom, as well as a powerful unmet childhood need to have a dog of my own. But now I had a wife and two young kids (not to mention an elderly cat), and my primary unmet need was for more alone-time with my wife. As much as I loved dogs, I didn’t have the room in my home - or, I thought, in my heart - for another one.

But my wife didn’t agree. Eventually she decided it was time for us to expand our family, and we found ourselves walking home from our local shelter (the awe-inspiring Animal Haven), with a pit-bull puppy named Jitterbug, who had been abandoned in a box and left for dead in the middle of winter. (That's her in the photo.)

Now, a year later, Jitterbug has brought inestimable joy to our lives: Not only is she a constant source of amusement and tenderness - my older son, Owen (7), who was previously terrified of dogs, now writes “Jitterbug stories” in his free time and willfully solicits her sloppy kisses - but there have also been some unanticipated improvements, like in my relationship with my wife for example. What can I say? Things have gotten better since we’ve gotten the dog, and that includes our sex life.

How could a humble puppy help steam up things in the bedroom? I attribute this surprising increase in intimacy to a few factors:

  1. Touch. Since getting a dog, the overall level of touch in my household has increased exponentially, and research shows that touch stimulates the production of oxytocin, a hormone that facilitates a sense of trust and connection. Women produce three to five times as much oxytocin as men, so Jitterbug helps get my oxytocin going. It may sound strange, but petting a dog is good foreplay.
  2. Positivity. A recent study in Japan found that a dog can tell whether a person is smiling  - a task that is difficult for monkeys and other intelligent animals. Maybe dogs can recognize smiles so well because they end up producing so many of them. At least that’s the case with Jitterbug: From leaping into the tub when my kids are getting bathed, to her Tasmanian devil-like “zoomies,” to running in fear from our four-pound elderly Persian cat, Jitterbug does a lot to induce a smile - and that’s good for my relationship with my wife. According to eminent relationship therapist and researcher John Gottman, “Those couples that succeed in their marriages enjoy an overriding proportion of positive over negative sentiment.” There’s no doubt that Jitterbug brings much of the former and helps clears out the latter.
  3. Exercise. On one hand, my walks with Jitterbug definitely take away from my gym time. On the other hand, I wasn’t going to the gym anyway, so walking a dog for 45 minutes every day is better than nothing! Study after study shows that exercise helps increase blood flow, which plays a big role in overall sexual health. As Tara Parker Pope reports in her health column this week for the New York Times, “Several studies now show that dogs can be powerful motivators to get people moving. Not only are dog owners more likely to take regular walks, but new research shows that dog walkers are more active over all than people who don’t have dogs.” Now if only I could get Jitterbug to join me on a run - but she prefers rough-housing at the dog run. And so do I, for that matter.
  4. Novelty. My walks with Jitterbug bring me into a world of new adventures - mainly meeting new people and their dogs. Studies show that humans are novelty-seeking creatures, and that newness drives the transmission of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays a key role in sexual arousal. When it comes to novelty a little goes a long way, and thanks to Jitterbug, there’s more dopamine flitting around my brain. And that makes me feel more interested in sex.

The idea of pet therapy and service dogs is nothing new, but the impact of pets on relationship satisfaction has yet to be adequately explored. Dr. Debby Herbenick of the Kinsey Institute says that the research team at The Center for Sexual Health Promotion is conducting a study about the sexual lives of women and men who live with dogs and cats. “Although there is a fair amount of research that has examined people’s sexual experiences after they have children,” says Herbenick, who is also a dog lover, “little is known about women’s and men’s sexual lives after they adopt a pet.”

Of course, the one thing that doesn’t help my sex life is Jitterbug’s desire to jump up on the bed and settle in right in between my wife and me. But in truth, even that brings us closer together - literally. If she didn’t jump up in the bed, Lisa and I might be more liable to stick to our sides of the bed, with magazines and laptops, and not let our fingers touch, share a smile, laugh, and kiss. Jitterbug helps us find our way to the middle of the bed and, like a little Cupid, she seems content to spend the rest of the night in her doggie bed.

I sometimes secretly wonder if I might be the sort of person who loves dogs more than I love people, but when I stop to think about it, it’s not that I love dogs more. It’s that overall I love more when there’s a dog around.

soundoff (169 Responses)
  1. Paul S

    Joey I don't get people like you, whatever suits you fine. I love my dog, and I treasure everyday with him.

    March 25, 2011 at 09:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Erin

    And any dog can "snap" much like people can "snap." That is not breed or species specific. The only difference with strong jawed dog breeds is that they can cause more damage than a chihuahua due to their bone and muscle structure.

    March 25, 2011 at 09:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Cliff

    According to studies, the most aggressive dog is, believe it or not, the dachshund. Thirty years ago the worst dog was the German shepherd, then it was the Doberman, now it's the pit bull. Not because of the dogs but because of the over-sensationalizing by journalists who don't know any better. What we need are journalists educated in fileds other than journalism.

    March 25, 2011 at 09:32 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Helen

      What study says Doxies are the most agressive? I want to show that to people who make fun of my little watch dogs.

      March 25, 2011 at 17:17 | Report abuse |
  4. jeepster455

    Thank you, Ian, for taking this pup in and giving it a second chance at life, and a good one at that. Thank you also for the informative article. I am suspect of people who have a dislike of dogs. I prefer a dog's company any day over a human, they have the qualities I find that many humans lack these days: empathy, loyalty, unconditional love, selflessness to name a few.
    I also think it is not coincidental that dog spelled backwards is god. Here's to all the compassionate people who give animals a good home. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

    March 25, 2011 at 09:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Stephanie

    Joey, we get it, you don't like animals. No one is attacking you over that simple fact; they are attacking you because your comments are rude and intrusive. I got the impression from a few of your posts that you are OK with children...what if someone who doesn't like children (such as myself), left comments on a parenting story along the lines of the comments you are leaving here? Children are nasty, children are smelly, children aren't worth the hassle, parents kissing children in (I assume you mean on) the mouth is disgusting, children shouldn't be allowed in the car/on the furniture/on adults' beds etc...wouldn't I come off as a bit unstable and unreasonably angry? You're looking to pick a fight, and you're certainly succeeding, but you aren't representing non-animal lovers very well. You think we animal lovers need to see shrinks? Dude, look in the mirror.

    Also, Joey, may I ask where you're from originally? Perhaps the desire/lack of desire to have pets is cultural to an extent. Just something to think about.

    March 25, 2011 at 10:49 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Tony

      I my not agree with joeys comments but I have to say when people like you try and make a compare children and animals is ridiculous. That's why most woman such as yourself use animals to get love. You asked him were he was from. Well From you statements you said like a animal hoarder. Just something to think about. And last thing. You seem lonely if animals give this much joy and you hate children.

      March 25, 2011 at 11:45 | Report abuse |
    • Stephanie

      Tony, the comparison is totally reasonable. I was simply trying to use his apparent fondness (maybe) for children to point out the fact that his behavior in this thread is combative and unstable. I could make the same argument using, say, lima beans. What if he joined a lima bean farmers' forum and continuously posted about how disgusting and vile lima beans are? That would be unhealthy, and he would fully deserve any negative responses he got, even if there is nothing WRONG with hating lima beans. Do you see?

      Like Joey (ahem, multiple SNs?), it appears that you are not a native English speaker, so I will give you a pass for missing the point, as well as for the puzzling conclusions you made about me and my opinions based on my post. Work on the reading comprehension, though.

      March 25, 2011 at 12:24 | Report abuse |
    • Tony

      LMAO kudos to you for being able to be a correct english speaker ON A INTERNET BLOG. I didn't now that I was getting graded for that. It's funny because you do just like everyone else when they sound stupid. You start using the can't spell or grammar or native english comments. Grow -up we are on the net not in a english class. I'm so happy that you can spell and use correct grammar on your computer. And you make no sense on the lima bean point. What are you trying to say. Maybe you should slow down with all your correct grammar and spelling and try and be like us normal folk and write a comment using common sense. Because you don't have any. How about this. I already said that I didn't agree with everything he said. But you are acting like he can't post. i went back and I saw that he was replying to the comments said to him. Look I know that you think that everyone should like animals. I agree with you. But you and I know that not true. so just because some guy post comments over and over about how animals are nasty, that's his business. He's not wrong for that. That's his opinion. I don't care i he comments 1,000x about how nasty animals are. WHO CARES. And your comments come off as you sounding kinda racists. The were you live, native english comments. I can tell that you are a single middled aged woman. Has about 2 dogs or cats or both. Never married and no kids. Very bitter person you sound. I hope that your animals can continue to give you the happiness you need. And yes I have to dogs. Bulldog named romulus and a pug named buxton.

      March 25, 2011 at 14:13 | Report abuse |
    • Tony

      And steph have a nice day. Us normal folk have to work. I'm over your SMART COMMENTS. Complain to another poster.

      March 25, 2011 at 14:19 | Report abuse |
    • Stephanie

      Tony, I didn't intend to be racist – having lived abroad myself for a short period of time and knowing a handful of people, both friends and family, who are not native/fluent English speakers, the mistakes and confusion over context and meaning sounded familiar to me. Without reasonably proper grammar, vocabulary, and spelling, how do you expect to be understood? Most "normal folk" write perfectly fine, as can be seen in this comment thread and elsewhere on the internet. My "smart comments" are completely average. 

      You are wrong about Joey. His first inflammatory post was in response to Nana, who wasn't even addressing him. Go back and read it. As for my original point, I will try to spell it out one more time:

      March 25, 2011 at 20:19 | Report abuse |
  6. wolf

    well i love my children and my pets, and i will defend either with what ever it takes to do so. can't you have both?????

    March 25, 2011 at 12:13 | Report abuse | Reply
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