Your Password or Your Privacy: Why Partners Share—And Why They Shouldn’t Read more: Sharing Passwords with a Partner: Is It Ever a Good Idea?

February 26th, 2014

The majority of committed people do it, but horror stories have psychologists wondering whether sharing passwords is ever a good idea

Matthew Breuer has shared the passwords to his computer, email and social media accounts with every girlfriend he’s ever had. It’s a matter of convenience — she can check his email when he can’t access it or get into his phone to change the song playing on the speakers. But it’s also symbolic.

“I feel like it’s so much easier to live in a relationship where you know you have nothing to hide and are entirely 100 percent honest about who you are and what you’re doing,” he says. “Times in my life when I’ve realized that something wasn’t working in my relationship coincided with times when I would be worried, ‘Oh, do I really want to say this on Facebook to somebody else?’ It’s such a red flag if there’s something you’re concerned about your partner seeing. That means there’s some fundamental issue with your relationship beyond privacy.”

Breuer, a 22-year-old student at Yale University, has most American couples on his side. According to a recent Pew study, 67% of Internet users in marriages or relationships have shared passwords to one or more of their accounts with their partner.

Though we don’t feel comfortable exchanging passwords with perhaps more trustworthy family members and long-term friends, we do feel comfortable exchanging access to our personal information with boyfriends and girlfriends. It’s an exercise in trust, the logic goes. If you have nothing to hide, why would you want to hide your password? And, as Breuer point out, knowing someone may look over your shoulder can keep you honest.

For Jasmine Tobie, a 29-year-old graduate student at the University of Oklahoma in Tulsa, seeing someone else’s transgressions via email has saved them from a toxic relationship. After finding some receipts that proved her boyfriend was lying to her about being on a business trip one weekend, she decided to look at his email to be sure before she pulled the plug on the relationship. “Once I found that I just had to have more evidence.”

She didn’t know his password, but was able to guess correctly using clues on his desktop. “He was still ‘communicating’ with his exes. He had taken a trip to visit an ex and told me it was a work trip. He was still signed up with dating sites and other ‘hookup’ sites and actively communicating with those people…I found some pictures of him and people he swore were ‘friends’ in the act.” The two had dated for a year and lived together for about nine months. “I was trying to find some way to give him the benefit of the doubt. In the end, it did clarify for me that he was not it for me at all and that there were issues I couldn’t fix.”

Tobie says those were extraordinary circumstances, and she wouldn’t read someone else’s emails again. She doesn’t share passwords with her current boyfriend.

In most circumstances, psychologists suggest keeping passwords private.  ”In relationships, we depend on each other for a lot of things, but it’s good and healthy to have some independence too,” says Kelly Campbell, PhD, an Associate Professor of Psychology at California State University. “The more you self-disclose, the happier you are. But the happiest couples have some degree of secrecy and privacy.”

Unsurprisingly, sharing passwords can cause some serious problems during a relationship or after it ends.

Rosalind Wiseman, author of Queen Bees and Wannabes — the book that inspired Mean Girls — advises the teens she talks to for her research to not share passwords because “the relationships can change so quickly, and the emotions behind the breakups can be so strong.” She says that one high schooler she worked with was blind-sided when his ex-girlfriend found his phone. “She knew where he charged his pone during class and knew his password, so she went in and sent all sorts of texts to friends, to another girl he was talking to — it really created a lot of problems for him.”

Though one might assume that teens and 20-somethings are the ones foolishly sharing passwords — and suffering from the resulting drama — the survey found that the practice of password-sharing is pretty equal across age groups, and that 18-29-year-olds were actually the least likely to share passwords. Sixty-four percent of 18-29-year-olds share passwords, compared with 70% of 30-49-year-olds, 66% of 50-64-year-olds, and 69% of those over 65.

And you don’t have to be a teenager to have password problems with your significant other. Suzy*, a 46-year-old mother living in Brooklyn, got into a dangerous situation years ago when her then-boyfriend started reading her emails. She hadn’t given him her password, but one day she forgot to log out and he checked her email. The couple had been on-again-off-again, and she hadn’t told him that she had created an online dating profile while they were apart. She had since deleted the profile and deleted most of the email exchanges with the men she met through the site. “But he went through all my emails, including ones that I had thrown away. He went into every folder. He got really mad and basically attacked me,” she says. “I ended up having to call an ambulance.”

Since, she says she’s never even considered sharing passwords with a significant other. “I now have this paranoia where I wouldn’t even share it even if I trusted someone. You never know what’s going to upset someone,” she says. ‘I don’t know if that makes me less trusting or just wiser.”

Still, optimists like Breuer are undeterred by such horror stories. Breuer says he has always developed friendships with the girls he has dated before dating, and therefore felt they could be honest with one another. ”I think sharing passwords honestly ends up affording you the privacy you want,” Breuer says, pointing to a password etiquette that has developed between him and his partners in recent years. “Just because you tell somebody your password to things doesn’t mean they actually end up looking through your stuff.” Breuer says he’s never changed his password after a breakup since he’s always trusted and respected those he has dated.

Campbell says the best way to determine if you’re ready to share passwords with your significant other is to check and see if you’re on the same page. “If you have any question in your mind, the answer is no,” says Campbell. “I would say that it should be reciprocal. You shouldn’t be sharing something if your partner also didn’t share it…People are happiest when they have a match. You and your partner should be a match in that respect too.”

But much of the tough negotiating about privacy goes out the door once you have kids. “Sure, a lot of people have found out about their significant other’s indiscretions by looking at the texts on that person’s phone,” says Wiseman. “But once you have children, the constant checking of logistics with the other person to just get through the day—to get everyone to basketball practice on time—blows all of this privacy stuff out of the water.”

Interestingly, the attitude about privacy seems to change when it’s the child’s, not the partner’s, text messages in question. Both Wiseman and Suzy admitted that they’ll often try to figure out their children’s passwords or have their kids show them text exchanges to make sure they’re not getting into any trouble.

But presumably, by 18, you’ve earned the right to some privacy if you choose to have it.

What Men Share on Social Media But Not With You

February 26th, 2014

They won’t express their thoughts to you in person, but they’ll shout it to their hundreds of Facebook friends and Twitter followers

Here’s a scenario you might recognize if you’re a woman dating a social media butterfly: You’re sitting on the couch together silently watching TV. When you take a moment to peek at your Twitter feed, you see your significant other has been sharing a stream of personal thoughts about House of Cards with the Twitterverse—even though he hasn’t uttered a word to you.

It’s no surprise that men tend to be more tight-lipped than women about their thoughts and feelings, but social media is creating a haven for some men to express themselves online in ways they don’t in person—and never would have before. From a relationship perspective, that can be a good and bad thing. Women can now turn to social media to get more insight into what their partners think, but where’s the intimacy in that when those feelings are also being broadcast to hundreds of Facebook friends and thousands of Twitter followers?

Recent data from Pew Research Center suggests that social media is making its way into relationships more than ever, with 74% of couples surveyed saying the Internet has impacted their relationship in a good way. Women are more likely than men to use social media, with 71% of women participating compared with 62% of men, according to the latest report from Women’s Media Center. However, what psychologists and researchers find especially interesting is that, while women are equally willing to share the the thoughts they spew out into the digital ether with someone face to face, men are much less likely to do the same.

Eva Buechel, a PhD candidate at the University of Miami who has studied why people share content online, has found that men and women who experience social anxiety, and therefore have a greater need to express their negative emotions and seek support, are equally likely to maintain a blog or social media account. However, “while socially apprehensive females share equally across different communication channels—face to face or microblog—males seem to show a very strong preference for microblog,” Buechel says. Introverts also find it easier to share their thoughts online than in person.

Other research from Northwestern University shows that men are increasingly more likely to share their creative work, like writing, music, or art, online. Nearly two-thirds of men in a 2008 study said they post their work online, compared with only half of the women who reported posting.

Females, of course, are well versed at expressing their feelings. “Women usually have close and intimate friendships, which might make it easy to approach a friend when they need to talk to someone,” says Buechel. “Men have different relationships with their friends, and they might find it more difficult to approach someone in particular to talk to when they need someone to listen or comfort them.”

Such friendship dynamics can contribute to men feeling more apprehensive about expressing themselves when it comes to real, rather than digital, life. “When men are texting, emailing, or communicating through another technological channel, they feel less threatened and are more likely to share their thoughts and feelings because they don’t have to deal with the reaction from the other person in-person, in real-time,” says Dr. Seth Meyers, a Los Angeles psychologist.

That’s one reason Avidan Ackerson, 28, a software engineer in New York with three different Twitter accounts, tends to share more personal things on Twitter than he does on Facebook. “I don’t necessarily always want someone who knows me well to know things about me, but I want someone to know these things,” he says.

Ben*, 28, who works in commercial real estate finance in New York City and tweets as much as 50 times a day, has yet to reveal his Twitter handle to the woman he’s been dating for a month, even though he tweeted about their first date shortly after it happened. “It’s not something I am embarrassed to share, but it’s a level of intimacy we have not yet achieved in real life,” he says. And it will probably be months before they become Facebook friends.

“Connecting online offers men the illusion of security, even though it often causes frustration later among their dates who are wondering, ‘Why is he different and more closed when we’re actually together?’” Meyers says.

Though frustrating for women who prefer face to face communication with their mates, social media may offer a halfway point. “Men are not very good communicators,” says Michael Busby, 47, a system programmer and lecturer at Murray State University in Murray, Kentucky, and an avid blogger. “When we get frustrated, we really start to break down. There are times when [I get overwhelmed in the classroom], I start to stutter. I have to calm down. But a controlled environment encourages us to have more confidence.”

Jessica Riches, 23, a social media consultant in London says her boyfriend, who tweets constantly, is pretty good at communicating. But visiting his Twitter page and seeing everything from his day-to-day activities to his thoughts and feelings can make her feel closer to him as well. “I look at it more regularly [when] I miss him and wonder what he’s up to.”

Still, for a woman from Venus and a man from Mars, there’s something frustrating about a man’s willingness to communicate with thousands of people—some friends, some strangers—in a way he can’t seem to do with the person lying right next to him in bed.

*Name has been changed for privacy.

Sleep’s Best-Kept Secret: A Treatment for Insomnia That’s Not a Pill Read more: Treating insomnia: forget the pills, use a smartphone app instead

February 18th, 2014

Why behavior therapy isn’t used more, and what your smartphone can do about that

Do you toss and turn for hours before falling asleep? Or go to bed early but still wake up tired? Or keep waking up during the night? Then you’re among the more than 20% of people in the U.S. who suffer from a sleeping disorder like insomnia and your doctor is probably prescribing sleeping pills to help you doze through the night.

That’s despite the fact that the gold standard for treating sleep disturbances, recommended by the National Institutes of Health and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBTI). CBTI, which focuses on changing behaviors that can contribute to poor sleep, has been shown to work long-term while sleeping medications tend to lose effectiveness after a few weeks (sleep medications may, however, be prescribed initially along with CBTI).

So why are pills the most common solution? Convenience, for one. Even if you’re willing to seek out a sleep experts who is qualified to give CBTI, you may not find one near you. Despite the epidemic of sleep disorders and their impact on health, there are only a few hundred sleep experts in the whole country.

Doctors may also be unaware of the therapy. “I do not think many doctors know about CBTI,” says Rachel Manber, professor of psychiatry and behavorial sciences at Stanford University Medical Center.  “Some provide sleep hygiene recommendations. However, like dental hygiene, sleep hygiene is best thought of as preventive rather than treatment.” These include sleeping in a dark room, sticking to regular bed times, and avoiding caffeine and exercise before bedtime.

If you did find your way to a sleep clinic expert, you would have an extensive interview about your medical history and sleep problems and fill out a detailed sleep diary for two weeks, then return for treatment. If that information points to a medical problem like sleep apnea, then you would have to spend at least one night sleeping in a lab, hooked up to a multitude of sensors that monitor your respiration, heart rate, and sleep level measured by an EEG. Then, after these recordings help to diagnose your sleep issues, you would start treatments with a therapist to develop habits that condition you to sleep better at bedtime and improve your quality of sleep, by helping you to turn down stressful thoughts and avoid things around you that interfere with good sleep.

Most CBTI treatments take four to six weeks to be fully effective, which helps to explain why it pales in comparison to the immediate, if not long-lasting, benefit of sleeping pills. But now, Israeli scientists have come up with a way to potentially streamline the therapy for some by bypassing the sleep lab and delivering the treatment via smartphone.

SleepRate is an app that helps people who can’t or won’t go to a sleep clinic to generate, in DIY fashion, the same kind of information that all the monitors do to help sleep experts design the right behavioral therapy for patients. Anda Baharav, SleepRate’s founder and a former researcher at the Medical Physics Department at Tel Aviv University says this product can detect sleep disturbances by mathematically defining the connection between sleep, heart rate and respiration. They have combined their diagnostic method with a smartphone adaptation of a Stanford University proprietary CBTI treatment to bring CBTI to more people with sleep disorders. Anyone with an iPhone or certain other smartphones can download the app kit for $99, which comes with the sleep plan and a heart-rate monitor worn across the chest.

Here’s how it works. You sleep in your own bed for five nights with the chest belt and app on, and you also record how you feel subjectively about your sleep and alertness before you start the program, and then again every evening and morning for the five days of the assessment. The app keeps track of all the information in a sleep diary, and provides the results from the previous night’s sleep in an easy-to-read graphic. which the user can see and learn how long it takes to reach stable sleep, how many times you wake during the night, the sequence of your sleep stages throughout the night and how much quality sleep you get. Your phone’s microphone will also record noises around you and identify which ones wake you up.  “If you’re used to living in New York City, for example,” Baharav says, “the traffic and sirens may not wake you, but your fridge banging on at 4 a.m. might.” So your sleep plan might include a service call from your appliance company—or a new fridge.

After the five-night assessment, you get a personalized sleep plan based on your particular sleep issues. The plan guides users about when to go to bed and when to wake up, suggests exercises to help them unwind and forget about the day’s worries, and even outlines how to spend buffer times, or the one to two hours before bed when it helps to do routine, unexciting things such as taking a bath, listening to music, or reading (but no thrillers). Based on the information you entered, for example, your smartphone screen will alert you about when to start your buffer time activity, with something like a cartoon of someone sitting quietly on a sofa with the instruction: Start Buffer Zone.

The suggestions are offered sequentially over four to six weeks to give you time to learn the new behaviors. If you don’t reach a goal, you try again, and when you achieve your goal, such as getting out of bed at the same time for several days in a row, the program provides a new target. You can also pull up your sleep data at any time to see patterns and trends. And the app reminds you what not to do as well: No! Don’t take a nap now.

While there are other such user-friendly CBTI kits available, Shelby Harris, director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program, Sleep-Wake Disorders Center at Montefiore Medical Center in New York, says SleepRate is “more comprehensive since it also takes into account medical causes for insomnia.” Because there is a shortage of qualified CBTI practitioners, she sees such apps as viable and welcome first-line efforts for helping people with insomnia. If the programs don’t help, she says, then patients can see a sleep specialist.

And what about people who don’t have a diagnosable sleep disorder but are simply sleep deprived? Could such a program, for example, help parents of babies and young children to find more good quality sleep? Baharav says that’s coming soon. Stay tuned.

Women Who Stand By Their NuvaRing

February 13th, 2014

Some are finding it difficult to dump a contraceptive that has been known in some cases to lead to death

There’s the 24-year-old who stopped breathing, had two heart attacks, and died on life support. There’s the mother whose two-year-old son watched her go into a seizure. And there’s the college student who started spitting up blood while having lunch with her dad.

The accounts of women experiencing the negative side effects of the NuvaRing contraceptive are gruesome, and their stories are part of the evidence that led to the $100 million settlement last week with NuvaRing maker Merck & Co. The pharmaceutical company agreed to hand over $100 million for liability lawsuits claiming the ring caused blood clots that sometimes led to heart attacks and even death, although Merck denied fault. The women argued they were not adequately warned about these side effects, and about 3,800 of them are eligible to partake in the settlement.

Despite the well-publicized risks, some women are finding it difficult to ditch a contraceptive that has provided them with consistency and convenience. Oftentimes, finding the right birth control takes years of trial and error, and side effects range from weight gain to decreased libido. For this reason, when women find the right contraceptive, they tend to develop a certain loyalty to it.

Sarah, 26, a graduate student in New York City, struggled with finding the right birth control since she was 20 years old. During the year she was on the pill, she put on weight and was constantly having mood swings. She’d feel depressed one day and highly irritable the next. She switched to the NuvaRing five years ago after a friend suffering similar effects made the swap, and it has been smooth sailing ever since. “I hated the whole contraceptive experience, but with the NuvaRing I don’t experience any of that,” she says.

The NuvaRing ring is a flexible ring that women insert inside their vagina and remove for the week of their period. Like an oral contraceptive, it releases the hormones progestin and estrogen (though at lower levels), preventing ovulation and sperm from reaching the egg, but you don’t have to remember to take a pill every morning. Women prefer it for its convenience, the localized hormones, and the fact that there’s less accountability. In 2012, there were about 5.2 million prescriptions in the U.S. for the NuvaRing, according to IMS Health, a healthcare technology and information company.

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG)–the medical authority on all things related to baby-making–NuvaRing leads to a slight increased risk of deep vein thrombosis, heart attack, and stroke. And, as highlighted in a safety warning on NuvaRing’s website, the danger is higher for some women, like those over 35 who smoke more than 15 cigarettes a day or women who have multiple risk factors for heart disease. Its typical use failure rate is 9%, the equivalent of an oral contraceptive, according to the CDC.

Following the settlement Friday, Merck issued a statement saying, “We stand behind the research that supported the approval of NuvaRing, and our continued work to monitor the safety of the medicine.”

Though the side effects of the NuvaRing are very real, for many women it bears no complications. “I am extremely busy with very irregular hours and travel for my job,” says Julie*, 27, who works for a film production company in Los Angeles, California, “so the NuvaRing is the ideal fit for my lifestyle. I have virtually no side effects, so I plan to remain on it for the foreseeable future.”

Other women simply shrug off the dangers. “Every drug you take comes with risks, from Asprin to birth control to allergy medicine,” says Ricci Ellis, 31, a respiratory therapist in Little Rock, Arkansas, who switched from the pill after consistently forgetting to take it. “For me, the benefits of NuvaRing far outweigh the risks.” Because she’s not not a smoker and leads an active and healthy lifestyle, Ellis considers herself relatively safe from the risks of blood clots, strokes, and sudden death.

“It is absolutely essential that people are aware of the risks associated with each method of contraception,” says Bill Albert, the chief program officer at The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. The American Heart Association (AHA) recently recommended that women considering birth control get screened for high blood pressure, which can put them at a greater risk for clots and stroke. ”Equally important, however, is how such risks compare to those of other methods, and to pregnancy as well.”

According to Albert, the side effects need to be placed in a broader context so that they are neither dismissed nor viewed with disproportionate alarm. “One of the highest risk of blood clots comes with pregnancy. Consequently, if an individual is having sex and doesn’t want to get pregnant, skipping birth control altogether for fear of blood clots is not the best way to protect your health,” says Albert. “This is not meant to be cavalier, but the doubling of a rare risk is still rare.”

Medical experts are careful to not trivialize the risks, but Dr. Eve Espey, the chair of ACOG’s Committee on Health Care for Underserved Women and a professor in the Department of Ob-Gyn at the University of New Mexico’s School of Medicine, says the NuvaRing settlement hasn’t changed how she counsels her patients. “It’s always tragic and horrible when a woman has a bad outcome or dies from a blood clot. But to then label that method as dangerous often translates into more unintended pregnancies with a higher risk than using the method,” says Dr. Espey. Though popular for its convenience, the NuvaRing isn’t the most effective form of birth control out there. And neither is the pill. The intrauterine device (IUD) and the implant are considered the two safest and most effective forms of birth control available, with a typical use failure rate of 0.8% and 0.05% respectively.

When asked if women currently using NuvaRing should talk to their doctors about other options, Dr. Espey said, “How do you prepare for the event that’s so rare?”

But it’s making Sarah think twice. “I’m definitely concerned about the risks,” she says. “I am making an appointment with my gynecologist to discuss options.”

*Name has been changed for privacy.

What Happens When Your Body Loses Half Its Weight? Read more: ‘The Biggest Loser’: What Happens When You Lose Half Your Weight?

February 10th, 2014

The spectacle of extreme weight loss if the point of shows like ‘The Biggest Loser,’ but there’s a part of the transformation audiences can’t see

Biggest Loser winner Rachel Frederickson shocked audiences Tuesday when she revealed she had dropped 155 pounds, nearly 60% of her starting weight. Earlier this week a Saudi man also made headlines for losing an astronomical 700 pounds, shedding 50% of his original weight. With the success of shows like The Biggest LoserExtreme Makeover, and My 600-lb Life, extreme weight loss has become somewhat of a gawking pastime among American audiences. But while audiences can witness these people’s external changes in appearance, what’s happening internally when a body shrinks to half its size?

Obesity is typically measured by body mass index (BMI), with a BMI of 30 and above considered obese, and BMI of 40 and above considered severely obese. For people with a BMI above 40 to reach a healthier weight and actually maintain it, weight-loss surgery is usually the only option. For a 5’10″ man, that’s about 280 pounds, and for 5’5″ woman, approximately 240 pounds.

Once the pounds start shedding, people’s perception of their own size remains skewed while they internalize their new bodies. As they adjust, they continue to make a lot of space for themselves, like selecting large spaces to sit. ”Internally, people still think they are large. They swing their arms further out from their body like a helicopter, thinking their hips are still as wide as they used to be, even though they aren’t,” says Dr. Roxanne Sukol, a preventive medicine specialist at Cleveland Clinic.

The first 25 to 30 pounds are the easiest to drop, and usually accompanied by immediate improvements in blood pressure, blood sugar, and breathing. It becomes harder to lose the pounds after that initial period, but with each additional pound lost, physicians notice improvements in virtually every organ system.

However, if an individual’s weight has caused significant health problems, like heart issues or diabetes, such problems don’t go away so easily. Even when a person recovers, ailments developed along the way can remain. “We see blood pressure and sugar improve rapidly, but if your obesity caused you to have a dilated heart, that might take longer to heal–if it ever heals,” Dr. Sukol says. Excess skin can also remain after weight is dropped, but it usually adapts to the body after a period of time.

Physical therapy is nearly always needed to continue the healing process. If an individual has not been mobile for years, their muscle and skeletal systems are likely damaged. Our knees and lower extremities aren’t meant to hold the amount of weight severely obese individuals carry, and that weight can interfere with blood flow to the heart, which is one of the reasons obese people experience bloating. The good news, according to Dr. Sukol, is that, with every five pounds lost, an enormous amount of pressure on the knee caps is relieved.

Appetite can also change. When individuals replace foods like white breads and potato chips with intact carbohydrates like beans, vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, they tend to lose weight and feel more satiated from eating more nutritious food.

Lastly, the mental health effects that come from significant weight loss are immeasurable. From a biological level, neurotransmitters in the brain work better when a person is on a healthy diet. But socially, the effect of weight loss is just as great. “Being obese is such a stigma in our society, that I think the stress of being obese and having to cope with how people look at you is something impossible to relate to,” says  Dr. Sukol. And that’s a considerable weight off someone’s shoulders.