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The relationship between men's facial masculinity and women's judgments of value as a potential romantic partner.

Research suggests that women make judgments about a man's value as a potential romantic partner based on cues associated with facial masculinity. Such studies have often relied on electronically-manipulated facial images that may not fully capture natural stimuli. The present study used un-manipulated stimuli to examine the relationships between facial masculinity, attractiveness, and partner value and it also employed a more complex assessment of partner value than in earlier studies. Our findings indicated that women judged men with high facial masculinity to have had more previous romantic partners and to take longer to fall in love. These un-manipulated male stimuli were also rated as more desirable short-term and long-term partners compared to men with low facial masculinity. The differences between our findings and those from prior research are discussed in terms of the implications for attraction research.

KEY WORDS: facial masculinity, partner quality, attractiveness, couple satisfaction

INTRODUCTION

Research suggests that women infer their behavioural and/or reproductive strategies from their assessment of a man's physical appearance (e.g., Kruger, 2006; Smith et al., 2009; Waynforth, Delwadia, & Camm, 2005). In particular, a variety of facial features (e.g., facial masculinity) are thought to cue heterosexual women in determining a man's attractiveness and value as a potential romantic partner. Evolutionary explanations suggest that men's facial masculinity is associated with good health/genetic fitness (e.g., Fink & Penton-Voak, 2002; Little & Hancock, 2002; Rhodes, Chan, Zebrowitz, & Simmons, 2003) but also with low partner quality (in terms of parental investment) (e.g., Penton-Voak et al., 2003; Perrett et al., 1998).

Research examining the links between men's facial masculinity and women's judgments of partner quality consistently report that men with high facial masculinity are perceived to be lower quality romantic partners (i.e., less trustworthy and committed) than are men with low facial masculinity (Kruger, 2006; Little & Hancock, 2002; Penton-Voak et al., 2003; Perrett et al., 1998; Smith et al., 2009). Behavioural differences between men with high and low facial masculinity are consistent with women's judgments of partner quality. For example, men with high facial masculinity are less likely to marry, more likely to divorce, and show more interest in short-term over long-term relationships as compared to men with low facial masculinity (Booth & Dabbs, 1993; Gray, Kahlenberg, Barrett, Lipson, & Ellison, 2002; Kruger, 2006).

Research has identified links between high facial masculinity in men and their overall health, i.e., men with high facial masculinity are less prone to illness compared to men with low facial masculinity (e.g., Rhodes, Chan, Zebrowitz, & Simmons, 2003; Thornhill & Gangestad, 2006). Evolutionary theory suggests that the relationship between high facial masculinity and health may be an example of "good genes" selection (e.g., reflecting a healthy immune system or other beneficial genetically-based traits). It would thus seem to be advantageous for women to be attracted to men with high versus low facial masculinity because of the benefits associated with greater genetic fitness and associated reproductive benefits (e.g., Penton-Voak et al., 2001; Rhodes, 2006; Rhodes et al., 2007).

However, research on women's perceptions of attractiveness among men with high and low facial masculinity has produced some inconsistent results. Some studies indicate that men with high facial masculinity are perceived to be more attractive than men with low facial masculinity (e.g., Buckingham et al., 2006; Fink & Penton-Voak, 2002; Little & Hancock, 2002). Other studies have reported circumstances under which men with low facial masculinity are judged to be more attractive than men with high facial masculinity (e.g., Perrett et al., 1998; Rhodes, Hickford, & Jeffery, 2000; Swaddle & Reierson, 2002). There are a number of reasons why studies have differed in their findings. For example, female respondents may have differed in their expectation for short- or long-term relationships, the way attractiveness was assessed may have differed across studies, or women's facial attractiveness ratings may vary across the menstrual cycle. In the latter case, research has identified differences in facial masculinity preferences between women in the fertile and non-fertile phases of their menstrual cycle (e.g., Jones et al., 2011; Little & Jones, 2012; Penton-Voak et al., 1999). In particular, women in the fertile phase judged men with high facial masculinity to be more attractive than did women in the non-fertile phase whereas women in the non-fertile phase judge men with low facial masculinity to be more attractive than did women in the fertile phase. Differences between prior studies may also have arisen because respondent's had not been given a definition of attractiveness or were given measures that assessed physical attractiveness, sexual attractiveness, or attractiveness as a partner.

What women perceive to be attractive in a man would appear to depend on the type of relationship sought. For example, research has investigated the role of relationship context with regard to women's preferences for men's facial masculinity (e.g., Kruger, 2006; Little, Jones, Penton-Voak, Burt, & Perrett, 2002; Penton-Voak et al., 2003). Researchers have found that women prefer men with high facial masculinity for short-term partnerships and men with low facial masculinity for long-term relationships. These differential preferences for men's facial masculinity may reflect the way that women's assessment of attractiveness fits their relationship status or intentions, i.e., short-term relationships, high facial masculinity, good genes, lower relationship investment or long-term relationships, low facial masculinity, higher relationship investment (e.g., Fink & Penton-Voak, 2002; Gangestad & Simpson, 2000; Kruger, 2006; Waynforth, 2001).

Although past research has advanced our understanding of women's differing preferences when selecting short-term and long-term partners, more work needs to be done with regard to women's perceptions of partner value associated with high or low facial masculinity or other facial features. Most studies of women's preferences for men's facial masculinity have not focused on the dimensions of interest in women's assessment of a man's value as a romantic partner (i.e., qualities desired in a romantic partner). In fact, most studies have included only single items to assess perceived partner value (e.g., Kruger, 2006; Perrett et al., 1998). Yet, value as a romantic partner is clearly a multi-dimensional construct relating to a number of realms in life. For example, research suggests that women make distinctions between short- and long-term partnerships with men (Regan, Levin, Sprecher, Christopher, & Gate, 2000).

In addition to these distinctions, women also make judgments about a man's value as a romantic partner based on their view of men's previous sexual/relationship mixing (i.e., the number of previous romantic partnerships he has had), which may be used as an index of the men's appeal to other women or their ability or inability to commit (Bressan & Stranieri, 2008; Little, Jones, DeBruine, & Caldwell, 2011). A man's willingness or readiness to become romantically involved, or fall in love, are also judgments that women make about men as potential partners (Place, Todd, Penke, & Asendorpf, 2009). Perceived quality as a (future) parent also appears to be involved in women's judgments of a man's quality as a partner (Boothroyd, Jones, Burt & Perrett, 2007; Gray, Kahlenberg, Barrett, Lipson & Ellison, 2002).

From a methodological perspective, past research has typically used electronically-manipulated stimuli to depict different levels of facial masculinity (e.g., Kruger, 2006; Perrett et al., 1998; Smith et al., 2009). Although women's judgment of men's facial attractiveness has been assessed using both manipulated and un-manipulated stimuli (Little, Jones, & DeBruine, 2008), there still remains some concern surrounding the use of computer-manipulated images (DeBruine, Jones, Smith, & Little, 2010; Rennels, Bronstad, & Langlois, 2008). Given the sophistication of human's facial decoding skills (Elfenbein & Ambady, 2002; Shapiro & Penrod, 1986), the validity of these stimuli has not been demonstrated sufficiently (Pivonkova, Rubesova, Lindova & Havlicek, 2011). This is particularly so in the extent to which computer-manipulated faces are recognized unconsciously as unreal or idealized versions of men's faces. In fact, a recent study raised concerns in the field about whether women perceive variations in men's facial masculinity using traditional computer-based manipulations in face height, inner face breadth, and cheekbone-jaw prominence (Pivonkova et al., 2011). Thus, the results from studies using computer-manipulated stimuli should be treated with caution until further evidence of their applicability is produced and specifically so with regard to judgments in partner value. Replicating studies that have assessed value as a romantic partner using un-manipulated rather than manipulated stimuli can help to validate the conclusions drawn about women's assessment of male facial masculinity, attractiveness, and partner quality.

The current study

The current study explored the links between men's facial masculinity and women's judgments of their attractiveness and value as a romantic partner. It sought to advance the literature by using a detailed, multi-item assessment of partner value, including items that assessed perceived trustworthiness, perceived quality of parenting, the number of perceived previous romantic partners, the perceived speed with which one would fall in love, and preferred relationship context (i.e., short-term or long-term partnerships). In addition, it incorporated an un-manipulated set of stimuli (tested images of real men's faces) that varied in terms of masculinity to explore these links.

In line with previous research, we predicted that men with high facial masculinity would be valued by women as potential romantic partners less than men with low facial masculinity. In particular, we tested two hypotheses:

Hypothesis 1: Men with high facial masculinity would be perceived as more desirable short-term partners rather than long-term partners as compared to men with low facial masculinity.

Hypothesis 2: Men with high facial masculinity would be perceived by women as being less trustworthy, lower quality parents, having more previous romantic partners, and taking longer to fall in love compared to men with low facial masculinity.

METHODS

Participants

Participants were recruited to complete an online survey assessing facial preferences through advertisements placed on a series of online classified and personal networking sites. Because of the differences in facial masculinity preferences among women who are post-menopausal and pre-menopausal (e.g., Jones, Vukovic, Little, Roberts, & DeBruine, 2011; Penton-Voak et al., 1999), we excluded women who were over the age of 45 and those who had reported having no menses in the three months preceding the study. Seven participants were not included because of missing data, thus, our final sample size consisted of 201 women, who ranged in age from 18 to 45 years of age (median = 24.6 years) and identified as primarily Caucasian (94.0%). Nearly one-third of our sample (31.4%) indicated that they were single, whereas the other two-thirds of our sample indicated that they were in a relationship or married (68.6%).

Demographic measures

Participants completed a questionnaire assessing demographic variables (e.g., age, relationship status, ethnic/racial background, province of residence). This measure also included items assessing relationship history (i.e., the number of previous sexual partners), self-reported attractiveness (from "not at all attractive" to "very attractive"), and menstrual cycle (i.e., hormonal contraceptive use, days since last menstruation).

Photographic stimuli

The first phase was a pilot study designed to identify the perceived facial masculinity of 30 photographs selected randomly from the Productive Aging Laboratory (PAL) database (Minear & Park, 2004). The photographs chosen for the study depicted young adult men (approximately 25 years of age) posing with neutral expression under standardized lighting conditions. Participants with facial hair and body piercings and those wearing eye glasses and conspicuous clothing were excluded from the sample of photographs. Twenty-two women independently rated the masculinity and attractiveness of each target presented in the photograph on a 7-point Likert scale (from "low" to "high"). To avoid experimenter bias, little information was given to the pilot participants in order to keep their judgments entirely subjective. Image order was randomized for each participant. Overall, the participants were very consistent with their facial masculinity ratings of all photographs, with an intra-class correlation coefficient of .90. The five photographs with the highest facial masculinity ratings (M = 5.79) were chosen for the main study as well as the five with the lowest facial masculinity ratings (M = 3.42). This protocol for photographic stimuli selection was the same as that used by Little et al. (2008).

Ratings of perceived partner value

Under each photograph was a series of items assessing characteristics related to perceived value as a partner, all of which were assessed using 7-point Likert scales. Under each photograph were instructions that required participants to rate the photograph as though both the man in the photograph and the participant were single. The items were presented to participants in the same order and assessed the following characteristics: masculinity (from "not at all masculine" to "very masculine"); attractiveness (from "not at all attractive" to "very attractive"); perceived trustworthiness (from "not at all trustworthy" to "very trustworthy"); perceived quality of parenting (from "not very good" to "very good"); the number of perceived previous romantic partners (from "none" to "a lot"); the perceived speed with which the man would fall in love (from "not very quickly" to "very quickly"); interest in pursuing a short-term romantic relationship with the man (from "not at all interested" to "very interested"); and interest in pursuing a long-term relationships with the man (from "not at all interested" to "very interested").

Procedures

Participants were informed that they would be assessing photographs of men's faces and that participation would take approximately 20 minutes. The recruitment summary also indicated that those completing the study would have their name entered into a draw for a one in five chance to win a $10 gift card. After providing consent, participants then reviewed ten randomly presented photographs of men: five of which were previously rated as high in facial masculinity and five as low in facial masculinity, as determined by the pilot study. Participants were able to the view the photographs for as long as needed while answering the associated questions. Once all the questions for the photo were completed the participants were instructed to click "next" to view the subsequent photo and respond to the associated questions. After completing their ratings of each photograph, participants viewed a page containing the debriefing information and were able to enter their e-mail address into the draw for the gift card.

Analysis Strategy

A repeated measures multivariate analysis of covariance (MANCOVA) was performed to test differences in perceived value as a romantic partner among both the high masculine group and the low masculine group within subjects. For hypothesis one, we included short-term partner and long-term partner desirability as dependent variables in the repeated measures MANCOVA, to see if in fact, men with high facial masculinity were perceived as more desirable short-term partners rather than long-term partners as compared to men with low facial masculinity. In addition, to test our second hypothesis, we included perceived trustworthiness, quality of parenting, number of previous romantic partners, and speed of falling in love as dependent variables in the repeated measures MANCOVA. In doing so, we were able to assess whether men with high facial masculinity were judged as less trustworthy, as being lower quality parents, as having more previous romantic partners, and as falling in love more slowly than men with low facial masculinity.

In addition, we identified several variables that were included as covariates. First, because of the moderate correlation between attractiveness and perceived facial masculinity present in our sample (r =.43, p <.001), we controlled for the influence of attractiveness by including it as a covariate (see Table 1). Second, because differences in facial masculinity preferences have been identified between fertile and non-fertile women (e.g., Jones et al., 2011; Penton-Voak et al., 1999), we sought to control for the effects of menstrual phase (as measured by the item "How many days ago did your last period of menstruation start?") and included it as a covariate. Third, although no significant differences were found in the omnibus test assessing perceptions of facial masculinity among single women and those in a relationship, there still may have been differences on one or more of the other variables. Consequently, we controlled for the effects of relationship status by including it as a covariate. Last, to control for the possible effects of age on women's preferences, we also included age as a covariate in the repeated measures MANCOVA.

RESULTS

The five high facial masculinity and five low facial masculinity photographic stimuli used during data collection received facial masculinity ratings similar to those collected during the pilot phase. The high facial masculine photographs had a mean masculinity rating of 5.45 and the low facial masculinity photographs had a mean masculinity rating of 3.7. The similar facial masculinity ratings produced in both the pilot work and for the purposes of the current study demonstrated reliability in our stimuli and indicated that participants consistently perceived the high facial masculinity group to be more masculine than the low facial masculine group.

Before running the main analysis, the effects of relationship status on perceptions of masculinity, attractiveness, trustworthiness, quality of parenting, number of previous romantic partners, speed of falling in love, and preference for short-term and long-term relationships were examined by running a multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA). Results of the MANOVA revealed that there were no significant differences in ratings of men's facial masculinity among people who were single compared to those in a relationship [F(8,193) = 1.43, p >.05].

For the main analysis, a repeated measures multivariate analysis of covariance (MANCOVA) was performed to test differences in perceived value as romantic partner among both the high masculine group and the low masculine group within subjects. The average attractiveness ratings for the low and high facial masculinity groups were 2.41 and 3.75, respectively. In particular, we were interested in assessing the relationship between facial masculinity and partner quality above and beyond the contributions of attractiveness, relationship status, menstrual phase, and age. Results from the repeated measures MANCOVA indicated a significant main effect [F(2, 199) = 111.76, p <.001], suggesting the women rated men with high facial masculinity differently than men with low facial masculinity. Examination of the univariate analyses revealed that perceived interest in a short-term relationship [F(1,200) = 13.79 p <.001], perceived interest in a long-term relationship [F(1, 200)= 12.33, p <.001], the speed with which men were judged to fall in love IF(l, 200)= 5.99, p <.02], and the perceived amount of previous romantic partnerships [F(1, 200) = 4.70, p <.04] were significantly related to the masculinity of men's faces (see Table 2). The means indicated that the women in our sample rated men with high facial masculinity as more desirable as both short-term and long-term partners than they did men with low facial masculinity. Moreover, the women also perceived that men with high facial masculinity would take longer to fall in love and would have more previous romantic partners than would men with low facial masculinity. The remaining dependent variables, trustworthiness [F(1, 200) = 2.14, p >.05] and parental quality [F(1, 200) = 1.71, p >.05], did not reach significance.

To better understand the relationship between facial masculinity and perceptions of partner value, we also conducted the same analyses without including attractiveness as a covariate. As before, the initial MANCOVA yielded significant results [F(2,199) = 194.35, p <.001], suggesting that women rated men with high facial masculinity differently than men with low facial masculinity. However, in this analysis, all but one univariate analysis (i.e., perceptions of trustworthiness) produced significant results. We found the same differences with women rating men with high facial masculinity as more desirable as both short- and long-term partners, as having more past romantic partners and perceiving them to fall in love more slowly than men with low facial masculinity, as well as judging them to be better quality parents. In short, attractiveness may help explain somewhat more dimensions of perceived partner value than facial masculinity alone. Although somewhat redundant with attractiveness, when holding attractiveness constant, facial masculinity still accounted for factors related to mate selection for heterosexual women.

DISCUSSION

The current study advanced the literature in that it clarified women's preferences for potential romantic partners by using a complex, multi-item assessment of perceived partner value. We hypothesized that women would view men with high facial masculinity to be of lower value as relationship partners compared to men with low facial masculinity. However, our study revealed only partial support for this hypothesis. We found that women judged men with high facial masculinity to have had more past romantic partners and to take longer to fall in love--cues that they are, in fact, less inclined toward emotional or resource investment in relationships with women (e.g., Booth & Dabbs, 1993; Gray, Kahlenberg, Barrett, Lipson, & Ellison, 2002). Accordingly, women rated these men as more desirable as short-term partners compared to men with low masculine faces, as others have found (Koscinski, 2008; Waynforth, 2001).

Surprisingly, the women in our study also rated men with high facial masculine to be more desirable as long-term partners compared to men with low facial masculinity. It is unclear why this may be, but another line of research shows that men who are known to attract interest from multiple women are judged as more desirable by women than are men seen as attracting no particular interest from others (Knight, 2000; Little, Jones, DeBruine, & Caldwell, 2011; Bressan & Stranieri, 2008). Interest from other women (i.e., potential rivals) may provide valuable information about a man's value beyond the cues provided by physical features alone (Graziano, Jensen-Campbell, Shebilske, & Lundgren, 1993; Hill & Buss, 2008; Vakirtzis & Roberts, 2010). In essence, men with an extensive dating history may be judged as more desirable as partners because they have been "vetted" as good catches by other women. Alternately, women may desire men with higher facial masculinity (for short- or long-term relationships) simply because they find them more physically attractive; this indicates that women make compromises during mate selection.

Our results reveal the importance of examining facial masculinity separately from attractiveness alone, although they appear to be closely connected. There is certainly overlap in these two constructs; however, facial masculinity still appears to explain aspects of partner value that attractiveness alone does not. The influence of attractiveness may reflect what is known in social psychology as the "halo effect," (Dion, Berscheid, & Walster, 1972) whereby more attractive people tend to be rated in more positive terms on any number of dimensions than are less attractive people. The halo effect might help to explain ratings of perceived romantic partner value and desirability as both a short- and long-term partner. However, this effect does not necessarily help to explain perceptions of men with high facial masculinity as having more past romantic partners and falling in love slower than their counterparts except in terms of respondents' acknowledgement of the appeal of these men to other women. With the exception of perceived quality as a parent, these differences still emerge, however, when attractiveness is taken into account. Thus, it appears that it is the facial masculinity of these men, not just the attractiveness attributed to them that is influencing women's judgments about their suitability as a relationship partner. This study demonstrates that the distinction between facial masculinity and attractiveness is important to make clear in studies of women's judgments about a man's value as a partner.

It is unclear why our results differ, in some respects, from past research on facial masculinity and perceptions of value as a partner. One explanation for our discrepant results may be our use of un-manipulated stimuli to capture levels of masculinity. The reliance on computer stimuli in past studies (Kruger, 2006; Perrett et al., 1998; Smith et al., 2009) may not have captured accurately real-life variations in the masculinity of men's faces. Further work is required to demonstrate the applicability of electronically-manipulated stimuli and clarify the discrepancies between the results using electronically-manipulated images and real-life images. Despite the additional work needed to assess the validity of computer-manipulated images, these stimuli have the advantage of controlling for issues that our study could not. In particular, facial features (i.e., face shape, body hair, and other features unrelated to masculinity) that could potentially influence participants' judgments of attractiveness and partner value can be controlled through us of computer manipulation but not when using real-life images. Consequently, the conclusions drawn from the current study should be approached with caution until further research is able to compare and assess the validity of both types of stimuli.

Limitations

The current study had several additional limitations that must be noted. First, we were unable to examine the effects of menstrual phase on women's perceptions of partner value because of the large portion of our sample using hormonal contraceptives at the time of the study. A much larger sample is needed to be able to assess differences among those not who use hormonal contraception and those who do not. Second, self-report measures are plagued by issues associated with social desirability bias (O'Sullivan, 2008), although our use of anonymous online survey methodology is believed to reduce this response bias considerably (McBurney, 1994). Third, the women in our sample responded to hypothetical scenarios, which may not accurately capture their real life judgments regarding men's desirability. Future research should examine the issues of real-life applicability further by extending the analysis to online dating websites. Specifically, it would be interesting to create identical dating profiles for both men with high facial masculinity and men with low facial masculinity and assess the interest obtained from real women online viewing their dating profiles or to rate responses to actual profile photos rated independently as high or low in facial masculinity. Fourth, we used a relatively small number of photographic stimuli when assessing perceptions of partner value. Although initially starting with thirty photographs, our final sample of ten photographs may not have been enough to accurately identify differences between judgments of high and low facial masculinity groups. For example, because of the small number of stimuli, it is possible that some other variable may be driving the effects found in the current study. Future research should continue to use un-manipulated stimuli, potentially in higher quantities, when assessing value as a romantic partner. Finally, although we recruited across a range of online sources, we still obtained a fairly homogenous sample of young Canadian women. Future research should include more diverse samples.

Final observations

This study sought to advance research on women's judgments of men's facial masculinity by using ecologically valid, un-manipulated stimuli and expanded measures of partner value. Our study findings differ from some aspects of past research on partner value that relied on computer-manipulated stimuli to test aspects of evolutionary theory. Of particular note, we found that men with high facial masculinity, although judged more likely to "play the field," were still viewed as more desirable overall as short and long-term partners. Thus, women were attracted to men who were considered to be of lower value as long-term partners. Our findings inform the literature on relationship choices, partner selection, and possibly relationship stability as they incorporate factors associated with judgments of trust, attractiveness, and desirability. Future research can expand upon the findings from this exploratory study further, and also add to the growing critique of methods used in this field.

doi: 10.3138/cjhs.929

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Ashley E. Thompson (1) and Lucia F. O'Sullivan (1)

(1) Department of Psychology, University of New Brunswick

Correspondence: concerning this article should be addressed to Ashley Thompson, Department of Psychology, University of New Brunswick, P.O. Box 4400, Fredericton, NB, E3B 3A1. Email: ashleyt@unb.ca
Table 1. Correlations between masculinity, attractiveness, and
partner quality variables

                                    1         2         3

1   Masculinity
2   Attractiveness                  .425 **
3   Interest in short-term          .229 **   .711 **
      partnerships
4   Interest in long-term           .265 **   .790 **   .876 **
      partnerships
5   Perceived speed with which      .200 **   .200 **   .742 **
      the man would fall in love
6   Perceived number of previous    .147 *    .078      .088
      romantic partners
7   Perceived trustworthiness       .254 **   .448 **   .429 **
8   Perceived quality as a          .238 **   .302 **   .260 **
      parent

                                    4         5         6      7

1   Masculinity
2   Attractiveness
3   Interest in short-term
      partnerships
4   Interest in long-term
      partnerships
5   Perceived speed with which      .834 **
      the man would fall in love
6   Perceived number of previous    .080      .115
      romantic partners
7   Perceived trustworthiness       .504 **   .488 **   .061
8   Perceived quality as a          .309 **   .402 **   .049   .666 **
      parent

Note: * p < .05; ** p < .01.

Table 2. Group means for partner quality variables

Personality Variables      High Masculine         Low Masculine

                           Mean   [[eta].sup.2]   Mean   [[eta].sup.2]

Desirability as            3.06   .41             1.91   .43
  Short-Term Partner **
Desirability as            2.81   .52             1.88   .49
  Long-Term Partner **
Perceived Number of        4.61   .00             3.33   .02
  Past Romantic
  Partners *
Perceived Speed of         3.57   .05             4.10   .01
  Falling in Love *
Trustworthiness            4.10   .15             4.04   .16
Perceived Parental         4.41   .08             4.20   .09
  Quality

Note: * p <.05; ** p <.01.
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Author:Thompson, Ashley E.; O'Sullivan, Lucia F.
Publication:The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Mar 22, 2013
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