Monogamy and Monotony

Posted by: on Oct 28, 2013 | No Comments

monogamy

I’m hoping that this website will provide a great deal of information on this topic but last year,  journalist Tim Scott wrote about this issue rather movingly in The Times. After the birth of their first child he and his wife had stopped having sex. In the piece he described the absence of sex in their life together as  “a powerful yet subtle foe. It quietly corrodes the most important parts of a relationship — trust, intimacy, passion, respect — and that least analysed of all attributes, fanciability. If left untreated, the lack of sex can even destroy love. I am convinced many people split up because they forget to make love to each other, and love — along with the feelgood chemical, dopamine, that sex generates — dries up.”

Some people use the inevitability of declining sexual frequency as evidence that humans are not cut out for monogamy. Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá, the authors of “Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality,” use evidence gathered from human physiology, archaeology, primate biology and anthropological studies of pre-agricultural tribes from around the world to argue that monogamy and the nuclear family are more recent inventions than most of us would expect — and far less natural than we’ve come to believe. We may not be cut out for monogamy but we are not cut out for sharing either. Dr Helen Fischer, Biological Anthropologist, and Research Professor at Rutgers University has studied patterns of marriage and divorce in 58 societies. She maintains that “it is unrealistic to believe that we can evolve to share our partners. If that was possible, polyamory would be huge, but it isn’t because we don’t share easily.”  Fischer believes that as a species, we are now moving away from lifelong commitment towards a kind of serial monogamy but rejects the well worn argument that longer life-spans are putting pressure on modern marriage. She says that “two million years ago adults who survived infancy were living for sixty or seventy years and in that time a woman might have two or three husbands because of death, divorce or desertion.” “Till death do us part” Fischer adds, “is a hangover from our agrarian ancestors who had a vested interest in marital stability. A farmer who married his daughter to the son of the farmer next door needed to keep that unit intact, but that has changed. As Fischer says, “you can’t divide a cow, but you can divide a ten dollar bill.”

Earlier theorists were more philosophical about the difficulties of sustaining long term relationships. In his book ‘The American Sexual Tragedy’ (1954), psychotherapist Albert Ellis suggests that in the vast majority of instances, sexual and marital consummation maims, bloodies and finally kills romanticism, whereas psychotherapist Theodor Reik (1945) believed that falling out of love was less to do with decreased sexual desire, and more to do with the fact that eventually, the disappointments and frustrations which are inevitable in a long term relationship simply erode the pedestal we have placed our partner on, and everything tumbles to the ground.

Tim Scott and his wife could foresee the problems in store if they didn’t tackle the sexual draught in their relationship so they made a pact to have sex every day, whether they felt like it or not. It was not an entirely original idea. In 2008, two books had documented the ups and downs of two couples who had made a commitment to have sex with each other for 365 and 101 days respectively. Charla Muller’s ‘365 Nights: A Memoir of Intimacy’ and ‘Just Do It’ by Douglas Brown caused quite a stir when they were published in the US but they received a more lukewarm reception here in the UK. It wasn’t just media cynicism. British sex therapists and counsellors were universally snotty about the ideas put forward in the books, denouncing them as ‘passive aggressive, prescriptive, regressive and pressurizing.’ Even though both couples were adamant that their relationships had improved immeasurably and on a multitude of levels, the experts warned that a commitment to daily sex might be a way of imposing unwanted sex on an unwilling partner – fair enough –  or that scheduling sex takes away spontaneity. What spontaneity? As millions of couples struggling with sexual ennui know, the chance of both halves of a relationship ever being ‘spontaneously’ in the right place, at the right time, and in the right mood is about as likely as a lottery win.

Working at something that is meant to be instinctual may seem counter-intuitive but once Mother Nature has tricked you into dating, mating and procreating, frankly she couldn’t give a damn if you never have sex again so instead of waiting for some seismic shift to propel you back into each others arms, you need to take matters into your own hands. That means A) Talking about the need for more sex in your relationship. B) Agreeing on strategies to enable you to have more sex and C) finding the time to do it. Those three things alone will improve any sexual relationship.

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