Thursday, May 29, 2014

Women are Sluts, Nice Guys Finish Last, and Millennials Will Save the World

"Wow, that's an inflammatory title!"
- A friend that reviewed the post before publishing


Yes, I'm calling women sluts.

But in a good way. The term "slut" is an obviously pejorative term, especially when applied to women. It's our society's preferred way to label promiscuous women. Based on emerging science, perhaps it's time to embrace the sentiment and make "slut" an aspiration.  

The Landscape: An Analysis of Our Relationships


As evident by this blog, I've had a long-standing interest in relationships, love, and sex. This includes the dorky research aspect and extends to the colloquial inner workings of actual people. A few weeks ago, I was casually perusing some sexuality articles and came across a piece that talked about the failings of the evolutionary psychology (EP) explanation of human sexual behavior. 

The gist of EP theory- women are sexually-selective because the cost of having children is high. Men are slutty because, well, they can father as many children as they have free time to fuck different women. This theory is then extrapolated to many aspects of our behaviors.

This is manifested in our current "serial monogamy" relationship paradigm that's considered the standard operating procedure here in the United States. Males and females will spend their teens to mid-twenties exploring a series of monogamous relationships until they figure out what they want. When they find "the one", they get married and have kids. Eventually the flame dies out and many will have affairs and/or get divorced, then repeat the cycle. 

A new emerging (and competing) theory is emerging, which is backed by, in my opinion, much more valid empirical research. The gist of this theory- women are a lot more promiscuous than previously believed

For me, this completely changes almost every fundamental belief I've had about love, relationships, and sex. I take the scientific method seriously and am more than willing to abandon previously-held beliefs when better data becomes available. This is one such case. This new paradigm shift, based on my own observations of the world, make a lot more sense. I like talking to people in part because learning about them can be weighed against my perceptions of how we operate. Some observations just did jive. Specifically, women in long-term relationships didn't act like EP would predict. This post will outline my current thoughts on this issue.

Sociosexual Orientation


Sociosexual orientation (SO) is a fancy way researchers define promiscuity. The higher your SO, the sluttier you are. Based on evolutionary psychology's primary explanation, men are inherently high in SO. Women... not so much. According to EP, women had to be selective in their mates. heir primary motivation is to find a mate that provides resources for their eventual offspring. However, women also had a separate drive to hook up with "genetically superior" men after they had already formed a pair-bond (supposedly monogamous relationship) with their rich, powerful male. On the surface, this seems like a great explanation of the prevailing behaviors here in the US. Is it really, though? Here are a few ideas to ponder:

Schaller, M., & Murray, D. R. (2008) found SO in both genders were reduced by the perceived danger of disease. For example, when HIV entered the scene in the 80's to the present, both male and female SO decreased. This is important because it implies our sluttiness can be influenced by environment. That will be an important point later on.

The Trivers-Willard Hypothesis is an interesting observation. As SO increases in both genders, the likelihood of male offspring increases. In other words, sluts have more boys. Why is this significant? Males have a higher mortality rate than females. In a natural state where society has no influence on behavior, sluttiness, er, I mean SO, would produce more male offspring. Since more males are doing to die, this mechanism will help maintain roughly equal numbers of each gender.


Historical Trends in Promiscuity: Female Freedom Always Leads to Sluttiness


For some dumbass reason, I double-majored in college. Psych was my real love, but I also studied history. Specifically American history. Even more specifically, pot-Civil War American sexual history (yes, I was a perv back then, too.)

There's a commonly-held belief among lay folks that sexual openness has increased in a linear fashion over time. We're more liberal today than we were yesterday, and the day before that, and the day before that, etc. In reality, our society's sexual openness ebbs and flows based on the current sociocultural climate.

After the Civil War, American sexuality was influenced by the European Victorian era. Sex was a taboo topic. Women's sexuality in particular was heavily suppressed. By the roaring twenties, society did a complete 180° turn. Women enjoyed tremendous freedom. As a result, the "flappers" were pretty slutty. The Depression was a major buzzkill and led to a move toward pragmatic conservatism. Poor folks have more important shit to worry about. The fifties saw a shift back to conservatism (read this funny article on how to keep your man), which shifted again in the sixties and the "free love" hippie movement. By the eighties, we went back to conservatism. We slowly opened back up throughout the nineties (thanks in part to Bill and his "Monica is my humidor" antics.) Since the turn of the millennium (and the proliferation of the Internet), we've been on a steady ride toward an unprecedented time of sexual openness and freedom for females to express said sexuality.

The main point- female SO changes with the tide of the current culture. Specifically, the less oppression women experience, the higher they rate in SO. Give women freedom and they get slutty.

Social structure theory confirms this trend across cultures. Extremely repressive cultures, such as some of those in the Middle East, see very few SO behaviors from women. Other places where women do not experience strong oppression, like many European cultures, see a significant increase in SO behaviors.

Lammers, J; Stoker, JI; Jordan, J; Pollmann, MMH; Stapel, DA (2011) confirmed this idea by measuring infidelity. As women gained more power (as represented by working outside the home and gaining financial independence), rates of infidelity skyrocketed to the level of their male counterparts. When women are truly equal, there is no significant difference between our sexual behaviors. Our recent history confirms this trend.


Our Socially-Accepted View of Female Desire


Presently, we treat female desire like a delicate flower. It's a rare beauty that needs to be cultivated with ample love, respect, empathy, communication, flowers, and Hallmark greeting cards. It's a mysterious force to most men, but the rise of the beta male seems to be a key to the treasure chest (more on that later, too.) They are something to be pursued and won.

A good way to think of women, according to the popular belief today, is to assume they're playing defense. And us males are playing offense. Women are selective; males are indiscriminate. We want to score; they do what they can to keep us from scoring.

We also see women's desire changing over their lifespan. In heir late teens to early twenties, we accept some degree of experimentation in the form of serial monogamy. A few one-nights stands may be acceptable, but too many will result in slut-shaming. During this time, women are still less slutty than their male cohorts. By the time women settle down in their late twenties and early thirties, their sexuality goes a bit dormant, then reaches a peak in the late thirties to early forties. Menopause eventually sets in and desire slowly dries up.


The Empirically-Confirmed View of Female Desire


Does the socially-accepted view of female sexuality, where men are the slutty pursuers and women are the chaste pursuees, hold up to empiricism? A major problem with evolutionary psychology is data- inferring past behavior from dubious sources hardly counts as empiricism. And this topic perfectly illustrates that point. 

Over the last few weeks, I've read a slew of interesting books and articles that make the same basic point I'm making- we're completely wrong about the inner-workings of female desire. Specifically, the books Mating in Captivity, Sex at Dawn, What Do Women Want?, and The Ethical Slut outline the empirical research that supports the premise that women are basically just as slutty as men. 

Sidebar- If this discussion fascinates you, check out all four of these books. I recommend reading them in the order listed. 

So... what DO women want? 

The very short answer- sexual novelty.

The much longer, more elaborate answer is contained in the books listed above. The basic premise- regardless of the origins of the behaviors, women's desire is primarily fueled by access to multiple partners. That can be manifested in many different ways, but pretty much any "desire disorder" is immediately cured by... well, a new cock. Or a vagina. Yes, women have a lot more sexual fluidity than males.

I'm going out on a limb and guessing that's a bit shocking to my readers... unless you're a woman that's been in a monogamous relationship for a few years. Or you're a single dude that preys on those same women.

In the age of the Internet, it's easy to find anything related to everything. For example- how about a guide that outlines methods to meet and seduce married women? The technique, boiled down, plays on the realities of female desire. The successful pickup artist will simply arrange a "chance" meeting with a previously-identified target, appear fairly pleasant and trustworthy, assure discretion, and then score. 

For married dudes reading this you probably couldn't imagine your wife doing that, right? The data says otherwise. Atwood and Schwartz (2002) found anywhere between 45-55% of women will have at least one extramarital affair... which is only a few percentage points below the rate of male infidelity. As I mentioned in this post, around 70% of males AND females would cheat if they could be assured they would get away with it. 


But What About Parental Investment and Sexual Jealousy?


These two concepts are critical components of the popular theory advanced by evolutionary psychology. Parental investment is the bedrock of the idea that we evolved to be monogamous because advancing your genes is the name of the game. Pair-bonding appears to be a great strategy to accomplish that goal. Sexual jealousy, those feelings we get that warn us others are interested in our mate, serve to reinforce our desire to make sure our mates aren't leaving us (in the case of women) or getting pregnant via another dude (in the case of men.)

Is this really what's happening, though?

For parental investment, I actually side with the evolutionary psychologists... mostly. We do seem to like to pair up for parenting purposes, and both parents' desire usually takes a significant hit in the early years after a baby is born. Oxytocin bonds us to each other pretty well. The problem is duration. This bonding doesn't last forever. The kid grows up a bit, mom and dad may experience a bit of a desire rebound, then boredom sets in. I'd say we pair-bond just long enough to survive the first year or three. After that, we're primed to look elsewhere. Unless we have multiple kids.

Sexual jealousy is usually interpreted as a function of ownership or the idea that our partner belongs to us and only us. What if it's not so much possessiveness as a desire-building behavior? Sexual jealousy is usually manifested as anger, but also results in horniness. If women are naturally promiscuous, that horniness would serve a decidedly utilitarian purpose- getting laid.

Why Nice Guys Finish Last


Ah, the beta male. I've talked about this topic in the past, but never made a relationship connection here on the blog. Basically beta males are pleasers. They are caring. Sensitive. Nice. Open. Honest. A great communicator. Gentle. Giving. Agreeable. Malleable. 

And women hate them.


Of course, in our post-feminism world where we routinely demonize masculinity and do our best to feminize our male children, the beta is celebrated. We're led to believe the beta, at the end of the day, will win the woman's heart.

And it's a lie.

The prevailing EP theory says women want a good provider for her and the kids. Sure, she may bang an occasional bad boy when she's ovulating, but the beta will still reap the rewards of monogamous bliss. He does, after all, possess the key to unlocking her desire. 

The problem, of course, is that nice guys are really fucking boring. They're great in the beginning when there's a great deal of novelty and mystery. After a few years, though, their inability to take charge wears thin. Their wive's desire plummets, closely followed by his. Eventually they cheat, get divorced, or settle for a sexless life of reruns and Chinese takeout.

The fundamental problem is our misunderstanding of female desire. Women don't want to romance and trust and comfort and constant intimacy. Women want hot, passionate fucking. And the two are mutually-exclusive (see my post on the topic here.)

Beta males make the mistake of being one-trick ponies. They believe building intimacy is a prerequisite to passion. Its not. Intimacy kills passion. 

It's worth noting alpha males don't fare a lot better. Yes, they get a lot more pussy... but they also don't get to experience the closeness of an intimate relationship. The real key isn't to be an alpha or a beta. The key is to be able to freely move between the two on a regular basis. 

Dealing With Monogamy


This, of course, leads us to the idea of monogamy. I covered a lot of ideas in the "What's the Deal with Monogamy" post, but a few are worth repeating in the context of a female desire discussion.

I track stats here on the blog, including search terms. I've covered a wide range of love, relationship, and sex topics, but its clear which topics are the most popular. Here are the all-time to three topics:
The five most common search terms that drive traffic from search engines involve:

  • Convince partner to have a MMF threesome
  • Convince partner to have a gang bang
  • Convince husband to try swinging
This is hardly an accurate snapshot of American sexual desires, but it's somewhat valid. The overarching theme: We're bored and are interested in fucking others. It's not surprising coming from males, but the majority of my readers are female

Its been estimated pharmaceutical companies have spent billions of dollars on the quest to find a female equivalent to Viagra. There's a HUGE demand from women to find a miracle pill that will allow them to feel the flames of desire they once felt for their significant other. Instead of questioning the fact that the decline in female desire may be a naturally-occurring phenomenon and the problem may reside with the societal institution of monogamy, we look for the quick and easy drug cure.

Sometimes people deal with the rigors of monogamy by having illicit affairs (or the researcher term nonconsensual nonmonogamy.) Historically cheating was viewed as more of a male behavior, and the data supported that. As I mentioned earlier, however, women really have achieved equality. They now cheat as often as dudes... and its about a 50/50 proposition. A flip of a coin. Cheating, though, creates stress and guilt for the cheater and, if discovered, lots of pain for their partner.

Divorce is another avenue to deal with monogamy, which often proceeds affairs. Again, we're looking at about 50/50 odds any marriage will end in divorce. If there are no children involved, it's not necessarily a bad thing. Kids though? Now we complicate things. Single parenthood is hard as Hell, and blended families aren't always smooth. 

The nonconsensual nonmonogamy options, while commonly-employed, are exceedingly destructive. For the adventurous folks, there are the consensual nonmonogamy options, primarily polyamory (multiple parties in various configurations of emotionally-attached relationships), swinging (multiple parties in various configurations of sexual relationships without emotional attachments), and multiple stops in between. These alternaties to monogamy are becoming shockingly popular... more so than I would have expected (~20-25% of all couples in the US.) The inclusion of new partners effectively satisfies both (or multiple) partners' desires for sexual novelty.


Will the Millennials Save Female Desire?


I'm not a fan of labeling and generalizing generational cohort groups, but sometimes it's prudent. This may be one such case. Since the Victorian era, we've ebbed and flowed progressively closer to a better understanding of our sexual selves, and female desire is one of the last considerations. The Millennials, with their penchant for casual hookups, openness to nonmonogamous relationships, and viewing of relationships as a finite arrangement, are in a great position to really give female desire it's due. 

Of course, the last few generations have been moving in that direction, but this may be the first that really force the issue into the spotlight. The youth of today more civic-minded, more open to radical social change, and are increasingly comfortable with the idea of slutty women. While the feminists of yesteryear fought to win equality, this generation is fighting to regain individuality. That freedom from social constraint will user in a brave new world of love, relationships, and sex. 

Will this kill monogamy? 

Probably not. Given the acceptance of the individual AND the fact that there are still a lot of people that genuinely (and successfully) maintain long-term monogamous relationships, the social construct will survive. What will likely happen is continued change of how we view and accept alternative relationships. This generation will right the ship of gender expression. Instead of a move to feminize everyone, they will be more cognizant of the value of both feminine and masculine expression. Distinctions like sexual orientation will no longer be a reason to divide. There will be less focus on long-term commitments, a reduction in illicit infidelity and divorce, and an increase in arrangements like polyamory. All of us will enjoy more balanced, honest lives. 

Conclusion


It is becoming increasingly clear we've misunderstood and suppressed female desire for a long, long time. Emerging empirical evidence is beginning to shed more light on the exact nature of what women want. This realization is and will continue to shake the very core of our society's most hallowed and revered institutions. 

For those that stuck around and read the whole post- what are your thoughts? Women that have been in long-term relationships- can you relate to that drop in desire and yearning for newness? What do you think of today's beta male?

Share these and any other thoughts in the comments!

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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Are We Paleo Sluts or Paleo Cheaters?

I recently finished the book Sex at Dawn: How we mate, why we stray, and what it means for modern relationships by Chris Ryan and Cacilda Jetha. The book offers an alternative view to the common evolutionary psychology explanation of the development of human sexuality. This topic fascinates me because understanding our past helps explain our present, and human sexuality was to be my area of study had I continued down the path of post-graduate research psychologist training. Also, any topic dealing with sex is, by default, automatically intriguing. 

The common explanation works something like this: Our relationship and sex behaviors have developed for the expressed purpose of passing our genes on to the next generation. This includes how we're attracted to each other, how we become couples (pair-bonding), the development of our relationships, and the rationale that explains why it's so hard to maintain those pair-bonds over time (why we're so apt to get divorced or cheat on our significant other.) This entire theory more or less explains the phenomenon of serial monogamy (where we go from one exclusive relationship to another to another.) 

I was first introduced to the various elements of this theory via the study of sociobiology back in my undergrad days. So many elements of the theory make sense. We're chemically attracted (via pheromones) to people that genetically would produce healthy kids. The "honeymoon" phase of relationships serves to drive us to have a lot of sex by giving us boundless energy, obsessive thoughts about our partner, and the ability o ignore the outside world (including other people.) The "post-honeymoon" phase serves to bond us together so well care for the kid we conceived in the previous phase, which is driven by the neurotransmitter oxytocin. Eventually we start looking for other partners, which varies by sex. Men look for fertile women to spread their DNA far and wide; women look for either better resources (rich and powerful) or better genes (studs.) In this model, paternal certainty, or the dad knowing he's actually the dad, is important. 

That's a dramatic oversimplification, but touches on a few of the main points. 

Sex at Dawn fundamentally departs from this idea by rejecting pair-bonding as a means of passing on our DNA. The authors hypothesize our pre-agriculture hunter-gatherer ancestors didn't enter into monogamous relationships. Instead, both sexes were decidedly promiscuous with members of their own "tribe", and occasionally outside the group. The idea is any given woman would have lots o' sex with different males and sperm competition (the internal battle to get to her eggs) ultimately determined paternity. Since none of the dudes really knew if they were the father, the "father role" was diffused among the entire tribe. 

Again, its a dramatic oversimplification, but it's a quick and dirty summary. 

The study of any sort of evolutionary topic is fraught with the same perils mostly based on the idea that we're taking limited fossil data and recorded history (when available) and extrapolating it to present day observations. Evolutionary researchers usually discuss their ideas with a high degree of certainty, but the entire field is empirically shaky. For me, that's part of what makes it so fun. Specific to this topic, both theories answer the same question in different ways- why are we so damn slutty?

Most members of our species really like to have sex. It's an incredibly powerful drive. In our particular American culture, most of us champion the idea of monogamy. As I discussed in this post, we're pretty bad at monogamy. We tend to have multiple partners before settling down with that special someone, we have a ridiculously high divorce rate, both men and women have extra-marital affairs with frightening regularity, and we'd be much more likely to cheat if we could be assured we'd get away with it. Again, we suck at monogamy. Hell, one in four couples don't even put up a pretense of monogamy and actively engage in consensual, ethical nonmonogamy. 

The typical evolutionary psychology explanation ha to do with our drive to maximize getting our genes into the next generation. Women are slutty because they are always looking to "upgrade" to a better genetic match while still maintaining a relationship with a man that provides for the family. Men are slutty because they take a "shotgun" approach... fuck as many fertile women as possible to spread their genes far and wide. This model assumes we chronically engage in extramarital affairs. Paleo cheaters. 

The Sex at Dawn theory postulates our sluttiness is a function of our pre-agriculture behaviors. Women want a lot of cock to encourage sperm competition, which serves as the "selecting the best genes" purpose. Men... well, their sluttiness is simply obliging the women. This model assumes we... well, just really love sex. Paleo sluts.

Both theories are interesting because they have supporting evidence and can at least partially explain most of our present-day behaviors. Both theories also have significant holes best exemplified by the differences between them. 

I know quite a few of my regular readers are familiar with one or both theories. What do you think? Which one seems to more accurately capture our present-day behaviors? Leave a comment!

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Friday, May 23, 2014

The Paradox of Intimacy and Passion



"Where there's nothing left to hide, there's nothing left to seek."
-Esther Perel, Mating in Captivity

I'm a big fan of relationship books that go against the grain. Esther Perel's book Mating in Captivity is one such book. A relationship therapist, Perel tackles a slew of topics the affect long-term couples. Most themes revolve around the plight of maintaining long-term relationships in our modern society.


One such theme has to do with the idea of keeping the fire alive after years of being together with the same person. In my post "What's the Deal with Monogamy", I discussed the difficulty of being with the same person emotionally, physically and sexually for the duration of the relationship. That discussion included options. One option was to "spice up" the relationship. This option was desirable because it maintained the relationship and was the most socially-acceptable option on the list.

Perel tackles this particular topic by framing the "spice" as a dichotomy between intimacy and passion. Passion rules the beginning of our relationships. There's mystery. Excitement. A cocktail of excitatory chemicals flowing through our brains. It's a wonderful, intoxicating chaos.

Eventually that excitement begins to wane. We get to know the other person. Secrets are revealed. Thoughts and feelings are disclosed. We begin to feel more secure with the relationship. The white hot passion fades to a warm connectedness. We intuitively replace the chaos with predictability.

The problem, of course, is that passion and intimacy are mutually-exclusive. They cannot exist in the same place at the same time. Unfortunately, far to many couples assume the decrease of passion over time is inevitable and irreversible. They don't consider that passion can be stoked at any time with the right tools. Or they may accept that passion can be stoked, but try silly gimmicks they read in women's magazines. You know, like wearing new lingerie or having sex with the lights on. These tricks may produce a temporary novelty effect, but they wear off quickly. 

These couples don't really understand what causes passion or how it's related to intimacy. Par of the problem is the common misconception that intimacy causes passion. You know, share your secrets while cuddling on the couch, then hot claw-your-back sex will follow.

That's not how it works, though.

Passion thrives in a void. Passion is fueled by the unknown. Secrets. Mystery. Its the exact opposite of intimacy. The gimmicks in women's magazines produce a little bit of short-lived passion because the newness is temporarily mysterious, but it's important to understand why it works. Let's say your wife buys a new negligee from Fredrick's of Hollywood and wears it to bed. Yes, it may be visually stimulating, but the real passion-building effect derives from the fact that this new behavior adds a tinge of mystery. You don't know your wife quite as well as you thought you did, and that's a huge turn-on.

Get it?

Now that we know how passion works, we can set up situations where we can intentionally manipulate the passion/ intimacy paradigm. This will create dynamic movement between the closeness and safety of intimacy and the heart-racing exhilaration of passion. All of the games I'll discuss in the next section effectively build passion over a short period of time which should result in erotic sex, then intimacy will naturally build in the wake. Lather, rinse, repeat. 

While the goal is building passionate sex, it's usually best not to think of these as "sex games." Think of them as erotic adventures that are designed to build excitement. Us Americans have a tendency to regard sex as a mechanical act. Penises in vaginas, etc. Sex is only partly physical, however. Stimulating the genitals, no matter how good one's technique happens to be, pales in comparison to stimulating the mind. Think of these as erotic games, and the goal is to stimulate the minds of ourselves and our partners. 

The Games

Intermittent Intimacy Fasting

Length of time: 24-48 hours

The goal of this exercise is for both partners to completely withdraw from each other while still in close proximity. No talking. No notes. No texting. No emails. No gestures. No touching. Eye contact the only communication allowed. Try to limit incidental contact as much as possible, so don't plop down on the couch together to watch TV. Sleep in a different room. 

The lack of communication and touching, while still in the presence of your significant other (SO), will automatically begin building desire because it creates physical and psychological distance. Remember, distance is the fuel that feeds passion. 

Start by planning this game backwards. Find a date and time you will be together and have some degree of privacy. It's best to assume you'll be having sex, though that's not necessarily the goal. Once the end is set, determine the start time. For the first attempt, start with about 24 hours. If you're really busy, 48 hours may be needed. Explain the game to your SO. Both agree to follow the rules. Only emergency contact is allowed. To make the game more fun, one or both can do some flirting or teasing, like getting dressed in font of the other, shooting them a seductive glance, etc.

Silent Treatment

Length of time: 24-48 hours

This game is a variation of the previous game, but subtly changes an important dynamic. Us humans love to talk as a means of building intimacy. Some have argued this is actually one of the reasons so many relationships fail- we're obsessed with over-sharing. Great for building intimacy; terrible for building passion. This game prohibits verbal or written communication, but allows for physical contact. The rules and setup are exactly the same as the previous game, only you're now encouraged to touch. It's okay to watch TV together. It's okay to sleep in the same bed. However, you cannot talk.

This game works on two levels. First, the lack of talking severely inhibits the building of intimacy. We're not accustomed to using nonverbal communication as a primary means of communicating, so we're not very good at it. If we're not building closeness, we're building distance. This activity builds distance via mystery. We have to learn to read our partner. 

The second way this game works is attention to the physical. The game forces us to pay attention to our partner's subtle movements and behaviors. That attention will heighten our senses which fuels the sensual tension between us. 

Fascist Sex

Length of time: Varies... however long it takes for a quickie.

There's a reason Fifty Shades of Grey was such a popular book. Our society likes to democratize sex. We have a tendency to seek opinions of our SO, negotiate, debate, concede. We ask for permission. We say please and thank you. We want to make sure everyone's happy. We distribute the power in the bedroom. Everyone gets their orgasms. Yay equality!

Unfortunately, this results in pretty bland sex. Part of the problem is the negotiating process builds intimacy, which kills passion. Another part of the problem is our secret desires. Everyone I've ever met that has been willing to discuss sex, both male and female, admits to wanting to play both the sexual aggressor and sexual "victim." They wish they could just pounce on their mate, use them for their own pleasure, then roll over and go to sleep. hey also wish their SO would pounce on them, use them, then roll over and fall asleep. 

Admittedly, I'm a little shocked this fantasy is incredibly popular. I'm equally shocked so few people disclose it to their SO. Almost all of us want it, yet none of us will actually discuss it. Its shame, really.

Anyway, the game is simple. In the mood? Force yourself on your SO. Don't ask. Don't negotiate. Just fuck.
This game does come with a serious caveat- you have to discuss this well ahead of time, make sure your partner agrees, and decide on a safe word that will immediately end the advances. 

Forbidden Fruit

Length of time: Varies.

Many fields of study touch on the idea that humans want what they cannot have. Economists have the law of supply and demand. Social psychologists have the scarcity principle. Seductresses and pickup artists play hard-to-get. The idea is desire to possess something increases as it becomes more difficult to acquire. This principle can be used to build passion in relationships in creative ways using a simple method- make something unobtainable. 

That "something" can be major (like we cannot have sex for five days), or very focused (you cannot touch my left nipple for a week.) It doesn't really matter what is forbidden as long as it is between us and our SO. To start the game, explicitly tell your SO what is forbidden. You can give them a length of time. Better yet, leave it open-ended... it helps build the anticipation via mystery. During the time period, remind them of the forbidden behavior several times per day. The more teasing you do, the more effective it becomes. The forbidden behavior will cause obsessive thoughts about the behavior, which will fuel their desire for that behavior. Drag it out as long as necessary.

This game is so powerful, it can even be used to build desire for things your SO may not want. The BSDM community uses this quite a bit. Let's say you really want your SO to perform oral on you, but they always refuse. Begging, pleading, and negotiating never work, and it's a bit pathetic. Try prohibiting it. Explicitly tell them they cannot perform oral on you. At first, they will probably laugh in relief. Persist. Remind them they cannot, under any circumstance, perform oral on you. Repeat this several times per day. Eventually they will begin to question their own hesitancy, which leads to curiosity. Curiosity will spark a desire to do the prohibited behavior. Once sparked, it's easy to drive them crazy. The longer you hold out, the more value they will attach to the behavior. It's a MUCH more effective (and fun) way to negotiate bedroom activities.

The Three Day Seduction

Length of time: Ummmm... three days

Perel discusses the myth of spontaneous sex in her book. To summarize, we think we want sex that's not planned. We want the type of sex that causes us to drop everything and succumb to our desires. It sounds good, but it misses an important point- "spontaneous" sex happens because we give in to our desires. We don't just randomly jump each others' bones. There's a build-up. And that build-up can be deliberate.

Set a time and date for the sexy time. Work backward three days, which will be the start date. You can tell your SO about it or not; both options change the dynamics a little bit. During this time frame, you're going to do everything in your power to seduce your mate. If you've been together for awhile, you should know what turns them on. If not, check out Robert Greene's The Art of Seduction. It's an excellent book that should be required reading for anyone that has at least a passing interest in sex. A quick primer- seduction is all about pushing and pulling. Show interest, then back off. Compliment, then tease. Kiss, then leave the room. 

Do this for three days. Tell them what you want to do to their body. Tell them how turned on you're getting thinking about you. Maybe even text them a picture or two. 

The key is to build for the three days without relenting. Don't give in! The whole point of scheduling is to build anticipation for the time arriving; to make the wait agonizingly erotic.

All of these games work based on the same principle- they build mystery. Mystery is the building block of passion. Like Perel's quote at the beginning states, "Where there's nothing left to hide, there's nothing left to seek." Your relationship is a big game of hide and seek. We have a tendency to always seek and never hide. We build intimacy and kill passion. These games allow us to figuratively hide no matter how long we've been together.

Graduate Level Passion-Building

These games offer potentially year or replay value by altering the variables a little bit. However, even the most creative lovers begin to run out of ideas. If that happens, simply begin combining the games. How about a three day seduction with no talking allowed? Or how about ordering your SO not to orgasm for four days while you have indulgent fascist sex each day? 

If you really run out of ideas, just make up your own games. Once you understand how passion is really developed versus how we're led to believe it develops, it's pretty easy to come up with new ways to spark it. Passion is 99% mental and olny 1% physical. Our brain is a lot more effective erogenous zone than our genitals. Learn to master it and you'll never complain about a lack of passion again.


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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Plight of Open Relationships: She's Going to Get A LOT More Action than You

Jezebel recently posted this article about a dude that shared his story via Reddit. The brief summary: Dude's been dating his girlfriend for awhile and starts to get bored (see my last article on relationship boredom.) He decides to join an adult social site supposedly to look at pictures of hot women. Some of these hot women begin flirting with him. His confidence boosted, he decides to demand his girlfriend agree to an open relationship or he will dump her. After some expected emotional distress, she eventually relents. He goes on the prowl. She also signs up on the same site.

Fast forward a few weeks. He hasn't seen any action, whereas she's flooded with attention, dates, and a few hookups. The issue comes to a head when he sees her at a bar with another dude who proceeds to thank his for allowing her to have the open relationship.

Even though there's a high probability it's not a real story, it should serve as a cautionary tale on several levels. Let's explore those levels.

1. The vast majority of the time, online hot flirty women probably aren't hot. Or women. If you're getting A LOT of attention from women and you yourself aren't ridiculously rich, handsome, or funny, a red flag should be raised. These women would receive a shit-ton of attention themselves and wouldn't have the time to seek you out. Odds are good she's really just a middle-aged pasty dude in his mother's basement.

2. Understand the "ten to one" rule. At minimum, an available female will receive, on average, ten times the attention an available male will receive. This dude expected his less-attractive (in his words) girlfriend to receive minimal interest. He was shocked she received significantly more attention than he received. Guys typically take a shotgun-like approach to attracting women, whereas women will be a little more focused. It should not have been a surprise she received so much attention.

3. Open relationships done for purely selfish reasons are always disasters. The dude wanted an open relationship because he wanted to bone the supposed hot chicks he was chatting up online. He didn't consider his girlfriend's thoughts or feelings when suggesting the idea. He didn't consider that she would attract attention. He didn't consider she would be gong on dates. He didn't consider other dudes would be boning her. He really didn't consider the possibility that she would actually enjoy the open relationship experience (which she obviously did.)

4. He didn't fully appreciate what he had until he lost it. Or came close to losing it. By his own admittance, this relationship was better than his previous relationships. They had a lot in common. They had fun together. Still, he continually thought about what he was missing. It was a classic case of the grass being greener on the other side. Now, I'm a big believer in the "fix it or end it" philosophy of relationships, so I can sort of appreciate his... proactiveness. However, he went about it in the worst way possible. Instead of him actively ending it, he gave her a douchey ultimatum. Once that genie was out of the bottle, it was out for good. He realized he made a terrible mistake when he realized she was highly desirable. 

The dude seems like a huge tool. Hopefully the girlfriend meets a decent guy and ends the relationship. Hopefully he learned his lesson, too. 

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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Fuck Romance, Your Relationship Needs Excitement!

In my last post, I talked about the inherent challenges of a monogamous relationship over long periods of time. Here in 'Murica, our relationship ideal is to find the perfect soul mate, fall hopelessly in love, and spend the rest of our lives burning with passion. Indeed, that's what usually happens...

...for about nine to twelve months give or take a season or two. 

Eventually the cocktail of excitatory chemicals wears off. The white-hot passion fades a bit and is replaced with a feeling of bonding and intimacy. Evolutionarily-speaking, this cycle probably led us to procreate (via lots o' sex), then bond enough to remain a couple until our offspring are viable enough to leave the nest.

It's a good system. It serves the purpose.

Unless, of course, we introduce the "until death do us part" thing. 

After around five to eight years (on average), that oxytocin-induced bonding we experienced begins to fade a bit. That was the gist of the previous article, and the point of this article on lifelong happiness. The author's drawn-out main point is pretty clear- the toxin that kills relationships is boredom

Unfortunately, we're not taught to deal with boredom in relationships. If a relationship isn't as exciting as it once was, society tells us to be more romantic. Flowers. Candles. Dinner at a fancy restaurant. 

Here's the problem. We think romantic gestures are what spark passion, but they don't. They're merely the medium we choose to use when we're seducing and courting each other at the beginning of a relationship. That novelty and excitement is what we crave, not teddy bears hugging heart pillows. 

Those romantic gestures may produce a temporary positive effect because we've been classically conditioned to respond to them with excitement. That wears off quickly, however, because it's the same old person using the same old tired tricks. The gestures are just a band-aid covering up the real problem: Boredom.

So how do we cure this boredom?

Simple. We do exciting shit.

When we engage in exciting activities as a couple, our brains get a surge of epinepherine and dopamine. It makes our heart race, get butterflies in our stomachs, our palms get sweaty, and most importantly, we experience a flood of dopamine that makes us feel really, really good. Not coincidentally, this is the same physiological effect that occurs when we first fell for our partner. Our brains misattribute this effect. Instead of attributing the feelings to the activity, we attribute it to our partner. The excitement of the situation makes us think we're feeling that flame from the early days of the relationship. 

This is the reason the other alternatives I discussed occur. Affairs are exciting and fill that need for excitement. Same deal with divorce. Swinging injects sexual novelty, which kills boredom. Polyamory introduces the feelings of falling in love, which also kills boredom. The drug I discussed would also kill boredom, though it's not FDA approved yet.

If none of those are viable options, you'll have to choose my second option from the previous post- spice things up. This is where we have to think excitement, not romance. Excitement derives from the fight or flight response, so we need to do something that's a little bit dangerous. It could be physically dangerous or socially dangerous. If it scares you, even just a little bit, it will be effective at curing the boredom of long-term relationships. 

Instead of a candle-lit dinner, how about bungee-jumping? Instead of a picnic in a park, how about paintball? Instead of a day at a spa, how about renting some motorcycles for the day? Basically stop thinking "lame" and start thinking "scary."

The author of the linked article mentions the idea of habituation, which means we get used to our significant other. No matter how funny, attractive, or skilled lover they may be, we get used to them. Habituation is boredom. When people say "relationships are hard", this is the "hard" they're talking about. It's hard work continually coming up with new shit. 

When Shelly and I quit our jobs and started traveling, we were in a perpetual state of excitement. Everything was new and awesome; it was amazing. Eighteen months later, even the most scenic vistas produced a "Meh" response. The novelty wore off, habituation crept in. We had to change things up.

So how do you go about continually searching for new, exciting stuff to do? 

Play this game:

Once a month, take turns planning a surprise activity to do as a couple. It can be anything that's close enough to your comfort zone that nether of you panic, but far enough outside your comfort zone that it will be scary. The planning partner can give vague hints, but the secrecy of the activity adds an important element of mystery. The anticipation is a form of seduction, which is one of the first things to die in a typical relationship. 

The schedule of the game is important because it's easy to let excitement-seeking slide when schedules get too busy. Each member of the couple will have two months to plan each "adventure date", which is more than enough time to brainstorm and plan. 

How many of you that aren't ridiculously happy in your present relationship realize the problem is boredom? You still love your partner, but you secretly (or not so secretly) crave excitement? If that's you, give the game a try. You won't regret it. ;-)


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Sunday, May 18, 2014

What's the Deal with Monogamy?



I recently read an article about the development and FDA trials of a pill that would increase women's sexual desire. The idea is to create a fix for the decreased desires (which could be effectively described as "horniness") women typically feel toward their partner in long-term relationships. They aren't happy, and this will help fix a problem. I realized this pill perfectly illustrates the conundrum we face about monogamy- As a society, we celebrate the idea of lifelong pair-bonding. Yet most of us, despite our best attempts, really aren't that good at it. 

Topics like this have always fascinated me because it combines the biology of sexuality, attraction, and pair-bonding with the sociocultural aspects of our intimate relationships. Since I'm between book-writing projects, it seemed like a fun way to jump back into active blogging.

So the question: Are we, as humans, designed for monogamy?

Before we begin, two issues need to be addressed: Individuality and morality. First, we're all different. Research seems to indicate some humans are more adept at monogamy. Some of us are like prairie voles. We find a mate and maintain sexual exclusivity until one partner dies (for the most part... there are a few PVs that like to get a little action on the side.) On the other hand, some of us are live the free-lovin' bonobo monkeys that treat sex as recreation. Researchers attribute this variability to neurotransmitters, specifically the presence of high levels of oxytocin and oxytocin receptors. Other variables, like culture, religion, and other such factors clearly play a role in monogamy.

The second issue is a bit tricky- morality. In the United States, the idea of serial monogamy (only having one partner at a time, but other partners are generally okay if the relationship ends) is the cultural norm that's continually reinforced by many societal institutions. Anything other than serial monogamy is generally frowned upon by the majority. This makes open, honest discussions somewhat tricky. Personally, I prefer to silence my own moral code when discussing such matters. It's useless to try to impose my morality on others, just as it's pointless for them to impose theirs on me.

So let's get to it. What do we know about monogamy?


Animals


In the animal kingdom, roughly 4% of mammals appear to be monogamous. Recent DNA testing of offspring has shown almost all previously-believed monogamous animals, to some degree, aren't having sex exclusively with their mate. This means 96% of our mammal cousins are nonmonogamous.

History of Monogamy

Way back in college, I took a few human sexuality courses. I remember a discussion on the origins of "marrying for love." Shocking to me at the time, that idea wasn't formulated until the Enlightenment in 17th century Europe. Prior to this, marriage was done for political, social, or economic reasons. The idea of monogamy simply didn't exist.

Once people started marrying for love, the concept of sexual jealousy among spouses was introduced. Emotional possessiveness became an issue. The idea of monogamy was born.

This wasn't a huge deal, however, due to the logistics of the era. The mortality rate was pretty high. The odds of a spouse dying, thus freeing the survivor to find another partner, was quite good. Death during childbirth, industrial revolution accidents, or just good ole' disease made for early grave. "Same partner to death" really wasn't that much of a commitment.

Compare that to today. Let's assume you get together in your mid-twenties. With a life-expectancy stretching well into the seventies, that means fifty-plus years of trying to keep the spark alive.

Chemicals

Specifically, neurotransmitters. This is a complex topic, so I'll greatly oversimplify it. We have two neurotransmitters that have a profound effect on sex drive- dopamine (increases) and serotonin (decreases.) When balanced, we're pretty normal. When dopamine increases, sex drive increases. This is why novelty, exercise, and cocaine all make us at least a little bit horny. When serotonin increases, we lose sexual interest. This is why SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or antidepressants) kill sexual interest.

This is important because dopamine decreases the more time we spend around our significant other. Early in relationships, our brains are flooded with dopamine. After awhile, it decreases. This causes us to get bored with our partner. This effect seems especially prominent in women. It even has a name: Hypoactive sexual desire disorder.

Oxytocin, at least to some degree, counteracts this effect by emotionally bonding us with our partner. It's also the same neurotransmitter that bonds parents to kids. This system is what keeps us together in what I would define as "social monogamy." We identify ourselves as a couple socially. Unfortunately, oxytocin doesn't boost sex drive. In fact, it have have an opposite effect.

Emotional closeness requires a sense of safety. Passion requires a sense of danger. The two constructs, by definition, are mutually exclusive. Masters at seduction understand this, which is why the pushing and pulling of sexual interest is so alluring. It plays these two constructs off each other. That's another topic for another day, however.

How we Interpret the Lack of Interest in our Partner

Let's say you've been in a relationship for a few years. In the beginning, you were like jackrabbits. You fucked at every conceivable opportunity. Eventually that tapered off. Maybe you got married. Had a few kids. Bought a nice house in the 'burbs. Whatever.

When we experience that decrease in sexual desire, most of us assign blame to our partner. It's not necessarily deliberate, it's just a self-preservation thing we do. We may love them, but we begin resenting them for little behaviors that we believe are killing the passion we once experienced. We begin to feel trapped by the societal expectations of monogamy. That subtle misattribution can lead to a fairly predictable course of action that undermines the relationship by forcing us to make a decision among a slew of options.

The Options

Option #1: Stick it out. Some of us have the requisite neurotransmitter cocktail (and associated receptors) to make monogamy a cruse in the park. In other words, we have no problem living a life devoid of passion because we're strongly bonded to our mate. This is the default mode most of society champions. The problem, of course, is that the vast majority of the population seems to be incapable of this. 

Option #2: Spice things up. This is the "Cosmo" solution we read while standing in the checkout line at the local Piggly Wiggly. Novelty releases dopamine. If we change up our game, we get a little bit of that fire back. This is actually a pretty decent solution because it's socially acceptable... except for the fact that it's exceedingly hard work to constantly inject novelty. We adapt to novelty rather fast, and if our partner is the lone source of the novelty, we have to "up the ante" every time we try something new. That light spanking on the ass and nipple tweaking will eventually morph into being caned and hung from the ceiling via piercings. 

Option #3: Get divorced. Old partner isn't exciting anymore, so we get a new one. That's the real spirit of serial monogamy, isn't it? This feels like a ridiculous option, but a divorce rate hanging north of 50% suggests it's popular. For some, this may not be a viable option due to kids, insurance, materialism, etc. 

Option #4: Have an affair. New partners certainly create a spark, so we could solve this issue by finding sex and/or love behind our partner's back. Some research has suggested THIS is how we evolved. The generally-accepted conservative statistic indicates about 20-25% of couples will be affected by infidelity, with some studies pointing to MUCH higher numbers. For example, according to these stats, around 70% of males AND females would have an affair if they were assured they wouldn't get caught. 

The Interwebz seems to be making it easier and easier to find a hookup partner other than our spouse. Ashleymadison.com, the leading "place to find affair partners" website, boasts over 20 million members. Let that sink in for a moment. We're talking about possibly 40 million relationships that would be affected. And this is just one of many websites that offer the same service. It's safe to say this is a popular option to solving the passion problem. 

The problem here, of course, is the negative impact on the relationship. Only about a third of relationships survive an affair, and the experience tends to be rather traumatic to the betrayed spouse. It's obviously frowned upon by society, too, but it maintains a pretense to monogamy. The system still works, just one partner happened to make a mistake. 

Option #5: Ethical nonmonogamy. Ethical nonmonogamy, which is practiced by 20-25% of the US population, is some sort of sexual and/or emotional relationship involving other people in full knowledge of both partners. At one end of the ethical nonmonogany spectrum would be swinging by adding one or more recreational (i.e.- casual) partners with no emotional attachments (sexually nonmonogamous) to polyamory, which is adding more people to the loving emotional aspects of the relationship (emotionally and possibly socially nonmonogamous.) This is a very simplified explanation of many, many diverse groups that have different goals and motives, but one fact remains: We add novelty by breaking the societal expectation that monogamy is the norm. 

This option is basically like the "spice things up" option on steroids. All parties are consensual, so nothing occurs without full disclosure. There may be problems navigating the complex feelings that arise, but those are usually worked out via communication. The real issue is acceptance. Society as a whole doesn't like competition to the "one partner forever" model. All variations of ethical nonmonogamy poke holes is the common assumptions and practices of monogamy. 

Option #6: Drugs. To bring the discussion full-circle, we come back to Lybrido, the testosterone-and-Viagra cousin that causes women to experience a surge of dopamine (and get horny.) The idea is pretty straight-forward. As the passion dies down after a year or five, a woman can take this pill to revive her sexual desire for her partner.

It's more exciting than riding out the passionless relationship, easier than continually fanning the flames by introducing novelty, avoids the pain of divorce and/or affairs, and is more emotionally easier and socially-accepted than swinging or polyamory. We live in a drug culture, and this idea would probably be more widely accepted than Viagra was back in the 90's. 

There are caveats, however. How will the woman feel about requiring a pill to feel desire for her significant other? How would the guy feel? What if the spouse isn't the recipient of that increased horniness? Are there unintended health complications? How would we ever get anything done if we were having sex all the time?

Conclusion

Our culture clearly promotes the idea of monogamy. Yet the amount of money spent on magazines willed with "improve your sex life"tips, the ever-growing divorce rate, the number of illicit affairs that occur, and the number of couples involved in ethical nonmonogamy tell us monogamy is not the Utopia we make it out to be. Is it time to stop teaching monogamy as the only movie shown in the theater? Should we fully accept alternatives to monogamy? Do we increase spending to find drugs that will make monogamy more palatable? Do we all become eunuchs once we pop out a few kids?

What do you think of the issue? Leave a comment!


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