A lot of guys really struggle with monogamy (being exclusive to one person). Many people cheat on their partners, but even those guys that don’t actually cheat, but are sexually attracted to other women outside of their current relationship, often beat themselves up over it.
In life, there is a seemingly never ending supply of beautiful women, so it’s really easy for us to second guess ourselves when it comes to committing to one partner for a lifetime and still always be wondering “What if” when we notice attention from someone attractive.
I know I spent a lot of my life in a long relationship, being tempted by pretty girls all the time (but never acting upon my urges) and wondering: How can I possibly love my partner, if I am still so attracted to other women?
But what if I told you that we are not naturally monogamous?
Introducing the Coolidge Effect:
The name Coolidge effect was given, after a story surfaced about ex US President Calvin Coolidge. The story goes that, on a visit to a farm with Mrs. Coolidge, she observed a rooster having sex with a hen. She asked how many times a day the rooster would ‘perform’, to which she was told “Several”. She asked that the president be told this. When the president was told, he enquired: “Same Hen?”. The answer was no – several hens. The president asked that this be told to Mrs. Coolidge!
The Coolidge effect is linked to a post orgasm dopamine hangover; as we have sex with one partner more and more times, the dopamine release signals get weaker, resulting in decreased interest in that partner and leading many people to seek out a new partner.
In tests carried out on rats; a male rat was put in a cage with several female rats on heat and mated with all the females, in turn until exhaustion.
Despite the female rats then nudging the male rat for a repeat performance, the male rat was no longer interested. Then a new female was introduced into the cage and (cue cheesy porn music) the male immediately began to copulate with her.
The Coolidge Effect has been observed in human men as well. In one study, human males were either exposed to constant or varied sexual stimuli, while their level of sexual arousal was measured by a device that records changes in penile circumference.
The men who were repeatedly shown the same stimuli showed less arousal over time (i.e., they demonstrated habituation/desensitization); in contrast, those who were exposed to varied stimuli maintained higher levels of arousal.
The effect has been observed also, albeit to a lesser degree, in females. Tests on Hamsters this time, showed how a female hamster mated with a male until exhaustion, but then showed repeated interest in a new male introduced to the cage.
This clearly demonstrates the Coolidge Effect and proves that we all show some habituation/desensitization to repeated exposure to the same sexual stimuli.
This is also the reason why we get bored of watching the same porn, or even genres of porn, once we have seen it a few times, and begin to search out something different (See this post on how porn is ruining your sex life and how to quit it for good).
Of course, as humans, we tend to reproduce with one partner and stick around to raise our offspring together, or at least that is the plan. However, this is going against our biochemical impulses, so in effect, as humans, we are Socially monogamous, not naturally monogamous.
The modern ‘hook up’ culture is also in some way responsible for a lack of sexual satisfaction in a longer term relationship, with the focus shifting to always searching for someone better.
What this means, is that monogamy is a choice and that, if you make that choice, you shouldn’t ever beat yourself up for finding someone else attractive, as it’s just our biochemicals behaving as they should.
What it means, is that I realise that building a close emotional bond with someone who I know implicitly, will always win over a cheap thrill, at least for me.
I’m now in a position where I know myself better too, so I accept that being attracted to someone, without ever feeling the need to take things further, is natural and healthy. I admit that it makes me feel good if someone appears to be attracted to me, but I know it is just transient and meaningless in the big scheme of things.
It means more to me that I made a decision a few months into seeing someone to become exclusive to this person, despite the smorgasbord of beautiful women I see on a daily basis.
This is based on two things:
• My morals and the fact that I grew up in a family where my father cheated on my mother; I have always been determined, having seen the effects that cheating causes on the wounded party, to not be a cheater.
• The fact that I value attachment over thrill and excitement; I know that, as humans, we are all genetically predisposed to crave attachment and be complete. We can be whole as individuals, but we operate best in a connected union.
I also know that the feeling I used to get of ‘falling in love’ with a woman I would see on the street often several times a day, is purely based on physical appearance and attraction chemicals in my body (see below).
I’ve dated enough now and, more importantly, dated enough girls that ticked all the boxes physically, but were not my cup of tea at all when I began to talk to them (or bat shit crazy, but that’s another story).
It’s one thing feeling like you are in an unhappy relationship looking out from a place of boredom at a seemingly all you can eat fuck-buffet, but most people don’t realise that it takes constant work to build and sustain a romantic, affectionate and sexually fulfilling relationship.
I never knew this when I was younger. I assumed, like most people, that when the ‘Honeymoon period’ wore off in a relationship after a few months, that I wasn’t in love any more. This would then make the buffet seem ever more tempting and would also drive home the assumption that I couldn’t possibly love my partner.
What I now know, is that the sex drive, the attraction system and the attachment system are separate and can function exclusive of each other.
The 3 Systems and how they function:
The Sex Drive:
Commonly referred to as libido or lust, the sex drive is characterised by a craving for sexual gratification. It is associated primarily with estrogenic and androgenic hormones and evolved to motivate individuals to seek a sexual union with an appropriate partner.
The Attraction System:
Usually referred to as infatuation, passionate love, or obsessive love, the attraction system is characterised by the increased energy (sweaty palms, racing heartbeat, butterflies, etc) and attention on a preferred mating partner. When we are attracted to someone, we feel exhilarated, we crave that person and we can’t stop thinking about them. Attraction focuses on high levels of Phenylethylamine, or PEA, which causes the release of dopamine and norepinephrine, whilst restricting serotonin. This emotion system evolved so that we would be more choosy, conserving our mating energy to pursue genetically superior individuals for reproduction.
The Attachment System:
This 3rd system focuses on companionship, or companionate love in humans and is characterised by behaviours such as mutual nest building, defence of mutual territory, mutual feeding and grooming, separation anxiety and shared parental chores. Attachment brings about feelings of calm security and is associated with the hormones oxytocin and vasopressin. This emotion system evolved to motivate individuals to sustain their union long enough to complete parental duties.
As already mentioned, the 3 emotion systems can act exclusive of one another, but they can also lead into each other; you may begin to have sex with someone to gain sexual pleasure, then become romantically involved and later become deeply attached to them. This is a natural biological process; the release of vasopressin in men and oxytocin in women after orgasm are known to cause attachment and contribute to the feelings of closeness after sex.
The problem is, nobody teaches us about attraction and attachment in young life, so many of us live out our days in a constant state of confusion.
We don’t have to let our biochemicals define us as people; we have a choice and there are things we can do, in order to outsmart our biology and foster a choice of monogamy, that is: stay attracted and feel a deeper sense of connection with our partner, in order to stay in love and consistently create novelty and keep an active sex life. When you do this successfully, it makes the idea of an affair, or a brief flirtation with someone else seem frivolous, or unimportant.
If you’re in a long relationship, do you remember the time when you met your partner, but before you actually got together with them? You found them attractive, captivating, amazing and you would literally give anything to be with them. This was your sex drive and attraction systems kicking in.
Those feelings were suppressed over time by lack of novelty and the attachment system kicking in, but are still inside you somewhere, even if you’ve hit a rough patch romantically. With work, and the addition of more excitement into the relationship outside of the bedroom, those feelings can usually resurface and be cultivated to be stronger than ever.
Rather than focusing on adding romance, the focus should be on adding the thrill of the attraction phase back into the relationship. In order to do this, you need to do things that get your heart racing, kick your adrenal glands into overdrive and get your central nervous system engaged; the physiological feeling of fear is identical to the feeling of being intensely attracted to someone.
Moreover, there’s a direct correlation between stimulation of your central nervous system and sexual arousal; trigger the first one and the second will follow.
If you’re struggling with a lack of excitement in your relationship from both sides, or even if your wife/girlfriend/partner appears to have lost interest in sex, then you should get our eBook: Setting The Scene For An Amazing Sexual Relationship.
Not only will this book show you the best physical techniques to satisfy her and enliven her sexually on a long term basis, but it will also show you the mistakes you are probably making, on a daily basis, outside the bedroom that translate into low desire for her, Activating her brakes when it comes to sex and not allowing her to press the gas pedal enough.
It has actually been proven that it is better for our individual wellbeing if we do not give in to our biology. Studies show that married people live longer, have fewer addictions, and lower illness rates than single people.
Purely sexual relationships also show untapped potential, when it comes to depth of connection and spiritual wholeness; the Taoists believed that the risks to spiritual wholeness came from male orgasm and semen release.
Whilst this has in some ways been disproven by modern neuroscience, there is a proven post orgasm neurochemical hangover (prolactin is released in both sexes, dampening libido and altering moods for upto two weeks post orgasm) that does modify our feelings toward our partner in negative ways and can lead to us feeling like we are constantly falling in and out of love, causing us to engage in behaviour that is counter-productive to a monogamous relationship.
A surge in prolactin can also cause other symptoms, such as impotence, anxiety, weight gain and depression; many of the common things that put relationships into difficulty, the ironic fact being, that prolactin release is 400 times greater through sex with a partner than with masturbation alone.
The key, as with most things, is awareness and understanding of these natural mechanisms, so that we can halt destructive behaviour before it happens. Post orgasm bonding also helps with oxytocin release and can ease symptoms both of addiction and withdrawal. Oxytocin also stimulates deep emotional bonds, which can only be a plus as far as lasting monogamy is concerned.
Studies also show that too much sex with a partner can be a very bad thing, leading to a full manifestation of the coolidge effect. Perhaps your partner not ‘putting out’ as much as you’d like is a source of frustration, but she may actually be doing the relationship a favour by not wanting it as much as you; the scarcity principle kicks in in this scenario, causing you to want her more.
Of course, some couples choose to give in to the Coolidge effect, to some degree, by having an open relationship – practicing consensual non-monogamy, swinging, or introducing extra people into the bedroom and capitalising on what people in the polyamory community call “New relationship energy”.
This works for some, but there are dangers attached to this, such as one partner becoming attached to someone else outside of the relationship; men and women can express deep attachment for a long-term spouse or mate at the same time they express attraction for someone else, and also while they feel the sex drive in reaction to situations unrelated to either partner; we are physiologically capable of “loving” more than one person at a time.
Ultimately, it is up to you to define your own belief system when it comes to monogamy, then to seek out a partner who has the same belief system and be disciplined enough to stick with your beliefs on a long term basis.