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Monogamy Revisited

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This is bigger than the bees dying. 

Life seems so odd lately with regard to the issues getting major play in this country. On Tuesday, for example, monogamy was really “up.” 

I wonder about the timing. Advancing climate change is causing both drought and flood, the bees are disappearing, and Congress may throw us into fiscal crisis again this fall. I mean, how critical is the subject of sexual fidelity? 

The topic brightened on my radar on Tuesday due to an article about two recent studies on mammalian monogamy. Apparently this has long been a puzzle to scientists, so there is a lot of literature on the subject. It was interesting that the two studies reached different conclusions. 

The underlying assumption seems to be that the male is naturally given to multiple partners. However, one study of primates concluded that the female’s tendency to establish a large food-gathering territory forced the male to stay nearby to protect her from the attentions of other males. 

In the other study, the scientists asserted that monogamy was a protection from infanticide. Males are known in many species to kill the offspring of other males in order to impregnate the mothers. By staying nearby, the male would protect his progeny. 

Apparently these or other factors produce monogamy among only 5% of mammals, including humans. By coincidence, a family member had previously referred me to a fascinating article suggesting that monogamy is a strain for females. Did I know that already? I think so. What I didn’t know, and what the article revealed, is that there may soon be a pill to address this problem. Presumably that will help men too. 

The article in question was written by Daniel Berger and appeared in The New York Times Magazine titled “Unexcited? There May Be a Pill for That.” There is apparently afoot a groundswell of candor among women who are sexually dissatisfied with the partners they are committed to and also eager to do something to enhance libido. Interestingly enough, this is occurring even among young women. They confess to being indifferent to and even repelled by the prospect of sex.

We love naming things, so the condition was first defined as hypoactive sexual-desire disorder (HSDD) but is newly referred to as sexual interest/arousal disorder (SIAD). It seems, however, to boil down to simple boredom. 

To the rescue may come Adriaan Tuiten, a Dutch psychopharmacist. Devastated in his twenties by the sudden, inexplicable departure of a woman he’d been in love with since a teenager, he decided to pursue a way to sustain female lust through biochemistry. If the trials go well, he may have two drugs, Lybrido and Lybridos, on the market by 2016. 

It would seem that those in favor of social order would welcome this development, which might make lifelong marriages more common. However, author Berger says that companies chasing this pill have been concerned that feminine empowerment might lead to sexual anarchy. And then there is the fear that the FDA might reject an application “out of concern that a chemical would lead to female excesses, crazed binges of infidelity, societal splintering.” Amazing. A new paternal role for the FDA. 

Interestingly enough, men don’t seem to be afflicted by HSDD/SIAD with long-term partners in the same way that women are, and the suggestion is that monogamy just feels different to the female. Maybe life feels different to the female, and that’s why so many suffer from depression. A side effect of the most commonly prescribed antidepressants, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, is dampened libido. 

One wonders if the role of baby-maker, mother, and caretaker just naturally leads to fatigue, boredom, and sexual malaise. Interestingly enough, German research has found that women in committed relationships who don’t live with their partners retain their desire much better than other women. In fact, one psychoanalyst states that “Eroticism requires distance.” How much? one wonders. A lot of golf for the guys, long hunting trips, or even two homes? 

A little later in the article appears another new concept: “Studies conducted recently are beginning to hint that female eros isn’t in the least programmed for fidelity.” 

Whoa! The mind reels. This is bigger than the bees dying. Have we been misled all this time about the birds and the bees?  Here we have thought that the challenge was to keep the male on a short leash, not knowing what a drag that would turn out to be. Maybe we need to rethink this whole thing. 

Why not? We’re rethinking everything. But we need to figure out some way in all of this to take care of the children. They never get bored with having united parents long term, very long term, like lifelong. Maybe it is this particular challenge that separates us from the primates in our troubled, intermittent commitment to monogamy.

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