Karezzanauts! This NYT journalist is looking for input on contented monogamy

Marnia's picture
Submitted by Marnia on
Printer-friendly version

Is Monogamous Sex Boring for Women?

By Posted

Here's where you write him: doublex.slate@gmail.com

For the next month or so, I hope this blog will be a place to discuss some questions that torment sex researchers and therapists (and me), questions that I’ve spent the last eight years reporting and thinking and writing about, most recently in my new book What Do Women Want? To start with, I’d love to collect answers from you to a question people often ask me. I’ll pose it in a second …

But let’s consider, first, the lust of an arachnid called a book scorpion. Studying the sexual habits of this species may seem like a strange way to look at women’s desire, but sometimes scientists go to extremes to get beyond the distortions of human culture—the societal pressure, distortion, constraints imposed on women’s sexuality, even in our seemingly unconstrained times. Take a female book scorpion, let her have sex with one male and, afterward, offer her the same partner. Forty-eight hours will have to go by before she’s psyched about mating again, though he is full of sperm and fully motivated. But provide her with a new male, and she’s primed for sex within an hour and a half.

Lately, the field of evolutionary psychology has offered us a nice, neat way to understand the differences between men and women. Men (and I am simplifying the theory here) are genetically programmed to spread their seed, we’re told, while evolutionary forces have scripted women to settle down with a solid provider. One of the lessons we’ve absorbed from this is that, compared with male sexuality, female desire is innately, biologically, much better designed for monogamy. And yet, some scientists have wondered whether culture, rather than nature, is mostly at work in the belief that women are sexually suited to fidelity, whether we might have more in common than we think with our remote ancestors, the arachnids.

What if we strip away, as much as possible, societal expectations—as one researcher did in an ingenious study offering hetero women and men an array of fantasy one-night stands. You can read about these experiments, interwoven with the erotic lives and dilemmas of everyday women, in my book, but quickly I’ll mention the results of this last study here: Women were just as interested in casual sex with hot partners. (And the women were exactly as repelled by the prospect of going to bed with Donald Trump as the men were by Roseanne Barr.)

Nothing is certain. But let’s accept for a moment what seems, from a growing number of original studies on desire, perhaps true: nature hasn’t made women for monogamy at all, that women’s desire may well be oxygen-starved, if not suffocated, by constancy, as I outline in the New York Times magazine cover story this weekend about sex in monogamous relationships.  Most of us aren’t about to give up on monogamy as the governing principle of our romantic lives. So what to do? This is the question I keep getting asked. How can women maintain desire within long-term committed relationships? There are no good empirical studies. So I’m asking you: to share a solution that’s worked pretty well or even ecstatically; to share an effort that’s failed; to share an attempt you wish you or your partner were brave enough to make; to share the fact that this isn’t a problem for you and your theory as to why; to share your wisdom—or your further questions—in any form. 

Be as honest as you want but stop short of pornographic. We want to be able to publish some of your responses later this week. We will do that, anonymously, and then I will follow with another question next week. Send your replies to doublex.slate@gmail.com and put “what do women want—monogamy” in the subject line. We look forward to hearing from you.





"This is the question I keep getting asked. How can women maintain desire within long-term committed relationships?"

Marnia, do you think that is *really* what he wants to know about? Somehow I see the set-up he gives as looking for some other slant to his story, I don't know why~~

I'd be happy to write something to him, though, if you think he really wants to hear about karezza! I'm assuming you are going to write to him, too?


I just sent him a brief note asking him when the deadline is (and if I could write up something Sunday night) and also gave him a little bit of what I would be writing about. Hope I'm not too late!

It would be great to have such a large audience for this information!

I'm not sure what he's up to, but just in case...

We should take him at his word. At least he's asking good questions unlike most journalists who just buy the standard spin. On the other hand, he has already contributed mightily to the standard spin. Two past books are on BDSM lovers and now the book touting the sexual rapaciousness of women...without deeper understanding.

Still, it's easy to get it wrong.

Yes, I already wrote him when he popped up on Sexnet a week or so ago, but I will write an expanded reply to this invitation. I'll post it here when I'm finished. As usual, I'm giving a more abstract perspective because I feel that's what I have to offer that's unique. But I hope yours will be your usual juicy, inspiring fare. Wink Share it if you like.


I'll give him the benefit of the doubt, but I just don't want to waste my time writing if what he really wants is a list of new sex toys or positions (or whatever!) that women use to keep monogamy exciting, lol. I hopefully gave him enough of what I would write about for him to decide whether he wants me to go ahead and write something up.

My fellow Karezzanaut is on his way...hopefully, more material for my story, ha!

My submission

Hi Daniel,

I'm glad you've extended this invitation. I can't resist expanding on remarks I already sent you in connection with our exchange on Sexnet (below).

For millennia, cultures around the globe have recorded ways of managing mutual desire for well-being and sustainable harmony. Various traditions put the emphasis on frequent intercourse with a willingness to forgo climax. Think of the Chinese Daoist dual cultivation, karezza, (which evolved in the States), cortezia and amplexus reservatus in Europe, Polynesian lovemaking, Slow Sex, or this version of Indian tantra. (See: Lovers' Ultimate Sex Hack: Karezza for details)
Cultures have also chosen to regulate sex in other ways. Kosher sex, for example, mandates a two-week sexual time-out during each menstrual cycle, and this African hunter-gatherer culture developed taboos on intercourse after a wife gives birth until a child is walking. Indeed, anthropologist A. Ernest Crawley records that tribal cultures all over the world believed that temporary abstinence from sex was appropriate in  connection with many activities. These included hunting, warfare, planting, fishing, harvesting, wine preparation, shamanic deeds, pilgrimage, the first days of marriage, pregnancy, lactation, menstruation, and so forth. Often believed to increase abundance as well as male invincibility and vigor, such periodic abstinence was so widespread that Crawley characterized temporary chastity as an “infallible nostrum for all important undertakings and critical junctures.”

Even though the goal of temporary chastity didn't appear to be greater harmony, one result may have been to give couples a time-out so their brains restored their sensitivity to sex, making it more pleasurable than before the time-outs. Here's an example of a guy who just made this discovery by a different route: http://www.reddit.com/r/NoFap/comments/1fvcru/married_guy_here_just_completed_30_days_and/ Trouble is, he may not realize that he could be on the way to burning out his new found delight...this time with real sex instead of virtual jollies.

The modern, nonstop pursuit of orgasm may be a fairly recent loop in a spiral we’ve only recently recognized. Neurohistorian Daniel Lord Smail points out that one can view the entire history of civilization as an accelerating trend toward greater use of mood-altering (psychotropic) substances and activities, including shopping sprees and gorging on empty calories. Pursuit of frequent orgasm by any and all means is one among many—although a particularly compelling one.

I've been experimenting with the "frequent intercourse-infrequent orgasm" approach referred to earlier for years and it has made monogamy a much more lighthearted, enjoyable experience for both of us than it was when passion ruled. As my husband says, "When I don't fertilize you, my limbic system [primitive reward circuitry in the brain] continues to find you adorable." Not only that, as the brain grows more sensitive to subtler pleasures, vanilla pleasures can give rise to ecstatic and memorable experiences. Read comments of various men and women about these experiences. Best of all, the lovemaking feels effortless, no performance pressure on either partner. Easier than keeping up with a fetish, for example, and therefore more sustainable.

I know that for me, the wish to sustain juicy monogamy wasn't enough. The desire needed to arise from within. For me, the key proved to be learning to keep the brain's reward circuitry eager for more, which means circumventing the exhaustion of sexual desire (sexual satiety). It is the latter (and more specifically the neurochemical events that accompany it), which seems to prime us for the "Coolidge Effect" (the neurochemical reward for anticipating contact with novel partners), just as it does in other mammals.
Curious about the harmony that accompanied this practice, my science-teacher husband decided to dig up what sparse research might help to explain our remarkable improvements. As a consequence, we now believe that perhaps the first step in understanding the key to contented monogamy is to isolate how orgasm affects the brain. Here's some of the latest relevant research--which is, unfortunately, still in its infancy:

Once the (usually subtle) neurochemical aftereffects of orgasm are better understood, I'm guessing it will be easy to see how biology tricks us into becoming restless and changing partners. It seems obvious to us that this can affect both sexes. See: Orgasm’s Hidden Cycle. New lovers don't see this peril because they are all jacked up on the temporary "honeymoon neurochemistry" outlined in Will Orgasms Keep You in Love?

It's also true that every brain will react slightly differently to the neurochemical events of climax and satiety, just as some women feel PMS symptoms and others don't. Intriguingly, most lovers can spot the shifts in perception and mutual attraction if they experiment with the approach I've outlined consistently for a month, and then return to conventional sex with emphasis on orgasm. (Works best with lots of stillness and relaxation at first.)

I'm guessing that it's up to us if we want to turn the volume down on our add-a-mate program by not exhausting our sexual desire for each other, and turn the volume up on our pair-bonding program by learning the power of attachment cues and gentle, non-goal-oriented lovemaking. See The Lazy Way to Stay in Love.

In recent years, humanity has somehow learned that hot sex to climax is the only "natural" way, but that's not true, even among other primates. See What Can Chimps Teach the Church About Sex? There could be a whole range of "normal" between these two old programs (add-a-mate and pair-bonding), many degrees of which do a better job of sustaining contented monogamy than our current focus on "more heat."
Personally, I'd like to see the sexology profession split into two factions: Those who continue to study the benefits of novelty-as-aphrodisiac and those who study which sexual behaviors actually strengthen pair bonds and reduce compulsive sexual behavior. I think humanity would quickly understand human sexuality much better. Monogamy doesn't need to be as hard as we're making it. We could be following a poor set of instructions for the goal we envision.
Thanks for asking such a good question,
Marnia Robinson
Author - Cupid's Poisoned Arrow: From Habit to Harmony in Sexual Relationships
My earlier email to him
Thanks Daniel.

Let me know if you want a suggested reading list.  My book includes essays between chapters from various traditions that recommended learning to manage sexual expression for greater pleasure, satisfaction and harmony. And here's a trailer about a movie on this concept: Trailer - Slow Sex - How sex makes you happy. It just won the "Audiences' Choice" award in a German/Swiss film festival. Turns out religious views may have less to do with giving rise to such approaches than subtleties of the human reward circuitry.

Very unlikely that you could write a bestseller based on this material, however. Wink It's much easier to sell "hot, fragile sex" than "warm, sustainable sex." The primitive mammalian reward circuitry tends to value short-term results over long-term gains. For a hilarious, informative book about this, read Mean Genes. One of the authors is a biology professor from UCLA. The other co-author is particularly interested in how this all-too-human part of the brain impacts economic decisions. http://www.amazon.com/Mean-Genes-Taming-Primal-Instincts/dp/0142000078

Bottom line: Too much stimulation can cause loud, false-positive (vis a vis actual wellbeing) messages, and chronic overconsumption can bring about lingering brain changes, including sexual conditioning and even addiction.  Sustainable pleasure grows more elusive, not less. For more, watch this half-hour presentation. Adolescent Brain Meets Highspeed Internet Porn - YouTube  This is where the science is going, even though Sexnetters are still in denial.

All the best,


very nice


I have been asking myself a question lately: how is orgasm any different from getting a fix from sweets? or from people who drink? or do drugs?
For me, what i realized is I can't remember how the food tasted after it is behind me. And i can't remember how my penis felt in a womans vagina etc. I only know that it did feel good- but the sensation is lost. In every craving that i have had, i believe there may be a subconscious desire to remember (by redoing) how it feels to have what is in question. Perhaps this inability to remember how it feels but yet remembering that somehow it did give a temporary high is what hooks my brain and others into addictive behavior.

Curiously, i have always looked at food as nourishment and when i am in a balanced state my diet is fairly regular and un-inspiring. And yet i hear people say, "food should be fun!" It made me question the parellel between the sex/orgasm cyle and the comparison to food. What if karezza is a mode of sexual nourishment rather than feeding a craving? Some of us who have experienced karezza might begin to see the difference. some of us might have a craving for "sweets" (ie orgasm) only to find the same hangover we have with ice cream, chocalate, coffee etc. The point is, I am feeling like it is my responsibility at parties to say no to cake and ice cream and people know me as the "party pooper" or "health nut" because of this. And yet at those moments, i feel that i am on the leading edge and taking responsibility for myself, my body and my health. I am finally realizing that while i have trained myself so well in this regard with food, i had neglected to make the connection of "nourishment" vs "junk food" with my sexual health. I think the media, and many authors are selling "junk food" diets of high orgasm sex just as the food giants have sold a bill of sale that junk food is what we should have. The tides are changing in the food world. There is an ever growing population that wants to take responsibility for their health by returning to simple eating. I think Karezza or slow sex is a way for me to take responsibility for my brain and my health. Now that i see it this way i can ask myself: am i interested in being responsible for my body/health or am i going to eat "cake" like everyone else?

if i choose to eat "cake"(orgasm) every once in awhile, at least i know it's NOT for nourishment that i choose this but perhaps my innate desire to feel like i am entitled to my junk food/sex craving.

just food/sex for thought :)

Guess "dopamine" sells

I'm the wrong one to ask, because I share your view that  we owe it to ourselves to keep our brains in balance. It's not a matter of "wrong and right" or "immoral and moral." It's a matter of optimizing what works best for you.

I really like your conceptualization of karezza as nourishment. I think it's clear that the Daoists saw it that way also. However, I think both healthy food and sex can also be pleasurable without sliding into "junk food" buzzes.

Marnia wrote:

[quote=Marnia]I really like your conceptualization of karezza as nourishment. I think it's clear that the Daoists saw it that way also. However, I think both healthy food and sex can also be pleasurable without sliding into "junk food" buzzes.[/quote]

that's where the whole neuroplasticity link comes in i think. We have to "train" our brains to find a new groove. For me healthy food has developed into a pleasurable experience but it's taken a long time to train my brain to this point. It still mystifies people that this could be the case. People wonder assume that there is something "wrong" with me because i don't want to have cake and ice cream. Those of us here know: "it's not crowded on the leading edge."

Donna's Response

Mr. Bergner,

The answer, in short, to satisfying monogamy for women as well as for men, is a form of incredibly satisfying, bonding, healing sex. My husband and I are convinced that this form of slow, feminine sex can heal marriages and give women what they really desire.

I hope my personal story will give you a new insight concerning this amazing subject. In my opinion, modern women do not need more “mating sex”, which offers little for ensuring a nourishing, long-term relationship. Furthermore, in most cases, “hot sex” generally causes neurochemical “fallout”, conflict and failed relationships. That was the case for us.

As Marnia Robinson suggests in her writings, many women are done with being used as “sperm spittoons” for a man’s release. We need something infinitely deeper, more meaningful, enduring, healing and soothing. We want the appetizer, the gourmet meal and the sweet, syrupy desert. There is another way to make love a form of feminine sex which produces oxytocin in the brain, creating lasting feelings of love, connection and ecstasy. The women who have discovered this way of lovemaking adore it, and would never go back to conventional sex. It is saving and healing their marriages, as it did for us.

When we learned this form of sex - which is not Tantra - it healed our relationship and bonded us in ways we had never experienced before in our twenty years together. As a matter of fact, we were on the verge of splitting up when we made this amazing discovery about slow, feminine style lovemaking, which benefits both of us. We are making love for two hours a day, every day! It’s really very simple, because it’s not about doing more, it’s about doing less and achieving more satisfaction than ever imagined.

I was in what we call a state of “feminine lockdown” – I was “done” with conventional style mating sex (fast, furious, and climactic) or as a male friend of ours likes to describe it, “lick, pump, squirt, snore”! I was feeling hopeless and disconnected from my husband. I didn’t want another man – I wanted to feel connected and close to the one I had.

We didn’t have a clue about what to do about it until we re-educated ourselves. So many women could benefit from this, but don’t have the information and have probably never personally experienced it. My article, Freeing Women in Sexual Lockdown, tells the story of my sexual healing and how we saved our marriage.

We both feel like we are sixteen again, more in love than ever - youthful, peaceful, and high on oxytocin – all the time. In fact, we wish we had come across this information when we were teenagers. My husband wrote an article on the Reuniting site entitled, How Sex Ruined my Life, telling how “hot sex”, masturbation, orgasm and ejaculation, led him down a path of ruination and destruction.

So, in conclusion, it’s not that women are bored with monogamy. Most women would stay bonded for eternity with the right guy who was willing to learn the skill and give them slow, relaxed, extended pleasure, delight, connection, and most of all, a higher form of love, which stirs the heart and feeds the soul. This is what women are hungry for.

This form of lovemaking has so deeply affected us, mentally, physically and emotionally, that even other people are noticing something different about us. They are asking us, “What is it about you two? You are glowing, and seem so happy and in love!”

A friend is reading Bergner's book, and says...

watching that clip I am so frustrated by the misunderstandings that are again going to spread, such as: Colbert was talking about bonobos and the males giving females food in exchange for sex, never the other way round, but the way Bergner then responds about rhesus macaque monkeys sounds like he too is talking about bonobo apes.

From reading about this in his book he does not seem to understand that macaques have females that stay in their birth group with males coming and going, and if the males stayed around they would end up mating with their own daughters. This movement of males is how they avoid inbreeding. But no ape has this female philopatry - in apes the females move and this makes a massive difference.
Anyway, I will read more of the book today. I am already absolutely bursting with things that need to be said!
But the book is not awful in the way "Sex at Dawn" is. It seems more genuine and Bergner seems as if he would be interested in learning more. I don't get any impression so far that he is deliberately distorting the science.

No response

He didn't write me back to let me know about his deadline, so I'm going to assume he wasn't interested in my take on things~~I didn't write anything up because I'm not one to waste my time unnecessarily!