Humans are not pair-bonded primates.

Submitted by Che Joubert on
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i think the most important thing to remember about sex is that it produces quite a bit of pleasure and not much else. Nothing against sex but it just does not lead to bonding. Humans are not a pair bonded species - we lack the hormonal adaptations, brain chemistry and brain structure to fit into that category. None of the higher primates are 'pair bonded.' There are a few lower primates that do pair bond but not us. Many animals including humans will temporarily 'bond' in the pursuit of sex.

At the 2008 Nobel conference at Gustavus Adolphus College, several anthropologists including Svante Paabo agreed that humans are not a pair bonded species and conjectured that 'friendship' was instead the motivating force behind the human community. I would beg to disagree and suggest that the mother/child bond was overwhelmingly the original force behind human evolution and cooperation, and that was where the deep bonds lay. As an example of my point, in early urban history, long after societies had achieved living in extremely close and modern conditions, there were still no laws controlling female sexual behavior and consequently no such institution as 'fatherhood,' thus no pair bonding at all. It would seem nature probably intended humans to have indiscriminate sex whenever the urge hit. All this would seem to shed some light on why human attempts at pair bonding fail so often both officially and unofficially.

The fact that

humans are not generally life-long pair bonders doesn't mean they aren't pair bonders. Perhaps this is a matter of defining terms. When we say we are pair bonders and not promiscuous mammals, we don't mean humans aren't somewhat promiscuous. We mean that, unlike the typical mammal, humans have a strong urge to find Mr./Ms Right and plan a glorious future together.

No mammals are entirely monogamous, even the three percent who are considered pair bonders. All cheat, and some more than others. Wink At this site we argue that humans have a constant tension between the old mammalian "promiscuity" program and their urge to pair bond (at least for a time). We also explain that we can choose subconscious signals that emphasize one program or the other. ( If you try these ideas for strengthening pair bonds, you may find that even you feel contented to remain in a monogamous relationship. Smile

But humans most definitely ARE pair bonders. They fall in love...unlike typical mammals. And they pair up, ideally, long enough to fall in love with their kids. That's probably the reason we ARE pair bonders, in fact. Big-brained babies do better with two caregivers, because so much development goes on outside the womb, over a long period of time.

We agree with you - that sex

We agree with you - that sex does not necessarily lead to bonding. In fact, sex can lead to separation, depending on what other factors are in play. We emphasize karezza, and bonding behaviors as the glue to hold couples together.

Humans can be quite promiscuous, and entirely monogamous. This type of behavior is not found in other mammals. We are probably unique. However, the fact that humans can be sexually monogamous for years or even a lifetime establishes that we have the brain substrates for monogamy. The fact that many couples are socially monogamous, again for years, or lifetimes, once again demonstrates that we have the neural substrates for social monogamy.

If you don’t have the brain structures and mechanisms to do it – it doesn’t get done. To say we don’t have the neural substrates to accomplish social monogamy is to say that no one has ever been socially monogamous – which of course many have. In essence, you are saying that no one has ever fallen in love, or longed for another, or experienced heartache from a breakup.

Monogamy in mammals is by definition “social monogamy” (not sexual monogamy). Meaning two mates for life but may have sexual partners on the side. All mammals and birds categorized as monogamous are socially monogamous, NOT sexually monogamous. Social monogamy is defined as pair-bonding. Therefore humans are capable of pair-bonding.

As we have described in numerous articles, there is a conflict between our pair-bonding neural mechanisms, and the desire to fool around. Feel free to read those articles to get a more in-depth picture of what we are getting at.

It’s pretty simple - promiscuous mammals do not stay with a single partner. When the time is right, cows, sheep, rats, mice etc. screw everything in site. They don’t pair-bond. They do not possess the brain mechanisms associated with social monogamy. We do.

I would agree

I guess I'm an example that breaks the idea we don't pair bond. I know I'm in the minority, but I have truthfully never had sex with anyone other than my wife. We'll be having our 28th wedding anniversary in a couple of months. And I can't imagine ever cheating on her, nor have I ever seriously considered doing so, despite working with many women, some who look quite "hot." And my wife isn't a "hot" knockout woman. But she has a great personality and that's what attracted me to her. She's fun to be around and with (most of the time. Wink )

The statistic I've always heard on the divorce rate seems to hover around 50% or so. But what that means, is there are 50% of us who don't divorce. Neither group is in the majority, then. And there are a lot of people who live happily with one spouse for most, if not all, of their lives.

And I would also consider modifying the sex can't be bonding statement. I'd rather say that sex not done the right way tends to separate rather than bond, but sex can be a bonding agent. If it is approached as a giving, as a shared experience of enjoying each other's presence, and it is balanced with a life of bonding, of commitment to each other, etc. IOW, my relationship with my wife isn't dependent upon how I or she "performs" in bed. I know if I go through a string of ED or inability to reach climax, she isn't going to be tempted to go find another guy, or grow cold to me. And, I have struggled with ED at one point a few years ago, and it is hit an miss as to whether I climax or not. She would rather I climax, but I've always said it was all right, that I enjoyed spending the time together with her. And she has come to enjoy it as well, as she feels it is a time when we can be close and tender.

I'm sure there is some chemical ups and downs as a result of sex with her, but I think the more you do it the right way, with plenty of oxytocin generating touch and care, the orgasm can serve to bond rather than separate. At least, I know some of our closest times have been while having sex. Sure, there have been other times as well, but those intense feelings being shared and given to each other do fuse us together in unique ways.

Interestingly, a lot of this confirms a lot of things that people have said in the past, but didn't know the reasons behind it all. One-night-stands, while that may be what our genes want us to do, produces more of the non-bonding sexual encounters. It is in the midst of a proper relationship that it can find its real bonding fulfillment.

Just one question, Cole

How do you know that it was the orgasm and not the loving intercourse that bonds you when you have conventional sex with your wife? We all believe that, because the orgasm feels so good. But it may be it's the intercourse, not the orgasm that works the bonding magic.

illusions of closeness

I remember many instances of extremely intense intercourse with my wife, and the most memorable examples include times when I have had very strong orgasms while being as 'in the moment' as possible, that is, enjoying the activity for itself rather than for its 'goal' (orgasm) or as a basic platform on which to project a fantasy. I would be inclined to agree with Cole that during that kind of emotionally engaged sex and during those orgasms, I felt strongly connected to my wife. The intensity of those closeness feelings was even greater when both of us had orgasms at the same time (rare for us for a number of reasons). In the absence of contrary evidence (**in my own experience**), the most obvious conclusion is that the orgasms were responsible for the connection. To be sure, the intercourse was pleasurable, but given my sexual habits, the pleasure was always in association with the quest for orgasm--the actual sensations were great, but as arousal progressed closer to orgasm, those sensations became increasingly better, and the ultimate purpose of the intercourse **both as it progressed and as I remember it** was to achieve orgasm. Likewise the closeness that I felt with my wife appeared to be in direct proportion to the intensity of orgasm.

But there are several reasons to suspect that there may be a trade-off between orgasm and connectedness, or at the very least a rather weak correlation, with a different real cause:

First, I have never practiced sex without orgasm (except a few times, which occurred during a really rough phase in the relationship and were actually associated with (but *not* the cause of) increasing relationship disharmony). Truthfully, I cannot assert that the strong orgasms were responsible for the feelings of closeness because I have not personally tested whether feelings of closeness can arise during intercourse without orgasm. But closeness can be cultivated through non-sexual activities, most notably for me are massage and simple proximity, so I am forced to at least acknowledge the possibility that non-orgasmic intercourse could strengthen the pair bond.

Second, in both myself and my wife I am aware of a strong bias towards the supposed importance or supremacy of orgasm. For whatever reason, we both think that orgasm is better than no orgasm, so she much prefers intercourse when I have an orgasm (for a number of unfortunate reasons gets actively displeased when I do not orgasm), and I much prefer when she has an orgasm (because I feel like I know how to make her 'happy,' but again according to the *idea* that she should both be *and remain* happy because of having an orgasm). Without close scrutiny, it would be easy to argue that I believe orgasm brings happiness because that's the most obvious conclusion, and obvious conclusions are very often true. But if I try to be more intellectually honest, I can trace the development of that idea to what I'll call, in my ignorance, the hedonistic impulse, or the unexamined assumption that all things that feel good are in fact positive. I can provide no empirical support for any connection between happiness and orgasm. On the contrary, I can list a great many non-orgasmic and totally non-sexual activities that increase my personal happiness beyond measure--learning, spending time in nature, gardening and horticulture, sustained exercise that leads to obvious improvement in physical and mental well-being...and in every one of those cases, if I can do those activities with my wife, they are even better than when I do them alone. In fact, I feel a vastly stronger and more exciting connection to my wife when she expresses genuine interest in the garden than when she says 'oh, I guess I'll have an orgasm.'

Third, orgasm may not be the reason for feelings of closeness because it is not *always* associated with closeness. To clarify, if we are going to honestly state that strong intercourse-derived orgasm increases the pair bond, then we must be able to show two things: (1) that relationships improve when they include intense intercourse-to-orgasm, and (2) that relationships do not suffer when they include intense intercourse-to-orgasm. Thus far, I have focused on (1), and there are many instances in my own experience when this is true. But we must also test (2), and I'm sure we can all see the obvious answer. In my experience, it is entirely possible for intense sex and orgasm to be associated with deep disconnection and suffering. Just as I've had strong orgasms and felt close to my wife, I have had ego-wrecking orgasms with her and yet felt total despair. The overall state of the relationship prior to the orgasm determined whether the orgasm forged a connection or deepened a rift.

Fourth, and related to the third point, I would not like to deny that it is possible that the effects of orgasm exist within a greater emotional context, and that orgasms can be employed without destroying relationships. Certainly there are a good number of hardwired human behaviors, but I do not believe that relationship habits are necessarily one of those immutable traits. In my experience, the ability to pair-bond can be cultivated just as the ability to avoid anger, to mentally concentrate, etc. It would seem to me that, once an individual/couple is aware of the effects of orgasm in their lives, they could probably have orgasms within the larger project of improving the relationship *if* those goals were compatible. I really cannot say for myself whether that is the case, because since puberty I have never gone for more than ~20 days without an orgasm.

To briefly address the original post in this thread: I think it is a ridiculous consequence of reductionism to conclude that humans are not a pair-bonding species. Certainly there exists an innate drive towards promiscuity, but the existence of a tendency cannot possibly invalidate the equally obvious existence of an observable phenomenon. Some humans participate in emotionally (or as Gary said, socially) bonded pairs, therefore humans are capable of being pair-bonders. On a personal note, I must further support that pair-bonded social and sexual monogamy does indeed occur, since both Cole and myself are examples of it (and what would either of us gain from dishonesty here?). In any case, when discussing matters of biology and of human culture, I think we have no justification any longer for mutually exclusive categorization due to the extreme variability in both areas. And if I have the time, I should look up Paabo's statement about pair-bonding, because I am skeptical that Che has faithfully summarized the entire argument. I have read Paabo's molecular biology work in Nature and PNAS, and even those discussions of basic science were highly nuanced, so I would be surprised if the guy were to make a categorical statement about a socio-cultural process.

Thanks for

another brilliant post. For me, orgasm was often "bonding' at the time - and even for a few days afterward sometimes. The problem is that intense blast of neurochemistry seems to have after effects that most of us haven't connected with those great feelings. I generally "get out the relationship-wrecking ball" in week two. Wink

The whole point of our book is to encourage people to think about bonding and breeding as separate impulses, and so to experiment with an unfamiliar alternative...and then come up with whatever works for them - with a goal to making their relationships as harmonious as possible.

If regular affection and close, trusted companionship are as good for us as the research shows, then it's not at all silly to do what we can to sustain happy pair bonds...quite apart from the obvious benefits to offspring. Personally, I think it's fascinating that different subconscious cues "speak" different messages to the limbic brain. Greater self-awareness has to be a good thing, whatever one then chooses to do with that knowledge.

Orgasmic bonding

[quote=Marnia]How do you know that it was the orgasm and not the loving intercourse that bonds you when you have conventional sex with your wife? We all believe that, because the orgasm feels so good. But it may be it's the intercourse, not the orgasm that works the bonding magic.[/quote]

I think it is a combination, and therefore can't be so easily separated. For sure, it could have just been the bonding behaviors alone, and the orgasm and feeling was just the beginning of a pulling apart that was obliterated by the rest, but here's why I think of this differently on several levels, and this addresses some of the other response as well.

One, when you mix chemicals and things in different amounts, chemicals that would kill you can actually benefit you. I can't think of an immediate example, but Gary being more into that area could probably do so. I just remember there are some things we take, medicines, that contain ingredients that by themselves would be harmful to us.

Point being, because an orgasm triggers chemical responses in certain situations doesn't mean it does in all situations. It appears that oxytocin can minimize that effect, and I would assume within such a relationship, that it does, and is why just one-night-stands and relationless masturbation orgasm produces more of an effect. I believe you've mentioned before that when you do have an orgasm using karenza (I really need to learn how to spell that), that it doesn't have the same effect as they used to before.

So examples that orgasm does pull people apart here or there doesn't negate the reality that within a bonding relationship that has all the pieces in place, it may actually become a part of the bonding process rather than antithetical to it.

So, what is it about my situation that I think might make it bonding for me?

Several factors. One, as I've mentioned before, usually after an orgasm, and the more intense the orgasm usually the more this is true, I feel very content and happy. And this last for several hours after it is over. I don't get headaches from it (unless I go into it with a slight one), I don't experience any immediate depression, wanting to move away from my wife (we often cuddle afterwards), or any of those things. Now whether there are longer term consequences, maybe. I'm not aware of them if that is so, and I've lived in this post orgasmic state most of my life. When I've gone three weeks without an orgasm and then done one to find out what happens afterwards, I may realize what some of those differences are. But, being I've lived in this state for all my married life (I've only once gone a month without orgasm, all the rest are two weeks or less which shouldn't have pulled me out of the cycle completely, and those have been few). And I feel very close to my wife. I don't ever recall a time of not wanting to be with her. If orgasms pulled me away from her, our marriage should be a literal hell. But it's not. We are both very much in love with each other 28 years now.

So on that front, either my reactions to orgasms are not like everyone else's, or there are other factors involved that makes it different.

And one aspect of that may be the following. Now, I'm not trying to moralize here, but I think there is something to this. I sincerely feel that the fact the only person I've ever had sex with is her plays into this. How? Very simply, it is an intimate act that only I and her have ever shared with each other. When I'm having sex with her, there is an intimacy to the shared feelings and connection on an emotional level as well as physical. It's sort of hard to explain fully, but it's like anything you share with another person. The fewer you share it with, the more special it becomes. The more you spread it around, the more mundane it becomes.

Because of that, as well, the idea that I'm simply using her for my pleasure can't even enter into the picture. If I were that way, I'd been gone a long, long time ago, because I know there are women I would enjoy in bed more than her as far as physical pleasure goes. I've already documented elsewhere the difficulties we had during the first 15 years of our marriage as well as currently, but even in the midst of all that, I stick with her because I see these as ways we connect, not merely go get pleasure.

Because of those two things, I think the pleasure itself solidifies the relationship, fuses it together. What might be selfish indulgence in one person, becomes a sharing of an intense and intimate experience, and so it becomes a bonding element, despite any chemical drop in dopamine that might occur.

There is yet another element to this that may not have come up on this site, because we are focused toward one type of bonding: emotional. But, there is a bonding that happens at different levels. Some of them we touch upon here: spiritual bonding, social bonding, as well as the emotional bonding (how we feel about each other as a result of the chemical soup we end up drinking with orgasm). But a complete marrital relationship also includes a physical bonding. It can exist without it, mind you, but so can a best friend relationship. As a matter of fact, a best friend relationship isn't unlike marriage, except that you don't usually live together or have a sexual relationship. But a lot of the emotional bonding issues we bring up here apply to that as well, minus the sex and orgasm issues.

But most marriages, to be complete, need a physical bonding as well. Literally. And by that I mean, one person gives something to the other, in this case, semen containing sperm, and it is taken into the other and so that part of me resides in her. Thus we fuse physically even more than just the insertion of the penis into the vagina. Our fluids mix, essentially.

Now, the most literal manifestation of that bonding are children. Any couple that has children are forever linked. The child is a witness, so to speak, of the two becoming one, very literally. In our three children, they each contain parts of me and parts of my wife in a unique mix that has brought them into existence, directly because of that physical bond of my wife and I. It doesn't mean that we have to have children for the bond to be real, that happens in the mixing of my fluids with hers, when she takes into herself my genes. Much like the saying, "You are what you eat" indicates how much we bond with the food we take into ourselves.

So I think the physical bonding has to play into the picture, at least in marriage, as well as the emotional, social, etc. But it is my contention that when the other bonding pieces are in place, that the physical bonding can actually happen in a productive way, even if there may be some fall out on the emotional bonding front, which for me isn't readily identifiable if there is. But to me, that physical bond is important too, and is part of what makes a marriage more than just being good friends.

Now, whether if we could measure the dopamine and oxytocin levels in my brain and compare that with someone else, would you see less of a fall out over the whole cycle? I don't honestly know. It would be cool, if when the technology is available to do this, that a study take a group of committed, monogamous, long time married couples and measure their chemical levels during a three week orgasm cycle, and do the same with another group of one-night-stand folk, another group of people who mostly just masturbate, and maybe a fourth control group, and compare the results.

Anyway, I'm not saying definitively these things, but based on my own experience I think this all plays into it, and I don't think anyone can say with certainty that orgasm can't play a role in true bonding under the right circumstances. In my experience as a happily married man of 28 years I think certainly I'm evidence of that strong possibility. But that is hard to pin down with who knows how many other factors might be thrown in. I just hesitate to say that it doesn't under any circumstances play a role in bonding. I don't think it always has to pull apart.

Thanks, Cole

that's a rich, thoughtful reply, as usual. It will be interesting to see if you notice new dimensions of connection with your wife if ever you two try karezza for a few weeks. Certainly, no one is likely to do the formal experiments you (and we) would like to see, so we're all stuck conducting our own experiments in our own labs.:-) Nice job to have, I say!

You clearly have a lovely marriage, and I'm very happy for you. We'd agree that sexual pleasure is part of the bond, and we find intercourse pleasurable. We're just not sure about the orgasm itself, based on our experiments. Wink

But everyone needs to find their own way with this. Various traditions that described benefits from sex without orgasm also had formulas for the occasional orgasm, so it's apparent that that "worked" for some folks. And we occasionally have orgasm ourselves...inadvertently. So we're not so far apart from you. The only difference is that we're not persuaded of the long-term bonding effects of orgasm itself, while you are.

It may be, as you say, that this is one of the prices we pay for the past churning in our intimate relationships - the inability to stay bonded to our first sweethearts. I actually married mine, too...and was divorced as soon as that intoxicating honeymoon neurochemistry wore off. I've often said that I'd still be married to him if I had known what I know now. Smile So, if it's the mismanagement of our early love lives that have bruised us, at least we've found a way to make peace with that handicap and enjoy our relationship thoroughly.

Of course, I am also intrigued by the spiritual potential in this practice. Maybe you and your wife will stumble into some of those deeper experiences. It sounds like you have a great foundation to build on.

Past lovers

Perhaps it goes without saying, but it would be the case that the more one spreads it around, the less intimate it becomes as a shared experience, and thus the less special. While at one end of the continuum would be two people who have never shared that experience with anyone else, the other end of the continuum would be the man or woman who has sex with whoever, whenever, with no commitment or desire for a relationship. That end the person is just out for their own pleasure.

So what that would mean is if in your entire life you've had sex with 2 people instead of 1, then it may not be as intimate as the 1 only, but it is still very intimate. Likewise, as you go on down the line, it may still be quite intimate but less so than those above it. There are certain things you share only with your best friend, others only with your close friends, others with co-workers, others with whoever. I like pizza, for instance. It is a pleasurable dining experience, and I'll eat it with anyone pretty much. But because of that, it may be nice to eat pizza with someone, even a stranger I've just met, but the act of eating pizza doesn't have the same intimacy and meaning than, that special bottle of scotch in the cabinet, that I would only share with close friends due to the expense.

Well, I can experiment with it, and I will. Problem is, there's no way to isolate the cause-effect. And there is always the danger of the placebo effect, that I'll feel and experience what I expect or want to have happen. (This is an interesting article on it: Why Sugar Pills Cure Some Ills).

So I'm trying to stay as neutral-minded as possible going into this, not expecting or wanting anything, and hope 1) I can fairly objectively note the real differences in how I feel, energy levels, degree of attraction/repelling of my wife, etc. from what I normally experience, and whether I do notice any greater crash than normal once I do have an orgasm after going so long without it, and 2) that there won't be any other major factors (like getting sick) that would mess up the possible results. But even then, I can't be assured the results are a result of what I did, or aren't from a placebo effect. But you do what you can. :)

One theory that may or may not be proven/disproven in this experiment for me is the body's tendency to return to normalization. IOW, it may be that even though I had an orgasm nearly every day, and thus I should have been in a constant fluctuating state of dopamine ups and downs, being in crash mode most of the time except when getting my "fix," even though that may or should have been going on, I didn't experience any of it as being in crash mode all the time. And I'm thinking that what happens is the body over time, if not overloaded too much, can adjust and return a person to balance. So it may be that I didn't notice any crashes because my body had become so accustom to them that it had built in some balancing adjustments that minimize the affects of the chemical surges and drops.

If so, I may very well notice a crash if I abstain for a month and then have another orgasm. It will be like porn not helping me much with getting an orgasm anymore because its effect has worn off from overuse, but go without it for a while and first time back, bang! It feels great again!

So what I've got to attempt to evaluate, and I know this is subjective, is after having been off of orgasms for a month, whether I feel more energy than I normally do right now, whether I feel more contented, etc. Or, do I simply feel normal, like I do now because despite the orgasms, my body has adjusted so that they no longer have the same effect.

So there are all sorts of ways I could even evaluate this. Well, when the time comes, then I'll attempt to figure it out, I guess. Until then, rollin' rollin' rollin'!

What a fascinating thread.

What a fascinating thread. Thanks to all who have contributed such intelligent and coherent thoughts.

I wish I had more time to participate in the forum these days, but since I am in the process of growing my own food, time is short.

I would simply add that in my recent experience of being in love, the deepest bond that my love and I share is that of our mutual sense of purpose in the world, our sense of responsibility to be stewards of the land. We are bonding through sex, through making and sharing of food, through grooming, through time in nature together, through sharing of thoughts and dreams and insights. All of these things are very fulfilling in and of themselves, and would likely serve to keep us bonded for awhile. But it is the sense of a larger shared purpose, a sense that our mutual love and care as a couple makes us more able and more resourced and more energized to be of service to the whole, that provides the real sense of continuity and meaning in our relationship. When we lose a sense of our purpose as a couple, the bond weakens. When we remind one another of this deeper value, the bond strengthens.

problems of relative importance

I am both encouraged and envious that you have the opportunity to grow food. Coincidentally, growing food has always acted as an orienting force for me, redirecting my attention both to the immediate surroundings and requirements as well as making the hierarchy of human needs more apparent. And as you say, both sex and cultivation are acts that, properly performed, increase our awareness of identity with the universe. Unfortunately, engaging in a sufficient variety of activities (growing, conversation, quiet observation of nature, service or charity, constructive sex etc) has been difficult for me. As usual, we return to the problem of moderation, which despite shared etymology, modernity has made virtually impossible, at least in my own experience. During the last half-decade, my life has been overwhelmingly imbalanced: work occupies at least 50% of the time and sleep ~30%, leaving only 20% for everything else. This 'everything else' category contains a vast array of important things (interaction with nature, connection to food, sex, etc.) to which I have been able to pay nearly no attention. Moreover, it is quite difficult to engage in many activities in this category because they require a minimum time-investment that often exceeds what is available. Finding time to truly escape from built environments, for example, requires (in my area of this blighted land) driving at least 2 hours, which is usually impossible to arrange more than once or twice in a given year. I have had somewhat more success finding time to grow food, thanks to the local community garden. But the majority of my non-work/non-sleep time has been divided among only three activities: reading (mostly news, a few books), exercise (cycles of in/out of good shape), and sex (thinking, doing, and being frustrated about).

Presently, I find my situation very challenging. Work has expanded to occupy even more time, while opportunities to balance non-work activities have been restricted this year. For the first time in 6 years, we will not have a garden this year due to several major life changes. My wife has started a job that leaves her with virtually no time to do anything except basic body maintenance. I am grateful that I have been able to gain some measure of control over my unconstructive sexual tendencies, but my resistance to habit will be sorely challenged in the mid-term future. Overall, I am tempted to blame my woes on modern society (specialization and division of labor, estrangement from the land, elimination of community, etc.), but that is a useless impulse unless it prompts me to engage in a fundamentally different way of living. Unfortunately, such a life is almost entirely incompatible with my wife's evolving career, and with her basic personality. By an accident of birth, I had the good fortune to grow up in a money-poor but land-, time-, love-, education-rich family, so I am totally aware of how to live in a way that I know would be far better for every aspect of myself. In contrast, my wife grew up firmly in modernity, work and food acquisition totally separated, and participation in the basic social structure the only conceivable path.

Lately, I have begun to suspect that my sexual habits and frustration are symptomatic of a more fundamental misalignment, rather than basic problems in themselves. This realization (if correct), actually presents an even more intractable problem, however. If sexual problems had solutions that I could enact within the overall structure of a basically balanced life, then I would be well on my way to their resolution. But if I resolve the sexual problems (and I am gaining confidence that I have the power to do this) within an imbalanced overall structure, then I will not have addressed source of destabilization, and will still be at risk for further problems. I already know what kinds of problems would emerge--serious depression, preoccupation with violence and weapons, impulse to engage in political thought, substance abuse. In some ways, I am glad that I happened to fall into sexual frustration rather than, for example, alcoholism--the effect of obsessive sexual thoughts has left a neurological imprint, but hopefully my brain is sufficiently plastic to over-write those patterns; alcoholism would have left indelible marks in my liver.

So now I am peering into an abyss far wider and deeper than the one that included [My Sexual Problems]. This new level of hell contains all of the components of my life that I believe are incompatible with my personal definition of ethical living. My annual visionary session is approaching, and I am very concerned that I may be unable to repress the drive to escape from a life that, if I am honest with myself, has become unacceptable.

I have no useful concluding remark, except to say that I must return to work, leaving this mortal, bleeding, infected psychological wound to develop into something even more vile and incurable...


Although I only have a basic idea of your views/history from a few blog posts, it would seem that you have had to confront some of the same problems that I am dealing with--so I thank you for your consideration.

In some ways, my wife and I do share common purpose--political views, a largely consistent set of ethics, dietary choices (vegetarian). It is very fortunate that we are not at odds about these things.

In other ways, we have divergent goals. We have both invested very much time/energy in education, and she is interested in a career directly related to her educational experience. She has a good job, and is advancing along a conventional path for her profession, she contributes money toward retirement, has aspirations to own a conventional house, an so on. In contrast, despite having spent so much time on my education, I increasingly view the effort as a personal test rather than means to an end. My goals are rather different from my wife's. I want time, not money. I want to restore some old agricultural land, to grow food, to facilitate recovery of an appropriate ecosystem for the place, to live in a very small dwelling and spend most of my time outside working, relaxing, or playing. I want time to heal what I am beginning to see as a deep injury--the separation of life from what sustains it. I want enough unoccupied time to occasionally use visionary plants without worrying that I should be working instead. I have a very clear idea of how to achieve those goals, and I am aware of what I would need to 'give up' in order to get there. I also recognize that I have obligations to the System, so I am prepared to compromise as much as I can. But fundamentally, I would be forced to conclude that, as a couple, my wife and I are not working toward an aligned set of goals. It may be possible to remain together, me pursuing my objectives in the same house, while she goes out to work every day and develops her career. We would not then share the same reality, but perhaps I am not worthy of such good fortune.

Not worthy of such good

Not worthy of such good fortune? We are all worthy of the fortunes we manifest. Perhaps it is not as important as other things for you personally that you and your wife be aligned in your goals. I know that it is easy for me to talk about alignment in purpose at this early stage of my present loving partnership, but it is very young. There will likely be diversity of approach, interest, and focus between us within the very large and rather abstract goal of being world stewards. Having grown up in an intentional community, I'm well aware that when a group of people forms something because of a shared sense of alignment, that sense of alignment can then find a very diverse set of expressions in the larger context, and sometimes that diversity can look like adversity. Still, I do think that it was the shared sense of purpose as stewards that has caused the community I grew up in to be largely functional despite its challenges, and it would have long ago dissipated had it not had a big piece of land to take care of. Intention is one thing, a place to carry out that intention is something else entirely, and in many cases a privilege. I have no idea how well my partnership would fare, and our sense of bonding through the purpose of being land stewards, if we did not have the fortune we do to live on a 600 acre biodiversity reserve. We both seem to be at a point in our lives (despite our almost 9 year age difference) that we are willing to give up the creature comforts and also neurotic distractions of the urban lifestyle. But it is not an easy transition. Growing your own food is precarious. It is a different paradigm entirely. You can't just up and leave on vacation if your food source depends on your presence. So this is really just an idealistic experiment at this point, one that will likely challenge our partnership even as it pulls us together. It is not an easy path to walk, and it is also not a path that one can walk alone. It requires collaborative effort.

The plant teachers have given us courage to live this way and we will continue to consult with them as we move forward.

Blessings to you and your wife on your path. I can very much relate with the value of time over money. In some ways they are different versions of the same thing, but free time is more unadulterated. Strangely tho, I find myself much busier living in the country, but it is the busyness of hard work. This is somehow less draining on the adrenals than the sometimes subtle but usually constant psychological stress that comes with living a lifestyle one does not fundamentally believe in or feel integrity within.

Thank you

I appreciate your wisdom and your perspective. And I hope that your current relationship and stewardship experiment bring you much happiness and reward. You have helped transfer me from a position in which I felt like I could make significant progress by communicating through writing to one in which I feel like I need to think but to keep the thoughts with myself. I have not been in this condition for several years--a state where I am confronting both a significant transition and acquisition of important new knowledge. If I were to express any ideas now, the expressive act would solidify the thoughts; instead, the thoughts need more time to evolve before they are dispersed into the world. Thank you again for sharing your experience, and for spending some mental energy on my behalf.

A couple of thoughts, Brick

Don't rule out the possibility that as you bring your inner state into balance, your external experience will align with it in ways you can't foresee, but which will reflect those changes.

For example, it has been our experience that careful management of our sexual energy has led to less stress, greater abundance, more laughs, and many shared endeavors. I hope it may be the same for you. In this regard, I always find this old story inspiring:

Also, as you may know, the Daoist version of sexual wisdom talks about "cultivation of sexual energy," so they, too, recognized a parallel with growing things.


"I would beg to disagree and suggest that the mother/child bond was overwhelmingly the original force behind human evolution and cooperation, and that was where the deep bonds lay."

I don't think so. The mother/child bond isn't the original force behind evolution or human cooperation. The mother/child bond in exclusive to only those two members and nobody else. How could it further evolution or cooperation? It wouldn't. Evolution is furthered by genetic diversity/sexual choice and human cooperation is furthered by, well, cooperation(such as friendship like the anthropologists stated, and other relationships). A mother/child bond would not be a force in human cooperation(or evolution) since it only involves two individuals. Deep bonds do not only lay between mothers and children, they can also be found between the fathers and children.

Also, your claim excludes men and more specifically fathers. It doesn't factor in their bond with the child(unless you're one of those morons who believes fathers cannot have a bond with their child) which could also be an important force behind evolution/human cooperation(assuming that the mother/child bond is) as well.

"there were still no laws controlling female sexual behavior and consequently no such institution as fatherhood"

Laws controlled all sexual behavior, male and female, so that's irrelevant. Also, fatherhood isn't an "institution"(surely motherhood would be as well). It is a natural biological bond between a father and his child. It has been around(like motherhood) since the dawn of time.