Marnia Robinson's book is an engagingly written & enlightening antidote for people confused by the emotional chaos in their sexual lives.
You pose many stark questions about why our sexual relationships fail, so often. Why do we fall "out of love"? Did our grandparents? Our ancestors?
We fall out of love because we're biologically-programmed to do so. The primitive part of our brain urges us toward behaviors that pass on the most genes. Unfortunately for us romantics, the key behaviors are (1) a craving for intense passion, followed by (2) an unconscious urge to separate, & (3) a tendency to repeat the pattern with a new partner (yielding greater genetic variety among offspring). Now that the Sexual Revolution has freed us, Biology's agenda is glaringly obvious. I believe its hidden agenda accounts for the Census Bureau's 2002 prediction that half of all new marriages could end in divorce, & for Dr. Phil's statement that "sexless marriages are an epidemic".
We so want to believe that romantic love is designed to last forever that we regard anyone who says otherwise with deep suspicion. However, I don't think we can improve our statistics until we realize that Biology's goals are not our goals if we want a lasting, romantic relationship. There IS a way to keep romance alive, but we can't do it by blindly dancing to Biology's tune.
&, yes, I believe our grandparents & ancestors suffered from this same problem. It's almost proverbial that "the honeymoon lasts less than a year." Church, state & social stigma kept most of our ancestors locked in matrimony until death parted them, no matter how miserable or unfaithful they were. It's worth noting, however, that infidelity occurred even when the punishment was to burn at the stake. Our primal urges (which, again, are geared toward replicating offspring) are even more powerful than our inclination toward self-preservation. Yet these urges do not serve our individual well-being. Once we recognize that, we can learn a way around them.
Is sex-as-sin a particularly Western burden? Is it so in other cultures, & what has marriage got to do with it?
The sex-as-sin label may be tied to the Church, & therefore Western, but bizarre behaviors surrounding sex are surely not exclusive to Westerners. Consider African women who cut out their daughters' genitals, or the Huli's of New Guinea who believe women steal their powers from them when they have sex. Nor is barbaric friction between the genders, which our design engenders, limited to the West. Think about Indians who burn up their wives when they want a new dowry, or their suttee tradition.
I believe all such cultural phenomena (including the sex-as-sin belief) reflect the aspect of our biological design that causes uneasiness between the sexes, i.e., our built-in post-sex hangover. It is true that there are cultures that are rather laid back about sex. They also tend to be more promiscuous -- which is itself a form of post-sex separation. On the surface, promiscuity might look like a healthy way to go, except that deep union with another offers definite potential that casual sex does not. Couples tend to live longer & be healthier than single folk -- if they can maintain a degree of harmony. More importantly, a close relationship can also serve as a vehicle for spiritual growth.
How are addictions like alcohol & tobacco influenced by sex?
Brain scans show that hot sex activates the same portion of the primitive brain as do alcohol, tobacco & drugs of abuse. As a Dutch scientist recently put it, "Orgasm is akin to a shot of heroin." In effect, these activities over-stimulate the pleasure/reward center with a heady, but addictive neurochemical called dopamine. It causes us to behave recklessly -- which results in lots of pregnancies, both wanted & unwanted. Too much dopamine, however, is not good. It is, for example, associated with schizophrenia, sexual fetishes, nerve damage, & addictions. So our body responds to this over-stimulation by dropping our dopamine levels radically, & the effects of this hangover can linger for weeks. This doesn't feel good, & it's during this period that we often turn to other addictions to force our dopamine levels up again. For example, that classic "cigarette after sex" was an attempt to keep dopamine levels up.
So hot sex can drive not just sexual addiction but other addictions. In fact, most addictive behaviors begin soon after puberty when we discover sexual arousal. Dopamine's addictive properties tend to put us on a treadmill of looking for our next high -- especially now that dopamine triggers are so readily available in the form of pornography, cigarettes, compulsive shopping, computer games, gambling, casual sex, & so forth. It grows harder & harder to re-establish a genuine sense of well-being (as opposed to a series of forced highs).
For me, the more interesting question is, "why does making love differently tend to heal addiction?" This phenomenon was noted by the ancient Chinese Taoists thousands of years ago, & I have seen addicts overcome long-term addictions by employing this ancient approach.
In the floodtide of Feminism women discovered orgiastic sex, how has this set us up for failure in our relationships?
I guess we figured the boys were really on to something with the "frequent-orgasm program" so often attributed to them. But by imitating them, we've simply been repeating their fundamental error of believing the point of having genitals was orgasm, rather than union. Over-stimulation of the pleasure/reward center doesn't bring out the best in men or women; it leads to separation.
I get the majority of my fan mail from male readers. They've recognized that they've been suffering from the post-orgasm urge to separate that I write about. Many are severely frustrated by their inability to stay in a close relationship. They long for deeper companionship & they're genuinely ready to try something new. I think women will reach that point too, once they consciously recognize the link between hot sex & subsequent disharmony. Most women don't run away after sex, but the hangover makes us needy, irritable, & prone to emotional overreactions. We haven't recognized these as "separating behaviors", but they certainly have that effect.
You quote many sayings from the Battle of the Sexes. Why do men & women, after the passion is spent, dislike each other so?
Over-stimulation of the pleasure/reward center leads to an uncomfortable hangover that we haven't associated with sex. We think orgasm is only about the high. But after the high, our brain chemistry radically changes, & the changes can linger for weeks. For a while we can ward off the hangovers with more hot sex (more dopamine), but eventually over-stimulation catches up with us, & when it does our perception of each other can shift drastically.
For example, if we're feeling depleted, then it seems like our partner is making unreasonable demands on us. If we're feeling needy, then it seems like our partner is totally insensitive & selfish if he/she doesn't "want to make us feel good". The chances are that both lovers are temporarily behaving in less-than-ideal ways, but both lovers are also temporarily hallucinating.
When we believe we're being attacked or abandoned, our defensive feelings can make us behave very badly. As my husband says, the primitive part of our brain that's designed to react to snakes & predators is now activated by our partner. As I say, that's when it looks to my partner like I have live snakes for hair. When this pattern repeats itself enough, we become so defensive that we no longer produce the juicy neurochemicals that make us want to bond. Ouch! We may stay married, but the most nourishing aspect of the relationship has died.
"Biology made me do it." How can we get out from under its spell?
Learn to make love differently -- without over-stimulating the pleasure/reward center or triggering the hangovers that lead to disharmony. Keep the focus in the bedroom on activities that produce the neurochemistry of bonding, that is, lots of oxytocin. The benefits are many. A natural harmony re-establishes itself. You see your partner differently. That is, you tend to remember all of the reasons you fell in love. The sense of struggle or need-to-negotiate disappears. You laugh a lot. You enjoy spoiling each other. Your spirits rise, you have fewer cravings. Oxytocin also increases the attraction between familiar partners (but not unfamiliar mates), so it's the key to authentic monogamy -- just as excess dopamine is the key to our current promiscuity.
Did you know that the ancient Chinese Taoists recommended hours of non-orgasmic lovemaking to heal a wide variety of illnesses? I've experienced healing from this approach, too. I used to have to take antibiotics every time I made love. With this approach, both yeast infections & urinary tract infections disappeared. We can either use sex to improve our well-being or we can continue to use it to keep us on a rollercoaster of uncomfortable highs & lows.
Is it important that both people read Peace Between the Sheets?
Thank you for asking that. It's vital. Both partners must understand why they want to reprogram their lovemaking, & be enthusiastic about trying a new system for at least three weeks. Otherwise Biology will take over again, &, as the saying goes, "if you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always gotten."
What do you hope Readers will find in your book?
I hope readers will rediscover their early optimism about intimate relationships. We had the right instincts (the urge to bond deeply), but the wrong instruction manual. By the time they finish the book I hope they will also see the humor in our circumstances -- & forgive their past lovers, & themselves, for any rotten behavior. We've all been tricked by a primitive mechanism in our brain that was just mindlessly doing its job.
I hope they will find practical answers as to how they can go about preserving & deepening their relationships, while rediscovering the lighthearted sparkles of their early romances. To this end, the book contains a simple, step-by-step program of playful, affectionate activities for couples who want to learn to out-maneuver Biology.
Finally, I hope they will discover for themselves the health benefits of making love differently. 70 million Americans now suffer from Syndrome X, which is due to stress. Healthy intimacy is proven to be one of the best protections against illness & premature death. In fact, it is more effective than exercise, improved diet, or stopping smoking -- according to Dean Ornish, MD. I also hope that if they are struggling with an addiction, or an addict, they will use the information in the book to recover or help a partner to recover.
It's time to protect our relationships instead of letting Biology seduce us into bringing out the worst in each other -- & then splitting up -- or stagnating in misery. I hope my book inspires readers to find the deep union for which their souls yearn.
& now I have a question for you, Rebecca. Have you tried this new approach with your husband?
Ummmm ... eeeek ... he was certainly curious as I read out loud from your Peace Between the Sheets & yes, we do snuggle much more & there is a noticeable increase in our compatibility, compassion & humor!
Thanks Marnia for a wonderful visit & very enlightening read.
Do catch my Review of Marnia Robinson's Peace Between the Sheets - I hope it makes you go out & buy yourself a copy!