Boredom

I had a great time as a single girl. I was good-looking (although somewhat to my continuing chagrin the compliment I usually got from men was “You’re cute” rather than “You’re beautiful”), and I knew how to flirt and converse and keep male attention focused on me. It gave me a charge to know that men desired me, and all the come-ons and subtle competition going on around me were like a steady stream of ego-boosting compliments.

I liked the sense of Power my charm and my smooth little body gave me. I had Something men wanted (even if in most cases it was little more than social acknowledgement of their masculinity), and they would almost invariably make an effort to be agreeable and entertaining. It was my perception that even men who weren’t really pursuing me sexually (faithful mates, co-workers, no-hopers) tended to be smiling, helpful and positive toward me, even forgiving me for things that they might not have forgiven less attractive women.

Having been brought up to be a Nice Person (and, frankly, knowing that excess bitchiness could subtract from my attractiveness), I tried not make too much of my unfair advantages in this respect, but let’s face it, when you have Power, there is a thrill in using it.

So I did.

I enjoyed the whole process of erotic attraction and sexual conquest: the first lighting up of a guy’s eyes, the circling dance of flirtation, the uncertainties, the kisses, the longing, the capture, and (whoa howdy) that exquisite First Time, when most men would knock themselves out to make sex slow, hot and fantastically pleasurable for me. Did I ever love THAT!

Unfortunately, however, the initial Power of Eros tends to be short-lived. You both have sexual energy and affection to burn in the beginning, so it’s easier to remain on your best behavior for a while. Things are very exciting while your infatuation is at its height, but familiarity and certainty soon take the sharp edge off the experience of relationship. This has nothing to do with character or intention or any kind of moral failing. It is simply a physiological fact of life: any repeated stimulus eventually evokes a reduced response. So there is no way in this world to sustain the energy and romance of a new relationship at its most thrilling pitch.

Everybody knows this, of course. Or perhaps I should say that everybody “knows” it. Because it is easy to pay lip service to this truth while not really  believing it, down at the center of our most emotional and irrational selves. We can (and very often do) intellectually acknowledge life’s limitations while still craving the impossible.

My husband and I had a tornadic courtship under highly charged circumstances. There was drama, there was competition, there was conflict and high romance and furtive sex and enforced separations and relieved rendezvous. We were apart more than we were together during our engagement. And then we got married.

All of a sudden my role in the universe tilted and turned upside down. I was no longer a Hot Single Girl with a thousand erotic possibilities circling around me every day. Now I was a Married Woman, and there were going to be no more sexual choices, no more new adventures in sex and romance. This man, my husband, was all I was ever going to get again, erotically speaking. No more dancing and drinking and flirting with new men (their eyes lighting up at me, admiring me, showing me I was Wanted). That silly, fun, exciting stuff was all over now. I had to Settle Down and take care of my house and my strange step-children and my One man now. Forever.

How could I make such a transition? It was going to be impossible!

And it would have been, if my interest in sex hadn’t suddenly disappeared. Lucky for me, eh?

Here’s an interesting comment from the ORIGINAL “original blog” post on my loss of libido after marriage:

Why were you surprised that it should “happen to you”?

Look around you and see all the women with one or more children. In many cases they tried to keep their own dream of wedded bliss alive even after the first child. A second child did not help. The solution to their own waning interest and his painful behavior then seems to be somewhere in solitude. “Just leave me alone!”

Because I felt so sexy and so erotically oriented when I was single, I figured I would remain that way even after I was married. My Cosmo Girl culture told me that Normal, Healthy Women are “just naturally” interested in sex, and lots of it. So, I smugly assumed, obviously a terrific, liberated, womanly woman like me would NEVER end up like those Sick, Abnormal Wives I saw all around me, right?

Yet I ended up Sick and Abnormal anyway…or at least what my society considered Sick and Abnormal, and my knowledge of the contemptuous judgment of my culture made the experience of losing my libido even worse.

But there is nothing at all abnormal about a woman losing sexual interest in long-term partner. Not just because of the phenomenon of habituation which I mentioned yesterday, but also because evolution may have designed women to be, if not overtly polygamous, at least serially monogamous.

This is a hard idea for some people to accept. It was really only duing the last century that we decided that there was some optimal level of sexual interest that “normal” women should consistently feel. For centuries before that, although at varying levels of intensity, the mythology of womanhood has held that there are “good women” and “bad women.” Good women were “naturally” monogamous because they weren’t very interested in sex, and bad women were “naturally” promiscuous because they were TOO interested in sex.

These two types of women were generally considered mutually exclusive. But now we know they are very often one and the same, and the reason most women tend to cycle between the two modes of sexual existence aren’t just psychological, but possibly the result of our evolutionary development.

Consider a current theory regarding why sexual reproduction became so much more successful than the simpler forms of making new plants and animals, like parthenogenesis or budding. Needing two germ cells from different organisms to create a new one makes reproduction far less certain and more energy intensive than simply splitting oneself in two, so why did nature come up with such a complicated way of doing business?

As outlined in Matt Ridgely’s book The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature the constant remixing of genes that sexual reproduction makes possible helps to ensure the survival of a species. Nature urges most animals toward a variety of sexual partners in order to mingle the most genes in the greatest number of combinations, increasing the odds that a useful or resistant genetic combination will be available when an environment changes or a new germ or parasite threatens. ("The Red Queen" is Ridgeley's trope for organisms' need to "run ever faster" in the genetic sense to stay head of new challenges to their survival.)

Up until recently, the most common assumption in the scientific community was that the more urgent and less discriminate male sex drive was nature's method of spreading genes around. The main female contribution to this paradigm was to literally incorporate (create a body for) a given gene mixture and then nurture it past its vulnerable infancy on its way to the next generation.  In this concept, a woman's sex drive had to be strong enough in her  youth to be receptive to initial pollination, so to speak, but didn't really need to have any active role in the species recombination effort. In fact, as I alluded to earlier, it was in a tribe's best interest if a woman's sex drive didn't interfere with her attention to nurturing babies and accomplishing her food and cave maintenance duties. In that sense, it is indeed "natural" for mothers and married women to lose interest in sex. So, this theory goes, the development of frigidity in a long-term relationship is nature's way of ensuring female fidelity.

However (you knew that was coming, didn't you?) the thing that is overlooked in this idea is the fact that such an understandable or "natural" loss of interest in sex wasn't — and evolutionarily speaking, never could be — permanent. If nature had arranged things such that a woman who'd accepted a "successful" deposit of sperm never wanted to have sex again, even the most peripatetic male population couldn't initiate enough different combinations through the bottleneck of singular nine-month pregnancies to satisfy the Red Queen's requirements.

So nature had to find a happy medium, let's say. It had to tune women's sex drive carefully, so that it tended to "turn off" in certain circumstances (preventing wholesale abandonments of vulnerable children and tribe-sustaining homes), but it also had to encourage women to continue to have sex throughout their lives — preferably (from nature's point of view, anyway) with MANY DIFFERENT MEN.

It's interesting in this context to note that at least one study has shown that there seems to be a common limit to the most "romantic" part of sexual relationships, which seems to somewhere in the range of 30-36 months. In other words, the "high," exciting, infatuation phase of any new relationship very seldom lasts more than three years for either partner (unless there are unusual factors at work that keep the drama or emotional stakes high).

Three years is approximately the time it takes to complete a pregnancy and get children to the stage of eating and absorbing ordinary food, talking enough to make their needs known, walking reasonable distances on their own and actively seeking relationships outside the family. (The "Terrible Twos" mark the first point in childrens lives when they appear interested in separating from their parents).

Three years is also the time period in which even the least fertile of women is likely to get pregnant. About 75-80 percent of normally fertile women will conceive during a year of regular unprotected intercourse. Those who have more trouble conceiving, or whose partners are less fertile than normal, will take longer, but after three years there is a good possibility that a given couple who haven't conceived together, won't. An "unproductive" pair might be more likely to contribute their genes to another generation if they sought different partners before too much time has passed.

In short, it is entirely "natural" for both men and women to lose erotic interest in their long term partners, and for their libidos to be revived by new "prospects." Sexual novelty is valued by nature for its own sake, but happily for the human race and the survival of infants, women's libidos are more malleable and equivocal. If culture or circumstances make it necessary, a woman's natural tendency to lose interest in a familiar partner can be extended indefinitely, and her desire for sex can disappear entirely.

While on the face of it this bodes ill for happy monogamy, women's sexual flexibility also makes it possible for them to recover their erotic sensitivity even without changing partners.

So, do I have any suggestions on how to help your wife rev herself up again?

Do I EVER! Check out these pages:

Back to the Body

The Problem of Porn

Heroes of the Silver Screen

Material Reading

New Venues, New Circumstances

Other pages relevant to the Boredom issue: No Excuses in Biology! and Do Women Prefer Bad Boys?

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5 Responses to “Boredom”

  1. Don Says:

    “I liked the sense of Power my charm and my smooth little body gave me. I had Something men wanted (even if in most cases it was little more than social acknowledgement of their masculinity), and they would almost invariably make an effort to be agreeable and entertaining. It was my perception that even men who weren’t really pursuing me sexually (faithful mates, co-workers, no-hopers) tended to be smiling, helpful and positive toward me, even forgiving me for things that they might not have forgiven less attractive women.”

    This kind of reminds me of my ex-wife. I was in a position where my ex and I knew each other as friends for a number of years before we even started dating. We hung out together, attended the same social events, drank at the same bars and danced at the same nightclubs. I got to watch her behaviour first-hand, and I’m not saying this in a slut-shaming kind of way, but in that period (we were both in our late-teens/early twenties), she flirted with and went home with her share of men in that period of time.

    As I said, that didn’t bother me and her subsequent reputation as someone who was, shall we say, ‘sexually enlightened’, actually attracted me to her in the first place. Here was a woman, it appeared on the surface, that didn’t have the same hang-ups about sex that many other women did. She talked openly about sex and pleasure and what turned her on and I found that very refreshing. When we finally did start dating, I got a sliver of what she had to offer, and it was exquisite.

    And then we moved in together, and this sexually ravenous and adventurous woman vanishes, replaced by a woman who evolves into her evil-Spock twin, who thinks icky sex is diiiirty (and not in the good way) and when the first kid comes along, you may as well sung the funeral dirges right then and there.

    Okay, what you are saying makes some sense, although one does need to tread very carefully when talking about evolutionary psychology, as we can and will attribute any and all behaviours to shit our ancestors did. My ancestors may have broken rivals’ skulls with a club, and in my gut I may want to do the same when another man courts my female companion (especially when she seems receptive to that courting), but modern laws and customs keeps me in line.

    So yes, this hyper-sexual woman, who could go out on Friday night and sleep with any one (or two) of many guys she met now has her libido go to sleep to maintain some semblance of order in her family life (if I’m reading this correctly). Okay, I’m prepared to accept this to a point. I don’t like it, because I saw all of these guys back in the day bask in her enthusiastic access to her carnal delights with what amounted to very little effort. Often, it was simply being in the right place at the right time, with her in the right frame of mind. As I said, I don’t like it, but fine.

    But what I do not get then and what I do not get now is that when we started having sex (and grudgingly at that) only once or twice a month, when it used to be three or four times a week, somehow it’s a TOTAL SHOCK that I may not be entirely cool with that, and that all of the sudden I just think of her as a life support system for a vag, and that in reality I don’t really love her, I just want to use her, and oh my God I’m a horrible, beastly pig. What is that? Is that denial? Is that part of this evolutionary shutdown (if that term is accurate)?

    In reality, then and now, I’m the one who felt used. All of these men she barely knew got her kinky best, while me, the one who truly loved her and made a lifelong matrimonial commitment to her is the one being accused of just using her body and got whatever sexual scraps she could put herself out to throw down. What? Did I miss something?

    And if I brought that up? Holy shit, does the hammer come down then! I don’t love her, I labour under the assumption that because I married her, I own her vag and I get access whenever I want without having to woo and romance her.

    Hold on there. I never thought I ‘owned’ her vag, but that was the furious, shrieking accusation she clung onto. And although I thought I romanced her nonsexually plenty, apparently it was never enough (although, curiously, she was well satisfied with how I treated her when sex wasn’t on the table – it was only when sex was an issue when suddenly the status quo wasn’t good enough. Think of someone who suddenly gets a ‘limp’ when there’s heavy work to be done.) Stupid me of course, second-guessed myself and dug this hole deeper and deeper, hoping the right combination of words and deeds would bring her ‘round.

    Of course it didn’t.

    And if I brought up the fact that these random bar dudes she loved hooking up with so much, then it was the emo defense of ‘Oh, I didn’t want to do that… I felt so used and dirty, and many of those nights I spent crying in the bathroom, but it was the only way I felt loved… oh woe was me… and then you came along, and everything got so much better because you really loved me for who I was…’

    Bah. What manipulative rubbish.

    When I just stopped listening to this neverending, manipulating drivel spouted to sidestep and doubletalk her way out of confronting her issues contributing to our (non-existent) sex life (don’t worry, virtually all of the arguments we had over sex focused very exclusively on my varying and contradictory failings as a human being) and focused on becoming a better person in both mind and body (which includes, before anyone jumps down my throat, confronting my own acknowledged sense of entitlement), she went right back to being a bar skank, because ‘woe is me, my husband’s neglecting me’. All while having a 4 month old son at home, incidentally. So much for that biological imperative to keep her family secure, I guess.

    Does my story apply to every couple? No. But I’m sure there are more than a few men nodding in agreement to my words. My advice to you? Work on bettering yourself. Either way, you’re going to win.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    Best comment ever Don

  3. Felicity Says:

    This is a great blog post, very relatable & some very interesting points that provide the necessary alternative to the misogynistic cheap we’re constantly fed. It sounds fair to both genders to me too.

    I think Don’s hostility towards the end is unfair but understandable since his marriage didn’t work out. It takes extra effort & mindfulness for me to not entirely blame my exes too. I’m sure some men do relate to Don’ s post, there will always be intrasexual competition creating hostility & desire for control between the genders (this works both ways, both sides get hurt). But it was nice to read about giving women some empathy & validation considering all the scrutiny & shaming they face for their sexuality. Especially at a young age it is difficult to deal with constantly being told your worth is entirely in your erotic allure & performance while also being told you’re dirty for it. We’re afraid of being prudes & slurs at the same time, while we enjoy pleasure the same as the next person. The combination screws a lot of women up. But those women should also try to inspect & resolve those issues rather than unfairly hurting their partners using those issues as a permanent excuse.


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