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Monday, August 10, 2009

Gaylen Moore on The Importance of Being Naughty: Exploring the Science of Erotic Diversity

Gaylen Moore is a graduate student in Cleveland who writes for examiner.com and styles himself the Cleveland Open Relationships Examiner. A few days ago he published a most excellent article, the title of which I reference in the title of this post. I highly recommend that you spend the time reading it. It isn't very long, he includes the latest scientific findings on what it is that drives us to pursue love and sex, and he puts much about the chemistry of love into proper poly context, if you will. The following two paragraphs are particularly enlightening:

One very interesting thing to know about prolactin [a hormone produced by both men and women during sex]: Scientists have discovered that proactin triggers stem cells in the brain to produce new neurons! If you see a headline saying "Sex makes your brain grow" – you can bet that prolactin is star of the show. People seeking treatments for victims of stroke and degenerative diseases like Huntington's, Parkinson's, and Alzheimers are hopeful that this research will lead to new treatment options. Advocates of more sexually liberal lifestyles are hoping that the good news about prolactin might lend credence to the belief that lots of good sex is a good thing, and thus liberal sexual lifestyles should not be stigmatized by prudish cultures. This is where polyamory, swinging, and "hot monogamy" come in.

The basic problem with long-term monogamy is that after a few years with the same person, the frequency of sex dwindles down to a trickle. If, in fact, an active sex life is good for your physical and mental health, then it seems that traditional monogamy might not be the best choice for long-term health. The problem with long-term monogamy is well-known to science, and there is even a term for it: the "Coolidge Effect." Scientists (who, as we know, love to study rats) have observed that after a lot of copulation with a particular female, a male rat will lose sexual interest in her. But if a new female comes along, he’ll perk right up and be happy to service her. It is well-known that the same effect applies to humans – and not just to males. Both men and women find it difficult to maintain a high level of sexual interest in their long-term mate. (If you have never heard the joke that is said to be the origin of the term "the Coolidge Effect," click here.) The problem generally is not that couples no longer love each other; the problem generally has more to do with the complex chemistry of sexual desire.

Love that Coolidge effect story, one that always amuses me whenever it is referenced.

I've written here before about the role of brain chemistry in how we love. I've sung the praises of research anthropologist Helen fisher, who continues her quest to understand how we love, and why. To more fully understand his premise, be sure to view the video at the bottom of Gaylen's post of a segment of Dr. Fisher's presentation at the TED conference in 2008 - it will be 16 minutes well spent. She will help you understand what it is about sexual and romantic love that drives us to such distraction as for many of us it in large measure is the source of our humanity and what makes our lives worth living.

As a polyamory advocate and educator, I sometimes find it vexing to try to explain what it is about we poly people that makes what we want a valid choice, especially to those who disapprove of us. There is more evidence to confirm what many of us know, that we polyamorists are frequently condemned for being naturally who we are. Understandable to a point, especially when one considers that who and what we are flies in the face of everything westerners have been told they ought to be.

If you agree with the evidence at hand (as do I), then despite the vehement disagreement even amongst polyamory advocates as to whether polyamory is choice or identity, it is clear that though some may choose polyamory and be just as capable of choosing and being happy with monogamy, for others of us polyamory is indeed who we are in the most human biological terms.

Our greatest hope for finding acceptance and understanding from those who require proof positive is the work of researchers like the awesome Helen Fisher. Perhaps the time will come when our preference for keeping long-term lovers while adding new ones instead of choosing serial monogamy will be better understood and even embraced by a more significant segment of society. Certainly it will if Helen Fisher has anything to do with it. One can always hope.
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