Jun 29, 2010
Should We Stop Expecting Our Spouses to Be Faithful? Christopher Ryan Answers
In Sex at Dawn, we present overwhelming evidence that human beings are the most sexual creatures on earth. Homo sapiens evolved to be lusty ladies, libertines, rakes, rogues, and roués. Tomcats and sex kittens no doubt think we make too much fuss about sex!
True, some of us manage to rise above this aspect of our nature (or to sink below it—depending on your perspective). Willpower fortified with plenty of guilt, fear, shame, and mutilation of body, soul, and spirit may provide some measure of control over these urges and impulses. But even when controlled, they refuse to be ignored. As German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer pointed out: Der Mensch kann wohl tun was er will, aber er kann nicht wollen, was er will. (One can choose what to do, but not what to want.)
There are costs involved in denying our evolved sexual nature, costs paid by individuals, couples, families, churches, and societies. They are paid in what famed biologist E. O. Wilson called “the less tangible currency of human happiness that must be spent to circumvent our natural predispositions.” Is a family destroyed by a meaningless sexual dalliance better off than the family that remains intact because the couple recognized the meaninglessness of the event? We think not.
Given the realities of our evolved appetites, it’s probably wise for us all to consider lowering our expectations of strict fidelity to a level more cognizant of our nature as organic beings. (Is she cheating if she masturbates? What if he looks at porn? What if she occasionally thinks of someone else when making love? What if he notices a sexy woman in the street?)
But even as we allow for less fidelity, we may find our relationships enriched with greater faithfulness. When an occasional casual sexual adventure is no longer an existential threat to a marriage, it may become something partners can choose to share openly with each other, thereby increasing their own sense of intimacy and trust. Many couples, in societies near and far, recognize that sex can be just sex. Exciting, pleasurable, maybe vitalizing, but certainly no reason to abandon an otherwise happy, stable marriage.
Christopher Ryan is a psychologist and the co-author (with his wife, Dr. Cacilda Jethá) of Sex at Dawn, which hits bookshelves today.