As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, How to Get Lean Without Counting Calories, last month I went to Austin for three glorious lecture-filled days for the annual PaleoFX conference to learn as much as I could in a short period of time.
Today I’ll talk about one of the most interesting talks of the entire conference, it was certainly one of the best attended ones for a talk held on a side stage.
The full title of the talk was a mouthful:
Primal! What Our Ancestors Can Teach Us About Having Carnal, Passionate Sex in Committed, Monogamous Relationships by Dr. Marianne Brandon
Dr. Brandon had a somewhat winding path that led her to become a sex therapist.
From her talk, it sounded like sex therapy piqued her interest, but she initially thought, “even if it’s interesting, that’s not for me.”
But every time she spoke with a friend or family member about the possibility, instead of receiving discouragement they pushed her further in that direction!
Luckily they did, or she never would’ve ended up giving a talk at PaleoFX this year!
So what did she have to say about having passionate sex in a monogamous relationship?
First, she highlighted WHY passionate sex is important in the first place:
- 50% of marriages end in divorce (and rarely are any of those people still having passionate sex just before filing!)
- Upwards of 20% of marriages are sexless (defined as having sex less than 6x a year)
- About 1/3 of men and women are having affairs
- 40% of women have a sexual concern (low libido, difficult to arouse, hard to orgasm, etc.)
- 1/3 of men have a sexual concern
And, if I can insert my two cents, even if it goes without saying, possibly it’s too taboo to say out loud, so I’ll just whisper it softly in your ear…
LIFE IS MORE FUN WHEN YOU’RE HAVING PASSIONATE SEX.
So…why aren’t more people?
Dr. Brandon outlined a number of reasons:
- We’re out of touch with our own bodies
- Our lifestyles are not conducive to having passionate sex
- Expectations are higher than ever before (with the prevalence of pornography, among other things)
Also, and I realize this is increasingly controversial to say, but there are inherent, biologically driven differences between men and women.
And it starts with what men vs women do to become aroused (talking in general here).
What do women do for arousal that’s different than most men?
- Read romance novels! Romance novels are the most popular genre across all books, they represent 55% of ALL paperbacks sold. This is true across over 100 international markets, so it’s not a cultural phenomenon either. 50 Shades of Grey was the fastest selling paperback OF ALL TIME. And it was published in 52 different languages!
- She mentioned a couple other things but was moving too fast for me to take notes!
What do men do for arousal that’s different than most women?
- Go to strip clubs
- Fantasize (54% of men fantasize at least once a day vs 19% of women)
- Pay for sex
And it should be clear to anyone with an even basic understanding of evolution WHY men and women show tendencies towards different sexual behaviors, from a high-level:
- Women have a limited number of eggs, and a limited number of years to utilize them effectively, so they increase their reproductive success by finding the best seed
- Men have unlimited sperm that can be used from puberty until death, and they stand to increase their reproductive success by spreading their seeds far and wide.
Obviously there are a lot of nuances that I’m glossing over here, for those interested in learning more about the biological, sexual differences between men and women, I suggest reading Sperm Wars and Baby Wars by biologist Robin Baker.
Dr. Brandon continued with some of the impact evolution has had on the sexual tendencies of men and women (again, speaking in general):
- Women are finicky; women prefer men who are more dominant because they’re able to offer greater protection and they have stronger immune systems; women can’t let go in bed if they’re the strongest force in the bedroom (if the woman is worried about whether her man can handle a burglar that busts through the window, she’s not going to be able to let go)
- Men need an enthusiastic partner; men are more attracted to receptive females (I cracked up when she said this, I’ve known plenty of guys who had a laundry list of things they wanted in a female partner, and then they fell head over heels for the first girl who showed even the slightest amount of interest in them!)
What does it take to actually have “good sex”?
- Mutual respect
- Actively working on any relationship struggles
- The knowledge that we share 99% of our genetics with the great ape. (We’re not as sophisticated as we’d like to convince ourselves!)
So HOW do people in monogamous relationships actually HAVE passionate sex?
Dr. Brandon had a “recipe,” based on her research into evolutionary biology:
- The woman indicates she’s receptive to sexual attention (flirt, etc.)
- The man pursues her
- The woman responds openly, lets herself go, lets it happen
- Understand that primal sex feels vulnerable!
Dr. Brandon reiterated several times that, like all recipes, you’re meant to tweak the process, play around with it, and see what works for you – but that doesn’t mean that the primary recipe is flawed!
I imagine the most challenging part of this for most people is being vulnerable. I can count on one hand the number of people I’ve met who are vulnerable on a regular basis. It’s really freakin’ hard! Much easier to pretend you’ve got it all figured out…
So how do you cultivate your own vulnerability? Dr. Brandon made several suggestions:
Women – How to Cultivate Vulnerability
- Outside of the bedroom – private experiences of letting go, opening up, cultivating embodiment; dance, yoga
- When making love – continually relax into their partner; repeat the word “open” in their head when they find themselves closing off
Men – How to Cultivate Vulnerability
- Outside of the bedroom – yoga, tai chi; become comfortable with assertiveness through competitive sports and martial arts
- When making love – communicate strength through tone of voice, touch, eye contact; allow tension, don’t grin, don’t talk baby talk
Dr. Brandon ended her talk with some homework for everyone:
- Women, pour softness over your men
- Men, offer your body as a place for her to rest
So simple, but so easy to forget and forgo in our modern world of hustle and bustle.
During the Q&A at the end of the talk she also touched on a number of other topics (I’m paraphrasing here):
How do you prevent the “recipe for sex” from becoming monotonous?
Ha, well it doesn’t become monotonous because it’s inherently enjoyable. But also you can mix it up, it’s not a formula.
What about people who practice BDSM (bondage, discipline, dominance, and submission/sadomasochism)?
People use it to a point where it’s pure ecstasy for them, it’s just a more intense version of the same question.
[Notes from Bennett – I was personally surprised that someone got up publicly and said they were interested in BDSM and then asked this question, but it goes to show how far our culture has come in the past 60 years!]
What are your thoughts on monogamy?
I’m very pro-monogamy, but our bodies aren’t necessarily evolved for that.
It’s easier to be vulnerable at the beginning of a relationship, before all the issues in your relationship are brought to the bedroom.
[Notes from Bennett – Whether humans evolved to be monogamous will probably be debated until the end of time. The books mentioned earlier – Sperm Wars and Baby Wars – elucidate the reasons why both strategies can be beneficial from an evolutionary standpoint. I’d also add that people make references to apes not being monogamous as proof that humans didn’t evolve to be either (although some apes show strong tendencies toward monogamy). I think that’s a valid starting point for thinking about the subject, but it’s certainly not the ending point. Humans evolved many traits that allowed us to stop living in the trees and populate the entire earth, I don’t think it’s that far-fetched that a bias towards monogamy could be one of them.]
Sex Therapy and Coaching
For those who are interested in learning more about Dr. Brandon’s work, I encourage you to check out her website, which has a number of blog posts as well as links to several books she’s written, including one related specifically to the topic of her talk, entitled Monogamy: The Untold Story.
In my final post on PaleoFX 2017, I’ll cover the key points made by Robb Wolf, one of the most important figures in the modern paleo movement during his keynote speech, Experiments in Quantified Self.