The following article was adapted from our “No Strings Attached” Expert Event - a conversation with Dr. Marianne Brandon, certified sexual therapist and author of Monogamy: The Untold Story, and Dr. Alan Altman, President of the International Society for the Study of Women’s Sexual Health. Click here to watch the video.
Just as we saw the evolution of bigger beaks in Galápagos finches so they could break seeds for eating, we’re seeing an evolution in how we engage in relationships. Monogamy, unfortunately, isn’t natural for primates and mammals. When Natalie Portman’s character in the upcoming movie, “No Strings Attached,” said, “I think monogamy goes against basic biology,” she was, unfortunately, correct.
We want to believe that monogamy is natural. We want to believe that passion easily lasts a lifetime. The truth is, we’re mammals. Only 3% of mammals are naturally monogamous. For us humans, that means some of us are going to be more prone than others toward monogamy — based on our DNA, our personality, and a variety of different factors. We’re just now researching what it really means for people, and how to tell who’s more likely to stay with one partner. About half of marriages end in divorce. Approximately 50% of people are having affairs, 20% of marriages are sexless.
A growing number of couples are shifting away from monogamy and opting for a Friends With Benefits arrangement - a casual hookup with a friend or acquaintance. This trend didn’t happen overnight. Several cultural and biological developments that occurred over time have impacted our sex lives:
- We’re living longer. When most people died in their 40s or 50s – and your marriage wasn’t so good, you figured it was not going to be much longer anyway. As opposed to, my God, now I’m going to live to 80, 90, 100! Is this what it’s going to be for the rest of my life?
- Historically, monogamy was encouraged for political reasons and religious reasons. It really helped organize our culture. It helped us create families and structures that were great for every member of the family. It really helped us progress. We have grown so much from that very basic standpoint of connecting that way.
- We no longer need the support of a partner. It used to be that you had to be married to have kids. It used to be, you had to be married to have security. Financial security, home security, and family security. Now that’s just not necessary anymore. You can have babies without being married. You can have a family without being married. A man can have a baby without a wife or girlfriend. Both partners in a relationship can work, so security-wise, you’re not depending on one or the other for finances. So culturally, things have changed quite a bit.
- Dating back from the caveman days, women needed men for protection. She needed him to hunt for food for her babies, and he needed her to get his genes into the next generation. So everybody made out okay, and I think that had something to do with how that came together.
- Technology provides people with so many more opportunities to meet people. We can connect so easily with others through cell phones and Internet in ways that have never before existed. So it has an astronomical effect on people’s sex lives.
- The Internet has a lot of information out there, and not all accurate or close to reality. People form different expectations about marriages and relationships. People used to start feeling concerned about the excitement of their sex lives after 20 years of marriage, we’re now starting to see that concern arise just after 2 or 3 years of marriage. People have expectations that sex is going to be off-the-wall, with yelling and screaming. That’s also what we see in the movies, and it really isn’t that way.
Friends With Benefits is an evolution in our sexual culture. The benefit of this agreement is that it’s a very honest approach to sexual relationships. People know where they stand, and it’s very clear. The first con is that it encourages people to disconnect their hearts from their bodies. It encourages sex rather than making love. If people do that repeatedly, they never will learn how to make love with their hearts, or how to experience the art of making love. They’ll just learn how to fool around.
FWB starts out being really a great idea, but sooner or later, you have hormones in your brain that start to flow. Oxytocin (the bonding hormone) is one of the most important ones. It’s what a mother puts out when she’s breastfeeding with a baby. Sooner or later, emotions develop. You remember the movie “When Harry Met Sally.” He was arguing, you can’t have sex without falling in love with somebody.
Can you guess the ending in “No Strings Attached”?
Have a Question for Our Doctors? Ask Dr. Marianne Brandon Your Questions on