The Sex Trap
Writer Ed Vanstone sifts through the aspects of life most crucial to your health and happiness. This month, a little bit of the other
LESS SEX. It’s not often among life’s big regrets, so the old joke runs, mumbled on your deathbed. But when it comes to the final analysis – light fading, family crowding near – few would argue that little matters more than the successes (and failures) of your romantic relationships.
In his 2010 novel The Pregnant Widow, Martin Amis puts it more succinctly. “Unusually for a 20-year-old,” Amis’s narrator writes, “…Keith was aware that he was going to die. More than that, he knew that when the process began, the only thing that would matter was how it had gone with women.” How it has gone with women. Sexually. Romantically. Conjugally. This, in the end, is how we judge ourselves. Riches, prizes and fame be damned. Did you get the girl you liked the most? And did she stay?
Very often in 2017 the answer is yes. Then no. And the reason for that is sex. Nearly 60 per cent of men will cheat at some point in their marriages, as will over 45 per cent of women. Close to half of us will see our marriages fail. The primal urge to fuck is clearly an incredibly important impetus in our lives. We like it so much that most of us are willing to betray our wives for it. You, dear reader, may well have a clear conscience. But the stats plainly state that few others would refuse.
And yet, just as with money, the happiness gains to be had as a result of more time between the sheets begin to level off – and a lot quicker than you might expect. According to research published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, a couple’s happiness tends to peak when they have sex about once a week.
Similarly, it turns out that long-term contentment is rarely found through furtive trysts with secret paramours. Just 10 per cent of affairs last over a month. As with the hormonal surge of the act itself, the thrill is there and gone in a flash. The guilt, for many, lasts longer.
Curiously, the ‘peacock’s tail’ theory of human development posits that our unusually large brains evolved not to help us survive, but to provide an advantage in terms of sexual selection. Our superior intellect, in other words, is equivalent to the kaleidoscopic dazzle of a peacock showing out.stags have their antlers and birds their songs. But we have our brains. (Pertinent though this is, it should go without saying that it’s a sub-par chat up line that must never be employed.)
If all that brainpower dedicated to one fairly primitive, albeit fundamental objective – namely, to find the best partner we can – sounds profligate, then you might well have a point. Because once we’ve snared our mate, animal instinct so often wins out. After a while with our feet under the table, many seek out ephemeral highs over long-term serenity. It’s a design fault in the system. They’re more exciting. They’re sexier. Crucially, they’re mindless.
Do not misunderstand – this is no Puritan treatise. More time in bed is not a bad thing in our book; very far from it. But with Tinder, Happn and the accompanying glut of dating and hook-up apps making promiscuity more effortless than ever, it would be a mistake to see this sexual liberation as a route to untrammelled happiness. True contentment lies elsewhere. And if you’re a frustrated singleton or bored husband, neither more sex – nor more lovers – will save you. Paradise is hard to define, but when asked, the late, great Johnny Cash surely came close. “This morning,” he said, turning to his beloved wife, June Carter Cash. “With her. Having coffee.”
Now that’s a fine mind.
Zip it: resisting fleeting highs could be a fair trade in the long run.