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

Men's Health (Australia) - - Sex -

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.

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