``All Is Great Except For Sex'' --- Euphemisms And Epiphanies

Prelude: For my social and professional positions, I am rather dumb. You explain something to me one way, no matter how many times, and I won't get it. Say it another way and I will pick up immediately. This story is about my process of deeply understanding the friendly derision of the "all is great but the sex" stand assumed by many newcomers, with some differential implications for men and women. It is mostly but not entirely gender neutral, but that really does not matter, and, after all, each of us carries a distorted, personal, biased worldview to the grave, inevitably.

Aside: I still remember the day in high school on which I realized the euphemism in the term "natural selection", specifically, selection. In academics or sports or jobs, you get selected for a greater role (go to next grade, play for the college team, become VP) as a mark of distinction beyond your peers. The peers are not usually mowed down and made to disappear. Whereas evolution, really, is about brutal elimination. So why wasn't natural selection called, more truthfully, natural elimination?

I did not land up in ILIASM thinking all is great in my marriage except for sex, but many newcomers do. And they face a consistent challenge to their starting premise. Why are old hands on ILIASM so confident that the dysfunction cannot be only in sex? There are two explanations, depending on your assumption about the direction of the arrow of causality. But there are actually three "events" or conditions of interest here:
* Bad or no sex.
* Dysfunctional marriage apart from bad or no sex.
* One partner seeking refuge in ILIASM.

One simple explanation could be that if there is bad or no sex, long enough that one partner is on ILIASM, the bad or no sex must already have spilled over to other areas of marriage, via resentment and mistrust. I am sure this is sometimes the case. But my so-called epiphany is about the other direction of causality.

Here, too, the obvious explanation would be that other conflicts damage sexuality until sex becomes bad or nonexistent. There are stories on ILIASM that move along this trajectory.

But here is the third scenario:
* According to the typical standards of ILIASM denizens, there is bad or no sex in a marriage. The partners are not aligned; the amount of sex is substantially less than what one partner wishes for.
  • * However, the marriage is safe, and far from dysfunctional.
  • * Neither partner is here on ILIASM. Neither is unhappy about sexlessness in the marriage.
  • It is impossible to know, but here is the controversial hypothesis: a sizable majority of marriages are in the third category. Those fortunate marriages are characterized, among the usual good things, by these features:
  • * Both partners have accurate knowledge of male and female physiology, hormones, levels of desire, and sexual psychology.
  • * Both partners are non-judgmental about that knowledge.  E.g., men were created as they were; certain chemicals cause them to have intense cravings for physical intimacy and eventual ***********. This is not a product of their "inherently lascivious nature". Similarly, women are not being mean and manipulative when they obey their evolutionary diktat of verifying that a mate is trustworthy before allowing sex, because their investment in copulation is stupendously larger compared to males.
  • * Most important, each partners regards the other, as driven by evolutionary forces far more powerful than current egalitarian society, with compassion. The man can take a joke about his excessive horniness, and the woman can likewise laugh at her own headache. (Or vice versa.) And that compassion lets them empathize with their partner's human condition, and their collective human condition.
  • This compassion builds trust, and destroys shame. The man can jack off, and if the woman does not feel like collaborating, at least she does not feel he is a perverted hyper-sexed monster. Meanwhile the man understands the woman's evolutionary imperative: if she is investing all her reproductive energy bubble bathing junior and telling him stories and tucking in that extra blanket, that is part of her sexuality, just like ignition in two minutes is a feature of male sexuality.
  • The compassion forms a safety net when sex fails, as it inevitably will. For every person here on unhappy ILIASM, there are several whose level of physical deprivation is as bad, but they do not even feel it, because of that compassion.
A final comment about the gender asymmetry introduced above. I have purposely engaged in a few conflict-driven conversations here recently. They have the general form:

I: Leaving aside political correctness, more men are starved of sex than women.

She: That's bullshit. We are 50-50 on ILIASM! There are so many of us, even middle-aged women who really crave sex.


ILIASM is all about statistics. No hard cosmic truth is being discussed here. But rather than fight back with statistics, let me counter with psychology.

A century of progressive thinking will not entirely wipe out four million years of evolution. In high school and college, men continue to be suitors, applicants, and "conquerors", and women continue to screen, verify, and select (or eliminate).

When a woman on ILIASM is told that most women are lukewarm to sex compared to men, she may suffer from the usual insecurity of the minority. To avoid feeling like a freak and exception, she uses the 50-50 number instinctively as defense. Meanwhile, a sex-starved man on ILIASM wants the reassurance that he is normal, i.e., that most men are sex-starved. So his reaching for his defense is also quite understandable. Not reaching for their respective weapons amounts to the woman admitting she is a nymphomaniac and the man admitting he is an exceptional loser who cannot command feminine affection, whereas his betters are humping away to glory.

Is there an end to this? There doesn't need to be, but consider the number of articles explaining to men where their penis is to be found, how to relax and explore themselves, how to achieve the Big Foot-esque male ****** that eludes up to 30% of men even in their 40s. Consider the number of articles that teach women how to turn on men, how to maintain their erections (as a duty and burden on the woman), and how to be sympathetic to the man if after 45 minutes of thrusting, he does not ****** because he could not fit into his tightest car the previous day.

Compassion and sense of humor. If you don't have these two, you will never go unmolested through the devilish joke played by evolution on human sexuality.
ulae ulae
7 Responses Jan 12, 2013

Update: zsuzsilowinger, thanks for the pointer. The corrected link is "http://www.southalabama.edu/psychology/gordon/Baumeister(2000)SexualOrientation_Female.pdf" (no quotes) and it offers a great deal of support to my world view regarding female sexuality. I would encourage ILIASM members to follow that link and at least browse the article.

U, I was wondering whether you were familiar with the work of Mercier and Sperber on "Why humans reason" - which advances the view that the "purpose" of reasoning and associated logic is to win arguments & persuade, not necessarily to do what's logical in a dispassionate way. I fear that notion often colors our attempts to rationalise what is or has happened to us in the SM, although I think M&S's explanation is too narrow and suffers from confirmation bias like so much of psychological literature. For example, I think reputation is also a very important feature of things we do, and influences some of our apparently paradoxical or maladaptive behavior.

Second, would you subscribe to the view that the sexes are the same in terms of capabilities, the ability to execute different strategies (the rich panoply of human life)? That there may be differences in the prevalence of which strategies are selected by sex (sometimes reflecting legitimate structural conflicts of interest which no amount of communication can resolve), but that both have the facility to run any of the range of options depending on circumstances?

I think your evolutionary explanation of human sexuality is lacking. It seems based on the premise that sex evolved solely for the purpose of procreation. That is true in most animals, but not humans (or Bonobos apparently). Human sexuality appears to also serve the function of creating social bonds without which our species could not survive. That is why human females, unlike most animals, are willing participants in sex even when they are not ovulating. It is also why, without contraception, humans generally participate in hundreds of sex acts per birth. With this understanding it is appropriate for ALL people to participate in frequent sex. You know, so the clan will feel like saving you from the lions. Check out the book Sex at Dawn.

Thanks, will check out the book. Yes, I am aware of these unique human (and a few other primate) traits. The whole phenomenon of seasonal estrus is missing in humans, for one. It was there in early humanoids, by the way. (Early versions of) semi-feral dogs in heat signaled to humanoid males good times to come, and that led to human-dog bonding. All that being said, the human mating game is very very complex, and much of human society is not self-aware about what game they are playing and what is driving them.

Agree with the complexity, and even "simple" groundrules can generate extremely complex behaviors when operating in feedback loops between cooperative and competing agents.

I do enjoy thinking through some of the possibilities, but know that any explanations are just-so. The important thing that they illustrate is that responses are not linear and may appear perverse.

One thing that's missing here in the evolutionary descriptions though (or the opposite pole of the extremist everything-is-a-social-construct), is that we are de facto extremely well equipped to handle the fabulous richness of behavior wherever it comes from. It's true that much of that facility is completely under the conscious radar. The joy and tragedy of that situation is that we share the world with others with the same facility.

"The joy and tragedy of that situation is that we share the world with others with the same facility." BINGO! Love this!!

This is a personal opinion and position, and hangs off this bit of your post Brother U.

Where you refer to - "the third scenario:
* According to the typical standards of ILIASM denizens, there is bad or no sex in a marriage. The partners are not aligned; the amount of sex is substantially less than what one partner wishes for. * However, the marriage is safe, and far from dysfunctional.

* Neither partner is here on ILIASM. Neither is unhappy about sexlessness in the marriage.

If the person isn't on ILIASM, then I couldn't give a ****.
I am only interested in the persons who ARE here.

Tread your own path.

Life has to be lived forward, but it can only be understood in the rear view mirror, said Soren Kierkegaard. To understand those that are here, one needs to understand those that are not. How can pathology work without understanding health?

Ulae, you seem to base your idea of thousands of years of evolution on what is current in North American society, and specifically, white North American society.

I think you need to study sexual history a little more closely, but ... in the end, whatever...

Sure! Links, please.

Here's a start, and just a small start this morning: http://www.southalabama.edu/psychology/gordon/Baumeister(2000)SexualOrientation_Female.pdf (in particular page 352)

Very thought provoking and an excellent story Ulae. I'm going to ofer some opinions which may vary from your's but are NOT offered as challenges - there is NO intent to provoke or argue on my part. It is clear from all your posts that you are a thoughtful, intelligent, well educated, so I'm embarking on this as an intellectual discussion!

One of the defining characteristics of your third group is "Neither is unhappy about sexlessness in the marriage." I think this is crucial. If the disparity in sex drive is such that, although they are not well matched libido wise, they can and do avoid feeling unhappy about this (except upon odd occasions perhaps) then it is entirely possible that these people do live contentedly together.

In fact, I suspect almost ALL marriages that are functioning at a level of happiness or at least comfort, fall into this category. It would be rare indeed, I think, to find two married people whose libidos were EXACTLY the same. In most marriages there will be a lack of balance - one wanting more, the other wanting less. But these people have found a compromise that works for them.

What I am not so sure about is your explanation of how this comes about - that it relates to compassion and to an understanding and appreciation of how humans evolved.

"For every person here on unhappy ILIASM, there are several whose level of physical deprivation is as bad, but they do not even feel it, because of that compassion." That may explain why some people stay in sexless marriages for a long time. But I strongly question the "do not even feel it" aspect. Firstly, in order to be compassionate, it is essential to see the person as needing your compassion! This means recognising and accepting that they are DIFFERENT in some way.

Now if you are in the (supposedly) closest of all human relationships with someone whose very difference from you brings on your compassion, it is hard to see how you would "not even feel it" . . . . . Presumably the compassionate person DOES feel it, but does not interpret it in negative ways towards the spouse (as in: you are neglecting me).

Compassion IMO has a finite shelf life for most people. If there is an imbalance in the relationship that requires one person to be compassionate over a LONG period, compassion fatigue is the likely outcome. Interestingly, compassion fatigue, unlike burnout, can appear quite suddenly. The symptoms are many but can be summarised as: "Symptoms include helplessness, confusion, isolation, exhaustion and dysfunction. There is usually a feeling of being overwhelmed . . . "

These symptoms are OFTEN described here on ILIASM.

Compassion is a great quality and one to be cultivated and encouraged. But I personally believe it cannot be called on endlessly to buffer the feelings that arise when there is a continued imbalance in the relationship.

As for the evolutionary aspects, there is much truth in what you say. And I do believe that understanding such essential qualitative differences is useful. It allows both sexes to make allowances and to accommodate behaviour in the opposite sex partner that may be otherwise unacceptable for some reason.

But to allow a spouse a life long exemption from participating fully in a marriage simply because of evolutionary imperative does not make sense to me. Perhaps because marriage is a social rather than evolutionary construct . . .

It seems to me that the evolutionary aspects are best used to explain and excuse behaviour or attitudes in the short term. For example: in the first few months after a baby is born or when the husband gets very amorous at times that seem inappropriate to his wife. At these times, a tolerant, understanding and compassionate spouse will recognise that the behaviours are NOT driven by some "personal demon" or desire to humiliate or inflict suffering on them! They will simply see, as you point out, how such behaviour fits in the "story of evolution" and accept it.

But a person whose evolutionary based behaviour is either unable or unwilling (or both) to change those behaviours is NOT going to be good spouse material IMO. That person is locked into a pattern of behaviour that takes no account of the needs of others - and in particular, the needs of the spouse. IF that behaviour is so deeply entrenched as to be unable to change, then the person needs to recognise she/he is NOT suited to a spousal relationship.

So whilst I do not agree with everything you posit, I can see much of value in it. And the fact that articles like these provoke thoughtfulness and discussion is of HUGE value IMO. Opening people's minds to alternate ideas and possibilities is one way inwhich each of us finds our own "truth".

And I could not agree more with your last statement!!
"Compassion and sense of humor. If you don't have these two, you will never go unmolested through the devilish joke played by evolution on human sexuality. "
LIKE +++++++++++ !!!

Thanks, exactly what I want, more level-headed discussion of the clear and present incompatibilities between evolutionary imperatives and social and political arrangements and normatives, without any trace of truculence or grudge.

They aren't evolutionary imperatives if you're talking behavior - you can believe in very strong evolutionary drivers (and after all, this is where the rubber meets the road) - without believing that is prescriptive, and indeed, the evidence is that there are many successful strategies and behaviors (which may interact).

I think I'm going to hold onto my grudges against social and political normatives because those are more maleable, and what's more, some people (encouraged by the political elite and the new Robber Barons) appear to think they have a business interfering with my life on a coercive state basis (legislation, policy and state-sponsored ideologies), and have base these on pseudo-science and self-serving manipulation. Ugh.

You are lucky in that your husband talked about it and told you it was his fault. My man doens't even acknowledge there is a problem and doesn't care if my needs are being met. If I went out with another man he would not understand it at all because he is self centered and wants to hang onto me even though he knows he isn't being fair to me. That's why I'm leaving.

Exactly. I think my husband's biggest fear is me leaving and being with someone else.