Since its beginnings, when it was called “sociobiology,” evolutionary psychology has been wed to the theory that women are monogamous and men are promiscuous—that men have a compunction to spread their seed while women instinctually want to lock some guy down to raise her children. Feminist attempts to create sexual equality between men and women were doomed to fail, because they went against biology. Shrugging was encouraged, and the term “hard-wired” was mandatory.
But now the evidence is beginning to trickle in, and one sticky fact has thrown this entire theory into jeopardy: It’s women and not men who get bored with monogamy faster. As Daniel Bergner writes in the New York Times, women are far more likely to lose interest in sex with their partners. This doesn’t necessarily translate into infidelity—a choice many reject because it’s so hurtful—but, Bergner reports, spouse-weary women often just avoid sex altogether.
Add to that the study Bergner cites showing women respond to novelty in pornographic fantasies, and another showing that women are much more turned on by fantasies of sex with strangers than friends. You’d be forgiven for concluding that the gender most interested in mixing it up might be…women.
What’s really fascinating is that with this shift in understanding comes a profound shift in how we as a society are deciding to respond. There will be no shrugging of the shoulders and tossing around the word “hard-wired” to rationalize women disappointing male expectations of passionate monogamous sex. Instead, as Bergner writes, a ton of money is being spent on developing a drug women can take to restore their desire for their husbands. The drug, called Lybrido, is in clinical trials now with the hope of writing an FDA application by the end of the year.
Bergner also implies that women’s declining interest in monogamous sex is socially, not biologically, inflected. Since women receive messages “that sexual desire and expression are not necessarily positive,” he suggests, they tend to require additional stimuli—such as novelty—to get them in the mood. The implication? If we can normalize female desire in society at large, we can presumably encourage women to continue lusting after their partners.
Notice that identifying a lack of sexual excitement as a societal ailment, not a biological one, reduces the sense of fatedness around the issue. When people believed that boredom with monogamy was a male trait for women to endure, interest in fixing it was pretty low. Now that we understand boredom with monogamy to be a female trait for men to endure, it’s suddenly a Problem—with possible solutions. Though frustrating, this is ultimately probably a good thing. Since most of us want to be monogamous, it’s about time we took seriously the need to keep it interesting.