Sexpert Julie: Is Your Sex Drive Hurting Your Relationship?
How you deal with your sexual urges may make or break your committed relationship.
-Julie Elledge, Ph.D.
You’re walking down the street and you see a gorgeous man smile at you. His once over gives you a little thrill and you imagine what a first date might be like with him. But wait! You’re in a committed relationship with a man that you adore. There will be no first date for you.
What does your wandering eye mean? Are you falling out of love with your committed man? No ladies, you are normal.
Somewhere in history, culture taught women more than men (but they get the message too) that when two people commit to each other, their lust for other people dies. In many ways, it’s understandable. When your man is checking out another woman it can be hurtful – especially if you feel you may be supplanted in the relationship. But, the problem with this message that your attraction to others should die when you commit is that it doesn’t line up with human biology.
Dr. Helen Fisher, an evolutionary anthropologist, has identified an emotion-motivation system that my colleague Dr. Tom Hicks and I call the sexual trifecta. Two of the three emotion-motivation systems encourage intimacy and support the development of a family structure. The third aspect, sex drive, plays havoc with commitment (Fisher, 2009).
Let’s begin with attraction, which is more commonly known as love. Love is an inborn need to invest emotionally in another person. Yes, we are biologically hard-wired to choose one person to love. If you feel like you can’t fall in love with one person, then something probably happened in your development that is discouraging you from taking this very important step in your life.
Next, pair-bonding, or what is often called commitment, is the desire to build a life with another person. This works very nicely with love. You choose a man to love and then you build a life with him. Think about how this might have worked throughout history. Early civilizations had high mortality rates. Having two parents increased the likelihood of surviving. Couples that loved each other and committed to raising children together were more likely to have children who lived and then grew up to have their own children, and the cycle continues.
Now comes the third piece of the sexual trifecta that can play nicely with love and commitment – or it can wreak havoc. The primitive sex drive doesn’t discriminate who is a good long-term life partner and who is not. That kind of discrimination requires a higher-order thinking process. But the sex drive still wants what it wants right now! Lust desires variety and novelty to be satisfied, but that does not mean that your brain does not have control over your lust.
To better understand how the sex drive operates, let’s take another jaunt into history. Think caveman. To populate a world fraught with danger, quantity was better than quality. Adults didn’t necessarily live very long and children had an even lower chance of survival. Sex was opportunistic. The more sex you had, the more likely your bloodlines would survive. But, as the world became less dangerous and people were surviving longer, people began to care more about the quality of their relationships. The need to have indiscriminate sex became less important and the quality of relationships began to take precedence. People wanted higher quality relationships that were more meaningful than just survival. With people finding comfort and security in their relationships, threats to commitment would have to be controlled. It is easy to see how the sex drive could come under scrutiny with its tendency toward being opportunistic. However, our sex drive remains a powerful component of our brain’s sexual trifecta.