Christopher Ryan argues that we are hardwired to crave novelty, which leads to infidelity in marriages. Ryan says the way that culture responds to this "natural behavior" causes more problems than it solves. In other words, sex isn't such a big deal, so why do we let it get in the way of all the other important things? The point of marriage is to grow old with someone and develop a sense of trust. Therefore, Ryan argues we need to take a "harm reduction approach" over an "absolutist approach." That means that marriage needs to adapt to the realities of human nature.
We are designed by evolution to be titillated by erotic novelty, males and females. Given that evolutionary design, it's completely predictable that 10 years of the same thing, whether it's the same music or the same food or the same sex partner, is going to lead to resentment, discomfort, whatever. It's going to lead to a diminishment of passion, certainly. So we start with that and then we add to that the notion that we're taught that that shouldn't happen, that if it does happen there's something wrong with you or something wrong with your relationship. And so people aren't expecting that to happen, and so they interpret that diminishment of passion as a failure.
The point that we're trying to get across in the book is that it's not your fault. It's not your partner's fault. It's the fault of the clash between the sort of animal we are and the sort of society we've designed. And as long as there's that conflict between our biology and our societies, there are going to be these problems. So a harm reduction approach might make a lot more sense than this sort of absolutist approach that a lot of people take where any infidelity, any, you know, my husband looks at porn, that means he doesn't love me anymore. I mean, these sorts of responses to very natural behaviors cause a lot more problems than they solve, I think.
I think if marriage is going to survive as an institution, it's going to certainly have to continue adapting to the realities of human nature as opposed to trying to shoehorn human nature into some predetermined shape. The point of marriage is that you want to get old with someone. You want to share your life with someone. Maybe you want to raise children with someone. You want to have a certain stability and trust that you couldn't possibly get with short-term relationships. That's the point of marriage. And by imposing this expectation of sexual exclusivity for 40, 50, 60 years, we're cutting ourselves off from those really important things for something that's essentially trivial. Sex really isn't really that important. It's not that big a deal. And by making it such a big deal, we sabotage things that really are important, these primary relationships. We have children going through divorces, victimized by the psychological trauma of divorce, over what? Over what? That mommy or daddy had sex with someone else? Who cares?
The problem is, much like the war on drugs, the problem is that we take this absolutist approach to something that people are always going to do. People are always going to smoke marijuana. People are always going to drink alcohol and coffee and whatever. But we make these arbitrary judgments on what's acceptable and what isn't, that have nothing to do with the actual harm that anything of these things could cause to people. So we throw people in prison for, you know, growing a marijuana plant on their windowsill. It makes no sense; it causes much more harm than just letting people do what they want to do.
And really, whose business is it if a couple decides that they're going to, you know, allow a little casual sexual behavior on the side, especially if, as Dan Savage argues, and I agree, it takes the pressure off the relationship. If the door's open a little bit, you don't feel trapped. It doesn't mean the door has to be swung wide open, but, you know, the fact that it's open a little bit doesn't mean that the marriage is a farce, certainly.
Directed / Produced by
Jonathan Fowler & Elizabeth Rodd