Increasing number of sexual partners decreases ability to ‘pair bond’?

Submitted by Tian2rayn on
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It’s often been said on this website and elsewhere that as a woman increases her partner count, her ability to pair bond decreases. However, I’ve noticed a significant flaw with this, as from this study, an increase in sexual partners generally correlates with decreased likelihood of divorce: https://www.livescience.com/55104-sex-partners-and-divorce.html

- Women who were only intimate with their future husband prior to marriage had a much more stable marriage than those who had previously had intimacy with others before meeting their marriage partner.
- However, those who reported being intimate just once, before meeting their husbands, had the highest rates of divorce.
- Those who were intimate with a number of men before meeting their husbands actually divorced less than the above group, but divorced more than women who married the only men they’ve been intimate with.
- Women who have had a lot of sexual experience had a high rate of divorce.

The women who married their only sexual partner likely only remained in their probably unhappy marriage because of unusual environmental factors which prevents divorce (pressure from family to remain in the marriage, divorce being against their beliefs, or many other reasons). They are also likely to be below average in attractiveness or have less willingness to socialise with new people, resulting in less desire to divorce.
Those who have high numbers of partners are more likely to divorce not because of the reduced ability to pair bond, but probably due to their personality being unsuitable for monogamy.
Taking this into consideration of the two ends of the graph, there is a trend of decreasing likelihood of divorce as sexual experience before marriage increases.

My questions:

1. Can the theory ‘an increase in sexual partners reduces the ability to pair bond with one’s long-term sexual partner’ still be considered valid?

2. If the above theory is still valid, how exactly does this occur? How does intimacy with a lot of partners damage the brain resulting in the reduced ability to fall in love with one’s partner (perhaps caused by decreased sensitivity to oxytocin)? Usually any negative effects upon the brain due to behaviour decrease over time, as the brain heals itself.

3. Does the above changes to the brain due to behaviour affect men as well as women? Perhaps women are more sensitive to the coolidge effect, or are less receptive to oxytocin, resulting in lesbian couples (who are generally sexually experienced) being the most likely to divorce across all demographics and women generally being the first to fall out of love (I can’t remember the study, but I recall reading it takes an average of 2 years for a man to lose attraction for his partner, but it takes a woman just 1 year).

Thank you.

I am quite interested in this

I am quite interested in this discussion. I have heard this, too, and I have sexual trauma which also makes it more challenging to bond with anyone without dissociation during intimacy. I have yet to find a willing karezza partner, though. I would love to hear thoughts on this. I assume it is true for men, too, but they may mask it more successfully?

Thanks for posting

I suspect the reason is the one hinted at by a researcher in the article itself. If you've had just 2 partners, you may still harbor the delusion that you "just didn't pick the right one and would have lived happily ever after if only you had." This is a recipe for dissatisfaction, moving on, and trying to partner up "better" next time.

On the other hand, if you've had a lot of partners, you probably have a more realistic picture of human mates, and are less delusional about how marital contentment depends on finding Mr. Right.

I fell into the latter category, and ultimately that led to my realizing that there was more to the story than finding Mr. Right. Gradually, that led to the realization that how I was going about sex was contributing to the turnover in my relationships.

I find the earlier research (one partner, greater contentment) intriguing, however, as it's more evidence that a more thorough search for Mr. Right isn't the answer. Arranged marriages, for example, tend to be as happy as those where the lovers choose...perhaps because of the social support and other mores of cultures where that practice holds/held sway.

To summarize, I don't think having 2 partners is the "kiss of death." I also don't think any particular number of partners is the solution. In my view, the most progress can be made when we realize what we're up against, biologically speaking, and adjust the way we use sex.

All this said, I do believe partners should ideally choose each other because they further each other's life's work, rather than because they cause maximal genital response. (In my experience, the latter tend to be selected by our short-term mating, rather than bonding, neurochemistry.) But that doesn't mean other kinds of couples can't cultivate happy relationships.

Anyone else?

[“Arranged marriages, for

[“Arranged marriages, for example, tend to be as happy as those where the lovers choose...perhaps because of the social support and other mores of cultures where that practice holds/held sway.”]

I’ve always considered these marriages as unhappy, because in cultures where this is practiced, the woman is financially dependent upon the man and being a single mother or divorcing while having children is seen as selfish by the community, so they keep silent. Thankfully, women have a lot more choice now to divorce rather then stay in an unhappy marriage just because they feel pressured to by others. But low divorce rates don’t correlate to happy marriages in my perspective.

[“On the other hand, if you've had a lot of partners, you probably have a more realistic picture of human mates, and are less delusional about how marital contentment depends on finding Mr. Right.
I fell into the latter category, and ultimately that led to my realizing that there was more to the story than finding Mr. Right. Gradually, that led to the realization that how I was going about sex was contributing to the turnover in my relationships.”]

I hope you don’t mind me making the assumption, but you seem to say that you were sexually experienced before you met your husband, but now you are very close and intimate with your husband, and not just in the short-term.
So by your own experience, the theory that having many partners before marriage reduces the ability to pair bond is incorrect.
But then again, I remember when I was much younger, I used to fall in love hard. And when I was disappointed in love, I felt very upset. However in the last few years, although I may like a woman, I don’t really mind either way what happens.
So it could be that the theory arose when someone observed younger couples (who generally had fewer partners) being emotionally very attached to each other, compared to older couples who aren’t typically as outwardly affectionate nor emotionally affected by love. The incorrect conclusion was that more sexual experience equals less pair bonding to the partner, whereas a more correct conclusion (in my opinion) would be the older one is, the less effect one’s hormones has on a person’s perspective upon his or her mate.

Thank you for this discussion

Thank you for this discussion. I have gotten trapped by anxiety before over number of partners, too. I have had more than two and with a strict religious upbringing, had to reconcile with the trappings of the virgin only/one partner when married mindset (I think what Tian2rayn said is true- there is immense social pressure to stay married/financial dependence/etc. Happiness/satisfaction likely does happen, too, at times).

But having had more partners than two has had a leveling effect on my view of sex and the illusion of 'Mr Right'. I am happy to have abandoned that view years ago. I understand that there are only incidental differences in a conventional approach to sexuality, as the dissatisfaction seems inevitable when sex is orgasm centric. Without karezza experience, I agree with what Marnia has said. Number of partners isn't really the issue, but distracts from the actual problem, which is lack of pair bonding. My hope is - and continues to point to- karezza being the actual solution.

I appreciate this forum and continue to seek out that experience. I tend toward anxiety/panic attacks/heart racing/heightened, unregulated breath (work/trauma/job stress) and conventional sex feels like trying to somehow flip that switch and make those sensations suddenly good (but the body experiences them the same way). It's counterintuitive to me. My experience with Buddism/meditation/yoga seems like one has to come full circle and actually apply it to sexuality- a sacred energetic exchange.

Open mic

Yeah here is a lot to be open to discussion.
I mean, sexual trauma or another trauma that led you to believe than you are not good enough and you need validation from others would most likely lead to multiple partners, as that hurt won't never be satisfied from the outside.
So for example, for me, if we rule out biology or physiology, I had scarring from a trauma which made me not feel man enough, and through social circles and interactions, proving yourself as a man means multiple sexual partners.
Now that is very dependant on your environment, and perceptions, and if we use this then there will almost never be the right Answer, cause everyone have different experiences and info coming in which alter their perception and therefore their actions.

So one thing that is more or less equal for everyone might be biology or physiology, and yes I know that your mind alters biology and physiology constantly, and that might be influences by our 5 senses hence our thoughts influence our chemical factory. So to find the perfect solution to a moving target seems impossible, but I have been a player on both sides of the field, normal orgasmic sex and then karezza method, and I think the secret to the success of karezza method is not necessarily (for us at this moment) so much the way of karezza intercourse, but more the bonding behaviors, not necessarily scripted ones where you set time aside such as the 21 activities, but more the daily practices you adopt due to the avoidance of orgasm where your bonding chems are kept high. So constant hugging, holding hands, hand on the others leg as your drive, a kiss on the forehead, cheek, lips, neck, hand etc everytime you can etc, those things make our marriage now so beautiful, that intercourse is just the final cherry on top and not the main course.

To relating to this post, is there a formula to should you have multiple partners, should you stay virgin till the big night after the wedding ceremony, I think there are too many hidden invisible variables to nail it down as hard science or results to a certain formula or way to determine you being happy in your relationship.

Yes-

I have done a lot of therapy around the trauma, so I do understand the trickiness around that. I don't mean to imply that woodenly applying karezza 'solves' everything, as it is more nuanced than that. There is wisdom and play by play and taking care of a lot of your own 'stuff' too.

Thank you for your thoughtful response.

Yes sorry if my response

Yes sorry if my response sounded on the offensive side. Not the intention
I just mean that just as everyones life experience of the same situation differs, just that way something as complicated as sexuality won't be easily pinned down as to this is the correct formula.
But definitely Karezza is more in line with what I think works.
We can go along with our natural survival impulses and screw everything in sight, but I am not sure how many animal species are mate for life, but nature also do not ask those animals who are not mate for life to use sex for pleasure, but more so for reproduction once a month or whatever the time frame, so having sex regularly is unnatural as well, so whether we are suppose to have one partner for life or not, using sex for pleasure only isn't the answer either.

Makes Great Sense...

...to me, what Jcjoubert13 says: "...and I think the secret to the success of karezza method is not necessarily...so much the way of karezza intercourse, but more the bonding behaviors...the daily practices you adopt due to the avoidance of orgasm where your bonding chems are kept high. So constant hugging, holding hands, hand on the others leg as your drive, a kiss on the forehead, cheek, lips, neck, hand etc everytime you can etc, those things make our marriage now so beautiful, that intercourse is just the final cherry on top and not the main course..."

Yes, my trouble is that I typically attempt to escalate, in the hope of another Karezza session (now limited by mutual agreement to every other day).

I read 'The Science of Love' last week. Excellent book. The author's phrase, 'Men use love to get sex, and women use sex to get love,' makes a lot of sense to me.

Yes, I really need to hold back -- in body, mind, and heart -- and fully accept that intercourse is only every other day. I should feel happy and loving about such. But, I am often resentful, as I give lots of small loving acts, in the hope of being rewarded with intercourse.

Right, exactly that.

Right, exactly that.
The thing is, if you are a woman in this world, and subconsciously you feel or think than every male that walk past you are just waiting to pounch and hump like a little chihuahua, then it could feel quite threatening.
So obviously woman feel guarded and protective of their body and they should, it's their divinity and sacredness in physical form.

Now if she feels consciously or subconsciously that her own mate is only doing nice things to get rewarded with intercourse, you can also understand that she feels the things you do out of love feels hollow and not genuine, thus she does not feel loved and therefore almost borderline resentful.
In the end, we all want to feel safe, valued, loved and desired.

If you can show that to her and her to you, without intercourse, so all the little acts, and see intercourse for what it really is, which is actually a reproduction act, you will focus harder on making her feel more safe, valued, loved and desired by the things you say, what you do etc.

If out of her own she offers intercourse, abstain sometime and say no I am good. If she insists then obviously oblige her wishes, but you will see, as you do the "in public" bonding behaviors, chivalry and so forth, she will start to relax and reciprocate, and you will actually start to feel satiated by all the little things, than hoping to feel safe, loved, valued and desired because she allowed you to get naked with her.

In the end, Karezza intercourse is the way to stay in love when you do lie together, but it's everything you do outside the bedroom that makes your marriage special.

It Is Tricky

Great book, 'The Five Love Languages.' It made great sense to me, that we each feel love from different things.

I feel love from acts of service and physical touch. My wife feels love from receiving gifts and words of affirmation.

I feel my wife does not offer me sufficient acts of service or physical touch. And, I do not offer her sufficient gifts or words of affirmation, quite probably.

I wish it was as simple as me gaining sufficient comfort from my wife's loving touch, and not requiring as much intercourse. For me, we do not have enough loving touch. It is not something my wife does often with me. And, she has performed planned bonding behaviors only half-heartedly.

I open car and home doors, bring her coffee each morning, run downstairs to help her carry packages, give her foot and facial massages, etc.

But, maybe she does not really value these acts of service and physical touch. It may be an upbringing, or innate reservedness, thing.

I should probably focus on giving her (physical) gifts and words of affirmation.

I appreciate and think your general read is logical, JC. Your general point, that our relationships are about love, which can largely be fulfilled with non-erotic physical acts (my add: if both value such), makes great sense.

I just think my wife may need something else -- more gifts and more affirming words from me -- maybe. And, I may need to accept that great physical warmth from my wife is not in the cards in this incarnation for me.

Indeed it's tricky

I think if one rewind, and the big thing here is brutal honesty, in other words, not that I am saying you have not attempted it, but brutal honest communication about that each other wants, without the fear of judgment.
You can say what you want and feel, she can say what she wants and feels, and maybe there is an area which both of you can work at getting better.
I know it's nice to always do the things one is great at or comfortable with, but growth in any relationship, be it romantic or career, happens outside of the comfort zone, so maybe through a sit down and a nice chat about what we have been discussing, both of you can learn a lot, but only if both of you can be brutally honest about the past and the present and the future, without the fear of judgment from the other.