When I researched my 2009 Edinburgh show "The Science Of Sex", I stumbled upon the fascinating work of Dr. Helen Fisher. She talks about how three distinct brain systems have evolved for the stages of a relationship: lust, romantic love and attachment.
The trouble is that these systems are at odds with another. The sex drive has evolved to encourage us to seek a range of partners whereas romantic love seeks to focus us on one partner. I almost wish I didn’t know this. It’s like been let in on a secret I never asked to know - like the time when my schoolmate Joanne told me that our music teacher had touched her inappropriately. I really wanted to study music but somehow felt I no longer should, thus changing the whole course of my life.
Anyway, back to brain science. My interpretation of Dr. Helen’s work was to devise a reverse sexual traffic lights system. The point being that if all of these are on at once, that’s when your relationship is a car crash waiting to happen.
I made lust ‘green’ because that’s when it’s all systems ‘go’. Lust is associated with testosterone. They say women have a tenth of the amount that men have, though when they measured that they clearly hadn’t been to some of the bars I frequent. Romantic love is associated with dopamine which is why it makes us feel so good. Finally I made attachment, associated with oxytocin aka ‘the cuddle chemical’, ‘red’ because that’s when you’re supposed to stop looking at what else is out there and stay with one person and raise a family… or a cat.
Take this analogy further and could we have a sexual Green Cross Code? Imagine if every time you contemplated infidelity The Green Cross Code man came into your head… or even worse, Tufty. A fellow comedian did once point out to me the irony of being taught survival by a red squirrel, a species almost entirely wiped out by their stronger grey cousins.
But if it’s natural to feel attracted to others, particularly when the lusty stage of our primary relationship is over, this leaves us in a dilemma. I don’t want to cheat on my amazing girlfriend (who has won countless brownie points for designing my website, and more importantly knows all the passwords and could post embarrassing photos and humiliating revelations) but I still love the hot, sweaty visceral thrill of ‘new’ sex too. Can this ever be replicated? I have thought about trying to score some testosterone on the black market though probably wouldn’t fancy my partner any more once she’d started growing a beard.
Then I found an article with the enticing heading that ‘coffee boosts female sex drive...in rats. If we were rats, this would be amazing.
Also, as these rats had never been exposed to caffeine (how did they know? did they give them a survey at the start?) they thought the effect would only possibly be repeated in humans if they had never been exposed to caffeine before. My girlfriend drinks coffee every morning. So I may have to fool her into drinking decaf for many months with a crafty system of relabeling before I can introduce real unadulterated coffee again to reap any potential sexual reward - the human equivalent of a ‘moderate’ dose for a female rat must be pretty large. I have visions of singing ‘down in one’ as she guzzles straight from the large cafetiere.
But what if she wants to buy a coffee at a local outlet? It's not like coffee is something you don’t happen upon in a London high street. It’s everywhere. I will have to enlist every Nero, Starbucks and Costa into my scheme!
So, to summarise, long term monogamy is complicated.
Image via Matito's Flickr