Coming Out to My Family (My Aunt)

Below I have a copy of the message I sent out to my extended family when we announced our plural marriage. One of the problems with people’s reactions (and this is a fairly neutral problem on the positive-negative spectrum of reactions) to discovering our family structure is a failure to recognize it at all.

There may certainly be different reasons for this response; for example, they simply may not know what to say (out of shock or ignorance). Charlotte’s brother was in this camp. When she told him that I had taken another wife, he did not know whether to say “congratulations” or to offer to help her escape her abusive situation. Finding himself in this position, he said the most beautiful and sensible thing he could have possibly said:

“You tell me how to feel about it. I will feel the same way you do.”

Another possibility is that they fail to acknowledge the change due to force of habit. I think this happened quite a bit. After all, Charlotte and I were married for 11 years before Melissa joined our family. That’s a while to get used to saying, “Joshua & Charlotte” whenever a friend or relative was referring to my family. While this may not be intentionally rude, it can certainly be unthinking.

A final possibility is that they fail to acknowledge the change because they outright reject it. They are disgusted, repulsed, or saddened by it.

I’m not sure which category (as far as reasons go) this falls into, but my aunt had this sort of failure to recognize reaction when I made the announcement to my family. Here is the email I sent (this is the message I mentioned in my earlier post):

Jun 27, 2016, at 8:58 PM,
Dear Family,

The time has come to make an announcement about my plural marriage.  Some of you already know about this, and to some of you his will be news.  Rather than making individual visits to everyone, I’ve decided this venue would be the easiest way to get the word out.  Please feel free to send this along to family members who are not on this list.

You’ve probably got questions, so I’ll try to briefly answer a few of the big ones.  Yes, I am still married to Charlotte.  Yes, our marriage is happy (please feel free to call her about it: 801-***-****).  Yes, our kids are doing great!  Yes, there have been many difficulties and adjustments that have been made (and continue to be made).  Yes, my siblings all know about it, and they have been great – you can ask them questions if you like (you will probably get different
answers from each of them, LOL).  We entered into plural marriage a little more than three years ago when I married Melissa (some of you have met her already – some have not).  Yes, I love her (and Charlotte and the kids do also).  Yes, we are aware that it is a felony (and we find ourselves in good company with others who have also suffered for the sake of their religion).  No, we have not joined another Church.  Yes, we are aware that the LDS Church frowns upon it (and they already know about it).  Can’t believe it?  I know, and I don’t blame you.  I wouldn’t believe it either, were I not in my own shoes.

Why am I making this announcement now and not earlier?  I can only answer that we were not ready earlier.  It has been a long process of adjustment for ourselves, and for those we have told earlier.  For those of you who found out the news from other’s lips, and not my own, I apologize.  I would have preferred the news to be spread by us, but that is extremely difficult to achieve in this world.  Please take no offense.  The delay has had much more to do with us than with you.

We love you all, and wish you all many blessings.

Shalom,
Joshua

To which my aunt replied:

July 1, 2016, at 4:39 PM

Josh and Charlotte–we love you and miss seeing you! Come to family stuff, ok? 

To which I replied:

Jul 4, 2016 1:43:52 AM

We will. But it won’t just be Charlotte and me 🙂 That’s why I made the announcement, you see?

Shalom,
Joshua

Overall things have gotten better with our friends and family, and this is true for several reasons. Some of them have come around once they saw that we are not crazy, cultish, abusive, or weirdos (altho we are certainly not mainstream, we can pass for “normal”, haha). Plus, they can see that we are stable and committed, and that “this” is not going away. Other situations have gotten better because of lack of association. Some unhealthy relationships have simply been withered or pruned away, and this is alright because they have been replaced by better associations.

If you ever find yourself in my relative’s position, my brother-in-law’s response was the best. Don’t be unthinking, but rather acknowledge the change, otherwise it can come across as rude. If you are disapproving, it is probably best to keep it to yourself – since it does not involve your life nor your decisions. However, if you are disapproving and cannot keep it to yourself, go ahead and express your disapproval – whatever form that may take (worry, warning, scorn, etc.) – it is your right to do so. Nevertheless, speak your piece, and then hold your peace. Say it once and then shut up about it and get over it – if you want to keep relationships that is.

Sampson slew a thousand Philistines with the jawbone of an ass (Judges 15:14-16), and everyday there thousands of relationships destroyed with the same weapon…You don’t have to say everything that is on your mind.

Being Needed (Advice to Future and Current Wives)

What I have to say here is not specific to polygamy, but will apply to all marriages.  Women, you don’t want your current or future husband to “need” you. It might sound romantic, but having a needy husband will be an emotional drain on your naturally fluctuating emotional state. You do not want someone who needs to rely on you (that is not to say that you will do nothing for your husband). I once had a conversation with a female coworker about her rocky love life. Aside from her personal life (which was a disaster), she was relatively accomplished in an educational and professional capacity. In this conversation she told me that she likes to date (and live with) men who are inferior to her.  This, in hopes that it will cause them to be dependent on her and therefore stay with her. She wanted someone who was not as smart as her, nor made as much money as she did. At the time of our conversation she had such a man, AND ABSOLUTELY DESPISED HIM for his general incompetence, and laziness. Her strategy didn’t work anyway. These weak men would eventually leave regardless.  Can you blame them? They surely felt their uselessness, and perceived her disdain.  Both she and they were generally miserable while they were together. Neither of them were satisfied by the situation. Her efforts to reverse the God-given and biological roles of men and women put her at odds with reality and resulted in misery. After telling me about her situation, she asked for my advice (which I usually keep to myself unless requested – this is a good policy). I told her what she really wanted. I told her that she wants a man better than herself. She wants a man stronger, smarter, more educated, more stable, and more successful than herself. She wants a man that can take care of her (and her child), and not the other way around. She thought for a brief moment and then said to me, “That is what I want.” I don’t know if anything has shifted in her life; she took a new job elsewhere shortly after this exchange. No indeed, you do not want someone who “needs” you. Rather, you need someone who loves and wants you (this is different than “needing you”). You need someone who can (and will) cherish, protect, provide, and lead you and your family. If you want to feel needed, if you want someone to be physically and emotionally dependent upon you, then have children. Nothing else will better fulfill your need to be needed.

Coming Out to My Family (My Cousin)

Telling your LDS family and friends that you are a polygamist is a surprisingly difficult thing to do.  In general, I would say that the drama and push-back related to people outside our family has made more difficulties than any of the problems within our family.  I’m not saying our family is perfect, none is.  Nevertheless, this (more difficulty related to outside problems than inside) has been our experience.  I will also say, for the benefit of anyone else in our position:

You do not need to let outside problems become inside problems!

That is to say, you do not need to let problems external to your marriage(s) and family work themselves into problems internal to your marriage(s) and family. Just don’t let them in.  If you can stick together (cleave), and not let outside problems get in between you, your marriage will be strong enough to overcome anything that may come your way. Alas, this is sometimes easier said than done, and frail humans as we are, we sometimes like to shoot ourselves with bullets others give us.

All that being said, there has been a mixture of responses; including some positive, some neural, some negative, and some criminal. Here is one exchange that was somewhat mild. We met in person with many of our close family members, then I sent out an email to the larger extended family.  One of my cousins, Kelly, was serving on a mission for the LDS Church at the time (my email was forwarded to her by her sister) and this is her response to my announcement:

Subject: Hello Josh

To: **********

Date: Tuesday, July 5, 2016, 4:16 PM

Hello Josh

So I just read an email that Jamie sent me. I am not going to lie, I was disappointed when I read the email about how you now are in a plural marriage. I had no idea that this even happened. It was a very big shock. I just wanted to say that I don’t agree with it. The Church does not practice this, nor has any reason to practice this anymore. I also wanted to say that I still love you. I am grateful that you are my cousin and I will always love you.

Love Sister Kelly ********

Here is my response to her:

Hello Kelly,

The Church does not practice or preach A LOT of things anymore that it used to. That is what the Church is prophesied to do in the Book of Mormon – and so, everything is as it should be (isn’t God amazing?!). As far as not having any reason to practice it anymore, there are many leaders of the Church who have disagreed with you, and have taught that the practice would be restored to the church in the future. I am not claiming that the time has come for that, I only point out that your point of view is in disagreement with many leaders of the Church (which I think is great!).

In fact, I also have some points of view that are in disagreement with the leaders of the Church. You might be surprised to know that I believe it was a mistake that the Church ever practised plural marriage at all, LOL! Many, many, many sections of the D&C are addressed to the “church”, but Section 132 is not (it would take a long time to explain why, so I won’t take the time here).

Of course, I am already well aware that the Church no longer practices it. I am glad that you realize this as well. In a remarkable twist of roles, the Church has become the persecutor of those who keep this practice (it is amazing how quickly we forget history – and how quickly we become intolerant of others who do the same things we used to do, just a few generations ago). We (as a church) pleaded for tolerance in the late 1800s, but refuse to grant it now to others (Jesus gave parables about that sort of behavior – Matthew 18:21-35).

If you have read my email, you should know that I am also aware that the Church disapproves of the practice. Of course, our actions are not about pleasing the Church, but rather about pleasing God. I realize that you will not agree with that, and I respect your right to believe that pleasing the Church is identical to pleasing God.

I’m sorry you are disappointed, but I’m also not surprised. Fortunately, the decision had absolutely nothing to do with you, and should not affect your life in any tangible way.

Thanks for letting me know that you still love me. I still love you too.

Shalom,

Joshua

After some initial awkwardness when she returned home, my cousin and I (including all the rest of my family) are on good terms now.

Advice for a future/current second wife (from a first wife)

I was chatting with one of my readers who is being courted as a potential second wife. My conversation with her brought up some things I felt I needed to share. Consider it advice if you want to, but I have such a big beam in my own eye that I wouldn’t dare correct anyone. I’m just sharing some thoughts.

First off, I don’t see why it’s ever a good idea to criticize your (potential) husband’s current/first wife. She has made it just fine this far successfully without you, and she doesn’t need you to waltz in to her life and start telling her how she should and shouldn’t behave. The possibility of living plural marriage will bring plenty of things to her awareness that she needs to fix about herself without you pointing them out directly, trust me. If you do see something that you can’t bear to just leave alone, tell your (potential) husband and leave it to him to handle.

The above advice applies to first wives as well. Your (potential) sisterwife is an adult who has long ago moved out of her parents’ home and isn’t looking for another mother. Just focus on improving yourself and your own children. When things come up that need to be addressed, either trust your sisterwife to figure it out on her own or bring things up with your husband.

Come to think of it, this advice applies even more broadly than merely sisterwives.

Think about how difficult it is to change yourself. Consider how often you fail to follow your own sage advice.

If your experience is anything like mine, upon reflection, you’ll realize how overwhelmingly improbable it is that you will ever succeed in changing another person.

Marriage Licenses and Security

In season 3 of Seeking Sister Wife we are introduced to the Merrifields, Garrick and Dannielle. They have found a potential sister wife with complications. Their potential, Roberta, is Brazilian, and the easiest way for them to get her to the states is to bring her with a fiancé visa and have Garrick marry her (thus getting a license from the government that would allow her to legally stay in the country). The down side to this is that it would require Dannielle and Garrick to get a legal divorce first. Even tho this “divorce” would be in the eyes of the court only, the decision to carry out this plan is obviously filled with emotion, and all the more so because the Merrifields have had marital struggles in the past which had led them nearly to the brink of “true” divorce.

Even tho the Merrifields have a more complicated situation than most (given that Roberta is a foreigner), this decision (to divorce on paper), has been faced by many polygamists over the years. Besides obtaining citizenship for a foreign spouse, there are several reasons for contemplating this plan. The reasons may include extending insurance benefits to children or adopting children (as Kody Brown did with Robyn), or extending security or benefits to the new wife.

In any case, there are all sorts of doubts that will begin to play upon the minds of those involved (this is a continuing theme for Dannielle in several of the first episodes of season 3). The wife especially will be worried about being abandoned, and Dannielle is no exception. Of course it doesn’t help matters that her family members are expressing doubts and concerns to her about it (not that they shouldn’t – more about that below).

The concern is that once the marriage license is gone, Danielle will have no protection from all of the difficulties of life that may arise if Garrick decides to abandon her. Of course, this is a nonsensical concern, as Garrick could always end up filing for divorce at any time.

Without making this post too long, I will put it simply to all the women out there, especially those who have not yet chosen a husband yet (and yes, it is primarily the woman that does the choosing):

The best protection is the character of your man.

This advice applies to monogamy or polygamy equally. Do not settle, or be lax, in making your decision. Do not get carried away by money, or attention, or good looks (tho these things have their place in making a decision about marriage – they are secondary), and then trust the government to keep you protected from your poor choices. It is a bad plan, and all too often will lead to misery, legal battles, and wealthy lawyers. A license is no guarantee of protection, financial or otherwise (my wife Melissa can speak to this in great detail based on her previous marriages).

It is a much better plan to be careful about your mate, then stick to your choice thru thick and thin. Choose a man whose character will not cause you to doubt his dedication to you or your children. Choose a man who is worthy of trust and responsibility. Choose a man who will be able to stay with you and love you despite your personal flaws (and visa versa – he will not be perfect either). Choose a man who will remain by your side to lead, protect, and provide even if the county records building burns to the ground (and the “proof” of your marriage with it).

Fortunately for Dannielle, it seems that none of the concerns expressed by her family have anything to do with Garrick’s character. They don’t seem to think that he will leave her, they are only concerned about what would happen if he did, and these are very different things.

As for the opinions of friends and relatives, they cannot make choices for you, nor should you let them. However, there are circumstances where you should eagerly seek their input. You may discover that you are like a particular woman that I work with. She has been married several times previously; all of them ended in disaster. She had a string of husbands that were found to be sexually abusing her daughters (beginning with their biological father). We talked about her life and difficulties for quite a while; mostly I just listened. It turns out that she now identifies as a lesbian, and has a girlfriend, tho this arrangement has not been without problems as well. She told me that her “picker” was broken. In other words, the part of her brain that runs the program for picking a good mate (whatever part that may be) is not functioning well.

Take careful stock of your own thoughts, feelings, and past experiences, and ask yourself if your “picker” is broken (essentially this means you are a poor judge of character). If this describes you, then you should seek input from family and friends, and be sure to take things slow, so that you can gather enough information to make a good decision. You will want to see your potential mate in lots of different situations and interacting with lots of different people including, and perhaps especially, your family and friends. It will be worth it to make a good decision. It will be more protection than a piece of paper ever will.

Reality Is Not a Vacation

None of my children is old enough for dating and courtship, but I’ve still had many important conversations about choosing a spouse, preparing to be a good husband/wife, what to look for in a potential partner, how to really get to know someone, etc.

I have repeatedly talked to them about dating versus real life.

You can go on a planned date with someone, where you’re both dressed up and presentable, you’re on your best behavior, and you get to just have a nice time at a restaurant where someone else is doing all the work. Enjoying one another’s company when the event is low-stress and nothing but fun is a facet of compatibility.

But it’s also important — and arguably more important — to see what someone is like when they’re in a stressful environment or when there’s work to be done. How does he behave when he gets a flat tire on the way to the restaurant? How does she treat you if you forget your wallet? Does he have a sense of humor if you’re spending time with children and he gets messy? Does she pitch in and work hard if you’re doing a difficult project together? Does he step up as a leader if he’s put in charge of motivating a group of children to help clean up after an event? Does she make it into a game and a challenge if she’s asked to help with something unpleasant?

When you are exploring whether a person is a good match for you, it’s essential to see them in situations that are closer to real life, and not just fun. Everyday life is work. Everyday life can be stressful. Everyday life isn’t just pleasant and relaxing, hour after hour, day after day.

My plan for my children when they start dating/courting is for them to invite their date to service projects, the big events we host, our family time, the work days. I want them to have opportunitites to interact with each other around parents, siblings, children, and people who need help. I want them to get to see each other in action when there’s work to be done, tool belts and boots to wear, mud or chicken poop to wade thru, fences to put up that catch on clothes. I want them to see each other at their best but also at their worst, in those kinds of situations that let the person’s character shine thru.

There’s a Kristina Kuzmic video about her as a divorced mother dating a man who wanted all of it, even cleaning up the vomit:

This is the kind of thing I’m talking about. He didn’t just want Kristina when her makeup was done and her children with with a babysitter. He was willing to take on the entire package, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health.

Seeking Sister Wife, S3E2, titled “Irreconcilable Differences”, shows Garrick and Dannielle at dinner with some family. They are planning on yet another trip to Mexico to vacation with Roberta and spend some time her. Their sister-in-law Samantha points out the problem with meeting Roberta only on vacation.

I do have some questions about Roberta ’cause you guys only met her in Mexico because it’s different in a vacation. And then you come out here and it’s reality.

Samantha (Dannielle’s sister-in-law)

I agree with Samantha. Putting aside all the cultural and language differences the Merrifields will have to overcome, I am genuinely concerned that they are in for a reality shock when their relationship with Roberta moves from vacation to real life. I’m happy for them that they enjoy each other so much when the situation is fun and entertaining, but I wish they had the chance to see each other in the more realistic daily life and make sure they’re still compatible.

As Garrick acknowledged in the episode,

Yeah, I think there’s definitely gonna be a huge adjustment.

Garrick Merrifield

Yeah, I definitely agree with that.

Math, Waffles, Sex, and Plural Marriage

WARNING: THIS POST MAY NOT BE APPROPRIATE FOR YOUNGER OR IMMATURE READERS.

One common question (or complaint) about polygamy has to do with the “fairness” of sexual encounters between spouses. There are a lot of assumptions that must be rolled up together to fully form this complaint; nevertheless, it seems to be a simple, mathematical fact that the practice of polygamy itself will make for one sexually fulfilled man at the expense of all his wives being unfulfilled and unsatisfied.

This complaint is generally raised by women (tho not always, as you will see if you keep reading), and it should be no big surprise why. Everybody knows the reason; it is because, even monogamously married women are often sexually unsatisfied. This is a sad but genuine reality for many women. I even had a woman leave a comment about this very issue on my previous post about sex and polygamy. The reality of the situation is all the more saddening when you realize that this particular disparity between the sexes is completely needless.

Of course human sexual satisfaction and fulfillment is complicated, but a large portion our satisfaction has to do with how frequently we experience orgasms (along with all of the physiological and psychological fireworks that accompany them). There are various studies and surveys that have been conducted dealing with this subject, so you will get different numbers depending on where you look, but the general consensus seems to be that about 90% of men report experiencing an orgasm with every single sexual encounter (no surprise there – unless you are surprised that the reported percentage is that low). However, for women this number is considerably lower; only about 40-50% (probably no surprise here either), with a broad range depending on context (some studies say it is as low as 30%, others as high as 60%). No wonder this is a concern! In my family we have a playful euphemism that we sometimes use for orgasms; they are called, “waffles”. If we were to use “waffles” as a measure of the sexual inequality of the “average” marriage it might look something like this:

If sexual satisfaction (again approximating this with waffles) in women is only experienced sporadically in monogamy, then it must be worse in polygamy; since the frequency of sexual encounters between a woman and her husband will be more spaced. This is obviously a valid point, and it is not only made by women.

We once had an elderly man named Lee visit our house for worship services. He was very nice, and we enjoyed one another’s company and fellowship just fine, but he made it very clear that he disagreed with polygamy as a system of marriage. In conversation after the meeting he proceeded to tell us why. He was a fairly recent widower, but in his 50+ years of marriage, he had never been able to bring his wife to orgasm even a single time! All those years he had been having waffles in front of her and never sharing. It was a great disappointment to them both. However, as he was complaining to us about his wife’s frigidity, and blaming all this frustration on her lack of responsiveness, I was silently thinking how sad it was that years of problems were probably due to the lack of a simple anatomy lesson. I did not take the opportunity to give him a lesson (it wouldn’t have made a difference anyhow), but just listened. This was a serious objection to the practice of polygamy in his mind. He could not begin to fathom trying to satisfy more than one female, when he was never able to satisfy even one. Fair enough, I said, and agreed with him whole heartedly that he had made the right decision.

Lee, and other men like him, should never become polygamists.

Sex is a lot of things. It is an obligation between spouses, and a command from God, but it is also a blessing from God, and a part of the joy of the marriage relationship. Spouses should seek to please one another in this respect.

The husband should fulfill his wife’s sexual needs, and the wife should fulfill her husband’s needs.

1Corinthians 3:7 (NLT)

There are many other places in scripture that could be used to show God’s approval of sex between husband and wife for physical pleasure, for the sake of desire, and not solely for the purpose of reproduction. The fulfillment of your spouses’ sexual needs is not only a matter of frequency of interactions, but also the quality of those interactions. This sexual connection is important not only for spiritual reasons, but for our emotional and psychological wellbeing also.

This brings us to a very important reality that ought to be understood in order to figure out how to accomplish satisfying your marriage partner. The reality is: men and women experience sexual arousal and satisfaction in different ways.

The human sexual response can be separated into four phases as shown in the graphs above. These same four phases (Arousal, Plateau, Orgasm/Climax, and Resolution) occur in both men and women, but with some obvious differences. Acknowledging that individual experiences may vary, the first difference to note is that it takes women more time to reach orgasm. This should come as no surprise; their plateau phase is generally longer in duration. If the graphs were superimposed (and all else being equal), we could easily see that men will reach climax, then descend quickly into resolution, before their wife ever gets a waffle. In addition, males generally experience a refractory period after resolution. During this time (which is variable, but see my post here for more about this), the man will not be sexually aroused by his wife. Husbands, listen up! Taken together these facts mean – You ought to take care of her first! If you don’t serve her first, there is a very good chance she will miss out entirely (this conclusion is borne out by the statistics mentioned at the beginning of this article).

Of course the most dramatic and remarkable difference between these graphs is that women are multi-orgasmic creatures! They can have waffle after waffle as long as they are hungry for them, and they are still being served. The line on the graph is dotted because the number of climaxes is variable; however, this is something that most, if not all, women are capable of. Things seem to be evening out a bit if you ask me.

I don’t speak for any other plural families, but I have a rule that the husband should be able to serve his wives at least as many waffles as he has wives. In other words, if he has only one wife, then she should get at least one waffle every time he does (this practice would solve the disparity in the statistics quoted at the top of this article). If he has two wives, they should each get at least two waffles every time he gets one waffle. If he has three wives, then they should each get at least three waffles every time he gets one waffle, etc. It is a beautiful system and a good rule to live by – no matter how many wives you have. In this way, even tho individuals may get served at different times, they all get fair portions, and everyone comes away satisfied.

In my family I try to meet or exceed this rule. My wives are always served at least two waffles (because I have two wives), but they will usually have three or four (sometimes more). If we were to use waffles as a visual representation of the sexual inequality of the marriages in my family, it might look something like this at the end of a week:

I don’t think that’s too much to complain about.

Different Channels of Sexual Tension

WARNING: THIS POST MAY NOT BE APPROPRIATE FOR YOUNGER OR IMMATURE READERS.

This is subject is a little delicate, and perhaps even controversial or scandalous, so reader beware.  This post may not be appropriate for younger readers.  I will try to be tactful in my delivery of this information, and yet still remain true to the facts as they are.

Marriage is so much more than sex, and yet sex is one key distinguishing feature of marriage.  It differentiates marriage from other types of close family relationships (like siblings for example), and is thus an essential part of marriage.  In fact, many states recognize failure to consummate the marriage as grounds, not for divorce, but for annulment (as per common law there was legally never any marriage without consummation). Additionally, even if the marriage was initially consummated, if one spouse refuses to continue having sexual relations this can be grounds for divorce in many states.  In either case, these situations are treated legally as a type of fraud.

So, marriage is much more than sex, and sex is much more than biology (meaning just procreation), and all that is true, but it will have to wait for a separate post.

Toward the beginning of episode 10 of the second season of SSW, Dimitri and Ashley are talking about the recent sexual intimacy between Dimitri and Vanessa.  In the course of discussion, Dimitri reveals that there are multiple “Channels of sexual tension”.  This comes as a surprise to Ashley (and would probably be a surprise to most women).  My own wives were similarly surprised when I told them that it was true.

Here are some screen shots (with closed captions) from the episode.

sexual tension

Ashley, confused at how this could possibly be the case (since she and Dimitri are already having regular sex), asks him about it.

Dimitri explains that it is true, that men can have multiple channels of sexual tension, and Ashley learns something that she did not know.

you can have separate
I learned something new

I actually hinted at this phenomenon in an earlier post, and I still stand by the principles that I discussed there.  There are at least several reasons why it is important to know the truth of the situation.  First for a potential new wife; she may feel like she needs to compete with the established wife(s) who is (or are) already having intimate relations with their husband.  She may feel the need to overtly advertise her sexuality (in sexually flirtatious ways) in an attempt to draw his attention or affection, but she needn’t do so at all. Second, an established wife has no need to fear that the presence of a new wife will diminish her husband’s attraction for her.

Coolidge

This ability for men to have multiple, separate channels of sexual tension is colloquially known as the The Coolidge Effect.  The term was first suggested by behavioral endocrinologist Frank A. Beach in 1958. He attributed the neologism to an old joke about Calvin Coolidge when he was President.

The President and Mrs. Coolidge were being shown [separately] around an experimental government farm. When [Mrs. Coolidge] came to the chicken yard she noticed that a rooster was mating very frequently. She asked the attendant how often that happened and was told, “Dozens of times each day.” Mrs. Coolidge said, “Tell that to the President when he comes by.” Upon being told, the President asked, “Same hen every time?” The reply was, “Oh, no, Mr. President, a different hen every time.” President: “Tell that to Mrs. Coolidge.”

The joke appears in a 1972 book (Aggression in Man and Animals, by Roger N. Johnson, p. 94).  You can read here for some more background about the origins of the term.

Brittish news story from November 2000

What is the Coolidge Effect? It is a biological phenomenon exhibited most commonly, and strongly, by males. After a male (this phenomenon is not limited to human men – it is displayed by males of most animal species) engages in sexual activity to the point of orgasm with a particular female, he will experience a refractory period. That is, there will be a period of time (which is variable and may last from hours to days) where he is unable to have additional orgasms with the female. During this refractory period he will also have a reduced sexual interest in the female. Repeated matings with the same female will result in successively longer refractory periods. However, if the male is presented with a different, sexually available female he will exhibit renewed sexual interest, arousal, and a reset (or significantly shortened) sexual refractory period. He will even release a larger volume of semen with more active sperm in an encounter with a new partner (in comparison with the volume released after repeated encounters with the same partner).

Of course this phenomenon is easy enough to understand. From a biological perspective, it is advantageous to his reproductive success for a male to distribute his genes as widely as possible, and a single man can impregnate many women. The inverse however, is not true. It is advantageous to a woman’s reproductive success to have a single devoted male that will help to provide for and protect her young.

This sexual phenomenon in males can be repeatedly exhibited (until exhaustion) if a new female sexual partner becomes available each time. Men are biologically wired to experience renewed dopamine releases with each new encounter. The male acts as tho he does not have an “absolute” refractory period. That is to say, a refractory period which is only dependent on time. A more correct description is that he has a separate refractory period for each individual female, or, as Dimitri would say, “different channels of sexual tension” for each woman. A current wife will not detract from a man’s attraction to a new wife, nor will a new wife detract from a man’s attraction to his current wife.

This refractory period is not a constant time interval, even between the same male/female pair. In the graph above you can see that repeated (frequent) matings with the same female will result in longer and longer durations between male climax. If the mating is less frequent (with the same female), there will be a reset of the arousal levels, arousal time, and refractory period, etc. This is because the female becomes “new” again after a sufficient delay. Thus, the average American couple will have sex about once per week (studies show that couples who have sex less often are less happy and satisfied with their relationship, but couples who have sex more often are not more happy than couples who have sex weekly).

For females, this phenomenon is not experienced, or is significantly muted (it has been demonstrated at least in some female rodents, but to a lesser extent than in male rodents). At least part of the reason this phenomenon is not prominently exhibited in women is that they have essentially no sexual refractory period. Rather, they are able to continue having multiple orgasms with the same male, in a single sexual encounter, until exhaustion (more on this in a later post). Furthermore, when looking at attraction in humans, women are found generally to prefer familiarity, while men are found to prefer novelty. It could be generally said that men are biologically geared towards polygamy and women towards monogamy. These are just some of the many biological differences between men and women.

This phenomenon also explains the increased sexual arousal that is often associated with new lingerie, different sexual positions, pornography, etc. This is also a reason why women tend (stereotypically) to have more outfits, shoes, and hairstyles than their male partners. By changing their physical appearance they are subtly suggesting novelty. The goal with all this simulated novelty is to trick the male brain into thinking that he is actually fulfilling his biological role as a polygamist (or at least that he is mating with multiple females).

In probably most cases of “erectile dysfunction”, there is no actual physical or physiological dysfunction at all. Rather, the Coolidge Effect is being manifested with a single long term sexual partner. If the male with “ED” were introduced to a new female sexual partner he would find himself fully functional and sexually reinvigorated.

Of course, we are not slaves to our biology; nevertheless, we ought to understand ourselves as best we can. Yes, men will take notice of a pretty woman who is not his wife, he can hardly help it. Just remember not to take a second notice, and to keep your eyes off of other men’s wives (whoever lusts after a married woman commits adultery in his heart); it will only lead to trouble.

Having written all that, nothing in this post should be used as an excuse for bad behavior. Sexual activity alone is a poor predictor of happiness and life satisfaction. Men (and humans in general) are not merely wired for sex with multiple partners. We are also wired to seek stability, and this is a much better predictor of satisfaction and happiness. Therefore, it would not only be immoral, but also destructive in many other ways (to themselves, to the women involved, and to society at large) for men to fulfil this biological programing outside of the bounds of marriage. Our natural, biological programing must be chained by our larger moral and religious inclinations and training. Intimacy comes after commitment.

In conclusion, there is absolutely no need for a potentially new wife to feel that she is at a disadvantage in comparison to any established wife in the area of sexual attraction. Also, there is no need for a current wife to feel any jealousy or sexual inadequacy in comparison to a newer wife; a husband will have separate channels of sexual tension for each of them individually.

From the Mouths of Babes on Teamwork: Why Competition Between Plural Wives is Unnecessary

My young children were digging in the dirt, and I was fortunate enough to overhear this nugget of wisdom spoken by my 4-year-old son:

“It doesn’t matter who has the bigger shovel because we’re working together.”

This is exactly the kind of attitude that can and ought to prevail in a plural family (or any kind family or group working together for a common goal).

Anything more I say will just take away from what the 4-year-old said, so I’ll leave it at that.

It doesn’t matter who has the bigger shovel when you’re all working together.

Seeking Sister Problems

Humans are obligatory problem solvers.  They cannot help it.  If they didn’t have problems of their own, they would invent them.

We humans love problems!  Dealing with problems is essential to our health and well-being.  Our brains are designed to anticipate them, think about them, worry about them, and eventually solve them.  Our brains do this all the time, very well, and sometimes too well.

Even tho tendencies we may have are natural, evil can come of them when they are allowed to roam too far, or wander outside of the bounds the Lord has set. Problem-solving is one such tendency.  It is so ingrained in our being that when things are going generally well, and no problems seem to be presenting themselves to us, we will, of necessity, create our own problems.

If they chose to, most people could objectively look at their lives and see how frequently the problems they had were of their own engineering, and their suffering self-inflicted.  Yes, it is true that time and chance happens to everyone, and yet, it is also true that our lives are largely of our own making.

While these two ideas may seem to be at odds with one another, they are both true.  It is true because: what happens to us is only half of our life.  The other half is how we respond to the things that happen.  This weightier half is made up of what we think and do about the things that happen to us, and those around us.  It is our response to both the past and present, and also our response to the future.

There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.  – Shakespeare (Hamlet; Act 2, Scene 2)

We interact with the past thru our our mental and emotional analysis of our memories.  We interact with the future thru our mental simulations of possible events.  We imagine the things we might say or do, and we play these things out on the stage of our mind.  The data we have collected, and analyzed, from the past is fed into these simulations of the future.  We interact with the present thru our choices, which are determined by the outcomes of the simulations of our future.  After running these simulations, we do a mental calculation.  We weigh the pros and cons, consider the benefits and costs, the difficulty and feasibility.  In other words, we plan, and then we choose the action based on our plan, however hasty or shortsighted it may be.

molehills“Problems” have everything to do with our perception of them.  As I mentioned above, we even have the power, in our minds, to transform non-problems into problems, or small issues into big issues.  The proverb speaks of turning mole-hills into mountains.

For example, it is normal to have disagreements with those around us.  It is even normal to argue about those disagreements, but it takes special effort to turn agreements into something to argue about.

Here is an example of what I mean.  In episode 10 (of the second season of SSW), Brandy comes back to visit the McGees.  Brandy is spending the day with Paige, chatting and helping with the household chores.  In this scene the two women are folding laundry together, and we quickly see that things are not going very well.  I don’t know how much of this scene is the result of “editorial sculpting”; regardless, this exchange is illustrative.

Brandy: “Do we fold the same?”
Paige: “That’s what I was looking at.  I was like, yeah, she actually folds like I do.”
Brandy: “Nice.”
Paige: “That’s pretty cool.”
Brandy: “So, are you particular about, like, say I would have, (she begins to demonstrate folding a towel another way) because there is another way, and so…”
Paige: “No, I would have fixed it.  I wouldn’t have said anything; I would have just fixed it.”
Brandy:  “You would have fixed it?”
Paige:  “Mm-Hmm.”
Brandy: “Ok, so there is a particular way of doing things?”
Paige:  “Yeah.  There’s a right way and a wrong way.”
Brandy:  “Any other, like, pet peeves or particulars?  Like, if it was my day to do dishes – would you come in behind me and see if the dishwasher was loaded right?”
Paige:  (Nods, Yes)
Brandy:  “Yeah?  I used to be very particular, but now I’m just so grateful if someone helps.  I’ve gotten to where I’m just like, just put it in the closet and shut the door.”
Paige:  “No.  Towels, they have to be put in a certain way because they will fall over.  So, you have to fold them a certain way.”
Brandy:  “So, how would that work, you know, with me coming in?  If I come in, like, how would that work?”
Paige:  “You’ll just have to learn to do it my way.”

Towels

If you can grasp the reality, that our lives are largely what we make of them, and yet you continue to feel like you can’t stop worrying, can’t stop creating problems for yourself, can’t stop creating problems for others, cant stop sabotaging yourself and your relationships; then perhaps there’s something wrong with your understanding of the human brain and our search for happiness and satisfaction.

We aren’t made to experience “happiness” in the way normally think of it: carefree,  pain free, completely fulfilled, excited, and free of any suffering.  Rather, we were made to survive, and survival, in a very human sense, means to create.  The strange thing is that suffering (that is, the mental component of suffering), and creating are connected.   A large part of suffering involves a mental process called rumination.

Rumination is when we focus all our attention on the ways we are suffering, on its possible causes, and on our failures (and the failures of others) that have led us to our suffering.  These thoughts are repeated over and over (thus the name, rumination) without resolution.  We allow ourselves to rehash and dwell upon the causes and consequences of our suffering, rather than dwelling on its solutions.

Instead of devising the next step for our life, we ruminate on the last one. Rather than imagining new opportunities, we assume nothing better is possible. Rather than taking control of our life, we embrace an attitude of powerlessness. We become helpless, and our suffering becomes meaningless because we are at the whim of how the world makes us feel, but we were meant for better things.  We were created to create.  We were made to act, and not to be acted upon (See 2Nephi 2:14-16).

So what is the connection?  Rumination (a component of mental suffering) and creativity are controlled by the same parts of the brain, and they have an inhibiting effect upon one another.  Suffering will result when we stop creating, and visa versa.

Pain is Inevitable, Suffering is Optional

When we focus on creating, our pain is no longer meaningless – it is no longer “suffering for suffering’s sake”.  Rather, as pain cannot be altogether avoided, it becomes an expected part of the process – the pain becomes “worth it”.  When we focus on creating and doing, we no longer categorize our emotional experiences as: “things that feel good” or “things that don’t”. Instead, we use the vastly superior categories: “things that are worthwhile” and “things that aren’t”.

Use your mind and energies to create, to do, and to improve.  It will give your brain something productive to do.  These are the things in life that are worthwhile.  These are the things that will give our lives actual meaning, and in a deeper and more satisfying way than complaining and worrying about things will ever do.  I repeat, our lives are not made meaningful nor satisfying by complaining.  Our lives are not made meaningful nor satisfying by worrying.  Our lives are not made meaningful nor satisfying by suffering needlessly, nor by needlessly increasing the suffering of those around us.  

Our lives are made meaningful and satisfying by the things we do and create.

Increase the talents given to you, rather than hiding them.  Read a book, write a book, grow a garden, fix your marriage, plan a trip, learn a foreign language, learn to play an instrument, go back to school, make your children a larger priority in your life, become a regular volunteer for a local charity, change your own motor oil, quit an addiction, start exercising, organize a chess club, get yourself right with God. 

The possibilities are quite literally endless.  There are so many things you could do.  There are so many thing you ought to do, and you know it.  God is the creator, and we are made in his image.  We were made to create.  We were made to improve.