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.