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The Science Behind Sex

By Elisabeth Turner Columnist

Relationships and sex are two elements that have been and always will be pivotal topics, those with which humanity’s fascination will never cease. But in an age of instantaneity, the length of romantic relationships tends to be shorter rather than longer.

At Hofstra, many students have undoubtedly had multiple romantic or sexual relationships. I wonder however, if as students and as humans, we have ever stopped to seriously consider the nature of such experiences and how quickly they fade.

In a recent New York Times article entitled “New Love: A Short Shelf Life,” Sonja Lyubomirsky explores the nuances of several recent studies that have “confirmed” the theory that married couples are not exactly destined for eternal happiness, a theory that could also be applicable to the nuances of almost any modern romantic relationship.

Humans, she says, are “biologically wired to crave variety” and thus, our falling in love with and idolization of a significant other are mere - although fervent and sensuous – feelings that will not endure. Notably, she also mentions the period following the beginning of marriage, where the magical freshness of the attraction between the couple wears off. Although not necessarily condoning the happily-ever-after love that fairy tales have heralded for centuries, she concludes her article by looking to the future with a heightened anticipation of the possibility for discovery and novelty of experience. She even refers to a number of lab studies that have been conducted throughout the world, studies that have shown both men and women to be “less aroused after they have repeatedly viewed the same erotic pictures or engaged in similar sexual fantasies,” other details that she cites as contributing to the possibility that familiarity with a person fosters distaste or simply, indifference.

But I wonder, if and in spite of all the research and scientific reasoning upon which she bases her article, she could take a moment’s break from the constant scientific analysis to look for a moment at what I see as the blatant parallels of the matter. We live in a capitalistic age and society that teaches us to place pleasure above patience, the monetary above moral value. As students, and as humans with natural instincts, most of us find no fault for example, in viewing porn at our leisure or picking up a new partner to screw next Friday night at Greengrove.

In her article, Lyubomirsky mentions hedonic adaptation, the theory that humans tend to fall to a stable level of contentment even after achieving a high level of success and happiness. In light of such, I wonder then, if we might then use her own terms to shine the light upon the pit that I believe we have fallen into. As students – but more importantly, as a society – why should we continue to come up with all kinds of excuses for our ability to go through relationship after relationship (or even rendezvous after rendezvous)? Why should we buy what I believe is the lie that research has suggested, that the ecstatic quality of love is not meant to last?

If familiarity fosters indifference, then perhaps we might take a look at our current habits and look for ways to change them. As I mentioned, many of us view porn at our leisure, whether it be on the Internet or by other means. We thrive off of instant gratification and rarely rely on use of our imagination to fill in the gaps of our increasingly circuitous brains. Undoubtedly, porn may be helpful in stimulating and arousing desire, but perhaps we might take a step back and realize that, as fully functioning and creative humans, we are causing our own destruction - which Lyubomirsky so eloquently but unconsciously alludes to. Perhaps we might take a step and realize there are other alternatives that will – instead of benefitting an illicit trade – will benefit the healthy imagination of humanity. (Cultivating sexually fantasy is just one such way to do so.)

Lyubomirsky makes a well-referenced and researched argument. America’s young adults take pride in the manner with which they uphold themselves, the careers they aspire to and the relationships they seek to cultivate. Many even claim that they wish to change the world. With such high ambitions, might not we then, as students at a university with more resources than we realize, be wise enough to take the hoods off of our warm winter coats to look at the reality that is staring us straight in the face – the reality that is our failed relationships, the reality that we have created. We have more than enough confidence, so I suggest we do so today – before what Lyubomirsky says science has termed marriage’s – and more broadly, love’s -  “limited shelf life” into a forgotten and unappreciated dynamic of the unforgiving past.

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