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Sex is Becoming Old-Fashioned

February 13th, 2020 by dk

When is the best time to bring up bad news? Is it better to drop it into conversation at a random time when it might not be noticed? Or when the topic is already front and center, impossible to ignore?

My family chose the frontal model. On my 16th birthday, my grandfather asked me why I didn’t have a job yet. (I had two by the next day.) During a rough patch in my marriage, I gave my wife a single red rose (thorns and all) inside a clear balloon on Valentine’s Day. It seemed appropriate.

A leopard can’t change its spots. I’m going full frontal here. You may want to gather some Valentine’s chocolates before reading on.

Heteronormatively speaking, men and women are doing without each other at a quickening pace. Americans living without an intimate partner increased from 39 percent to 42 percent over the past decade. More adults reported having no sex in the past year in 2018 than ever before. An alarming 23 percent of Americans under 30 abstained, doubling the rate from a decade ago.

What’s causing the Great American Sex Drought? I’ll venture a guess. Women pick pets and men prefer porn. Both offer more control than any human partner promises.

Men and boys are invited into the realm of fantasy first with combat games and virtual violence. Video games and movies typically feature bodice-rippers drawn straight from a Harlequin romance heritage. Fantasies swirl around having and holding whatever ideal body type they have imagined. Intimate contact in the real world pales.

Women develop their distractions from human intimacy later, but they last longer. How many emotional support animals have masters who are men? Pets offer companionship without judgment. Their needs are easily satisfied by an attentive owner. 

They resemble men in at least one way. They’ll listen, if that’s what’s required, so long as they are well fed first. But pets won’t hog the dessert if it’s been a bad day, and they’re happy to curl up on the couch with a good rom-com.

What can be done?

Brain scientist Ruth Feldman draws a straight line from motherhood to romantic love in an essay on In “The Biology of Love,” she writes: “Thanks to the parsimony principle of evolution, [the oxytocin-based] system of caregiving also evolved to support other human attachments.”

That’s the good news. Unfortunately, there’s more.

Feldman continues: “The same oxytocin that supports love and kindness, also underlies prejudice, parochialism, and outgroup derogation. … They are all triggered by this 500-million-year-old, nine-amino-acid molecule.”

We wrestle with this deep dichotomy daily.  Feldman calls it “care or scare.” It’s only after we’ve chosen “scare” that our more familiar instinct — “fight or flight” — gets triggered.

Can we talk ourselves out of “scare” and into “care”? That’s probably too difficult for most of us. It might be enough to recognize how the “scare” reflex has served our species, and then to choose “fight” over “flight.”


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

Aeon essay: “The Biology of Love” by Ruth Feldman (February 13, 2020)

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