As a marriage therapist I often get asked if there are any good books I can recommend. I like to recommend The Devil in the White City. It’s clearly a strange title, so when they ask what it’s about, I tell them it’s the true account of the first documented case of a psychopathic murderer. They look at me funny and say something like “No, I mean is there a good book for marriage?” and completely deadpan I look in their eyes and say, “Yes, I know; that’s why I recommended it,” and then I give a creepy laugh… or that’s what I want to say (FYI this was a book recommended to me by a criminology professor that I really liked). I typically suggest my book, Emotional Sex: Making good relationships great, because it summarizes a bunch of my favourite books, but the most helpful thing to read is my free weekly blog like this one because it offers very practical help inspired by clients or my own life.
Truth be told, I’ve gone through a lot of relationship books over the years and most of them are great to skim through at a library (especially to fill an essay bibliography), because they give a good point or two, but they generally have a lot of filler and not worth your money. There is one book, however, that has stood out to me, For Better: The science of a good marriage, by Tara Parker-Pope. Years ago I randomly grabbed the audio version at the library and I liked it so much I actually book the written version – yeah, it was that good this cheap guy bought it. This past winter I saw it on the shelf and I re-borrowed the audio version and was reminded why I liked it so much. It has some fascinating studies and information like postsecondary graduates have less sex than those who don’t go to college or graduate, middle class people have less sex than upper and lower classes, smokers have 10% more sex than non smokers, drinkers also have more sex, and Christians have less sex than Jewish people and agnostics – based on these findings my wife is in trouble; I’m at the bad end of all of these findings. Overall, it’s my favourite relationship book (written by someone else) and the following are three examples why:
The T-Shirt Test: I first saw this in the show Brain Games, but the author adds a new twist. The experimenters had women smell shirts random guys had slept in for several days without wearing deodorant; even though the shirts were soiled, every woman had a few shirts she was really drawn towards and a few that grossed her out, and it was different for each woman. Experiments like this have pointed out that women are hardwired to be attracted to men with different immune system genes, which is detected through smell. Isn’t that amazing? The more similar a guy is genetically, the less sexual appealing his natural smell will be. Women are ultimately created to not be attracted to family, which protects the gene pool. According to another study, this means the more satisfying a kiss, the more likely the woman has found a genetically compatible partner. It didn’t say anything about when a woman is attracted to another woman, but I assume it’d be the same dynamic – they’re more attracted to genetically different women
Going further, the author points out that the scientists in this field recommend women not be on the birth control pill while looking for a partner since it will dull their senses. The pill tricks the body into thinking it’s pregnant, so the biological need for the smell test is erased thereby leaving women susceptible to choosing a partner who is genetically too similar, and ultimately less compatible for them for kissing and…you know.
Stripper Test: While women are influenced by genetics, men are drawn to women who are in the ready stage to conceive on their menstrual cycle – crazy right? This conclusion was made through a study on strippers. (I’m assuming this study was created by male scientists.) It was found that dancers working in strip clubs made very different amounts of money… and not for their body size. In this study it was found that strippers who were menstruating made an average of $185 per five hour shift in tips (not bad). Meanwhile, strippers in their “normal” days made $260 per five hour shift in tips (even better). But then women who were ovulating made $335 per five hour shift in tips (holy cow). That’s a 45% difference!
It was then claimed that women who are in their ovulation periods subconsciously pay more attention to their appearance and their voices become higher pitched and feminine. Meanwhile, men subconsciously tend to act more loving and protective of their ovulating partners and are more at risk of jealousy problems as if they somehow know other men are going to be extra attracted to their partner at this time. And all of this is done subconsciously, which is pretty incredible. My question is does this same thing happen with gay men to their ovulating best friends? Do they become more protective or maybe even attracted at this time or is there something else going on for them?
Anger Problem: The male stereotype is that we bottle up our feelings as we try to avoid conflict at home, which is partly why one study found 80% of fights at home are initiated by women. One study helped explain this… and they didn’t just conclude that women are crazy… but they also didn’t deny it… just saying… because I’m dumb. The study had an experimenter be really rude to participants hooked up to monitors and then they would leave the room giving the participant 20 minutes to themselves. Women almost always calmed down in that time while most men had blood pressure levels stay consistent for the full 20 minutes, and they only started to return to normal after the man was able to retaliate in some way like fill out a negative comment card. Whether this is because it gave the man a chance to regain his sense of power or feel like fairness/justice was done wasn’t said. What was pointed out, however, is that women recover faster from conflict than men do suggesting why men avoid conflict. It also pointed out why some men can get retaliatory and amped up in fights – they’re subconsciously drawn to it for calming down purposes. My guess is they’re looking to regain a sense of power/equality and/or fairness/justice since most guys find women hold more power as they tend to be masters at giving nasty looks of disapproval and jabs that cut to the soul.
These three experiments may not change your world, but they certainly are a fun conversation to talk about with friends.
This week may you enjoy discussing how incredible our bodies and sense of attraction are.
Rev. Chad David, ChadDavid.ca, learning to love dumb people (like me)