A Chinese sage once said that if a woman took a pea and placed it in a large jar every time that she had sex in the first year of marriage, and then took out a pea every time that she had sex in the rest of her life, the jar would never be empty.
So many couples seem to think that a declining interest in sex I something to be expected, and agony columns and websites are crammed with complaints. Does it have to be that way? Is it just that people get bored with each other, or are too tired to bother?
Some intriguing new research suggests that there may also be a physical factor, reporting lower testosterone levels among married men compared with single, unmarried men.
The research is reported in this month’s issue of Current Anthropology by Peter B. Gray from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Peter T. Ellison from Harvard University and Benjamin C. Campbell from Boston University.
They investigated the links between male testosterone levels and marital status among modern-day cattle farmers from the Ariaal tribe in northern Kenya. Less than 1.5 percent of these men consider that their wives are a source of emotional support. The Ariaal males serve as herd boys until they reach puberty. They then undergo initiation, become warriors and begin to accumulate livestock. They do not marry and have children until around age 30. They value social bonds with male peers more than spousal or familial bonds.
The researchers measured testosterone in morning and afternoon saliva samples of more than 200 Ariaal men over the age of twenty. They found that monogamously married men had lower testosterone levels than unmarried men in both the morning and afternoon. However polygynously married men with more than one wife had even lower levels of testosterone than the monogamously married men.
The data suggest that male testosterone levels might reflect variations in male mating efforts. It may also be that in the tribal setting, older men, who typically have lower testosterone levels, may have the social status and wealth to obtain more than one wife.
Given the increasing amount of data concerning the importance of testosterone for normal brain and arterial function, this may be a big wakeup call. If men do nothing once they are in a relationship, and their brains begin to think that the “hunt” is over, their testosterone levels can plummet.
And that can be fatal.
It is essential for couples to work to keep passion – and testosterone – alive.
It is not sexism, it is millions of years of evolution.