All posts by Dr. Wendy Walsh

Mating Matters “Poly-Want-A-Cracker”

In this episode of Mating Matters, Dr Wendy Walsh discusses Polyamory. Polyamory is the practice of, or desire for, intimate relationships with more than one partner, with the consent of all partners involved. Dr. Wendy Walsh interviews people who have explored Polyamory and also discusses the idea that  polyamory is in some ways supported by our human evolution and in another way, is not adaptive at all.


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Dani Shapiro: My name is Dani Shapiro, and I’m the host of Family Secrets, a podcast about the secrets kept from us, secrets we keep from others and the secrets we keep from ourselves. Family Secrets is a show where you can hear powerful stories of heartbreak, healing and hope. Listen to season two of Family Secrets on Apple Podcasts, the iHeartRadio app or wherever you get your podcasts.

Dr. Wendy Walsh: It’s no secret that many human beings struggle with monogamy. Two people sexually committed for decades and some for life? It made me wonder, is monogamy natural? And what about the growing trend of polyamory or its cousin conscious non-monogamy? Could that work? Turns out evolution is perfectly designed once again with a multi-party system. This is Mating Matters.

Welcome to Mating Matters. I’m Dr. Wendy Walsh with producer Brooke Peterson. On this week’s episode, which I have teasingly called Poly Wanna Cracker, we explore the evolutionary science behind those who have multiple love partners at the same time.

[School Bell Ringing 00:01:25]

Yes, that was a school bell ringing. Time for me to put on my professor hat and school you on some relationship definitions.

Polyamory is often used as a catch word for all kinds of non-monogamous relationships. That might involve dating, sex, love, commitment, marriage or combinations of those things. But there are four kinds of relationships I want to define here.

First up, polygamy. It can mean a man or a woman with multiple spouses at the same time. It’s often used in the United States to describe a man with multiple wives. Although the proper word there is polygyny. To be clear, polygyny – a man married to multiple women is illegal in all 50 States, but you wouldn’t know that. If you watched TLC’s reality show – Sister Wives, the story of Cody Brown, a man with four wives.

[Sister Wives Clip Playing 00:02:22]

Female: Cody and I met, I guess I was just young and in love. He and I both knew that we would take another wife or wives into the family.

Cody: I just fell in love and then I fell in love again and then I fell in love again.

Female: This is Cody’s 13th child.

Cody: She’s a sister from the same mister, and he’s a brother from another mother.

Female: Some people think, how do you feel when he’s off with another woman and you know they’re having sex? Well, gosh darn it, they better.

[End of Clip 00:02:49]

Dr. Wendy Walsh: Okay, back to the lesson kids. Next comes polyandry. That’s one woman with multiple husbands. Polyandry, as you can imagine, is much more rare, though anthropologists have found nearly 50 societies that practice it (lucky ladies).

Then there’s extra pair bonding. That includes anything from an illicit affair to an open marriage that allows partners to have extracurricular friends with benefits. But true polyamory is a relationship where more than two people are bonded together.

[Video Clip Playing 00:03:30]

Male: A person is most happy when they are submissive to a loving authority.

Male: I want to study her.

Female: She’ll break your heart.

Male: Don’t be jealous.

Female: I’m your wife, not your Jayla.

Female: I think you long for an unconventional life.

Female: Maybe I just want her because you do. Do you think it’s possible to love two people at the same time?

Female: Why not?

Male: What is normal?

Female: It can never happen.

Female: The world won’t let it.

Male: The world can’t stop us.

[End of Clip 00:04:11]

Dr. Wendy Walsh: That is the 2017 biographical movie about William Moulton Marston, also known as Charles Moulton. The movie is called Professor Marston and the Wonder Women. Marston was a psychologist, Harvard professor, the inventor of the lie detector. Oh, and the author of the historically successful comic books called Wonder Woman.

In his personal life, he lived with two women; a wife and a polyamorous partner. Both of whom influenced the character of Wonder Woman. And who, long after his death, continued to live together and raise their children. Fun fact, Wonder Woman’s golden cuffs, the ones that repelled bullets were inspired by the bracelets the professor and his wife gave to their poly lover in place of wedding rings when the three made the decision to be a family.

As the fictional Wonder Woman, those bracelets became symbols of peace and protection as depicted in also the 2017 movie – Wonder Woman.

[Wonder Woman Clip Playing 00:05:13]

Male: Who’s this woman?

Male: She’s my secretary, sir. She’s a very good secretary.

Female: It is our sacred duty to defend the world and it’s what I’m going to do.

[End of Clip 00:05:32]

Dr. Wendy Walsh: But most people aren’t Wonder Woman nor an eccentric professor with secret predications. Most people are just regular people living regular lives, and they have all kinds of versions of so-called poly sex lives.

Female: On this episode of Mating Matters, to protect their privacy, we’ve altered the voices of some of the people we’ve interviewed.

Amy: I was raised Christian, so it was straight is the only thing there is and gay people are just acting on their whims, and it’s not actually a sexuality. It’s not who you are. And of course, you know one man, one woman marriage, bam!

Dr. Wendy Walsh: That’s Amy. She told me she is cisgender, meaning her gender identity corresponds with the gender assigned to her at birth. She’s female all the way. She lives in a small town in what’s known as a Bible Belt state of the United States. Meaning it has a dominant Christian culture. And now, at the age of 27, she’s about to move in with her romantic partner living together, outside of marriage. To complicate things, her romantic partner isn’t a man and it isn’t a woman. It’s a couple.

Amy: When I realized that I was bisexual, then I was like, “Okay, what do I do with this?” Especially whenever I realized I really needed to have the male experience and the female experience to be satisfied. Like if I just had a male partner, it wouldn’t work. And if I just had a female partner, it wouldn’t work. So I was like, “Okay, what do I do with this?” So that’s how I ended up going for couples.

Dr. Wendy Walsh: Her first experience dating a couple happened in high school when her boyfriend confided to her that he was thinking of getting back with his ex-girlfriend.

Amy: Me and her were good friends. And one day, I just had a random daydream about being in bed with both of them. And then I texted her, I was like, “Hey, what do you think of this idea?” And she went, “That’s an interesting one.” And so we both went to him and he’s like, “Are you serious?” So it just kind of became a thing.

Dr. Wendy Walsh: And in your experience because you need both the male representation and the female representation, do you normally have group sex together or separately?

Amy: Well, that depends on the couple because perfectly, personally, I had a lot of experience with being the unicorn, being the girlfriend with the established couple. So I was perfectly happy to add my hands in and then if they were going at it, then I just kind of help out here and there with the scratch your nip or whatever. And I didn’t really mind if I got solo time with him, solo time with her or not.

With my current relationship, we do all the combinations. Me and him will do stuff, me and her will do stuff. She and him will do stuff. We’ll all three do stuff together. But I must say sex between three people can get complicated. So if it’s always a, all three of us have to do something – thing, that can get stressful.

Dr. Wendy Walsh: Do the math; one penis, four breasts, two clitoris, three potential orgasms. The sexual mechanics alone of polyamory can be decidedly complicated. But there’s an even greater evolutionary complication that I’ll explain in a few moments. But first, meet Justin.

Justin: I’m 42, I’m an engineer and I’m currently dating – I’d say single.

Dr. Wendy Walsh: Justin is a modern version of a poly person. A guy who likes to have more than one woman and is honest about it.

Justin: For me, it’s hard to say whether I’ve actually been in a polyamorous relationship as some people might define it. I’ve certainly been in situations where I’ve had multiple relationships at the same time. And so it sort of blurs the line between open relationship and polyamory, I would say.

Dr. Wendy Walsh: Well, when you were in multiple relationships at the same time, were your partners aware and consenting?

Justin: Yeah, absolutely. And I would say that I had a primary partner at that time. I think in order to have it work, there really has to be solid communication. Everybody has to be aware of what’s going on. Now, there’s certainly a case of too much information, and my partner may not want to know all the details of what’s going on. But she definitely wants to know that I’m communicating with her and I’m not trying to hide anything from her.

I think the thing to watch out for is when people feel like they’re not getting the attention that the relationship merits. So I think that for me has been the biggest challenge, is just trying to make sure that everybody feels like they’re getting the attention that they deserve.

Dr. Wendy Walsh: Now meet Lynette, she considers herself to be polyamorous too.

Lynette: I grew up in a Mormon household and we were very observant Mormons. And I don’t want to be criticizing too much fundamentalist religions, but just the message I personally got about sex growing up, was very shame-based and so I didn’t have much of a sexual education. I knew that sex was a sin next to murder in severity. And I very much learned to associate any sexual feelings that I had with guilt and shame and that kind of nature.

Dr. Wendy Walsh: Keeping with her religious teaching, Lynette got married as a virgin at the age of 19 and quickly had two children. They settled into a suburban lifestyle outside of Midwest City. She says the relationship she has with her husband has always been strong, committed, emotionally and intellectually. But it’s missing one thing.

Lynette: Well, my husband and I, we’ve been married for almost 15 years now and we never had a very strong sexual dynamic. I didn’t really fall in love with him because I was like passionately in love with him. It was much more, I knew he would be a good partner and a good husband, so we didn’t have a lot of sex early on. And whenever we did, I felt like it was more like an obligation because I was really his only outlet, because it’s a sin to masturbate as well.

Dr. Wendy Walsh: Wow! So he got to masturbate with a body and you cooperated because you felt it was your duty.

Lynette: Exactly, yes.

Dr. Wendy Walsh: Nearly a decade into their marriage, something changed.

Lynette: About, I guess it would be six years now, we both decided that we did not want to be in Mormon anymore. And what came with that was liberation, because there’s a lot of restrictions with being Mormon. And so part of that was sort of a sexual liberation.

So I almost had an affair with somebody I met, and it was the first time in my life that my sex drive was so strong. It was like distracting me. I’d never experienced that before. But my husband’s my best friend, so I never kept anything from him. I just told him everything I was feeling and he was very kind and supportive and just tried to help me through it all.

But I didn’t have the affair. I kind of just distanced myself from that person. But it started a bunch of discussions about us wanting to explore sexuality more. And we tried that with each other, but it was very complicated for a lot of reasons. Our Mormon upbringing, yes, but other reasons too. And then I really wasn’t exposed to the idea of polyamory. I just kind of thought, “Well, what if we tried to have sex with other people, or tried to have relationships outside our marriage?”

Dr. Wendy Walsh: And that’s what they did. Even though she was the first one to broach the subject with her husband, he was the first one to have extra marital sexual relations. And she followed soon after with a single man who was doing construction on their home. Now that wasn’t a metaphor, but it could be.

Lynette: So the construction worker, like the man who owned the construction business, the head guy, I kind of kicked it off with him really well.

Dr. Wendy Walsh: Oh, the man with the tool belt, always.

Lynette: Exactly, it’s like total fantasy. And so he was kind of over at our house all summer and my husband really liked him too. We just had kind of a cool dynamic. And then he had someone at work that he had been kind of crushing on for a while, and I really liked her. She was super nice. And so I was like, “Well, you could pause the idea to her, see what her reaction is.” And then he had to have a few more conversations before she was like really believing this was like a real opportunity.

But the thing that was nice about these opportunities is that both people were in a place where they were not looking for serious committed relationships. But they also weren’t really just wanting to kind of – it wasn’t like a Tinder thing, just kind of sleep around. So it was like they were very open to what we had to offer and it was going to work in their life.

Dr. Wendy Walsh: Lynette says that jealousy wasn’t a big issue for them. She says that she and her husband have emotional intimacy, and there are no secrets between them, and they’re both committed to each other and raising their children. After flirting with her construction worker for some time, that flirtation advanced to sexy texts and eventually he offered to relieve her sexual frustration.

Lynette: So when I got that text, I sent the whole conversation to my husband and he was like, “Woo-woo! That’s so exciting!”

Dr. Wendy Walsh: Wait, what? A husband cheering about the idea of another man gaining access to his wife’s eggs? This doesn’t seem to favor reproductive fitness. Oh man! We need an evolutionary biologist here!

Dr. David Barash: Hello, I am David Barash. I am a Professor of Psychology Emeritus at University of Washington, where I taught for 43 years before finally graduating. I am trained as an evolutionary biologist, a specialist in animal behavior where I spent literally decades studying the sexual reproductive behavior of animals.

I’ve done some work on humans, although frankly, I find humans really very confusing. It’s interesting to make implications from animal behavior and try to establish rules and principles that to a large extent apply to human beings. And I have spent a great deal of time doing that as well.

Dr. Wendy Walsh: Dr. Barash is being humble. He’s author of the books – The Myth of Monogamy and Out of Eden: The surprising consequences of polygamy. He says, to help understand what’s natural to our species, it’s always interesting to look at our closest primate cousins. Dr. Barash has been studying them for decades.

Dr. David Barash: The icon, poster child of polyamory among primates are the Bonobos, used to be called the pygmy chimps. But we now recognize they’re not particularly pygmy and they are an independent species. They’re largely a female-oriented society. The female Bonobos are essentially dominant over the males. They engage in a great deal of sexual behavior. A lot of it homoerotic as well as heterosexual.

They do fight some, not nearly as much as the – if you want to call them the sort regular chimpanzees. It does remain something of a mystery how it is that Bonobos have evolved to be so sexually open, polyamorous perhaps, in some ways. The contrast between them and chimpanzees is rather dramatic.

Chimpanzees are really highly aggressive. They do an awful lot of murdering of each other. In fact, the individual males will have more than one female partner, and individual females will have more than one male partner. However, there’s a great deal of sexual jealousy and sexually-based violence among chimps. Not nearly so much among Bonobos.

In fact, Bonobos actually use their own sexuality in establishing sexual relationships as a way of making peace. So in that sense, make love, not war is very accurate in describing them.

Dr. Wendy Walsh: But Dr. Barash cautions us to avoid thinking that either one of those species is an appropriate model for human beings or just too different. And we have too much variety in our human behavior. After all, there are 7 billion homo-sapiens on the planet.

Dr. David Barash: When you have a huge population, the likelihood is that you’re going to have a huge level of variety when it comes to almost anything. Now, admittedly, it’s not true of our anatomy. For instance, we all have one head. But when it comes to our behavior, there is an enormous variation in variety and the kinds of things we do. And of course, that not surprisingly would include our sexual inclinations and behavior.

And in fact, if you look at the evidence, you do find that human beings may well be … I haven’t actually tried to do this. It’s an interesting issue – how human beings may well be the most sexually diverse of any other species. On the other hand, there certainly are majoritarian practices, if you will, within our species. And polyamory almost, I regret to say, is not one of them.

Dr. Wendy Walsh: He says “regret” because the Bonobos use of sex for peacemaking may well be something humans could benefit from. However, polyamory he says, is not good for human evolution. That’s where monogamy trumps.

Dr. David Barash: Evolution by natural selection favors those individuals for instance, who invest in their own genes, which is to say their own children. From the male perspective in particular, if you’re going to, I hesitate to use the word “have.” But if you’re going to “have” one wife, it’s very much in your interest that that one wife be producing offsprings that are yours. And if you know at some level that that female with whom you are invested and involved has been having sex with other males, that substantially increases the probability that the offspring in question will not be yours.

Now, if that’s true, in so far as that’s true, then there will be a very definite evolutionary cost to investing in those offsprings. We know it’s possible for single parents to rear offsprings, there’s no question about that, but it’s hard. And it’s particularly hard in homo-sapiens where our offspring are so helpless at birth. They really need or certainly benefit dramatically by the assistance of two committed parents.

Dr. Wendy Walsh: Indeed, the statistics support this idea. Research shows that children of single parents are more at risk for lower academic achievement, higher rates of substance abuse, earlier onset of sexual behavior. And single parents themselves are also at risk for more mental and physical health risks than married parents. But not every sexual encounter is aimed at reproduction.

On the other hand, if women are past their childbearing or they don’t want to have kids and they have control of birth control, so men aren’t worried about paternity uncertainty, is there any reason to have monogamy if it’s not about reproduction?

Dr. David Barash: Well, if it’s not about reproduction, there’s significantly less reason to worry about it, absolutely. Except that I think there’s very good reason to think that we have been endowed by our evolutionary biology with certain characteristics, certain psychological traits that go beyond the literality of whether we’re reproducing. That is to say when a man wants to have sexual intercourse with a woman who he finds attractive, it’s not necessarily because he wants to make children with her. In fact, in most cases, he doesn’t. But we’re stuck with that phenomenon of arousal as a result of our evolutionary heritage.

By the same token, I suspect that the problem that many people, and I think that the overwhelming majority have and will have and would have with non-monogamy, is not directly a result of issues of reproduction. But rather the issues of sexual jealousy, which we’re stuck with. And we’re stuck with it because in the past, we didn’t have very effective means of birth control.

Dr. Wendy Walsh: Negative emotions are sneaky things. Sometimes, they slowly creep into our awareness and we can catch them, process them, and maybe even manage them before they turn into fight or flight behaviors. But other times, we are less like loving Bonobos and more like fierce chimpanzees. Sexual jealousy can flare up seemingly out of nowhere, and can be treacherous.

[News Report Playing 00:23:58 to 00:24:46]

Dr. Wendy Walsh: In evolutionary terms, there’s an interesting paradox that has created the ugly green monster of sexual jealousy. More partners mean more genetic diversity. That’s good, but when your partner has extra mates, it causes non-biologically related parents to waste time investing in raising somebody else’s genes instead of their own. To reduce the chances of that, we have evolved to have sexual jealousy.

Dr. David Barash: If you look at the human population, you do find a small proportion of people who are committed to polyamory. Even among that small proportion, those who are strongly, intellectually, emotionally committed, if you look over time, you find that they will ultimately confess. And often, it really is a painful and confession on their part, that they were also, if not overcome, they certainly felt inclinations of sexual jealousy, which emerged as a really unpleasant, unwanted perception on their part. But one that’s almost unavoidable because of our own evolutionary biology.

Dr. Wendy Walsh: Remember Lynette from earlier in our podcast, the perky suburban wife with the sexy construction worker boyfriend and the many other lovers since? The one whose husband cheered on her affairs? Well, here’s what happened the first time he stepped out of their marriage with her permission.

Lynette: So the next morning I was like, “So what happened?” And he said, “Yeah, it went down.” And it was pretty shocking for me at first. I was a little surprised how sort of, it felt like it was an intense feeling. So I kind of sat with the feeling. I think it was some jealousy, maybe just kind of the newness of this idea. It was kind of scary, but I kind of sat with it for about a day and a half and then it kind of passed and we had some conversations, and then after that, I was fine with it.

Dr. Wendy Walsh: I want to stress this isn’t the experience of the vast majority of humans, and even Lynette knows that.

Who do you think would not be a good candidate for this kind of lifestyle or relationship?

Lynette: Well, I think one of the thing that comes to my mind immediately is just how difficult it is to deal with the feelings of jealousy. I mean, we’re human, we feel jealous feelings, but they’re very manageable for us and they always have been. Even when we were young and very much doing the Mormon thing, we never felt jealous. We would have crushes on other people all the time and we would talk about it openly.

And that’s never been a huge issue for us. But I found that that’s something that’s very difficult for a lot of people to cope with. And if that’s the case, then it may not be worth it.

Dr. Wendy Walsh: So if polyamory has so many drawbacks, like unexpected sexual jealousy, increased risks of STDs, and a mating strategy where you could end up raising another person’s genes instead of your own, why would people ever do it?

Partly, it’s because most of us are wired to enjoy sexual variety. That’s designed to get us out of the tribe and increased genetic diversity. But that’s not all. Remember, all human behaviors have a biological, psychological, and social motivation. As far as social factors go, right now, we have an oversupply of successful women in modern Western culture. With many women surging ahead in education and their careers, there is a shortage of corresponding young men who these women deem datable.

Unconsciously or consciously, women have anxiety about this. It’s a mate crunch. And, since men have evolved to want more sex than women in general, some women are being subtly coerced into polyamory. For those women, the fear of losing one’s mate is greater than the fear of sharing one’s mate. That’s what Amy (bisexual woman about to move in with a couple) suspect’s happened in a relationship she had with a previous couple.

Amy: He went fishing. She kind of said she was a little bit by and he ran with that and they were looking for a girl. She wasn’t really sure if she wanted to be looking, but she kind of let him do whatever he was doing. He misled me into thinking that she was totally okay with things, and she was like sitting at the table while he told me things that weren’t necessarily true. So by the time I moved in, it was too late when I realized that she really didn’t want me moved in, and she wasn’t even sure if she wanted to have a girlfriend in the house. She was even doubting her bisexuality.

Dr. Wendy Walsh: And our sex lives can also be hotbeds for psychological trauma. If we suffered abuse or abandonment in our early lives, this blueprint for relationships that we carry in our heads can lead us to walk right back into the fire. For some, the poly life is rife with feelings of loss. And then, there are the men who wave the polyamorous flag as a convenient way to cheat on spouses. Listen to this listener. We’ll call her Nanette.

Nanette: I had a lot of like trauma with past relationships, a lot of abuse and neglect. And even before then in my lineage, unfortunately, like my family is unfortunately predisposed to a lot of abuse. And I think that carries on in my lineage too.

So I came from a pretty hard place with relationships and I decided, well, what if I tried something nontraditional? Like what if I tried polyamory? And so I tried it. Basically what I did, the way I did my polyamory was I just kind of hooked up with different men. I had different dates almost every night or most days of the week, I had like a different person,

Dr. Wendy Walsh: But then, she met a married man who told her he was polyamorous.

You found your first partner and he was in a marriage, did you have sex with only him and on the side, so you were an extra pair bond? Or did you have sex with him and his wife?

Nanette: Just with him.

Dr. Wendy Walsh: Did you meet the wife?

Nanette: No.

Dr. Wendy Walsh: Did you know that she was consenting to his behavior?

Nanette: I don’t know, but I got the sense he wasn’t being dishonest with me or hiding anything. I mean he even like sent me pictures of like his family and his pets, which was just his like pets and his wife.

And he was really nice. I wouldn’t say he was manipulative or maniacal, and he was very kind to me. However, even though when I was dating polyamory, I noticed that my trauma or my paranoia did not like subside. And so I kept having a lot of flare ups of like, “Is this person going to neglect me? Is this person going to like abuse me like my past exes? Like does this person actually mean what he says when he like is affectionate to me and does give me like a lot of love? Like is that being reciprocated correctly?”

But after the first person I just told you about, I did go into a polyamory with a second person and he abandoned me, he ghosted me just like that. And so that compiled on the trauma. And so like after that second partner, I stopped completely with polyamory.

Dr. Wendy Walsh: Today, Nanette says she’s in a monogamous relationship with a supportive, comforting man who gives her all of himself. And this, she says, is healing. But she says there was a positive side to her experience with her version of polyamory.

Nanette: Like honestly, straight up, I think I learned a lot. I learned a lot of different lifestyles. I learned to be more sexually liberated with myself. I kind of learned to be empowered in a lot of ways, more than one. I learned sort of to take back just discovering myself as far as sexually and also, discovering kind of who I like as far as what I want in a relationship both in the person, in the relationship itself.

But I wouldn’t recommend polyamory for people who don’t really know how to investigate their trauma. I think they need to do deep investigation and deep deconstruction first before going into something as complicated and multi-dimensional as polyamory.

Dr. David Barash: As an evolutionary biologist, I see lots of problems with polyamory. And it’s not because I perceive polyamory as necessarily unethical or immoral or contrary to God’s recommendations or judgment. But rather because we are stuck and I literally mean stuck with evolution’s very strong whisperings within us that says, well, what’s good for us on an evolutionary level is not necessarily good for us. In fact, it’s probably bad for us if an intimate partner of ours does the same thing.

And even among those who practice polyamory and are very committed to it, a very large number will say, “After a while, I can’t get it out of my head that I don’t like it when so-and-so has sex with someone else.”

Dr. Wendy Walsh: In other words, it’s all fun and games until somebody gets hurt. Aaaw! Thanks for listening to Mating Matters. I’m Dr. Wendy Walsh.

Mating Matters is produced in partnership with iHeart Media. It is researched, interviewed and written by me, Dr. Wendy Walsh. And it is edited and produced by Brooke Peterson.

People don’t learn about podcasts usually by searching around, they learn about a podcast because somebody who loved that podcast told them about it. So, I encourage you to please subscribe, write a review, and more than anything, hit that share button now. Think of somebody who would like to hear this information as much as you enjoyed it.

Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram at Dr. Wendy Walsh. Listen to Mating Matters on the iHeartRadio app or wherever you listen to your podcasts. Thanks for listening, I’m Dr. Wendy Walsh.

Steven Satterfield: Hello, hello everyone. My name is Steven Satterfield, and I’m here with some good news. From iHeartRadio and the makers of Whetstone Magazine comes Point of Origin, an all-new podcast about the world of food. Each week we travel the globe and hear from the keepers of our food traditions. So listen to Point of Origin on Apple podcast, the iHeartRadio app or wherever you listen to podcast.

Mating Matters “Dating App-athy”

In this episode of Mating Matters Podcast, Dr. Wendy Walsh talks to a neuroscientist who explains how dating apps can affect the brain. They can create both cognitive overload and a kind of paradox of choice — that is, the more choices people have, the less likely they are to make a choice and stick with it. She also talks to real people about the good, bad and boring ways that dating websites and apps impact us. One woman met her husband, one man got addicted, and a young women says she suffers from “Dating App-athy.”




Dr. Wendy Walsh:         Romance, dating, falling in love. Choosing a romantic partner to share your dinner table, your bed or your entire life is frankly the most important decision a human can ever make.

This is Dr. Wendy Walsh. Welcome to Mating Matters. It’s why we do what we do. In this episode – Dating Apathy. Are dating apps changing the way we relate? This is important because making the wrong decision can be downright dangerous.

Sorry to break it to you, but poor romantic decisions can lead to poverty, physical injury, or even death. And the greater risk lies with women. Did you know that half of murdered women are killed by their intimate partner? Everyday in America, three women are killed by their lover. Yikes!

Fortunately, that doesn’t happen to the vast majority of lovers. But finding a safe, reliable, romantic partner who will keep you out of poverty, stimulate you emotionally and intellectually, and also be physically attractive, well, that’s a tall order. Long before there was the internet and smartphone dating apps, lovers mostly met through a personal introduction or a chance meeting.

In the movie, “Isn’t It Romantic”, Rebel Wilson and Liam Hemsworth’s characters have a chance encounter of their own.

[Movie Clip Playing 00:01:34 to 00:01:39]

But then along came a much more efficient way to meet people – media. First, in the 1980s, it was print media. People took out small personal ads in the back of newspapers and magazines. Remember the Pina Colada song by Rupert Holmes?

[Rupert Holmes’ Song Playing 00:01:53 to 00:2:05]

Yeah, those two philandering lovers found each other again through a personal ad. After personal ads, the Internet came along. In the 1990s movie, “You’ve Got Mail”, Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks launched a silver screen email romance that echoed what so many people were experiencing in the 1990s as their courtship began to grow through technology.

[Movie Clip Playing 00:02:27 to 00:02: 42]

Move over AOL, dating then got fast, real fast. From dating websites to dating apps. From swishes to pings, likes, matches, messaging and yes, ghosting. Millions of people all over the world, dove into online dating. I want you to know that there’s plenty of good about online dating, and there’s a bit of bad too if you don’t know what you’re doing.

First of all, dating apps make it easier to find that special someone. That unicorn, so to speak. But the technology itself is not only changing the way we relate, it could actually be changing our brains. But no matter what your fancy, there is a never ending array of dating websites and apps that appeal to every niche market. From religious people to the polyamorous. From farmers to gay people.

Speaker 2:        I’ve been on and off using a variety of …

Speaker 3:        Zoosk, am I pronouncing that right? Zoosk? Christian Mingle?

Speaker 2:        … so, when I was in college, is when I started using them. It started off with Tinder.

Speaker 3:        So, I’ve used Tinder, I’ve used Bumble. Those are the two that I’ve used the most. I used OKCupid back in the day and PlentyOfFish as well.

Speaker 2:        I guess, so Bumble where you can-

Speaker 4:        I’ve used Tinder, I’ve used Grindr, I’ve used another app called Chappy, which is where you can meet other gay men. And then online, I’ve used Match.

Speaker 2:        … so, I like that for a while. And now, I’m on a dating app called Hinge recently, most recently. Not sure if it’s for me. I think I’m kind of a little bit over dating apps at this point.

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         Let’s start with the good news. People are indeed meeting and marrying through online connections.

Speaker 5:        So, when I went on Match and I was on Match actually for about 10 days.

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         That’s a woman in her 40s with an 11-year-old daughter. She told me she’d just come out of an 18-month relationship. That one had begun as an introduction through friends but had gone sour. So, she decided to try online dating. Yes, she met the perfect guy after only 10 days. Her criteria though was strict. Her perspective mate had to be a Christian, live nearby, and seem like the kind of guy who could be a good stepfather and mix well with her family. To determine that, she brought her mother and daughter to first dates.

Speaker 5:        Because we’re the package. So, I’m not gonna waste my time. If you can’t take us, forget it. So, I wanted him to know what he’s getting into and my mom brought her boyfriend, who happened to know the person I was meeting. And it worked out great. And 45 days later, we actually got engaged. The wedding will be six and a half months away.

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         Wow! She’s not alone. A 2013 study from researchers at the University of Chicago and Harvard University, found that one third of American marriages now begin as online meetings. And that marriages that began online were slightly less likely to result in a marital breakup. And they were associated with slightly higher marital satisfaction. Of course, I should add this is a self-report Internet study. While the large number of participants, nearly 20,000 is quite impressive, questions remain about how honestly people answer self-report studies, or whether the personality types of people who prefer online dating factor in. Either way, this is promising research.

The other positive news about online dating, is that it’s really good for subgroups who may have a very small likeminded dating pool in their own communities, ethnic and religious minorities, people with disabilities, gender variances, and sexual orientation differences. In fact, dating apps began with a single app called Grindr.

Grindr was designed to help gay men find friends wherever they went. For most gay people, online dating is far more positive than negative.

Speaker 4:        I think mostly positive because it’s, you know, for me, I don’t want to meet people in bars, you know. And it’s particularly, you know, it’s harder in the gay world because you have a safe place to meet people, right? And those environments provide an easy place and it’s an easy way to manage introductions.

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         So, that’s the good news. People are actually meeting, mating and committing through online meetings. And online dating is particularly helpful for subgroups because of people who don’t have much dating opportunity, either because they live in small communities or because they’re a minority.

Online dating also saves a whole lot of time. You don’t have to get dressed up. You don’t need to spend money and time in bars and nightclubs, and you can vet people before you waste time on a date. You can do a Google search or even a full background check. In some ways, this makes online dating safer than meeting a random stranger in a dark club.

Now, here’s the bad news, just like a nightclub, dating apps are filled with people looking for long-term relationships, short-term relationships, affairs and polyamorous group fun, and they’re all lumped together. So, it’s kind of “buyer beware”. Asking people what they’re looking for and advertising exactly what you’d like to find is crucial. Though people still like to lie. Oh, and speaking of lying, online dating sadly also hosts a lot of scammers.

Scammers fall into one of two categories. In category one are lonely people, unhappy with their own lives who pretend to be the person they wish they were. And to conceal their fraud, they’re very skilled at providing excuses as to why they can’t meet up in the real world. These are called “catfishes” and there’s a whole documentary and MTV series that shows some pretty shocking reveals. It’s called “Catfish”.

Speaker 6:        A young guy named Dylan contacted me and Max after receiving an anonymous tip claiming his online love, Allie was actually an imposter.

Dylan:               I’m just like dumbfounded, whoa. I don’t even know how they got my number.

Max:                 Once we started digging, we soon discovered that whoever Dylan was talking to, had actually people catfish before.

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         Then, there are the criminal romance scammers. These people are often part of syndicates in countries like Nigeria and Ghana. They prey on lonely people around the world by getting them to fall in love with them online, and eventually, they ask for money.

Speaker 9:        I talked to him a few times. I mean, we messaged everyday.

Speaker 10:      Johnson says she and Cole engaged in a two-year online relationship, but never met in person. Over the course of their relationship, Johnson says she gave Cole more than a million dollars in increments.

Speaker 9:        At this point, your heart rules your head, and I was doing what my heart wanted me to do.

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         In the most egregious cases, romance scammers practice extortion. They record people’s most intimate conversations or even videotape Skype sex and threaten to post it online if the victim doesn’t pay the money.

TV Anchor:        Tonight, a heartbreaking family tragedy. A father from Yonkers is dead and his family believes it’s all because he was sucked into an international romance and money scheme, causing him to lose everything and even steal from relatives.

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         That’s the tricky thing about love. It’s like a drug and can make our brains do just about anything to keep it. Now, for most people online dating when used safely, that is with Google searches, real world meetings and the latest invention – use of social media that shows how many friends you actually have in common, all that is a positive experience.

But there’s one other shortcoming to online dating apps. They can become addictive. Justin Garcia is the research director at the Kinsey Institute and Scientific Advisor for

Justin Garcia:    One of the issue seems to be that it’s been what we say is gamified. And that the apps, they feel like a game, and you can swipe through dozens or hundreds of pictures in a few minutes. And that changes the way we’re interacting with potential partners or people that we’re assessing.

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         Many people like this 40-year-old single father fall prey to the lure of a perfect happy ending.

Speaker 13:      Everyone wants to be wanted and I want people to be wanted. I love the romantic endings. I believe in happy endings, and I might go to my grave with that philosophy. And I think that that’s what the dating sites propose, is that happy ending.

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         For this man, scammers weren’t the problem. It was the addictive quality of dating apps that keeps one glued to the app rather than dating in the real world. It’s caused by a delicious rush of the neural hormone dopamine. Every time there’s a match or a new message, promising romantic opportunity, your brain gets a tiny hit. Since dating apps reward the brain at random intervals with varying sizes of rewards, a message from a particularly attractive person might bring more dopamine than an average looking person. The apps act exactly like a slot machine, trapping the brain in addictive systems of rewards.

Just like gambling, dating apps work using classical conditioning. Remember Pavlov and his dog, except the stimulus isn’t a bell and the reward isn’t a food treat. The stimulus with a dating app is a swipe and the reward is a match. Here’s Justin Garcia, again.

Justin Garcia:    It turns out that in those studies, what works best is every so often when you ring that bell, you don’t give a treat to the animal in the test condition; a dog, a rat, a fish. Now, for the dating apps, there’s something similar that’s happening that you get this sort of periodic reward that keeps you hooked. Exactly like you said, it’s like gambling. And that’s a mix of things. Part of that can be the algorithms depending on the company and the app and the site. And part of it, is just sort of random choice, that you’re going through so many dozens or hundreds of options. You’ll occasionally find one that you like and occasionally, will find one that messages you or likes you or you both swipe right.

Speaker 13:      I don’t know, it reminds me of a Las Vegas Casino. There’s no clocks, there’s so much diversion. The further you get into the casino, the harder it is to come on out.

Speaker 3:        You probably get a bit of a high from it knowing it’s a way of seeking validation from other people. You know, “How many times did I swipe right today? How many responses and reciprocation of that did I receive?” If I swiped right, you know, 25 times. I got 13 people that swiped right too. I was like, “Oh man, I’m feeling pretty good about myself.”

Speaker 13:      And at the beginning, it was super fun, just like any normal addiction, I think. And then eventually, it kind of just took over. And so, I would spend time looking at these sites while I was in traffic and there would be just a wash of – I would say, a wash of energy if anybody ever responded. It was fun, it felt good to be acknowledged. But slowly but surely, it felt like it was taking my self-esteem apart.

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         Besides being addictive, dating apps can also create something psychologists call a “paradox of choice”. The more choices a human being is presented with, the less likely they are to make a choice, and the less happy they feel with the choices they make.

Justin Garcia:    There’s a sense that there is an unlimited number of options. You can go on an app and swipe for an hour especially if it’s somewhere like LA or New York or Miami, with a population density. You could swipe for hours and hours and hours. And that changes the way that we interact with the app. In part, because it changes the way we think about the people on the other side of that app. We think, “Well, if they’re not perfect, there’s another one and there’s another one and there’s another one.” And we often end up chasing these, what Rob Sternberg calls our love stories, right? We’re chasing these ideal notions of, “Well, my partner has to be exactly like this.”

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         And this makes us less happy with our choice.

Justin Garcia:    Some scientists think it’s because we sometimes always have a foot out the door. We always think, “Well, if this isn’t great, there’s another thousand.”

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         Besides being tricked by a paradox of choice, dating apps also create a similar phenomenon that Garcia calls “cognitive overload”.

Justin Garcia:    We have a hard time deciding particularly when to say yes. And in part, that’s when we’ve got such a large menu or so many options. We have a really difficult time making a decision.

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         Remember the young woman who’s been using dating apps since she was in college? She’s definitely beginning to suffer from what I call “dating apathy”.

Speaker 2:        I mean, even when I’m looking for a movie to watch on Netflix, I get stressed out because I’m like, “Oh God, there’s so many choices. I don’t want to watch anything anymore. I’m done. I’m done.” And then I’m like, I throw down the remote and I’m like, “Let me go do something else.” But I mean, if I was going to blockbuster and I’m like, “Okay, I have to rent one movie, I see all the movies right here in my face, I know where the new selections are, I know where the old movies are,” like, it’s easy. I can go in, I get it, and I’m dedicated to it because I worked a little bit for that movie.

If I’m on an app, I’m just swiping and I’m just like, “It doesn’t matter. So many choices. It doesn’t matter.”

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         Even if you do get a match, next begins a texting marathon.

Speaker 4:        When people send me those endless texts, what I typically do, at some point, you just have to cut it off, right? Because it doesn’t go anywhere and it’s a waste of time that you could spend elsewhere.

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         Here’s the man who told us he was once addicted to dating apps.

Speaker 13:      Online sites are time bandits. So, once the conversation starts going, I would lose out on my own family time. You know, my own people’s time. My own tribe would lose out time with me even if I was in the room. Even if we were at dinner, I wasn’t. I was on – I’m looking at the site.

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         Eventually, this man stopped using all dating apps. He even closed most of his social media accounts.

Speaker 13:      I had to come to a moment of self-realization. So, now, I’ve completely taken down my Instagram. I’m in the midst of taking down my Facebook just for business purposes. I don’t want to live digitally at all now. And it’s a wonderful feeling.

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         And if scammers, addiction and paradox of choice aren’t enough, many first time online daters become rattled by a new dating social trend called “ghosting”.

Speaker 2:        Ghosting is the worst. It is the worst. It’s when you really like somebody and then they just all of a sudden just fall off the face of the earth. It’s like, “What happened to you?” I know one guy, I met him on an app. We really had a connection. We’d facetime, we’d Snapchat, we’d text. We did not meet yet though. So, we were about to meet and I don’t know what happened to him. He just left.

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         Even though she’s young and accustomed to dating app etiquette, she says she’ll never get used to being ghosted.

Speaker 2:        I mean, it feels like you’ve been rejected, you know, and especially after like putting your effort into somebody. It’s like a slam in the face. Like you’re just like, “What in the world is happening?” And they’ll block your phone number, your Instagram, your Facebook. You will not be able to tell anything about what they’re doing and that’s the worst feeling, because you don’t have answers. And when you don’t have answers, your mind wanders and you’re just thinking like, “Is it me? Am I ugly? Am I annoying? Am I just a terrible person?”

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         I know a few things about love. There are plenty of hormones and neurotransmitters involved in the process of love. The early lustful phase is dominated by testosterone and estrogen. But secure attachment is a calmer, cozier drug, ruled by vasopressin and oxytocin.

So, thinking about dating apps, I came up with this theory. I mean, everybody knows that the most unstable stages of love are at the very beginning and the end, and that’s when we crave dopamine and norepinephrine to cope with those feelings of uncertainty. “Does he like me? Are we a couple? Are we breaking up? What’s happening?”

The middle stage is when we securely settle down into companion at love and experience attachment with those yummy bursts of oxytocin and vasopressin. My hypothesis is that dating apps trap people in the beginnings and endings of relationships with sporadic bursts of dopamine, not unlike that slot machine in Vegas. Dating apps train humans to become addicted to new partners as a kind of dopamine addiction. But many never get the payoff of feelings of security that come with oxytocin and vasopressin.

There are many people who get blasts of dopamine through endless online interactions. Likes, matches and messages with people they’ve never met in the real world. Then, they satisfy their cravings for surges in testosterone and estrogen and other hormones through online pornography, hacking their biochemistry with technology.

I pose my theory to the Kinsey Institute’s, Dr. Justin Garcia. That using the app alone and then also the kind of texting relationships, multiple texting relationships that come out of these apps. For many people, that’s enough. It starts to create enough dopamine that they literally don’t need to date.

Justin Garcia:    Yeah, I think you hit the nail on the head. I think that’s a piece that no one’s talking about. That there is a number of people that are swiping all day and talking to a bunch of people. They’re sort of getting satiated. They’re sort of getting the, whether it’s the intimate and sexual communication or just the social connections. I think that we’re starting to see a little bit of evidence and you’re ahead of the curve. We don’t have the data yet to say it, but I think you’re right. That’s what everything is starting to indicate.

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         And there’s something else I think technology is doing to us. I think dating apps can actually change our brains, impacting our reward centers and rewiring how we perceive the world and love. For some, this is the new normal.

Justin Garcia:    It’s a bizarre form of biohacking really. That you can get these different types of social connections and intimate interactions and kind of feel okay. It’s not necessarily fulfilling and maybe what many people want in the long-term, but they can kind of ride it out.

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         So, why is it that some people don’t fall victim to this paradox of choice, this addictive quality, this biohack? Maybe it’s how they use the app to avoid the neuro traps. Remember the gay man we spoke with earlier? He says he has great success with the apps and has formed many long term relationships and close friendships.

Speaker 4:        Usually, my objective is when I hear from someone, as quickly as possible, meet them in person because that’s when you know, right? You have to see them in person, so that I don’t really get off on the endless sort of back and forth conversation. I want to, as soon as I sort of vet them and make sure they’re not a serial killer, I want to meet them in person.

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         And remember the woman who brought her mother and daughter to first dates and met her fiancé after just 10 days online? Here’s her advice to others.

Speaker 5:        A lot of it is luck. A lot of it is, I truly believe a numbers game. But if everyone has the attitude, you’re responsible for your own happiness, there are a lot of people out there who want a relationship. And it’s just, you know, trying to weed out the people that you think may not fit and just go for it and just be safe and meet in a public place and tell your friends where you’re at. Actually, I had two online dates before I met my fiancé, and I was there for 15 minutes. And again, my mom and daughter showed up at the restaurant.

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         I would add to her advice, get on the phone quickly, within a few days. If you like what you hear, meet for a casual coffee soon after. If that goes well, then go off the app and stop and focus, and ask your date to do the same.

Speaker 5:        You know, you have to go through and sift through what you’re looking for. But you have to be honest with who you are and what you want, and hopefully find that same person that is on your wavelength.

Speaker 3:        It’s not that you have to commit and get married and be exclusive right away. But if you want to date, you’ve got to psychologically get yourself in the mode to do it. And there’s a whole psychology and neurobiology of that focused attention and thinking about that person and not being distracted.

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         And if you do feel you’re becoming addicted to the apps, shut them off for a few months. Take a break. That’s what the young man who believes he had become addicted did.

Speaker 13:      Man, the natural version of meeting someone is just so much better. It takes a lot more work, but it’s why it gives it a priceless feeling. Whereas, I just felt dollar store with the online dating sites.

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         And here’s the best news of all about online dating. Not only do one third of American marriages begin online, but research shows that couples who reported that they’d met online also reported greater marital satisfaction. Maybe those who have good relationship skills will always find a good mate no matter where they swipe.

Speaker 5:        My whole life, I’ve been looking for this ideal person, and I was always trying to put a round peg in a square hole trying to make it work, and I kind of gave up. And then I met him and that’s why we’re engaged so quickly, is because when you spend your whole life looking for this type of person you have in your mind and you know how you want to be loved, and you finally find that, you’re not going to waste time and say there’s someone else out there because you know you found it.

Speaker 3:        You just put your best self out there, put yourself in the best profile, put yourself looking as nice as you possibly can, have a smile on your face, have a positive message and then see where it goes from there. I have always gotten a pretty solid response from that.

Speaker 5:        And I called that other person up and said, “I think I found the love of my life.”

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         Thank you for listening to Mating Matters. I’m Dr. Wendy Walsh with my producer Brooke Peterson. In our next episode, what is love for real? The bio, psycho, social aspects of love.

Mating Matters “The God Who Clubs”

In this week’s podcast episode of Mating Matters, “The God Who Clubs,” how religions have impacted dating, mating, marriage and reproduction. Dr. Wendy Walsh explains how the sex rules created by religions  increase reproduction and even grow membership. Hint: the more punitive the God, the faster a religion grows.


Watch a short introductory video:

Or, read the full transcript below:

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         What’s God got to do with our bedroom antics? This is Dr. Wendy Walsh. I’ve always wondered how religions grow their membership and I realized, it has to do with the sex rules. The rules that all religions create around dating, mating, and marriage.

This is Mating Matters!

Welcome to Mating Matters, the podcast that looks at human behavior through a lens of reproduction. I’m Dr. Wendy Walsh, and I believe most everything we do is designed to increase our mating opportunities.

This episode is called “The God Who Clubs”, and we’ll explore how religion has created clubs with rules around love, sex and marriage.

Religion, just the word alone can conjure up a host of feelings. Depending on which religion you were raised in, if any at all, and your ability to fit in with its teachings. The word religion might evoke anything from memories of punitive lessons filled with shame to warm feelings of songs, prayers, and a supportive community.

Grammy winner Mandisa, in her ode to cancer patients sings to the best of religious support in her heat song, “Overcomer”.

[Mandisa’s Song Playing 00:01:20 to 00:01:32]

You might be surprised to learn that religiosity has been associated with longevity. Religious people tend to be healthier and live longer. That’s partly because of the mandate to live a healthy lifestyle that comes with most every religion. Clean living is the rule of the day.

There’s also the healing power of social support. Isolation is not good for humans. And to take that one step further, on a deep psychological level, God can become a secure attachment figure.

The Australian Christian Group, Hill Song United, holds the record for having a song that spent 61 weeks at number one on billboard Hot Christian Songs Chart. Their song. “Oceans” talks about God as a feeling of security.

[Hill Song United’s Song Playing 00:02:16 to 00:02:29]

But the early days of religion formation, were less about a loving God manifested psychologically as a secure boyfriend, and more about tribal affiliation. You know, religions are the ultimate tribes. In our evolution, religions created group meaning, cooperation over food procurement, in-group rules of conduct. In short, religions helped people trust each other. No matter where you travel in the world, if you meet someone who shares your religion, you feel you can trust them. You both follow the same set of rules.

Dr. Denise Martin:         Tribal affiliations are very strong with the religions because if I know you, I feel safer. If I don’t know you, I don’t feel as safe. Who is my neighbor? You know, we have a lot of time … I’m Dr. Denise Martin, and I am assistant professor of religion and African American studies at Loyola Marymount University.

I am a cultural and historical scholar of religion. So, that means that I study religions in their context, in their history and in their culture. And I do that with pretty much what we call the Abrahamic religions; Judaism, Islam and Christianity.

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         As a historian, Dr. Martin studies the religions most commonly seen in western culture.

Dr. Denise Martin:         Who do I associate with and my tribal/religious affiliations tell me who it’s appropriate to mingle with, and who it’s not. A lot of that throughout the Bible, the Hebrew scripture than Christianity.

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         And some of these tribal loyalties and conflicts still play out today.

Ryan Bell:         In the United States, we don’t live in a polytheistic world anymore, but we do still see this kind of our God – their God thing. Religions develop out of the need for in-group loyalties and outgroup hostilities. And so, yeah, this is a way of creating a safe tribal community by saying God’s on our side and by staying loyal to our gods. God will protect us and make us strong. And we even see, you know, remnants of that in current politics today.

My name is Ryan Bell and for 20 years, I was an evangelical pastor. Today, I call myself a humanist. Which to me is like, you know, the best that Christianity has to offer without the supernatural part.

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         According to former pastor, Ryan Bell, besides creating trusting bonds, religions also serve to create strict group conformity. This was necessary as we evolve from small tribes to larger groups, where we couldn’t recognize all the members.

Ryan Bell:         At its heart, religion is about social control, about keeping people in line. It’s about punishment and reward.

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         But religions do one other thing really well. They expand their membership. Some religions do this through amazing recruitment strategies.

[Pastor Preaching 00:05:27 to 00:05:30]

Religions are also especially good at increasing their membership through human reproduction. The founding fathers of most religions (and yes, they were mostly men), either consciously or unconsciously created rules around sex that increase the chances that their membership would multiply. Most religions have rules around premarital sex, marriage, birth control, abortion, divorce, homosexuality, and even masturbation. And to enforce these rules, a punitive God, of course.

Ryan Bell:         And so, right, I think this punitive God is the God who will punish you if you step out of line, but will reward you if you stay in line. And it’s a powerful social motivation, has been for thousands of years.

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         It’s known that religions with the most angry God who promises an afterlife of hell tend to grow the fastest. God is a big cop in the sky is a psychological concept that developed to instill fear in religious congregants who might want to break the rules or cheat.

[Muslim Call to Prayer 00:06:31 to 00:06:35]

For instance, the Muslim call to prayer. In many urban centers in the world, it blasts out from loud speakers five times a day, to remind devout Muslims to stop and pray. Evidence from psychological studies shows that the Muslim call to prayer serves another purpose. When the call to prayer is amplified particularly loudly, senior markets or places of business, people are much less likely to cheat.

The same probably goes for church bells. A reminder to be a good person, God is watching.

[Church Bell 00:07:08 to 00:07:12]

I should also add that once religions become very established and congregants have intergenerational transmission of rules, yes, ashaming grandma or father, God becomes, well, less like a judge and jury and more like a loving parent. In a moment, you’ll hear a Catholic scholar give a decidedly modern take on the old “sex outside of marriage is a sin” rule. But back in the old days when the Bible, the Torah and the Koran were written, rules of conduct were designed to increase reproductive odds.

Here’s Dr. Denise Martin.

Dr. Denise Martin:         Yeah, when we talk about the commonalities in the different religions, the different Christian religions, we can pinpoint things like marriage is the ideal union and children are a gift from God. Children are the way to live out the plan that God has for humanity as part of our salvation, in fact. And in particular, the Mormons have a particular way of looking at procreation as this divine mandate. But overall, the different Christian groups really come at this as God has ordained a certain way for us to live. We should be married, one man, one woman, and make children.

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         Marriage of course, helped more children to live, to grow up. Having two people with a biological interest in offspring always increases survival odds. And if sex outside of marriage isn’t allowed, sex inside of marriage also has plenty of rules too, particularly for women, depending on the religion.

Dr. Denise Martin:         in Christian marriage, you’re giving yourself to one another. Your body is not just yours anymore. So, you give yourself to your husband, he gives himself to you. And so, if he asks you and you do have a headache and you don’t want to have sex right then, you do it anyway.

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         There’s a reproductive reason for this.

Dr. Denise Martin:         The social pressure is you don’t want him to go outside of the marriage. That would be your fault if you’re not enough for him. And then his seed could go somewhere else and not stay in appropriate places such as the religion, the household is now defiled.

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         In the Jewish faith, fear that the seed will be sent outside of the household is less an issue than the seed must be controlled within the household. While Christians are told they can have as much sex as they want at any time of the month in the marital bed, unless they’re practicing natural family planning and want to skip ovulation week, Orthodox Jewish couples have a fascinating practice designed to build up sexual desire and prime them for fertilization.

Mia Adler Ozair:            I am Mia Adler Ozair and I’m a clinically licensed psychotherapist, and I happen to have a specialty in working with Orthodox Jewish couples in marriage as well as dating and sexuality.

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         And Mia Adler Ozair practices what she preaches.

Mia Adler Ozair:            I am an Orthodox observant, practicing Jew, and between my husband and I, we have nine children. So, we are both … it’s the second marriage for both of us. So, it’s three of mine, four of his, and two of ours.

In the Jewish faith, there are significant rules around sexuality and sexual relationship within the context of marriage. Of course, it is absolutely assumed that there is not only no sexual relationship before marriage, there’s literally not even touch. People do not even hold hands. There’s no physical contact whatsoever before the wedding night.

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         And after the wedding, the rules around love and sex relate to a woman’s menstrual cycle. During menstruation and for about five days after, the husband and wife create physical space between each other.

Mia Adler Ozair:            And it is to the extent that they do not share a bed. They do not hand things to one another. It’s really looked at as a window of opportunity to focus on the friendship and the spiritual nature of the relationship, and to put the physical aspects of it aside. And then of course, what happens when you can’t have what you want? It becomes much more desirable.

So, what tends to happen in this cycle, within the relationship around the woman’s menstrual cycle, is that not only does it set them up physically for pregnancy because you know, typically you’re coming back together at a time of a woman’s ovulation period. But at the same time, you’re also creating this one thing. This is kind of longing because you’re, you know, “forbidden” to have any kind of contact with one another physically …

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         Ah, yes, the word “no”. The world’s most powerful aphrodisiac. Religions have used it well to grow membership. No sex except if it’s with another member of the church. No premarital sex, no divorce, no birth control and no abortion. No, no, no, no, no.

Sex researchers have long known that attraction plus obstacle (in this case, the word ‘no’) equals major sexual arousal. I mentioned that most religions founders were men. Yes, a kind of patriarchy. So, the rules were slanted to benefit men a little more than women. Think about it, a woman can only actually have a baby about once a year. But theoretically, a man can have a baby every single day if he has access to plenty of women.

According to Dr. Martin, in Christianity, men had leeway on the sex rules that has amounted to a sexual double standard.

Dr. Denise Martin:         There’s a thing called prostitution, right? So, of course, if you’re going to go be with a prostitute, no, you’re not marrying her. The men would have had more freedom to have sex with multiple partners. Of course, they’re supposed to marry and have a family with a woman who’s been identified as appropriate. But of course, we see in the Bible, there are stories about women who are prostitutes or alleged prostitutes. So, we know that was going on and they were not marrying them in any way, shape, or form.

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         And this sexual double standard puts a lot of pressure on women.

Dr. Denise Martin:         Your job is to receive your man, receive his seed and you know, conceive his children and give birth. I mean, of course, now in more progressive time, we don’t have people saying that quite that way. But there are fundamentalists and evangelical kinds of Christians who really do still understand like, you know, your marriage isn’t complete unless you have children. You as a woman are not complete unless you’re a mother.

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         And not only a mother. Women are also expected to be the holder of men’s sexual boundaries. Even today, here’s a clip from a YouTube video of a podcast called the Marriage Mentor by Jolene Engle and her husband Eric Engle.

Jolene Engle:    … is your God’s girl first and your husband’s second. So, you take your marching orders and your authority is from the word of God and you live that way. And as a result, in pleasing God, your husband should be pleased unless he goes off with his perversions and tries to get you to sin.

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         As if holding the boundaries in the marital bed isn’t enough, the burden of chastity remains on women when they are single. In historic times, a father guarded his daughter’s eggs, preventing access by a man outside of the religion or a man who couldn’t support his offspring. But in today’s age, with a highly sexualized media and pressure on young women to look like Instagram models and please their porn exposed boyfriends, life can be psychologically painful.

Dr. Denise Martin:         In order to navigate being a good girlfriend or a boy or a young man, she opens herself up to some sort of sexual activity because she wants the boyfriend. But she has to also navigate this other side maybe that she’s gotten from her family and her church, that says, “Good girls don’t, God will be unhappy with you if you have sex.” So, she’s got to figure out, “Okay, how can I do this?” And so, one of the things that we see young women and young girls doing is having oral sex, not thinking of it as real sex. Having anal sex because you can’t get pregnant these ways and there will be no one to tell the tale.

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         The pressure to be cute yet virtuous, sexy, yet chased is probably the greatest female double bind that can lead to a host of mental health problems that express themselves as eating disorders, cutting and even physical illness.

Dr. Denise Martin:         So, then you become sexy and hot. But then if you actually like any of it, if you actually become empowered by any of it as a teenage girl, even late teenage girl, now, you’ve slipped over into the hoe.

Girls were cast out, girls were relegated to sex work, prostitution because you are no longer an appropriate match for any man.

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         It is a fortunate woman who is able to navigate around all the landmines, protect her eggs until marriage, and with no sexual experience, become this sexually fruitful wife. But what if she were attracted to women? Or what if a religious man were more attracted to another man?

Dr. Denise Martin:         The rule in Christianity regarding homosexuality is that thou shall not be homosexual.

Mia Adler Ozair:            In terms of homosexuality, the Jewish religion in general, does not accept it. It is not permissible.

Ryan Bell:         Homosexuality is definitely not God’s plan. Going back even to the beginning of Genesis, where a man and a woman are created by God and designed to procreate.

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         Today, there are many forms of religions with openly gay pastors and welcoming and inclusive churches for members of the LGBTQ community. But when all the sex rules were originally set up, growing membership was the goal and being gay wasn’t seen as a way to do that.

I should tell you here that anthropologists speculate that same sex orientation stayed in our human gene pool because mothers who had a gay brother or sister had more offspring who survived. Childfree adults who could lend a helping hand (say gay uncles or aunties), also tended to their own genes that were carried by their nieces and nephews. Of course, gay people also had their own children (wink, wink).

Dr. Denise Martin:         Religion gives the blueprint for procreation. We all just grow up feeling like, “Oh, I’m going to have babies, I’m going to have babies, I’m going to have babies.” And then the religions reinforce that.

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         If homosexual behavior was off the menu in most religions, how about a natural human behavior called auto sexual arousal or more simply, masturbation?

Dr. Denise Martin:         The Bible says about wasting one seed. If you’re a man, that you are definitely not supposed to do that. Because the idea is that that’s the way you procreate. God has given humanity sex as a way to procreate. So, to masturbate for example, or to have sex with someone and pull out or to have sex with women you don’t intend to make children with, is a way that you’re wasting something precious that God gave you for the purpose of creating children.

Touching yourself is the gateway to the devil or the gateway to hell, and warns women in particular, about pleasuring herself. That she should not because that button, that button is Satan’s doorbell, and you don’t want to ring it.

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         Religions also involved tribal warfare. Groups of humans fought over food, water, and territory. And even while at war, reproduction was a goggle. The oldest weapon of war, one sadly still used too often today, is rape.

Ryan Bell:         Rape, it desecrates the woman and makes her impure essentially permanently. You see it in the Hebrew scripture, in the Old Testament, Christian Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible. You see rape used as a weapon to violate an entire community of people. You see it in the war in the Middle East with the Yazidi women being raped by Isis soldiers.

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         Besides taking marriageable young women off the market within their own tribe, thus, reducing reproductive opportunities on the enemy’s side, rape was also a chance to plant one’s own seed in a rival.

Ryan Bell:         Rape could result in children and children for the conquering side and of course, make the woman unavailable to her own community. Given that she’s now tarnished, she’s not really eligible to bear children for her own people.

Dr. Denise Martin:         When we think about the legacy of rape as a tool of religious warfare, of course, we have to think about domination and power. It’s not enough that I just take your stuff. It’s that I leave my mark upon you and your women, and I enter your gene pool. You won’t know whose babies those are. They might be mine. Now, I have really done something to you that’s going to last with you for generations.

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         Have you noticed that I haven’t been talking about Catholics much? I saved it to the very end for a couple of reasons. One, I’m a recovering Catholic myself. And I admit, I’ve got a little PTSD over the shame based messages about sexuality from my own childhood. Yeah, Billy Joel, you know me.

[Billy Joel’s Song Playing 00:20:51 to 00:20:59]

But the other reason that I waited to tell you this, is that I recently met a Catholic sex and marriage counselor who blew my mind just a little bit. First of all, let me say, that I personally think that Catholics win the gold medal for growing the flop through procreation. I mean, think about it, they sent missionaries around the world, told people not to have sex and if they did, to not use birth control. Ooh, that sexy aphrodisiac word “no”. I think they even invented the missionary position.

Boom! Millions and millions of Catholics were born all around the planet. But remember, I mentioned that once religions become more established, the psychological concept of God becomes a little more loving.

Dr. Greg Popcak:           My name’s Dr. Greg Popcak. I’m the Executive Director of the Pastoral Solutions Institute. I’m the associate professor of Pastoral Studies at Holy Apostles College. I host More to Life on SiriusXm 1:30. I’m author of over 20 books on relationships, psychology and spirituality.

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         Dr. Popcak says in today’s Catholic Church, there really aren’t a lot of rules.

Dr. Greg Popcak:           Oddly enough, the rule is to love another person. And of course, we define love as working for the good of another person.

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         Has the Catholic God become less punitive? Well, this seems to be the way Catholic scholar and counselor Dr. Greg Popcak explains the sex rules. Which he calls “ethics”, but he says in modern times, an ethos applies. God as a punisher is replaced by individual conscience and compassion.

Dr. Greg Popcak:           Behavior that comes from the heart, right? So, I could not cheat on my wife because I don’t need the hassle of having an affair and what a pain in the butt that would be to cheat on my wife, and then I be faithful, right? But that would be an ethic. An ethos is I don’t cheat on my wife because I love my wife.

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         He says that a misunderstanding exists about Catholicism because of one historic French Bishop who trained a lot of Irish priests. His name was Bishop Jansen, and he, apparently, polluted sexuality with rules. Therefore, Irish Catholicism that dominated the US Catholic culture, became a punitive ideology; Jansenism.

Dr. Greg Popcak:           So, they got infected with this Jansenism. Ireland got infected with Jansenism, brought it to the US. That’s not really Catholicism. In fact, like I said, Jansenism was denounced twice as a heresy by the church. Jansenism tends to be this very rule-bound, you know, “God’s going to get you! Sex is bad, pleasure is awful,” sort of perspective on sexuality that really is contrary to what the core of Catholic thinking about all this stuff really is.

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         In fact, Dr. Popcak explains the Catholic rules. You know, the big Catholic “nos”. No premarital sex, no birth control, no abortion as a positive thing.

Dr. Greg Popcak:           You know, so saving sex for marriage is good for human flourishing. You’re talking about no contraception. That doesn’t mean no family planning by the way. What it means is let’s not treat healthy functioning parts of the body as if they were a disease. And let’s stop treating children as if they were a disease. You know, let’s value life.

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         Maybe the Catholics have simply rebranded. Their rules are now called soft rules. Oh, and even these have been known to increase membership through reproduction. The Catholics do it as well as all religions do it.

Dr. Denise Martin:         Well, I would say the obstacles that religions put in place, the rules, definitely create a certain desire, right? And early marriage because life expectancies were short anyway. And so, it creates within people a desire to hurry up and mate.

Mia Adler Ozair:            The Torah specifically provides with a commandment – and I’ll use that term loosely. In Hebrew, the word is mitzvah. It’s actually a positive commandment meaning, it’s like you get bonus points, right? It’s one of those things that in the faith, is looked upon as God smiling on you, if you will. If you procreate, right? You bring additional Jewish kids into the world.

Ryan Bell:         Faithful Christian families should have more children, as many as they can.

Mia Adler Ozair:            Be fruitful and multiply.

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         Of course, religions do a whole lot more than just increase membership. For billions of people around the world, religious organizations provide coping strategies against fear and pain. They create comforting structure for many. They help the poor and religions tend to be a safe haven of likeminded people for health enhancing social support. But they wouldn’t be here today if they hadn’t created a near perfect formula for human reproduction. And may the babies have the last laugh.

Thanks for listening to Mating Matters. I’m Dr. Wendy Walsh.


Mating Matters Podcast “Troubling Testosterone”

In this episode of Mating Matters, Dr. Wendy Walsh discusses how the level of a man’s testosterone can impact a man’s ability to fall in love, can affect his health, and could even make him a better Dad. But what is the optimal level? Can a nose spray of oxytocin knock out testosterone and make men kinder?







Dr. Wendy Walsh:         Why is it that some men are so monogamous and others are complete players? I’m Dr. Wendy Walsh. I think it has to do with testosterone. This hormone can affect a man’s ability to fall in love. It might even increase his death rate.

This is Mating Matters!

[Ken Turner Singing 00:00:19 to 00:00:30]

A sound of a deep baritone. That was Ken Turner of the Crystal River Boys. I’m Dr. Wendy Walsh. Welcome to the Mating Matters Podcast.

On this episode, the trouble with testosterone. How does the amount of this male hormone make men more attractive, less likely to fall in love, and sometimes better fathers.

[Man Singing 00:00:52 00:00:58]

That’s the voice of a man who according to YouTube, has the deepest singing voice ever. His baritone makes women shiver. And here’s the speaking voice of Red Pepper, a voiceover artist with over 100 movie trailers under his belt.

[Redd Pepper Voiceover 00:01:13 to 00:01:25]

All of these men carry a male vocal trait that can be a big indicator of high testosterone. Testosterone, a hormone found in both men and women is responsible for creating long vocal chords that produce deep sounds.

Male:               Hello, I’m a human male.

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         One way to tell if a man has high or low or medium testosterone is to listen to the pitch of his voice.

Male:               Hello, I’m a human male.

Male:               Hello, I’m a human male.

Male:               Hello, I’m a human male.

Male:               Hello, I’m a human male.

Male:               Hello. I’m a human male.

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         Did you spot the dude with high testosterone? If you’re a woman, you probably had no problem. Women always find lower voices attractive because it indicates a higher sex drive and greater sperm production.

[Video Playing 00:02:09 to 00:02:25]

But testosterone does much more than that. Testosterone develops masculine traits such as sex drive, sperm production. It creates a higher energy level. It can affect behavior. It grows larger muscle mass and bone size, and it grows hair. For the most part, testosterone is well, great. Men evolve to carry lots of it for reproductive survival. High testosterone men are like chick magnets. They tend to be taller, more muscular, brave, and they grow really great beards. Oh, and they have lots of energy. Think professional athlete and hunky action hero.

Besides vocal tone, there’s another pretty accurate way to tell how much testosterone a man has, the size of his testes. Think about it, we even use the term in common language. “He’s got big balls,” right? Well, obviously, it doesn’t make sense that we could ask the guests in our studio to show us their scrotum. Instead, I asked them to do an interesting experiment with their hand.

Can you hold your hand like this fingers together and looking at the back of your hand? If you look at your first finger, your pointer finger and your ring finger, describe which one is longer, shorter or are they the same?

Male:               They look almost the same. What would you say?

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         Yeah, they look almost exactly the same.

Men who have been exposed to a lot of testosterone in utero tend to have a ring finger that’s just slightly longer than their pointer finger.

Male:               Just hand to hand, both my ring fingers are much longer than my pointer finger.

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         Like almost an inch?

Male:               Yes.

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         Is one longer than the other? Even slightly?

Male:               Yeah. My pointer finger or my ring finger? My ring finger is a little longer.

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         It’s a lot longer.

There’s also been some interesting research that associates that longer ring finger with better music ability. Apparently, music was designed to attract women. And one study that asked a man to stand on the street in Paris and simply ask women for their telephone number had a terrible time, really bad odds. Then the researchers asked him to hold a guitar. And holding a guitar, he was able to collect far more female phone numbers. Thus, musicality and the testosterone that creates it were designed to attract women.

Male:               They’re pretty close. I would say my ring finger is a little bit larger. Singer? Not really anymore. I play guitar.

Male:               Yeah, I played alto sax for six years and then I played bass guitar for about eight.

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         Are you musical at all?

Male:               Absolutely.

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         What’d you play?

Male:               Guess?

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         But testosterone also has a few downsides. It can affect personality, can actually make men selfish and even affect a man’s ability to fall in love. And in long-term monogamy, a natural lowering of testosterone can turn a perfectly good husband into a couch potato.

Stick with me until the end of this podcast because I’ll tell you how women can actually help men maintain just the right levels of testosterone to create happier relationships, all without pharmaceuticals.

But let’s start at the beginning. Around the world, slightly more male babies are born than female. That’s because boy babies don’t always get to grow up to be men. Young males are biologically weaker (sorry guys) and more susceptible to diseases and premature death. And then there’s that pesky testosterone that makes young men more likely to die from violent causes than women.

Male:               Won a lot of fights because I knew if I didn’t, then they would come back. Bullies tend to want to pick on only kids. But my dad had taught me a long time ago as an only child, that I would have to stand up for myself. And he never ever wanted to see me start a fight. But he never ever wanted to see me hightail and away from a fight, because if that happened, then I’d have to fight him. And I certainly did not want to fight him.

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         This is how men teach masculinity.

Male:               Yeah. But it wasn’t about exerting dominance, it was just a function of responding to bullying, self-protection. Sometimes, trouble finds you even though you’re not looking for it.

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         During puberty, when testosterone levels rise suddenly, well, boys become men. And for many, this is a shocking transformation.

Male:               It’s a little strange. It’s a little strange. I remember seeing my female classmates a little bit differently.

Male:               Well, I remember it as a time of a lot of confusion. I don’t think I was prepared for it. I don’t think I was warned about just how weird puberty would feel.

Male:               It hit when I was in middle school. Seventh to eighth grade, probably, if I can remember correctly. And the biggest thing I remember was the desire to be closer to girls more than ever.

Male:               Kind of noticed little girls a little bit more. Didn’t want to punch them as much. Probably wanted to spend more time hugging on them.

Male:               I noticed a girl in my sixth grade class, she had breasts and she was far more mature, if you will. I noticed that I was having erections every five minutes and I didn’t understand what was going on with my body.

Male:               A lot of it is mental. You started thinking about sex a lot, which feels weird or even feels like a little bit dirty.

Male:               I don’t remember exactly how old I was. I felt like I was older than a lot of those around me. I remember getting, like feeling like I got armpit hair later on than everyone else did and being like, kind of self-conscious about that.

Male:               Probably around 12 or so, my voice started to change. I started picking up a little bit more weight. I started seeing more definition in my arms and in my neck, my back, even my friends joked with me about it.

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         Research shows that it’s advantageous to be an early maturing boy. They have better social lives and even better grades. And that effect of high testosterone can be lifelong. Here’s the really good news about having high testosterone. Men with it have better health. But is there health related to the amounts of testosterone circulating in their system or the increased energy caused by testosterone that makes them workout so much?

Take, for example, clearly high testosterone, Dwayne the Rock Johnson named by Muscle and Fitness Magazine as man of the century.

[Dwayne Johnson Talking 00:09:26 to 00:09:42]

Men with higher levels of testosterone are 45% less likely to have high blood pressure. 72% less likely to have experienced a heart attack. 8% less likely to have three or more colds in a year, and 45% less likely to rate their health as fair or poor. Oh, and by the way, men with high testosterone may also be smarter, at least in terms of nonverbal intelligence, spatial reasoning, hand-eye coordination, art and music.

Male:               I don’t like to ask for directions. I like to reroute and I would call it improvising.

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         Do you know why men don’t ask for directions? Well, partly it’s male ego, but a big piece has to do with vicio spatial reasoning.

Male:               We carry a map around in our heads.

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         Men are natural mapmakers. In fact, words don’t help them as much as reading a map or spotting a landmark. In one study, lower testosterone men showed deficits in this mapping ability compared with a control group. This seems to point to the fact that testosterone helps men see and move more fluidly within the world. The researchers also found that testosterone affected intelligence. And when healthy men were given testosterone cream as a treatment, their verbal abilities increased. But get this, their spatial abilities declined.

What does this mean? Well, it means that the relationship between testosterone and intelligence isn’t straightforward. Whether it’s spatial reasoning or verbal ability, an optimal level of hormone is vital. But what’s an optimal level? We’ll talk about that later in the podcast.

[NFL Video Clip Playing 00:11:29 to 00:11:42]

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         Testosterone makes men both aggressive and protective. Ever heard of the home team advantage? It used to be only connected to referee bias, home crowd support, greater familiarity with the venue and maybe less travel fatigue. But new research links it to the fact that men are just more territorial.

In animals, territorial behaviors are common and the acquisition of and defense of territories is often accompanied by big surges in testosterone. Two separate studies on humans found that soccer players do indeed show a testosterone surge right before a home game, much more when compared with just a training session or a game away. But this home surge is particularly apparent when the opposing team is considered a bitter rival.

So, testosterone is all well and good. It may make men smarter, more masculine, more protective, healthier and more sexual. But there are some downsides to having high testosterone. In case you were wondering, it’s a myth that high testosterone men lose their hair. Men with male pattern balding may actually have lower circulating levels of testosterone, but higher levels of an enzyme that converts testosterone to DHT. That can cause baldness.

Men with higher levels of testosterone are more inclined to have bad health behaviors. That means they’re more likely to spoke, to drink alcohol excessively and to indulge in risky behavior that leads to injury or death. Because of behaviors that are driven by high testosterone, homicide, warfare, driving motorcycles too fast, the sex ratio tends to reduce as humans age. And by the time we land in a retirement community, there are far greater proportion of females. It’s the lucky older man with a bottle of Viagra in an old folks’ home.

So, those delicious high testosterone men, the ones with the big muscles, the deep voice, the beards, are they nice guys too? A group of researchers set out to answer this question. How do human beings decide when to be selfish and when to be selfless? In this study, they gave testosterone to 25 men looking to see if it had an impact on their pro social behaviors. They also had a control group as well, and they confirmed the participants’ testosterone levels before and after treatment. They used a behavioral economics gain commonly used by psychologists, and what they found was pretty startling.

Men with artificially raised testosterone compared with those on a placebo were 27% less generous towards strangers. But get this, men in the lowest group of testosterone were 560% more generous than men in the highest group.

Basically, what they found is that men with elevated testosterone tend to behave antisocially. And to underscore that, they also found that this group of men were more likely to use their money in the game to punish those who were ungenerous towards them.

But testosterone isn’t exactly the be all and end all in the hormonal universe. It lives in a world with lots of other hormones that compete for dominance. My favorite hormone even has its own nickname, the “cuddle hormone” – oxytocin. It facilitates bonding, feelings of closeness, empathy and compassion.

In one study, they gave a group of men a nasal spray containing oxytocin. Another control group just had salt water. Then they were asked to play a game that involved generosity. And you guessed it, the ones who had the oxytocin nasal spray, were 80% more generous compared to the placebo group.

Oxytocin plays a very high role in how people fall in love. Not surprisingly, when women have sex, their oxytocin levels rise. In fact, during female orgasm, they have huge surges of oxytocin. The only other time in a woman’s life where she has that much oxytocin, is when she’s breastfeeding to help her bond with her baby.

When men have sex, they have a surge of oxytocin too. Except, they have a much higher surge of testosterone. The testosterone blunts the effect of oxytocin. That’s why men don’t fall in love through sex. A man can have casual sex with a woman for weeks or months and not fall in love. Whereas if a woman does the same thing with the same partner, all that oxytocin means that she has a very high chance of falling in love.

But what’s an optimal level of testosterone for a man? You know, if he has too much, he’s more likely to be a cheater. And if he has too little, he might lose his libido and his energy. If you believe the marketing of some pharmaceutical companies, “Low T is a common condition that must be treated immediately.”

Male:               I have low testosterone. There I said it. How did I know? Well, I didn’t really. See, I figured low testosterone would decrease my sex drive, but when I started losing energy and became moody, that’s when I had an honest conversation with my doctor.

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         There’s a lot of controversy about a diagnosis of low T. I personally think it was invented by pharmaceutical companies. There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that testosterone cream can restore sexual functioning in young and middle-aged men who already have lower testosterone levels. But it has no influence on sexual behavior when hormone levels are about normal.

You know, Mother Nature is a perfect programmer. She knows when to dip down those levels of testosterone to protect women and children. One research study showed that husbands of pregnant women, had a big dip in testosterone during her third trimester. This phenomenon, according to evolutionary psychologists, likely was designed to divert sexual energy and convert it into protecting and providing for, and monogamy can make men’s testosterone levels drop.

One study found that men in long-term relationships for more than a year tested lower in testosterone than single men or men in new relationships. This could be evolutionary, because men with lower testosterone are more likely to be better caregivers and less likely to pursue additional sex partners.

Male:               Well, I think it depends on what stage in your life you are too. I think when my girlfriend and I broke up, I was definitely on the higher end of that scale. But you know, after a while, you kind of miss that camaraderie I think a little bit and start to understand the benefits of monogamy. Feeling of having a partner to take on this thing that we call life.

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         Finally, low testosterone guys are great fathers. A study in 2013 found that slightly smaller testicles were associated with a more nurturing quality among fathers. Reduced testosterone levels and testes volume were associated with higher levels of paternal caregiving.

Male:               I love kids.

Male:               I just wanted to be married with a family.

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         So, what’s a woman to do if she chooses a high testosterone mate? She may have a gorgeous, protective cheater on her hands. And if she chooses a low testosterone guy, she’ll have plenty of help in the daddy department. But what about the bedroom? Well, there are two factors that temper cheating behavior in high testosterone men; religion and intelligence. Men who faithfully follow religious doctrine tend to override their high testosterone urges with good impulse control.

Male:               In my family history, faith was really important. I just didn’t have an interest in spending a lot of time or sleeping with a bunch of women, because it wasn’t the way that I was brought up.

Male:               One’s slightly longer than the other.

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         Which one is that?

Male:               The ring finger.

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         That’s high testosterone. Were you raised with a religion?

Male:               I was raised as a Christian. My wife comes from a religious background as well. We met when we were in high school and dated and got married and had our first kids when we were in the early 20’s.

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         And some research shows that high intelligence men can be better at committing to family over fun.

Male:               The whole everyone dreams of like high school and college and like dating around and all these girls and stuff, and I was just ready to be like a married dad and like have my life in middle school.

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         And for those who choose the good guy, stable daddy, there are ways to increase a man’s testosterone. Again, enter my favorite hormone, oxytocin. It’s called the bonding hormone because it helps make people feel connected. Couples who have been given oxytocin nose spray reported more love making, trust and caregiving. But short of an oxytocin lace nose spray, the other way women raise their own oxytocin is through sex. The problem is when a woman’s oxytocin is low, her sex drive goes down. She just doesn’t want to have sex.

As for her husband, his naturally lowered testosterone to divert sexual energy toward providing and caregiving, may make him a low energy couch potato. Or if he’s looking for a way to spike his testosterone, he may be prone to cheating. So, how does a woman raise her husband’s testosterone just enough? And how does a man raise his wife’s oxytocin so she’ll have sex with him?

Couples can keep her oxytocin high by doing lots of bonding behaviors that don’t involve sex, communicating more, cuddling, kissing, having date nights, touch without the pressure of sex can raise her oxytocin enough to make her eventually want to have sex. And that (the sex) will really raise her oxytocin.

How about how to raise his testosterone? Well, to do that, he needs a win and he needs to feel territorial. Even watching his team win can give him a boost of testosterone. So can playing sports, hanging out with his guy friends or achieving at work. And there’s another way that your husband can psychologically have a win – when he feels good about himself. When you compliment him. Yes, when women say nice things to their husbands, their testosterone goes up. As for feeling territorial, when his partner practices good grooming and looks appealing to other men, he’ll naturally want to keep her closer to him.

Is there trouble with testosterone? Hardly. Like all other hormones, they work in concert with a party of hormones, many who temper their effect. And when we look at the nature versus nurture debate, it’s important to remember that thinking and beliefs have as much to do with human behavior as biology.

I’m Dr. Wendy Walsh. Thanks for listening to Mating Matters. On our next episode, the God that clubs how religions make rules around sexuality to increase reproductive advantage.


Mating Matters Podcast “Hidden Eggs”

Dr. Wendy Walsh uses science, personal interviews and examples from pop culture to reveal the secret evolutionary motivation for most every human behavior. It will help you understand yourself better. Read transcript of the episode “Hidden Eggs” below.



Concealed fertility in humans has contributed to the sexual double standard, good Dads, and strippers who make more money when they ovulate.







Dr. Wendy Walsh:         Why is it that you can’t tell when a woman is fertile? In fact, she may not even know herself. I’m Dr. Wendy Walsh. Concealed fertility in humans has contributed to the sexual double standard; good fathers and strippers who make more money when they ovulate.

This is Mating Matters!

I’m Dr. Wendy Walsh, and this is Mating Matters. A podcast that looks at human behavior through a very sexy lens. You should know that I’m obsessed with the science of relationships. Understanding the biological, psychological, and social pressures on people makes me enjoy life more. It makes me more understanding, more forgiving, more compassionate to others and myself. And I want you to see life in the same technicolor version that I do.

You know even when we’re not thinking about sex, our ancient programming makes us respond to reproductive cues that impact just about every decision we make. We are wired to reproduce. In today’s episode of Mating Matters – Hidden Eggs, we ask the question, why did humans evolve to have concealed fertility? All that means is, no one knows for sure which magical three days each month a woman can become pregnant, and most of the time not even the woman. So, how does this impact the way we relate to each other?

Well, why don’t we start at the beginning, in the delivery room. It is usually the happiest moment in a couple’s life. For men, it’s the culmination of the arduous task of finding a date, girlfriend or wife, getting her to mate with you and hanging around for nine whole months while female hormones rule the roost.

For women, it’s the sometimes dangerous journey of finding a healthy mate who might even hang around for a few years. If you’ve ever been a single woman on dating sites, you know how hard this is. But then, it gets physically challenging. Nine months of pregnancy that might include morning sickness, bed rest and crying jags that make PMS look mild.

And then, there’s labor and delivery.

Female:            If I had to go through this a hundred years ago, I don’t know how I would have done it without the help of my doctors and my nurses and my partner to get through it.

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         Ouch! But after all that women go through; the pregnancy, the labor, the delivery, at least they’re left with one reassuring fact. There’s no doubt who the mother is. But the father? Men can never be too sure. That’s because human females have concealed fertility, approximately three days in a month when women in their childbearing years can become pregnant. And even women aren’t aware of when these three days come. Could it be that his sperm reached the egg during that mysterious window of ovulation? Could he be sure that no other man gained access during that month?

You know, sperm are survivors. They can live in a woman’s vagina for five days waiting for the egg to arrive or standing ready to encounter another man’s fighter sperm. Those are the fastest swimmers. They’re ejaculated first with the sole mission to kill any lingering men sperm.

So who won? Which guy is actually the father?

Female:            He makes these really cute faces sometimes that remind me of my husband.

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         It’s the chant of new mothers everywhere. If you ask any postpartum mother who she thinks the baby looks most like, she’s far more likely to say daddy instead of mummy, no matter what the baby looks like. It’s always been speculated that this worldwide female behavior evolved to elicit care and protection from a man who might not be certain about his paternity.

Now, there’s new research to show this actually works. Professor of Economics at Binghamton University, Solomon Polachek and his partner Marlon Tracey from Southern Illinois University, studied 456 couples. Now, these couples were not married, nor were they living in the same home. These are called “fragile families”. What they found was interesting. When the baby looked like the father, the child was healthier one year later. And that’s not always because of hardier male genes. The researchers say that if a father believed the child looked like him, he actually spent two and a half more days a month caring for his child and checking in, assessing the economic needs. You see men invest more if they believe a child is actually theirs. And really, does a newborn look like anyone?

Male:               When they were born, they both look like me. Weirdly enough, my older son, when he was about five, looked identical to my wife, like there was some kind of weird shift. And my younger son looks identical to my father. Like people always say, “He looks like your father,” which he should look more like me. Right?

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         Having concealed fertility isn’t common in all primates. Take rhesus monkeys for example, how do they spot a fertile female? It’s all in the face reading.

Researcher James Higham of the German Primate Center in Gottingen, Germany found that when a female rhesus monkey is ovulating, her facial features change, ever so slightly. And 85% of the males can see the difference. But there’s a catch, only if he knows her well. In order to pick up the subtle cues about fertility, male rhesus monkeys need to become friends first. Males who spend time getting to know females tend to pick up on sexual signals much better. Hmm, gives new meaning to friends with benefits.

For baboons, no mind reading or facial decoding needed at all. One of the most conspicuous of all signals of primate fertility is the large swellings displayed by female baboons. The Amboseli Baboon Project in East Africa is one of the longest running studies of wild primates in the world. Researchers there, have been studying baboons for more than four decades. Specifically, they have studied the range and size of female well, butt, vulva, labia? Let’s just call them swellings.

Look, if you were glued to National Geographic Magazine as a kid, you’ve probably seen these oversized, bright red bulging, butt lips that female baboons showcase. And biologists hypothesize that the size of a female swelling contains important information for males to know when to procreate. In fact, the scientists at the Amboseli Baboon Project found that indeed changes in swelling size within each sexual cycle, correspond with ovulation. Unless you think we humans are so different, scientists even speculate that our human preference for full lips – lip injections anyone? Or bright red lipstick are just one primate copying another.

But human beings are different. Our faces don’t change much when we’re ovulating. And as far as I know, our vulva does not balloon up like a baboon’s red butt. For the most part, men can’t consciously tell that a woman is fertile. In fact, most women can’t even tell they are ovulating, unless they have help from technology.

Female:            I have no clue when I’m ovulating. I use an app for that.

Female:            I don’t think I’ve ever really tried to track it.

Female:            The only way I know I’m ovulating is because I’m on birth control.

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         Human ovulation, a state once thought to be undetectable without medical equipment or an app, actually creates a range of subtle but definitely observable behaviors. And these female behaviors are aimed at attracting the best possible mate.

For instance, researchers Barnhard Fink at the University of Gottingen, Germany along with colleagues, Benjamin Leiding and Nadine Hugill, found that women’s bodies move slightly differently when they’re fertile, and men can pick it up. In this fun study, the researchers videotaped 48 women dancing to music. Then, they had 200 men watch the videos and rate them on a scale of attractiveness. So feminist. I’m not so sure I like this hot or not game. But it does provide some interesting information.

Turns out, men rated the ovulating women more attractive. But do women notice anything different about themselves when they’re ovulating?

Female:            I don’t think I could tell if I’m fertile or not, no. I mean, maybe I’ll crave an extra cheesy pizza or something. But besides that –

Female:            I actually can’t tell when I’m ovulating.

Female:            I definitely do feel a little bit more attraction to men, a bit more feminine. Like I want to speak a little softer with them. I want to come off a little bit more sexier when I’m walking past them.

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         Wait, did she say she tries to make her voice softer and more breathy or could her voice be changing naturally when she ovulates?

Researchers, Greg Bryant and Marty Hazelton at the University of California, Los Angeles, set out to test this idea. Like all good scientists, they began with an assumption. Their assumption, that higher, more breathy voices are more attractive to men because they signal youth and fertility. After all, didn’t Marilyn Monroe’s breathy voice wow an audience and the president in 1962 with a simple rendition of happy birthday?

[Marilyn Monroe Singing 00:10:07 to 00:10:23]

Our UCLA researchers didn’t have Marilyn Monroe as a test subject, so they used female college students instead. They recorded the voices of 69 women (interesting number scientists) and gave the women hormone tests to determine where they were in their menstrual cycle. The women were all asked to say the same thing. “Hi, I’m a UCLA student.”

Then the researchers calculated how their voice was different. Turns out, women unconsciously raise their voices when they’re ovulating. Interesting. But do men pick this up?

A study that asked this question, looked at strippers. Jeff Miller, Joshua Tiber, and Brent Jordan at the University of New Mexico had to spend many arduous weeks interviewing strippers about their ovulation schedule and helping them count their money at the end of the night. Sure enough, exotic dancers who do not take the birth control pill earn more money when they’re ovulating. On average, they earn nearly $400 more per night when they’re ovulating.

What are the men picking up on? Some say it’s scent. Pheromones may signal fertility, but it could also be the conditions of an average strip club. Strip clubs tend to be loud. They tend to be dark, and strippers make the most money, not on stage, but by doing private lap dances. And how do these ladies sell their lap dances? Well, in a noisy, dark club, there’s only one way. They get real close and whisper in a customer’s ear. The dude gets a double whammy of signals, both scent and vocal tones. And if she’s ovulating, he apparently is willing to dig deeper into his pocket and pull out more money.

The list of human female behaviors that signal fertility goes on. Research has shown that during ovulation, women fantasize about sex more often. They’re more likely to wear red or pink clothing (back to copying those red monkey butts), and they’re more flirty with bad boys. Also, college girls call their fathers less.

But what about the men who can’t pick up on these signals? It’s not a perfect science. And even in the studies, some men fail. Or what about the men who women don’t often choose for reproduction?

The movie, The 40-Year-Old Virgin is every man’s worst nightmare.

[Movie Clip Playing 00:12:59 to 00:13:23]

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         To prevent such a calamity, over the centuries, men have created social systems that increase their odds that they’ll get to mate with a woman, and help to keep competitors away. You might’ve heard of one, it’s called “monogamy”. Evolutionary psychologists suggest that the only way a man could be sure that his girlfriend or wife gave birth to a baby that was his, was to block her from other men. It’s called mate guarding.

If you’ve ever dropped by your mate’s office to strike your stuff in front of a new threatening, cute coworker, you’ve practiced mate guarding. Both genders do it. By sticking to one sexual partner, monogamy, may have evolved as a form of mate guarding. Those gallivanting groups of gatherers, females with children in tow, along with sisters, aunties, and friends were constantly moving. If a dude wanted to be sure his lady was carrying an egg that he fertilized, he better stay close to her butt.

Thus, you could say that men invented monogamy. But they also invented a kind of psychological warfare to combat concealed fertility.

[Movie Clip Playing 00:14:34 to 00:14:46]

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         The movie is called “What’s Your Number?” Because even Hollywood knows that women worry about this. In fact, the fear is pervasive that a woman will be shunned by all men if she’s revealed to be promiscuous. Now, what that means in scientific terms, is that men won’t be sure if her baby is there’s. It’s called the sexual double standard. That’s a social construct that gives men points for sexual experience and gives women demerit points.

Trust me, men invented this one. It’s so psychologically crippling that women are embarrassed to reveal their number.

Female:            I don’t ask them, they don’t ask me. I don’t want to talk about it. I don’t want to know who you’ve been with. And I’m sure you don’t want to know who I’ve been with. So, let’s just avoid it.

Female:            Oh, okay. So, the sexual double standard, I think that definitely revealing your number, you think that somebody is going to judge you by it as a woman. So, I think that I probably avoid that conversation.

Female:            Yeah, I don’t think I’ve ever had a man ask me what my sexual partner number was. I think, at least, in my experience, that isn’t a question that comes up. It’s almost like don’t ask, don’t tell.

Female:            I think that they would get this alpha male mentality and say that they can’t be with a woman who’s been with other men. They can’t visualize it because it just kind of ruins the idea of her as a pristine, proper, clean woman. It just kind of ruins that idea in their head that they’ve come up with.

Female:            I think if I told a man I had a high number, that he would think that I was a slut. That would make him feel that he doesn’t owe me any kind of respect or he doesn’t owe me a quality relationship.

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         So, what’s a girl to do? On face value, the reproductive system of having concealed fertility seems pretty cray, cray. I mean, what’s the point? Men are worried about getting access to women, and then wondering if her baby’s actually theirs. And women are worried that men will totally reject them if they give access to too many men. So, why would this system have evolved? What real reproductive value does concealed fertility give?

To speculate about the answer, we look no further than our closest primate relative – chimpanzee. Chimpanzee males are dangerously brutal animals. When they come across a chimp version of a MILF, a mother I’d like to frolic with, the first thing they do is murder the baby. It’s true. Baboons and gorillas do it too. It’s very efficient, evolutionarily speaking. I mean, baby killing rubs out a competitor’s genes while bringing on ovulation in a nursing mother.

But how about human males? They don’t murder babies so often. In fact, for the most part, men are great dads to their own kids and to others.

Male:               I coach football. I volunteer a lot at the school. I mean, it’s not like direct parenting. Coaching is probably an example of close to direct parenting for at least a couple of hours. And so, you treat these kids as if they are your own. You want to make them as good as you can as football players. I like one of the other coaches says it, and I adopted it myself. He says, “My first job is to make you a better man. My second job is to make you a better football player.” And I really like that. I’m getting goosebumps right now. Man, I’m a sap. I am such a sap.

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         The end of this evolutionary story is a big score for the girls’ club. Human males maybe physically evolving to pick up sights, sounds and scent of an ovulating woman. And they may have invented the double standard to keep women from sharing her eggs with the team. Short of any paternity test, which is just a recent tool in men’s arsenal against hidden eggs. Can a man really be sure? Is the baby growing in her womb really his? What if his fighter sperm didn’t do their job? What if he got the dates wrong? What about the dude in accounting she always mentions? Her trainer? Her handyman? The milkman?

Male:               You know you have that seed of doubt. You’re waiting anxiously in the waiting room. You’re making sure you trust the doctor, all the preparation that takes place. You’re doing the breathing exercises. But that one seed of doubt that you have is not what will the baby looked like? But actually is the baby, is it really yours? Could it be somebody else’s out there?

Male:               I’d be lying if there wasn’t a part of me that was like, I would like to know. I don’t know if that’s like an animal part of me that lives inside, but it’s the God’s honest truth. I’m like, I just want to be sure, like even though it would probably destroy my entire life if there was a mistake on the test, or if I found out the truth. My life is much better to live in ignorance. But yeah, I was curious. I was definitely curious.

Dr. Wendy Walsh:         So, if a man can’t be 100% sure that the baby his wife or girlfriend is giving birth to is his, he also can’t be sure that it isn’t his. Men are wired to spread their seed around the tribe. And if human males spent time killing babies, they might’ve been killing their own genes or their family genes. The genes of their brothers or cousins.

That’s the beauty of hidden eggs. It makes human males good dads. They take care of all babies because any one of them could be theirs. So, you see, women’s intelligent bodies developed concealed fertility to increase the chances that their babies would live.

I’m Dr. Wendy Walsh. Thanks for listening to Mating Matters. Next time, we’ll be looking at the trouble with testosterone.