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Parenting and family life. Topics include intergenerational dynamics, sibling behavior, infant care, and parenting strategies.

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.

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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 “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.

 

EPISODE: HIDDEN EGGS 

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

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 “HIDDEN EGGS” FULL TRANSCRIPT:

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.

 

Family Secrets & Sirens – Is Your Family Too Closed or Too Open?

kelly-family-slw-7-14-09

When I was a kid, there were two kinds of families in my neighborhood, the fun, welcoming, kind who never knew how many people were going to be at the dinner table, and the private kind who rarely invited friends over and bit their tongues when asked personal questions. I considered my own family to be on the former ilk. Back then, I thought this could only be good. At various times in my development, the motley crew at our 5:30 dinner table might include a pregnant teenager on billet from our church, some cousin’s college aged kid who was doing a semester at our house, and an assortment of peer friends. And there were few secrets in that dinner table conversation. All states of the human condition were ripe material for conversational comedy.

Today, family therapists look at a family’s tendency to be more closed or more open as a way to determine how healthy it is for the children in the nest. While there is a huge range of communication styles within a family and styles of inter-relating with the community, a couple of extremes can indicate a family dysfunction. One is too private and the other is too open to outside influences.

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When you think about too private, think of the heart wrenching family structure of Philip Gerrido as the extreme example. His crazy ideas and violent behavior ruled the nest that included a kid-napped and raped “wife.” The family had little input from outside relationships, not even at school because the children were home schooled. This is a rare, extreme example of a closed family system. Another, less obvious, closed family system might be a family who follows a religion that is not represented in the community. Because some of the community’s lifestyle choices might be at odds with their religious beliefs, this family tends to limit social contact and exposure to media. Finally, an even more subtle example might be a family who is just very private. They send overt or silent messages to the children that family matters are not to be discussed outside of the home. They also are reluctant to have too many guests in their home.

There’s another extreme. That’s the family with so many people and ideas filtering through the front door that the family has no compass at all. These families often lack a family code, a set of values to return to when the winds of peer pressure blow too strong. Too many ideas and too much information, when not tempered with sound social structure and family emotional guidance, can make children feel frightened, and also leave them confused when they begin to build their own identity as a young adult.

The key is to find the right balance of open and closed. Having a tight-knit family structure that provides privacy and protection from influences that do not underscore family values is not necessarily dangerous for kids. But having a family system that prohibits exploration of alternative thought and choices, leaves a child unprepared when she/he eventually leaves the nest. Teaching children family values is crucial to their development. I call it, “Instilling The Hopi Way.” But preventing a child from interacting, exploring, and questioning the big, wide, world of ideas outside the front door, handicaps them when they begin the process of becoming individuals.

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How to Criticize and be Heard

criticize_and_be_heard_pm-thumb-270x270There it is. That giant silence between you and your partner. You know you want to tell him what’s bugging you. But will he tune you out, respond with a wall of defenses, or might you actually be heard?

Criticizing in a healthy way is a delicate business. It’s so easy for the recipient of your “gentle shaping” to perceive it as an attack, and shoot back with a strong defense before the full value of the words sink in. It’s also really hard for the communicator of a criticism to use kind enough language. Too often, our criticisms come in the form of an angry explosion after a buildup of irritation. Or, perhaps you have been taught not to express your needs, so that when you finally do, guilty feelings cause a kind of confrontational tone — as if you are trying to convince yourself that it’s okay to criticize.

Continue reading How to Criticize and be Heard

Healing with Love

heart with plaster on greenI had a lovely phone conversation with Eva M. Selhub, MD, a former staff member of Harvard Medical School and author of The Love Response. We began talking about the healing effects on the body that feelings of love can have. Healing with love is a thing. It can actually change one’s biochemistry. Some say that love is the best natural drug we have.  But, eventually fell on the topic of narcissism, those who have trouble finding love.

“It is impossible for narcissists to love because as children they were not loved,” she said.

I agree with the good doctor. A true narcissistic personality disorder, characterized by a grandiose exterior personality that belies an underside of shame, is a tragic, often perpetual  diagnosis. But short of NPD, there are plenty of people who simply feel unlovable.  Even occasional childhood neglect and abuse can create a current of mistrust in an adult mind. Mistrust of love itself when it finally shines on us in an authentic form.

Three Healing Relationships

Psychologists have identified three relationships that have the power to heal the damaged child within us. The most obvious, of course, is a therapeutic relationship. In the safety of a private and confidential dyad, a therapist can become a container for our most shameful memories and thoughts, and a presence whose consistency can help rewire our brain. The infant inside can imagine that “mommy” will always be wise, stalwart and compassionate — every Tuesday at 3 pm. Consistency is one mechanism for healing.

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Another valuable relationship is the one we can have with our own children. If we are able to break the family cycle of family dysfunction and parent our children the way we wished we had been, both parent and child can benefit. Freud called this psychic defense from pain, sublimation. He felt sublimation was one of the most functional ways to deal with emotional injury —  redirecting pain and helping others avoid a similar fate. But the secret mechanism here the very words parents use. Every time a parent encourages, soothes, and assures a young child, words echo in the adult’s head like a long lost parent. Through our ability to give love, we are soothing and consoling ourselves at the same time. It’s really amazing.

Finally, Psychologists give credit to the marital relationship as a powerful healer. If we are fortunate enough to choose a partner who has an ability to fill in some of the gaps of our childhood, we can be fortified. Too often, though, people have a “compulsion to repeat” and we choose the very pattern that injured us in the first place. At other times, even a relatively happy adult relationship can feel absolutely terrifying, especially if happiness and caring is something foreign to the child within us. I encourage you to take some emotional risks in your relationships. To look closely at your tendency to recoil from care or withhold affection — because authentic love can feel scary. Authentic love is not a perpetual happy place, but it is a home for the heart, one that creaks with age, and burns with an internal fire. Love is the thing that makes us whole.

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