On the subject of sex: “What I’m arguing against is the shame that is associated with desire. It’s the idea that if you love your husband or wife but you are still attracted to other people that there’s something wrong with you, there’s something wrong with your marriage, something wrong with your partner. I think a lot of families are fractured by unrealistic expectations that are based upon this false vision of human sexuality.”
Meet Christopher Ryan, Phd., co-author of the famed New York Times bestseller Sex at Dawn: How We Mate, Why We Stray, and What It Means for Modern Relationships. It’s the winner of renowned scientific awards and referred to as “the single most important book on human sexuality since Aldred Kinsey unleashed Sexual Behavior in the Human Male on the American public in 1948.”
Chris posits, “on an almost daily basis we are inundated with stories about the collapse of the latest celebrity marriage—and infidelity is almost always the cause of the break up. Is it even possible for two people to stay together happily over an extended period of time? Since Darwin’s day, we’ve been told that sexual monogamy comes naturally to our species. But it doesn’t, and never has. Mainstream science—as well as religious and cultural institutions—has long maintained that men and women evolved in nuclear families where a man’s possessions and protection were exchanged for a woman’s fertility and fidelity. But this narrative is collapsing. Fewer and fewer couples are getting married and divorce rates keep climbing, while adultery and flagging libido drag down even seemingly solid marriages.”
The book Sex at Dawn debunks false common knowledge about human sexuality, explains why sexuality exists and its relation to love. For anyone who wants a stable life full of love, this book has essential information inside. After reading this, it’s no wonder why anyone struggles with relationships.
In a presentation he gave at Ted Talks in 2012, “Why Is Sex Such A Big Deal?” Chris compares monogamy to vegetarianism. “It can be ethical, it can be healthy, it can be wonderful for the environment, it can be great in so many different ways, but the fact that you’ve chosen to be a vegetarian does not mean bacon suddenly stopped smelling good.” The discussion is continued in the Ted Talks “Are We Designed To Be Sexual Omnivores?” where Chris walks us through the controversial evidence that human beings are sexual omnivores by nature, in hopes that a more nuanced understanding may put an end to discrimination, shame and the kind of unrealistic expectations that kill relationships.
These days Chris travels a lot while speaking at venues like Ted Talks, writing for Psychology Today and the Huffington Post, and doing research. Chris took the time to answer a few of our questions.
Polyglamorous: There are not a lot of nonmonogamous role models for young people. What advice would you give to young people regarding how one should attempt to build their romantic life?
Chris Ryan: Be honest with yourself and then with your partners.
PG: Do you think people can control their own emotions?
CR: Of course. We do it every day. But controlling them doesn’t mean denying that they exist.
PG: Do you think it is healthy for people to exercise control over their emotions? Are there benefits to emotional intelligence? What should we learn (or interpret) from our emotions?
CR: Yes, but without slipping into the trap of thinking that controlling something means denying its existence or feeling shame about it. Shame feeds the thing we’re trying to control.
PG: As a shame exorcist would you have any advice how people should prepare for ridicule, besides being informed?
CR: Learning how to not give a shit is the most important lesson in life. It helps to experience humiliation, rejection, failure, poverty, and so on—and notice that all these things can end up being nothing more than interesting learning experiences. Take risks when you’re young, and you’ll fail a bunch of times. Failure creates character by showing you that you don’t have to worry about it.
PG: I think people value stability in relationships. What is the best way to establish and maintain trust?
CR: By being honest all the time—not just when it’s easy, or feels good.
PG: Is it possible to love more than one person at the same time?
CR: Of course. What mother doesn’t love all her children? As to romantic, sexual love … for some, it’s possible (even necessary). For others, impossible.
PG: How does one maintain love?
CR: One doesn’t. Love maintains us.
PG: Some young people are afraid of losing their partner in an open relationship– or losing their position in their lover’s eyes– what would you say to them? What is the best way to deal with this fear?
CR: We’re foolish to think we can control our relationships. They are organic things that live and die their own lives. If a relationship is meant to flourish over a long time, open honesty will only make it stronger (whether that means an open relationship or not). If it’s going to die, it will die whether it’s open or not.
PG: The lexicon for group relationships might be underdeveloped. Sometimes people ask about hierarchies– and how to deal with or avoid them– would you say there can be any similarity between the love of a large group of friends, or a group of siblings– are there different types of love– or is it all the same in varying degrees?
CR: I think there’s a lot of confusion created by linguistic poverty. I “love” my wife, my mother, my friends, Beethoven, Parliament Funkadelic, and manchego cheese. Clearly, these are not all the same feelings.