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Dear Dr. P

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“Dear Dr. P, my significant other and I sometimes like to play games or fantasize being somebody other than ourselves when we make love.  Why do some people fantasize or role play in their sexual relationships?”

 

President Calvin Coolidge was touring a poultry farm when Mrs. Coolidge asked the farmer whether the rooster she saw among the hens could perform its “duties” several times a day.  The farmer said that the rooster could indeed “perform” many times a day.  “Perhaps you could point that out to Mr. Coolidge,” replied the First Lady in a pointedly loud voice.  The President, hearing this, then asked the farmer, “Does each rooster service the same hen each time?” “No,” replied the farmer, “There are many hens for each rooster.” “Perhaps you could point that out to Mrs. Coolidge,” replied the President (Pinel, 2003, p. 6).

This Coolidge effect refers to the reinvigorating effect of novel partners on the sexual performance of both males and females in many mammalian species, including humans. A copulating male who becomes incapable of continuing with one partner can recommence copulating with a new or novel sex partner. Even females respond better to novel males than they do to familiar males—at least in the hamsters tested by Lester and Gorzalka (1988). The Coolidge effect occurs in humans, but cultural mores impede its ready observation.

People attend to and are aroused by novelty and conversely tend to adapt to and not respond to the familiar. We ignore the usual sounds in our cars, but immediately notice the “different” noise and stop to check it. The way our nervous system works is that the novel stimulus gets our immediate attention. Why would Hugh Grant be unfaithful to lovely model Elizabeth Hurley with a plain-looking hooker? Simply because she was “different.” No matter how attractive our significant other (SO) is, after the novelty of our relationship fades, many of us develop a wandering eye, attend less to our mates and attend more to the novelty of another.

Novelty, the slight danger or threat of the unfamiliar, and a lack of predictability is why a new relationship is so exciting—at first. Partners initially cannot get enough of each other. Then the bloom of the new love fades. A couple falls into a routine of predictable familiarity and often eroto-sexual boredom. Our old partners haven’t changed; we have adapted and we don’t find them as interesting. To us, our SO has become comfortable, familiar, predictable, safe, and relatively unexciting. Sexual relations become less frequent, we become less aroused, and often fantasy about “forbidden” behaviors and other partners begins, sometimes even while making love with the person to whom we are bonded, to get us through the episode.

Women stereotypically seem to recognize the arousal or attractive value of a new outfit, hairdo, or look.  At the crowded closet the remark is a frustrated, “I don’t have anything (new and novel) to wear.”  A second “honeymoon” is rarely undertaken in the same location. The change of scene, scenario, time, or partner sometimes sought in an affair brings pain to the primary relationship.  As with Hugh Grant, we stray for novelty, but it is not worth the cost.

Mutual fantasy and role playing can be the salvation of a relationship.  Fantasy and role-playing injects the novelty that can generate the excitement for an arousing sexuality. In fantasy and role-playing games, both  you and your SO become other people. Your creativity can generate, in a mutually acted-out fantasy, the necessary novelty, unpredictability, and pretended threat and danger that can serve to excite you as though actually in a new relationship.  The entirety of the S&M subculture is more about role- playing and pretending than it is about real pain and humiliation.  The threat that excites is in fantasy and rarely actual.  By mutual consent, rules and limits are set to which participants must strictly adhere. As someone else we can engage in “forbidden” activities and role or power reversals that “we” ordinarily would not do.

A woman was willing to give up her acting career for the sake of marriage and family.  However, she put her talents to good use.  Her husband occasionally would come home to find not his loving and familiar wife but someone she had created with costume, makeup, change of accent and behaviors—a novel, unpredictable, and exciting partner for the evening. He in turn would unpredictably call to spontaneously meet at different locations as if pursuing an affair “Don’t tell your spouse!”  They both made an effort to remain creative in their sex lives—and they stayed together.

Playfully yours,

Dr. P