Newness and The “Coolidge Effect”

It’s a tale as old as time. A couple is together for many years. They grow comfortable with each other. They feel safe. Secure. Kids are probably in the picture. Probably two jobs. Probably a stack of bills to worry about. The marriage becomes a machine that requires consistent maintenance and upkeep. Real work… but not work that would qualify as “sexy” or includes specific tasks needed to “keep the spark alive”. Often the work involves just keeping a roof over their head, everyone fed, and the kids as physically and mentally healthy as possible.

Very often, one of both of the people in the marriage will wake up and notice that something crucial is missing. From my little DSO world, this scenario comes in the form of a husband who has heard “not tonight… maybe tomorrow” more than a few times in the past month. The one month becomes multiple months… and sometimes becomes a year or more. The man realizes he is in a sexless “dead bedroom” marriage. His physical and emotional needs aren’t being met. This is a very real and very serious problem.

The “dead bedroom” scenario can play out in several different ways. A man can take the lead and implement things I outline in The Dead Bedroom Fix, and the passion may be reignited. Or, one or both of the partners could decide to give up and start over with somebody else… and they will both probably experience a level of passion and eroticism that they haven’t seen or experienced in the years they had with their old partner.

What is going on here? Was the marriage really SO bad that it was holding both partners back sexually… and they just happened to find the perfect sexual match in the form of their new mate? Possibly. What is more probable is that the two people in this common scenario are experiencing what is known as the “Coolidge Effect”.

The term “Coolidge Effect” comes from a hilarious story that perfectly illustrates the power of a new mate:

The President and Mrs. Coolidge were being shown, separately, around an experimental government farm. When Mrs. Coolidge came to the chicken yard, she noticed that a rooster was mating very frequently. She asked the attendant how often that happened and was told, “Dozens of times each day.” Mrs. Coolidge said, “Tell that to the President when he comes by.” Later, upon being told, the President asked, “Same hen every time?” The reply was, “Oh, no, Mr. President, a different hen every time.” President: “Tell that to Mrs. Coolidge.”

The point of the story: Want to experience unbridled sexual energy? Find a new mate. It works. Every time. This phenomenon has historically been observed in males of most species (humans included), but we also see it to a lesser degree in females. I can personally testify to the validity of the Coolidge Effect. I think back to my early time with my now wife, and I was most definitely more energized and sexual in the first couple of years of our relationship. Not to brag… but my wife will often bring up that during a trip to NYC after knowing each other for several months, I was able to have sex with her 13 times within a period of 5 days.  Yes, it was a sexy trip that involved hitting the Manhattan hotspots, going to clubs and bars, and even going to a strip club together… but we’ve done all of those things together throughout our relationship… but I personally haven’t hit that level of “holy shit I am beyond horny” since the early days of our courtship. Don’t get me wrong, I still get extremely aroused… but not 13 times in 5 days kind of horny. That’s just a whole other level of sexuality that only “newness” can bring about.

During that NYC trip, nature told me,“You better mate with this woman a whole lot before she slips away!”… and I happily obliged. This was the same energy that allowed me to have sex with my wife after enduring 8 hours of grueling bowel evacuation thanks to food poisoning. That’s some pretty powerful nature at work.

As I said, we’re not the only species that exhibit this level of heightened arousal when with a new partner. There is study after study that proves the phenomenon. To quote Wikipedia:

“The original experiments with rats applied the following protocol: A male rat was placed into an enclosed large box with four or five female rats in heat. He immediately began to mate with all the female rats repeatedly until he eventually became exhausted. The females continued nudging and licking him, yet he did not respond. When a novel female was introduced into the box, he became alert and began to mate once again with the new female. This phenomenon is not limited to common rats.”

The dopamine hit associated with a new sexual mate is extremely potent. The power of this chemical jolt to the brain cannot be overstated. It’s as addictive as any street drug. We all innately know about the lure and addictive nature of a new sexual partner, hence our very natural tendency to be jealous and mate guard. “My wife just looked at that hunkier man over there. She could mate and pair bond with him and there’s no way I can compete with that. Must keep other competing males away!” Ask any guy who has caught his wife in an affair and learned of the dirty details of their extramarital activity. Oh boy do the cheating couple get a lot of crazy sex done in a short amount of time. As most men fear, no… you can’t compete with that level of excitement and eroticism. Once the wife has stepped out and tasted the forbidden fruit… it’s over.

So, is that it then? Are we doomed as a species and not really meant to pair bond long term AND keep sexual desire at a healthy but high level? Well… in a way, keeping a marriage intact AND sexual takes some skill and know-how to pull off. It takes some tricks of the trade beyond just “Have a good job and don’t get too fat” as many of us seem to believe.

The natural high you get from a new partner CAN be somewhat mimicked within the confines of marriage. If you have been successful in reconnecting with your spouse, but you find you’ve hit a brick wall when it comes to achieving the “holy shit” levels of eroticism you want so badly, here are some things to try:

  1. Change your physical appearance. Change your wardrobe. Get in the best damn shape of your life. Think of the guy who takes his shirt off at the community pool and every eye looks at him. Some lady audibly says, “Oh wow”. That’s the level of attraction that triggers that special something in a woman that makes them say, “MUST MATE WITH THIS MAN BEFORE OTHERS SNAG HIM!” Don’t think it will work? Try it. You may be pleasantly surprised.
  2. Getting away from the house and kids. Sometimes your wife seeing you in a new light can trigger genuine arousal. Not only are you pulling away that smothering blanket of domesticity, but you’re also reactivating a part of your wife’s brain that has been dormant for a long time. When people enter a new environment with new people, it “wakes them up”. Here’s an experiment you can try yourself: Try taking a different route home after work. Something completely new that you’ve never done before. You’ll notice that you are more alert and you may be surprised when some kind of unrelated “Ah ha!” moment comes to you out of nowhere. By removing yourself from the same humdrum drive that you take every day, you activate a long-dormant part of your brain that normally sleeps during that time of day. The same principle can apply within your marriage. New environment… new people… husband in a new light. She may wake up.
  3. Roleplay. This falls under the category of being a little “kinky”, but there’s a reason why we all know the popular stereotype of the couple keeping the spark alive by pretending and role-playing within their relationship. It works! It can be something innocent like meeting at a bar and pretending like you don’t know each other… keeping up the act for all those around you as you talk, touch and eventually makeout while a slack-jawed bartender gasps at how two strangers seem to be such a great match! Role-playing, as you may know, can get way more kinky and personal when it’s taken to the bedroom. Get creative! Have fun with it.
  4. Take your wife to an overtly sexual place like a strip club. When you go to a strip club, your wife sees you ogling at the presumably attractive women. She sees what gets you going… how you straighten up in your seat when the young brunette takes the stage, but don’t move when the kinda chubby blond is gyrating in front of you. Your wife sees you as a sexual creature OUTSIDE of the home… and outside of your relationship. If you get attention from a stripper (and you will… that’s their job), it can also set off a bit of jealousy, but with the safety of knowing that the girl is a professional. With all of these elements in the mix, it’s not uncommon for a man to report that his wife got more than a little handsy with the strippers herself (the sexual fluidity of women is sometimes a huge surprise to men)… and more importantly, she turned into a new sexual human once they got back to house or hotel.

Of course, there are dangerous and not-so-healthy ways of achieving the level of eroticism and excitement you get with a new partner. The obvious, that I already mentioned, is cheating! Hell… men and women have been sneaking out on their partners since the concept of marriage was invented. Cheating is as “natural” as masturbation… but it doesn’t mean it’s healthy for the relationship. Infidelity goes against the basic tenants of marriage. You’re supposed to be partners in crime. You and your spouse against the world. When one or both step away to get their needs met elsewhere…. well, the marriage goes bye-bye.

For centuries, people have tried to soften the blow of this desire for newness by introducing things such as “open marriages” or even “swinging”. Both of these concepts have one major tenet in mind: “We are both primarily with each other… the rest of this outside activity with others is just about sex.” On paper, it makes sense, arguably, but in practice it rarely works without major drama and stress … and ultimately the end of the relationship. Sex is complicated and it’s tough if not impossible to remove emotions from the equation.

So, to summarize: The desire for a new mate is natural. If and when we acquire a new mate, the feelings of sexuality are intense. Once those feelings wear off, we want them to come back, ASAP.  To bring these feelings back within the confines of your marriage takes very real wisdom and very real WORK, on both the part of the man and the woman. How common do you think that is? Exactly. This marriage game… it ain’t for everyone.