A Miracle Pill for Marital Bliss? Depends On How You Swallow It.

Fish_Oil_CapsulesA warning to all women in long-term relationships. According to The New York Times you are suffering from HSDD (hypoactive sexual-desire disorder) registered in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder as SIAD (sexual interest/arousal disorder) and otherwise known to The Sultanette as POFB (plain old fucking boredom). To wit, you’re “tired of sex” with your partner and you need a pill.

If you doubt this, be assured by the Times’ images of gently aging women copping clueless poses that accompany last May’s Sunday magazine piece by Daniel Bergner, “Unexcited? There May Be A Pill For That.” Apologies for not reporting this late-breaking news sooner but since it’s an indisputable fact that we women have sluggish sex drives, what’s another few months of abstinence?

16c satirical German woodcut, “The useless of chastity belts in ensuring the faithfulness of young wives married to old ugly husbands.”

16c satirical German woodcut, “The uselessness of chastity belts in ensuring the faithfulness of young wives married to old ugly husbands.”

I was reminded of the piece after reading “The Monogamy Trap” by Sandra Tsing Loh in this month’s Atlantic. It’s a review of Love Illuminated, a “rumination” of the Times’ “Modern Love” columnist, Daniel Jones on the many letters he’s received over the years.

In his chapter titled “Monotony” Jones shockingly reveals: “Among my fifty thousand strangers, I’ve heard from only a handful of couples who claim to have maintained sexually charged marriages through the decades.” And since the remedies posed by these flaccid strangers – like “reading to each other in bed from marriage-improvement books” – begged for massive augmentations of K-Y, I decided it was time to revisit the Times’ piece for an alternate cure.

Wundt-research-groupSure enough, there it was, the “female desire drug.” (No not, Quaaludes, horny people, that’s illegal!) This drug, if FDA approved, will be anointed by modern chemistry, and look at all the trouble they’ve gone through to bring it to you.

This mostly male panel of experts, has hooked you up to “vaginal blood flow measuring devices” and headgear that tracks the movement of your pupils “hundreds of times per second” while you watch X-rated images. They’ve recruited female hamsters and arachnids to mate so they can “glean insight into women’s sexual psyches.”

Mr. Rat-Butter, Beatrix Potter.

Mr. Rat-Butter, Beatrix Potter.

And if X-rated porn isn’t your cup of tea with its, shall we say, male focus, they’ve even penetrated your “neural networks of eros.” Alas, discovering that “the brain’s interwoven networks are too intricate for the technology to properly view them” they’ve turned to the next best alternative to slicing and dicing a woman’s desire: lab rats. (Given that many a rat has had us begging for more, this may prove the most reliable yardstick.)

The remedies along this crusade to cure your coital ennui have included a pill with “peppermint-flavored testosterone coating that melts in your mouth” enrobing a delayed-release inner tablet exclusively formulated to relieve your lack of dis-arousal by the man who just scratched his ass and flopped into bed next to you, boner waiting. Hellooooo!

Woman-wash-tubLinneah “swallowed a dose every day – and waited.” Reaction? A jump in blood pressure and vomiting. Back to the drawing board. The next version proved the better mouse, or rat trap. Zita recorded copulating five times a week instead of one, though her joy of sex meter offered less to be desired. “I would feel horny,” she reported, “and I got like a throbbing sensation, like I had to do something or it was going to bother me all night.” That and those three loads of wash piled up in the laundry room, Zita. But how did her husband feel about the drug? She laughs. “Happy!” Mission accomplished.

The Times’ piece bullishly concludes: “Perhaps the fantasy that so many of us harbor, consciously or not, in the early days of our relationships, that we have found a soulmate who will offer us both security and passion till death do us part, will soon be available with the aid of a pill.” Obviously, The New York Times has not consulted with The Male Harem.

From the culture that brought you the everything-bagel comes one-mate-does-it-all. We’ve propped up monogamy, or the illusion, as the acid test of coupling. If you’re not for it, you’re un-American. “Sexual fidelity is considered to be mature and realistic,” says couple’s therapist Esther Perel in Mating in Captivity, “while nonmonogamy, even consensual nonmonogamy, is suspect.” We want passion and predictability. Wild abandon with all the comforts of home.

Gilded Cage, George Hare (1857-1933).

Gilded Cage, George Hare (1857-1933).

In “The Monogamy Trap” Loh refers to three categories of bored spouses: the “Quashers” who settle; the “Sneakers” who stalk old flames; and the proactive “Restorers” who schedule date nights, dance classes, and “ten for tens” (ten hugs lasting ten seconds, ten times a day). The notion of stepping outside the trap isn’t considered. No rattling the monogamy cage.

After sixteen years of fidelity with One&Only it wasn’t lack of sex that did us in, it was having nothing else we could want passionately together. That’s when monogamy becomes monotony – when you’re no longer choosing one person for life but settling for one.

When we split, even without the aid of a “vaginal blood flow measuring device” I felt my libido spiking – pheromones pulsing from every pore. After sixteen years of Saturday night sex, there’s nothing like mashing in the backstairs of a New York high rise with a sinewy hunk of musculature after a sweaty session at the gym. (I’ll let you decide what “mashing” means.) Or sleepless siestas at the Ritz, Madrid. Or foregoing an uplifting homily at the First Presbyterian Church to get naked and do rude things on a Sunday afternoon. No, that’s not love. But getting back to those “neural networks of eros” for a minute, it’s a big chunk of human sensation I’m no longer willing to let wither away. And I’m not about to drug myself for it.

Some couples – those octogenarians holding hands in the diner– keep turning each other on for life. For some, I believe frothing it up doesn’t really matter. For the rest of us (and if you’re still reading this it might be you) that itch for eros could require more than popping a pill.

After a ten-year marriage and a good sixteen-year run with One&Only, I’m opting for the third rail, The Male Harem, my posse of clever, capable, sexy (whether we have it or not) and yes, desirous men. When we rendezvous it’s by choice. In their company, the pleasure is pure, not negotiated. Not under contract, there is no expectation of permanence.

William Hogarth, oil on canvas, c.1730, Sir John Soane’s Museum, London.

William Hogarth, oil on canvas, c.1730, Sir John Soane’s Museum, London.

Instead of taking a pill to ramp up my lust, I’m taking in a heady dose of uncertainty. That can be unsettling for a girl brought up to be saved by a man but mostly it’s orgasmic. My desire quotient has skyrocketed and it’s a desire, not for someone snoring next to me, but for life.

Which brings me to the final revelation in the development of the female desire drug. “There was a lot of discussion about it by the experts in the room,” recalled Andrew Goldstein who was involved in FDA approval of one of the drugs in Washington, “The need to show that you’re not turning women into nymphomaniacs.“ Go ahead and feel good, girls. But don’t get carried away. Can you swallow that?