Tag Archives: monogamy

Why Sex Addiction (Probably) Doesn’t Exist

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When it comes to human psychology, addiction is like quantum physics in that few understand it and Hollywood constantly gets it wrong. I know I say it a lot on this blog, but it’s worth belaboring. People are complicated. One person may watch “Star Wars” and think it’s the greatest piece of cinema of all time. Another may watch it and say it has no redeeming values.

That’s an important context to consider when discussing topics of addiction, which affects a significant portion of the human population. According to Addiction Center, there are approximately 20.6 million people over the age of 12 struggling with an addiction. According to the Centers for Disease Control, over 200,000 people have died since 1999 from prescription drug abuse alone.

Addiction is a serious issue. I know people who have struggled with addiction. I think everybody knows someone in their lives, be they a friend or relative, who has struggled with an addiction of some sorts. Addiction is real and there’s actual biology behind it. As such, it stands to reason that the rising instance of sexual addiction is real.

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Before I scrutinize this sexy, yet unsexy phenomenon, I need to preface this by acknowledging that our collective understanding of these issues is still developing. What we consider a psychological dysfunction today may end up just being a healthy variation within the diversity of human thought. That’s why homosexuality is no longer considered a disease.

That context is important to establish because the term “sex addict” has been thrown around a lot lately. It’s not quite on the level of “fake news” or “soy boy,” but it has been cropping up, especially in wake of the recent scandals in Hollywood. Both Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey claimed to be sex addicts after their scandals.

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Needless to say, not everybody buys that excuse. Given my propensity to bemoan excuses, I count myself among them. These men claiming that sex addiction caused their deplorable behavior comes off as a pitiful attempt to gain sympathy, trying to paint themselves as sick. It also assumes a lot about the complex nature of addiction.

It’s true that we can become addicted to damn near anything, but it’s not just a matter of one particular activity flooding the pleasure centers of our brain more than others. Alcoholics don’t get the same orgasmic release from a cold beer that a sex addict gets from a quickie in the shower. There are other psychological forces behind it.

Since we can’t yet read the minds of an individual person, we have only a cursory understanding of those forces. However, there is an established criteria for addiction within a medical context. The American Psychiatric Association, describes addiction as follows:

Addiction is a complex condition, a brain disease that is manifested by compulsive substance use despite harmful consequence. People with addiction (severe substance use disorder) have an intense focus on using a certain substance(s), such as alcohol or drugs, to the point that it takes over their life. They keep using alcohol or a drug even when they know it will causes problems.

At the same time, it establishes a clear difference between just being addicted to a certain activity, like sex, eating, or playing World of Warcraft for 29 hours straight, and the addiction caused by drugs. They don’t even call it addiction. They have a more official label called Substance Use Disorder. Their description of this condition is a lot scarier than just someone who has more orgasms than most.

People with a substance use disorder have distorted thinking, behavior and body functions. Changes in the brain’s wiring are what cause people to have intense cravings for the drug and make it hard to stop using the drug. Brain imaging studies show changes in the areas of the brain that relate to judgment, decision making, learning, memory and behavior control.

These substances can cause harmful changes in how the brain functions. These changes can last long after the immediate effects of the drug — the intoxication. Intoxication is the intense pleasure, calm, increased senses or a high caused by the drug. Intoxication symptoms are different for each substance.

I bring up this distinction because more than one person has described sex like a drug. In doing so, it’s easier to accept that those claiming to suffer from sex addiction have a real ailment. Sex is a powerful drive that evokes pleasure that some brain scans have compared to heroin. Does it not stand to reason that sex addicts are in the same boat as heroin addicts?

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The short answer is no. Sex addicts and heroin addicts are as different from one another as an arm-wrestling contest and an underground fight club. Addiction to heroin has a strict criteria for diagnosis. Sex addiction doesn’t meet that criteria in that alleged addicts don’t respond the same way that those suffering from Substance Use Disorder respond.

According to research done by UCLA, the reactions of those claiming porn addiction did not mirror those addicted to other activities like drinking, smoking, etc. Within that same research, it was also uncovered that sex addiction lacks one of the most important features of an addiction, namely that of diminished response from the pleasure centers of the brain.

That’s key because one of the most damaging factors of an addiction is that over time, the addictive behavior doesn’t light up the pleasure centers of the brain like it used to. That’s why alcoholics need more alcohol and crack addicts need more crack to get the same high. Brain scans show that in drug abuse. They don’t show it in sex addiction.

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In fact, the conclusions of the researchers on sex addiction were somewhat mundane. According to the data gathered from the brains and experiences of real people, the idea of sex addiction is nothing more than having a high sex drive and poor impulse control. That’s not an addiction. That’s a personality quirk. If anything, the very term “sex addiction” undermines the suffering of real addicts.

I know those conclusions is not going to convince those who genuinely believe that they’re struggling with sex addiction. I don’t doubt that these people are struggling and it’s negatively impacting their lives, their families, and their relationships. However, I believe putting it in the same category as drug abuse only skews our understanding of addiction and sexuality.

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Some people are really just a lot hornier than others. In the same way some people have a bigger appetite for food, some have a bigger appetite for sex. Unlike food, though, those suffering from eating disorders don’t blame the entire concept of food. There are often other psychological factors behind it.

Sex also has another complication that food and eating don’t. Our culture has an established set of sexual norms that idealize some forms of sexuality and shame others. Even though we’ve accepted more diversity in recent decades, we still idealize monogamous romances where those involved only have sex to make babies or explore the kind of passion reserved for a scene in “Titanic.”

As a result, anything that deviates from that narrative, be they an open relationship or just wanting to hump for the sake of humping, is subject to scorn or shaming. I’ve noted the flaws in this sort of narrative before, but on a much larger scale, it creates a situation where certain manifestations of sex become less a variation and more a disease.

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Like homosexuality, though, treating those variations as flawed or damaged doesn’t make them go away. It’s possible for a drug addict to get treatment to repair the damage those drugs have done to their bodies and minds. It’s not possible to complete reshape and remold someone’s baseline sexual desires without causing serious damage.

To really get an idea of how this can motivate self-professed sex addicts to engage in such erratic behaviors, imagine for a moment that you’re a heterosexual person in a world where only homosexuality is accepted. As such, you’re expected to enter a homosexual relationship with someone and remain in that relationship indefinitely.

That means you have to ignore or temper your basic sexual desires in order to operate in that society without shame or scrutiny. You have to pretend that the relationship you’re in is sufficient when you know it’s not. Since you can’t turn off your brain or your basic desires, it’s going to mess with your mind and inspire erratic behavior.

It’s for that reason that sex addiction, as it’s currently understood, probably doesn’t exist. I say probably because, as I pointed out earlier, our understanding of sexuality, psychology, and the human experience is still limited. For now, though, our conclusions are fairly simple. You’re not an addict. You’re just really horny and you live in a society that doesn’t afford you the opportunities to explore those feelings.

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Filed under gender issues, human nature, sex in media, sex in society, sexuality

Why Men And Women Cheat (And Lessons To Learn From It)

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As an unapologetic romance fan, I concede that I often talk about love the same way dog lovers talk about puppies. I go on and on about how wonderful it is, but often gloss over the nasty parts. In the same way those dog lovers don’t dwell on all the times their beloved companion shits on the rug, I don’t dwell on the more painful aspect of romance.

Well, in the same way ignoring the pile of dog poop doesn’t make the stench go away, ignoring those painful elements of romance doesn’t make them any less relevant. Even those who aren’t romance fans understand that romance often involves tragedy. It’s no coincidence that some of the most famous love stories, from “Romeo and Juliet” to “Titanic,” involve a hefty bit of heartache.

I would argue that’s exactly what makes love and stories about romance so powerful. There’s a significant risk of heartache, rejection, and loss. There’s real pain that comes with pursuing romance, but the we gladly risk that pain because the rewards can be as fulfilling as they are sexy. I’ve done more to highlight the breadth of those rewards in my novels, especially with stories like “Passion Relapse.”

However, the pain that comes from the other side of that coin can be just as dramatic, if not more so. Anyone who has ever seen old episodes of “Jerry Springer” understands this to some extent. It’s not usually the kind of drama that ends with two lovers dying in each other’s arms or Rose not making room for Jack on that floating plank. More often than not, it’s a more frustrating kind of drama.

In many respects, the unsexiest version of this drama has to do with cheating. To some, that’s the much more dreaded C-word. Cheating is to romance what food poisoning is to Thanksgiving dinner. It is the worst-case scenario for those seeking the joys and appeals associated with romance. It is also one of those unfortunate elements that plays out in real life more often than it does in sexy romance novels.

It’s unromantic, but inescapable. Cheating happens and it happens a lot. While it doesn’t happen as often as “Jerry Springer” might have us believe, it happens often enough that it’s a legitimate concern among lovers. That’s why modern marriage laws, however skewed they might be, often account for infidelity.

In the same way there has never been a drug-free society, there has never been a society where cheating and infidelity has not occurred to some extent. From our caveman ancestors to the increasingly-uptight Millennials, the risk of cheating is there and the rise of social media and online dating sites like Ashley Madison are only making it easier.

I’ve talked a bit about cheating when I’ve discussed jealousy and our approach to marriage in modern society. Within the context of those discussions, cheating is a significant portion of those issues, but it’s still only part of a larger whole. It’s still a significant stain on the pursuit of romance, but it doesn’t completely overshadow it.

To make sense of it, as difficult as that may be, it’s necessary to focus on the reasons why people cheat. To anyone who has ever been the victim of a cheating lover, that may mean poking at old wounds and for that, I apologize. I admit it’s somewhat underhanded to suggest there are reasons why people cheat instead of just excuses, but to make sense of cheating overall, we need to accept that there are reasons behind it.

Listen to any story about cheating, be it a magazine article or a poorly-directed reality show, and you’ll notice a few themes about cheating. For one, there is a gender disparity in the numbers. Statistically speaking, men do cheat more often than women. However, the difference in those numbers isn’t quite as vast as the “Mad Men” stereotypes would have us believe.

As to why the gender disparity exists, there are just as many theories about that as well. I’ve talked somewhat about those disparities in discussions about sexual promiscuity and gender double standards. However, those theories don’t always explain the reasons behind cheating. In fact, the process for gathering data on cheating is exceedingly tricky.

Absent an underlying theory, we’re left with a diverse list of reasons that men and women give for their infidelity. According to WebMD, men and women cheat in different ways. For men, it’s often physical, a method of meeting unmet needs. For whatever reason, they’re no longer satisfied with their spouse and cheating is either a way to meet those needs or escape from that spouse.

For women, the act of cheating often has more emotional connotations. While meeting a physical need is part of it, women are more inclined to seek an emotional connection when they cheat. That’s not to say that some women just want some sexual variety or some men don’t fall in love with those they’re cheating with, but these are the popular narratives and some of it does bear out in the data.

Like I said earlier, though, the disparity in that data is not exceedingly vast and there are a lot of issues associated with gathering that data in the first place. If you accept the rule of the great Dr. House, “The most successful marriages are based on lies,” then it’s almost impossible to ascertain just how much cheating is going on and why it’s happening.

Even if it’s impossible to know, there are lessons we can learn from the reasons and excuses that people give. Chief among the reasons men give for cheating involve seeking new intimate experiences, either out of dissatisfaction or boredom. Given how I’ve explored the impact of boredom before, I think that is likely a bigger factor than most care to admit.

With women, the reasons often involve a lack of satisfaction that goes beyond physical. It’s not just that they feel unsatisfied. The underlying theme often involves their sentiment that their partner is no longer putting in the kind of effort they did when they fell in love. That lack of effort gives the impression that they don’t care anymore, leading women to seek out someone who does care.

In scrutinizing these reasons that vary widely between gender, cultures, and personality types, there does appear to be one common theme that binds both genders when it comes to cheating. Whether it’s physical or emotional, it often comes down to the perception that someone in the relationship isn’t putting in the effort anymore. Either they don’t have the energy or just don’t care enough.

In either case, the context of the cheating seems less about meeting a need and more about finding someone who will match your passionate efforts. Regardless of whatever gender disparity may or may not be at work with cheating, there’s no denying that men and women are passionate creatures. We each seek outlets for our passion and if we’re not getting it from that outlet, we’re going to seek another.

That’s not to say that some who cheat are just looking for an exciting and novel experience. That’s another inclination that is hard-wired into both genders in ways that go beyond sex, romance, or fidelity. When it comes specifically to cheating, though, the primary catalyst often comes back to passion and how it’s being channeled.

Cheating and being cheated on often comes with many hard lessons, some of which leave deeper scars than others. Whether you’re a romantic like me, a jaded heart with cynical views on love, or believe that human beings aren’t meant to just love one person for the rest of their lives, the betrayal and dishonesty associated with cheating still hurts us. If nothing else, it’s a harsh reminder of how deep our passions run.

If there’s a lesson that both genders can and should learn from the pain of cheating, it’s the importance of understanding and channeling those passions. When two people share the kind of passion that keeps their love, sex, and relationship strong, then there’s no reason for either of them to cheat. It’s not easy sharing that kind of passion, but the fact we risk the pain of being cheated on shows it’s a risk worth taking.

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Polyamorous Relationships: The (Near) Future Of Love?

Back in 2015 when the debate over same-sex marriage was reaching its legal crescendo in the Supreme Court, the opposition began getting desperate. They sensed that people weren’t as comfortable telling gay couples that their love was somehow wrong in the eyes of the law. As a result, their arguments got increasingly hysterical.

One of the most popular involved the classic slippery slope fallacy. Simply put, the idea is that if you allow same-sex marriage, then the next thing you know, people will want to marry their dogs, their cars, or even themselves. Never mind the fact that such a laughable argument has no bearing on legal, ethical reasons to prevent two consenting adults of the same sex from marry each other. It still persists.

There was, however, one part of that slippery slope that might not need much greasing. It’s a kind of love that I’ve discussed before, both in discussions about immortal humans and certain love triangles involving my favorite comic book characters. It may very well be a kind of love that becomes more prominent in the future. Yes, I’m referring to polyamory again.

Most people already know about it, if only because same-sex marriage opponents wouldn’t shut up about it during their many legal debates leading up to the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision. According to the basics on Wikipedia, polyamory is “consensual, ethical, and responsible non-monogamy” between intimate partners.

There’s really not much complexity to it, regardless of how horrifying thinks it is. Two people still love each other. They still get married or commit to one another, building lives and families together. The difference is they also form intimate attachments with others.

Sometimes those attachments involve a quick sexual fling. Sometimes they involve deeper relationships. The underlying theme is that these relationships don’t operate under the strict intimate protocols of monogamy. There’s more emotional and sexual flexibility, so to speak. It’s not quite as sexy as it sounds, but it has the potential to be.

Needless to say, polyamorous relationships are exceedingly taboo, much more so than same-sex marriage. There are already some legal battles surrounding polygamy that have emerged in wake of the legalization of same-sex marriage. I have a feeling those legal battles will continue and escalate.

As it stands, there isn’t a lot of research on polyamorous relationships. There’s some evidence to suggest that it might be healthier for some people. There is also some evidence that it can be detrimental to a relationship. Since I’m neither a researcher, nor a mind-reader, it’s unreasonable to assume any level of merit.

If I look at polyamory through the lens of caveman logic, which I tend to do a lot on this blog, I can discern some extent of promise. Within the context of a caveman setting, polyamory is actually more pragmatic than monogamy. It’s not just because of the paradoxical nature of the 50s sitcom versions of romance.

With monogamy, an individual is putting all their emotional and sexual energy into one basket. Sure, it might be more stable and basic, but if your lover gets mauled by a lion, which is possible in a caveman setting, you’re immediately at a disadvantage. Having more lovers who have a vested interest into protecting and satisfying you not only increases your chances at survival, but provides more support for your children.

In addition to the pragmatic aspects, the math is already on the side of polyamory to some extent. According to surveys conducted by Superdrug on the United States and Europe, the average lifetime number of sexual partners is 7.2 and 6.2 respectively. By the numbers, most people aren’t just having sex with one person, much to the chagrin of the priests, rabbis, mullahs, and monks of the world.

Even with the support of math and caveman logic, though, polyamory is still taboo and for wholly legitimate reasons. Polyamory is still closely associated with the kind of polygamous practices of exceedingly patriarchal religious zealots who insist that all the pretty young girls belong to them and only them. Given the perverse infamy of some of these zealots, that taboo is well-earned.

On top of that, it wasn’t until very recently with the advent of modern contraception and antibiotics that polyamory became less risky. As I’ve pointed out before, diseases were a real mood-killer for much of the history of modern civilization. They still are to this day. Even though contraception has made numerous advances, access to it is still controversial.

However, those limits and taboos may be changing. Other than data suggesting that polyamory is on the rise, advances in technology are removing barriers that have been in place since the days of the pyramids. Tools like CRISPR are on the cusp of eliminating infectious disease altogether and contraceptives like Vasalgel will allow even greater control over how people plan their families.

We may very well be creating a situation where polyamory is more practical for a population that has more and more tools to connect. Thanks to social media and modern medicine, the taboos surrounding polyamory may become as empty as those that once surrounded homosexuality.

It didn’t happen overnight. It wasn’t until 2003 that sex between gay couples became legal in the United states, but it took less than two decades to go from that to legalized same-sex marriage. It’s not impossible that polyamory will follow a similar path. Given the potential need for greater intimacy within future generations, polyamory may end up making sense for a lot of people.

Now, that’s not to say that the future will be full of overly-complicated family structures that combine the dynamics of a Mormon cult with a hippie commune. Human beings are far too complex and varied to favor just one formula for romantic satisfaction.

There will still be some people who just aren’t wired for polygamy, just as there are some people who aren’t wired for monogamy. As society progresses, becoming more diverse and flexible with each passing generation, people will pursue new methods for achieving emotional and sexual fulfillment. Whatever form it takes, I hope to capture all the necessary passion in my sexy novels.

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A (Potential) Solution To The Worst Love Triangle Of All Time

There are some romantic sub-plots that cannot and will not work, no matter how well they’re written. You could resurrect Shakespeare, Tolken, and Faulkner, merge their brains, and still never salvage those plots. More often than not, most of those un-salvageable sub-plots involve love triangles and I’ve made it abundantly clear how much I despise love triangles.

In a sense, love triangles are a symptom of a much larger problem with romance. They’re basically a reverse cheat code in that they’re supposed to be an easy way to inject drama into a romance, but only ends up making things harder in the long run. While it’s not impossible for a love triangle to work, as fans of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” might argue, it’s exceedingly rare.

That brings me back to what I’ve identified as the worst love triangle of all time, namely the one involving Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Wolverine of the X-men. I could talk for days as to why it’s so awful. However, I don’t want to re-hash those old arguments. I want this article to be more productive in that it offers solutions instead of whining.

In general, this is an aspect of comics I don’t enjoy talking about and avoid at every turn. I probably would’ve kept avoiding it and talked more about my sexy college experiences, but a few recent announcements by Marvel Comics has me and many X-men fans contemplating this god-awful love tingle once again.

It started a couple weeks ago when Marvel announced that Jean Grey, the one that isn’t a time traveler, is returning from the dead after 14 years. Needless to say, this sparked a firestorm of cheers and squees from X-men fans who have been longing for her return for years. I’m not going to lie. I did my share of squeeing.

Then, less than a week later, Marvel dropped another bomb in the pages of Marvel Legacy #1, their latest blockbuster event comic meant to bump sales and soak the panties of collectors. Wolverine, who has been dead since 2014 and was subsequently replaced by multiple characters, is alive again.

That surprised nobody so there wasn’t as much squeeing. Wolverine has survived a nuclear explosion, getting his flesh blown off, and being run over by a steamroller. It was only ever a matter of when and not if he would return. However, him returning at the same time as Jean Grey is one of those coincidences that no self-respecting X-men fan believes to be a coincidence.

If there was any silver lining to Jean Grey being dead for so long, it was that it kept anyone from dragging that god-awful love triangle back into the forefront. With Jean dead, Wolverine could move on and pursue other relationships, like he did with Storm. Cyclops pursued a brief, but passionate relationship with Emma Frost. Both characters seemed to move on from that horrible affront to romance.

Now, with Jean Grey and Wolverine back in the picture and a time-traveling Cyclops still running around, these three are finally in the same universe again. That means there will be the temptation to revisit this malignant tumor of a love triangle. As someone who loves all three of those characters dearly, I am not looking forward to that.

It’s too early to say how the story will play out. Marvel hasn’t revealed anything about how Wolverine came back from the dead. There also isn’t much information on the particulars of Jean Grey’s resurrection. We only know the outcome in that they’re both alive again and that’s usually all anyone needs to re-visit that infuriating love triangle.

Given the circumstances of how it played out, which I’ve noted before, it’s hard to twist this love triangle in a way where anyone comes out looking good. No matter what happens, someone gets screwed over.

If Jean Grey chooses to be with Cyclops, then it screws Wolverine over by reducing him to an obsessive, whiny stalker instead of the ultimate loner.

If Jean Grey chooses to be with Wolverine, then it screws Cyclops over by reducing him to nothing more than an obstacle for Wolverine.

In both cases, Jean Grey comes off as either a prize to be won or a heartless bitch who plays with the heart of any man who dares to fall in love with her. In the end, nobody wins in a love triangle, especially one that was so horribly contrived to begin with.

All that said, I don’t deny that the love triangle is hard to ignore. While it’s not an integral part for each character, it is one of those unresolved issues that has never truly been laid to rest. It’s like a dangling plot hole that can never be totally ignored.

Even so, the love triangle is so toxic to all three characters involved. It only ever brings out the worst in them at every turn. So if it’s only a matter of time before the love triangle re-surfaces again in the X-men comics, then what’s the ultimate endgame? Is there a solution to this omega-level migraine of a plot?

I’m not a writer at Marvel, nor do I have a sliver of influence with them. However, I am a passionate X-men fan, as well as an unapologetic romantic who writes sexy love stories. Given that passion and experience, I have a solution that I doubt Marvel will ever take seriously, but one that essentially fixes the worst love triangle in the history of romance. The solution is as simple as it is sexy.

Make Cyclops/Jean Grey/Wolverine the first polyamorous relationship in comics.

I’ll give comic fans a moment to stop rolling their eyes and/or laughing. I’ll give the ardent proponents of the Cyclops/Jean and Wolverine/Jean relationship a moment to stop shaking their heads as well. This may be the only time both sets of fans are on the same page. I assure you, though, it’s no joke. I’m as serious as an attack by Thanos.

Just think about it from a purely pragmatic point of view. Jean Grey’s love for Cyclops is beyond dispute, being the oldest and most serious relationship in the history of X-men. Her attraction to Wolverine is also beyond dispute, which has made for more than a few sexy moments in the history of X-men.

On top of that, both Cyclops and Wolverine have a history of wanting to hook up with more than one woman. I’ve gone over the long list of romance/hook-ups that Wolverine has gone through. This is a guy who hooked up with Squirrel Girl, for crying out loud. That should be proof that this man cannot handle monogamy.

Cyclops, despite his reputation as a boy scout, also has a history with wanting to hook up with other women. Granted, he’s not even in the same time zone as Wolverine, but the sentiment is there. Unlike other heroes, such as Superman or Mr. Fantastic, he can’t seem to shake it off.

That makes him, Wolverine, and Jean ideal candidates for a polyamorous relationship. They exist in the real world. There is even some evidence that polyamory can be beneficial to certain couples because they require a great deal of communication and understanding, two key requirements to any successful relationship.

Given that Jean Grey is a powerful psychic and Cyclops has a history of attracting psychics, they’re better equipped than any other couple in the real world or the fictional world the create a functioning polyamorous relationship. When real psychics are involved, the obstacles associated with communication become an instant strength.

It works great for Wolverine too because it means he can still be Wolverine. He can still strike out on his own every now and then, stab some monsters, and hook up with a few crazy women. He wouldn’t be tied down by Jean Grey and unable to be what makes him awesome. He can still live, love, and fight like Wolverine.

It may very well be the only way that the nauseatingly overplayed melodrama that is the Cyclops/Jean Grey/Wolverine love triangle gets resolved. With a polyamorous relationship, all three characters get to share in the emotional fulfillment. They all get to feel loved and nobody gets left out in the cold. It may even bring them all closer together.

That might be impossible for some to imagine with Cyclops and Wolverine, two characters who have been at odds since the moment they met. However, they have shown throughout their history that they can get along. They can work together and bond over a shared goal, especially when that goal involves Jean Grey.

On paper, a polyamorous relationship between Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Wolverine would solve so many problems. Everyone involved could have their cake and eat it too. That might be the primary reason why Marvel would never do it, though. It makes too much sense.

I don’t think that a polyamorous relationship would be too taboo for Marvel. In recent years, Marvel has shown a willingness to explore non-traditional relationships. Back in 2012, they celebrated their first same-sex wedding in the pages of Astonishing X-men. They have a fairly lengthy list of LGBT characters as well. Even Daken, Wolverine’s son, has a history of eccentric sexual preferences.

The timing would even be right because polyamorous relationships are on the rise and monogamy is on the decline, especially among young people. While there will always be a place for strong, monogamous couples in comics, why not mix things up a relationship that everyone at Marvel seems eager to strain?

A polygamous relationship isn’t necessarily taboo these days, but it’s something nobody has really tried. It seems like the only way comics, TV, or movies can ever inject drama into a romance is to throw in a love triangle. On behalf of all hopeless romantics, I’d like to go on record as saying that tactic is old, not to mention detrimental.

Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Wolverine are in a perfect position to try something different, creating a new kind of romance that we haven’t seen in comics, TV, or anything that didn’t used to air late night on Cinemax. It would be challenging, but that’s exactly what would make it so appealing.

That may also be why Marvel would never try it. It’s so different and there’s no successful formula to follow. Sure, William Marston, the kink-loving creator of Wonder Woman, did it to great effect, but it would require all sorts of dynamics that take a great deal of effort. That effort might just be more than Marvel, or any comic company, is willing to put in at the moment.

Maybe a time will come when polyamorous relationships find their way into comics, just like same-sex relationships. It may not happen with Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Wolverine, but they are the ones that stand to benefit the most from it. Compared to another exceedingly toxic triangle, it would be a welcome change to the world of superhero romance.

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Filed under Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes, Marriage and Relationships, X-men

How We’ll (Have To) Manage Love In A World Of Brain Hacking

Picture the following scenario. If you’ve ever been to a fairy tale wedding or if you’ve been part of some big romantic ceremony, you won’t need much imagination. You’ll just need to have been sober at the time that moment played out. Even if you haven’t, it should still be easy to picture.

It’s a beautiful moment. Two people are standing at an altar together, proclaiming their love for each other in front of friends, family, and whatever deities they happen to prefer. It all goes so well. There are tears of joy, heartfelt gestures, and powerful moments that will last a lifetime.

That all happens in this scenario. It plays out. It’s every bit as beautiful as I just described, and then some. Hold onto that sentiment because now I’d like to complicate it, but not in the way you think.

I already painted a similar scenario when I talked about the possibility of hacking the human brain to induce love and ensure two people only ever love each other. This is someone similar, but one that factors in the bigger picture that tends to dilute all romantic moments. Again, it’s not quite as unsexy as you think, but it’s close.

Go back to that scenario. It’s still every bit as happy and sincere as any non-arranged, non-shotgun marriage could possibly be. Then, just before the chosen holy man declares two people spouses, a state-licensed lawyer enters the room. Yes, I understand that already seriously undermines the moment. Bear with me. It’s about to get weirder and less sexy.

The lawyer isn’t there to ruin the moment. He or she is actually there because the law requires him to be there. They have a very simple, but very necessary job. Before two people can be declared spouses, complete with all the tax benefits and insurance perks that come with it, the lawyer has to make sure that nobody’s brain was hacked to crate false, insincere feelings of love.

I’ll give everyone a moment to scoff, roll their eyes, or just stare blankly in confusion. I understand completely. What I just described sounds like something out of a Matrix-themed wedding that went horribly wrong. I wish I could say it was just another one of my not-so-sexy thought experiments. Unfortunately, this scenario reflects a serious issue that we may have to confront.

Think about what that lawyer had to do in that situation. Beyond the innate anxiety that comes along whenever a lawyer gets involved in a situation, especially if you’ve been skimping on your taxes, they’re tasked with the legal equivalent of making sure a Disney-style spell isn’t at work here. They have to, for the sake of the law and basic human dignity, that the love someone professes isn’t false.

Why would they even have to do that in the first place? Well, if you’ve been following along on this blog, you’ve noticed I’ve been talking a lot about the sincerity of love and how false perceptions may impact those powerful emotions. Even before that, I’ve talked about the prospect of enhancing the human brain and using those advances to make us sexier and more romantic.

These kinds of enhancements have so much potential to change the way we love, make love, and forge romantic commitments to one another. It may very well change the kinds of love stories we tell. For me, a guy trying to make his career in the erotica/romance industry, it’s kind of important that I follow these advances.

With every advance, however, comes various legal, ethical, and morally ambiguous headaches that quickly turn into migraines when you consider the implications. In that context, few advances have more implications than brain enhancement.

Considering how easy our brains are to fool, it makes sense to enhance this organ over all others. Yes, that means our genitals too, even though they’re already getting their share of enhancements. Every romantic and sexy feeling we’ve ever had or experience starts in our brain. Enhance that and everything we know about sex, love, and marriage goes out the window and into an incinerator.

A person with a brain implant is inherently capable of love, passion, and sex appeal that exceeds anything our natural biology can match. If you’d don’t believe me, then ask a woman about the efficiency of her vibrator compared to that of her lover. It’s not a fair comparison, to say the least.

Like any tool humans have ever made, we’ll use brain implants and brain enhancement to improve our lives. That includes are sex lives as well. There’s a reason why it’s a huge chunk of the pharmaceutical industry’s profits. That’s where the legal issues come into play, but not in the way you might think.

The second someone puts anything in their brain that resembles a computer, it inherently becomes subject to hacking. It’s an inescapable and often underreported pitfall of the digital age in which we all so eagerly partake. If it has a computer in it, then it can be hacked. Chances are, it has been hacked at one point, probably far more than you’d want to know.

That kind of hacking is hard enough to deal with. Once the computers go in our brains, though, then the stakes go up considerably. It’s one thing to hack a website and plaster it with gay porn or dead kittens. It’s quite another to hack someone’s brain and affect the way they think, feel, and behave.

I don’t doubt for a second that those behind the brain implant industry, such as Neuralink, will do everything they can to prevent this. I also don’t doubt that there will be other, less ethical individuals will work just as hard to frustrate those people. I’m sure Elon Musk has nightmares about the kind of horrors hackers will unleash with brain implants. It makes his desire to go to Mars almost seem logical.

As such, we’re going to need new laws on the books to govern the use and impact of brain implants. That tends to happen with every major advancement. From cars to computers, a civilized society needs some mechanism for governing new technology. With brain implants, though, that mechanism may get unusually personal.

Think back to that scenario I described earlier. Now, imagine one of the individuals getting married was that bitter ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend from high school. I’m talking about the kind of person who will set fire to a car and send dead animals in the mail to someone who refuses to reciprocate or affirm their emotions.

Imagine that kind of person knowing it was possible to induce false emotions in someone. Like the evil prince or witch in every Disney movie, they have a mechanism for casting a real, non-magical love spell on someone to make them feel exactly what they want them to feel. Unlike the world of Disney, though, it won’t be undone by kissing a toad.

Given the insane lengths to which people will go for love, it’s entirely plausible that someone would use a brain implant to create fake emotions in people who refuse to love them willingly. It’s also plausible that those same people will push that kind of brain hacking to insane degrees.

It means someone could effectively rewire their spouse’s brain so that they act as a slave. Their entire sense of identity, will, and autonomy is subverted. Their entire lives are effectively stolen and controlled by the hacker. While they would not realize this until their brain was un-hacked, assuming that was possible, it would be the most coercive, manipulative act it’s possible to do to another person.

Granted, there may be some societies that wouldn’t mind this sort of thing. I’m sure there are sociopathic dictators in the world who would love to hack the brain of every citizen into loving them without question. For most ordinary people who aren’t in charge of their own countries, though, it’s a terrifying thought.

That means it will probably be necessary for both industries like Neuralink and major governments to deal with this possibility. It’s hard to know what form that will take. Perhaps every brain implant will require some sort of kill-switch. Perhaps certain functions need to be sanctioned and re-sanctioned by a doctor or official.

It’s hard to say and I’m certainly not smart enough to figure it out. I imagine men like Elon Musk and Bill Gates have already given it way more thought than I ever will. Whatever form it takes, though, it will force us to change our understanding of love, sex, and how we relate to each other.

The stakes our high, but the situation is simple. If we’re going to love each other and make love to each other in enhanced ways, then we had damn well better be sure those feelings are ours and not those of some asshole hacker.

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On Love, Brain Hacking, And The Future Of Monogamy

Picture the moment, if you can, even if you’re a hopeless cynic. It’s your wedding day. The weather is perfect. Everyone in your family is present. You’re wearing the most overpriced clothes you’ve ever worn and you’re about to marry someone you love with all your heart.

Whether you’re a man or woman, you’ve probably contemplated that moment. It’s one of those beautiful moments that the entire wedding industry is built on. You’re standing at the altar in front of friends, family, and whatever deity you want involved. You’ve found the love of your life. You believe, with your heart, brain, and genitals, that this is the only one for you.

I’m not denying the beauty of that moment. I’ve been to my share of weddings. It’s a special moment for a great many people. Even I’ll admit I’ve gotten choked up at those moments. It’s the culmination of a journey, one that plays out both in real life and in sexy novels. Two people find each other, fall in love, and commit to one another. It’s seen as the pinnacle of romance and the ultimate ideal of love.

It’s also, and I say this as a fan of love, an ideal that tends to fall apart once that moment has passed. Statistics about divorce and the frequency of sordid affairs is proof enough of that. There are a select few who manage to avoid these odds and hold onto that moment. It’s couples like that who inspire romantics like myself to try to capture that in sexy stories. It’s the fact they’re so rare, though, that makes those moments so frustrating.

For once, there’s no elaborate science or hidden secret to this phenomenon. Most people understand on some levels that those feelings we have on our wedding days when we believe with all our hearts that we’ve found the love of our lives are a gamble. At worst, though, they may be fleeting and we all know why.

No matter how certain or passionate you might be about your lover, there’s always an unavoidable uncertainty that goes along with that feeling. On that particular day day, you may know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you love your spouse with all your heart and they love you back. It’s the many days after that are the problem.

Maybe on the very next day, you cross paths with someone else who evokes even more intense passions than your spouse. It doesn’t matter if they’re a bartender, a stripper, or a sexy ski instructor. You have no idea what kind of passions you’ll feel until you meet them.

The same goes for your spouse. Maybe on the morning after your wedding, they go out for a walk and just bump into someone that they fall in love with on the spot. In an instant that you never could’ve predicted or prevented, that ideal love you thought they had for you is either dented or shattered.

It’s a painful, but sobering thought. You really can’t control who you and your lover will meet, nor can you control how either of you will react. You can barely trust your own emotions, at times. It’s even harder to trust with certainty that someone else’s emotions will remain in line with yours.

It leads to all sorts of heartache, from bitter divorce to Taylor Swift songs. It incurs the kind of personal pain that can shatter hearts, souls, genitals, and everything that goes with it. No matter what we do, even when we resort to open relationships, it never seems to stop. We want that ideal moment at our weddings, but we can’t avoid the potential soul-crushing heartbreak it may lead to down the line.

Now, I’m sure all those reading this, regardless of whether you’re married, single, or living in a hippie commune where orgies happen every Sunday, are feeling a bit conflicted. Don’t worry. That’s normal. It’s that conflict between wanting to find love and risking soul-crushing heartbreak that’s at the heart of every great romance. However, I’d like to complicate it even more.

Go back to that special moment on your wedding day. What if, before you and your spouse walked down the isle, you had another little ceremony of sorts? In that ceremony, you each took a moment to reprogram your erratic, caveman brains to ensure that the heightened passions of this day never fade.

It goes way beyond just signing legal documents that say you can file joint tax returns. Now, your brains are wired in a way so that no matter what happens in the future, you’ll always love each other, want to make love to each other, and stay committed to each other until the day you die. The passion will always be strong, the sex will always be great, and no amount of sexy ski instructors will ever change that.

It won’t change because it can’t. No matter what you, your spouse, or any sexy pool cleaning guy/house maid does, they cannot get your brain to react with the same passionate upheaval that comes with love and lust. They might as well be trying to teach calculus to a drunk monkey. You and your spouse love each other that much.

Sure, that love involves manipulating your brain, twisting your emotions, and effectively brainwashing yourself into feeling a certain way. It opens the possibility that some of that passion you feel for your spouse may not be entirely natural. It would be real, but it would be forced to some degree. From your perspective, though, it still wouldn’t matter. You would still feel it as though it were real, unfiltered love.

If you had that option on your wedding day, would you take it? Would you be willing to manipulate your own brain so that you never had to experience divorce, heartache, or uncertainty ever again? It seems like an extreme, like the ultimate prenuptial agreement, but with far more at stake than who gets custody of the dog.

It’s also not entirely a hypothetical scenario, either. It’s also not a coincidence that I’m writing this after my long rant about the mixed romantic messages of prenuptial agreements.

One of the reasons people tend to avoid those legally critical agreements is because they’re so high on love that they don’t think it’s necessary. They’re clinging to that moment on their wedding day, not even acknowledging the possibility that their marriage could end and their love could fade. Statistically and biologically speaking, it’s fairly certain that passions will fade and marriages do end.

So rather than getting lawyers and legal documents involved, why not cut to the core of the issue and adjust your brain? It is, after all, the primary reason why your passions fade and you feel the inclination to cheat. Your genitals may be an accomplice, but your brain is always the mastermind. Not changing it on your wedding day is like Batman letting the Joker get away and giving him an unlimited supply of napalm.

I know I make it sound simple, tweaking the wiring of our brains. I understand that’s not possible right now, which is why divorce lawyers, mistresses, and gigolos won’t be going out of business anytime soon. However, there’s another business that just started up and it may both undermine those age-old industries while completely changing our approach to romance.

Remember Neuralink? I wrote multiple posts about it, saying it’s the most important business enterprise in the history of humanity and may very well make us all inherently sexier and more romantic. Well, the mere fact that we’re starting to put things in our brains to tweak how it works marks the first step in changing how we approach love, marriage, sex, and relationships. Divorce lawyers should be very scared.

Think back to the uncertainty about you and your lover’s passions that I mentioned earlier. Right now, we have no way to control them. We can’t stop ourselves from wanting to love some random person we bump into. We can’t stop ourselves from wanting to have meaningless sex with that cute bartender who keeps undressing us with their perfect, baby blue eyes.

However, the mere act of wanting something starts in the brain. The desire to seek variety, both in terms of chewing gum and lovers, is hardwired into our brains and it has no off switch. With the aid of a targeted brain implant, we can effectively install one.

That means that no matter how sexy or seductive that bartender is, we won’t feel the urge to have sex with them in the nearest utility closet. We won’t even feel the slightest bit of attraction to them. We literally cannot feel or think about such things. Our brains would reserve all our passions and horiness for one person.

On paper, it’s perfect monogamy. Sure, it’s somewhat forced. Sure, the fact we need a brain implant would be tangible proof about just how uncertain we are about our ability to keep our hearts and genitals in check. Would that really matter, though? The passions the two lovers feel would still be every bit as powerful. From their perspective, the presence or absence of a brain implant makes no difference.

It’s distressing on some levels, but intriguing on others. We all seek love. We all cherish whatever love we find. Why shouldn’t we do everything we can to preserve it? Until now, we’ve always been at the mercy of our caveman brains and the erratic genitals that aid them. Once we learn how to effectively rewire our brains, we can get around that issue. However, would that still be genuine love?

Some would argue, and I would agree to some extent, genuine love needs to come through struggle. Just hacking your brain to ensure you never love anyone else is like using a cheat code in a video game. Sure, you still beat the game, but you still cheated. You can’t say you accomplished more than someone who beat the game without cheat codes.

It’s more a paradox than a thought experiment, but one we’ll have to deal with at some point. As I’ve said before, we need to upgrade our brains in order to survive in the long run. We, as a species, cannot survive if we keep killing each other over rival gods, skin color, and who has the best college mascot. We’ll only overcome those nasty inclinations once we purge them from our brains.

Once we change our brains, though, we inherently change how we love each other and how we express that love. By default, we’ll also change how we have sex with each other and be intimate with each other. The extent of that change, as well as how we’ll deal with it, is impossible to know right now. Like love itself, we probably won’t know it until we feel it for ourselves.

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On Conditioning The Brain (For Love)

In nearly every love story, the actual process of falling in love is the easy part. A man sees a beautiful woman. A woman see’s a handsome man. A man see’s another beautiful man or a woman see’s another beautiful woman. Sexy romantic activities follow. People don’t need much incentive or reason to fall in love is what I’m saying.

The real challenge, and the main struggle in those same love stories, is convincing someone else to love them back. It can be an all-encompassing, all-consuming struggle that inspires epic quests, blood feuds, and kinky fantasies of every kind, from the genuinely heart-warming to the downright disturbing.

In most stories, those elaborate efforts either pay off or make for the kind of Shakespearean tragedy that crushes the spirits of every high school English student for generations. Love stories have a special knack for hitting a broad spectrum of emotions, from the kind that makes us cry to the kind that makes us horny. That’s a big part of their appeal and that’s the kind of appeal I try to capture in my novels.

As epic as these love stories can be, on top of the sex appeal they inherently bring, there’s one key element to love that’s easy to overlook, but impossible to avoid. No matter who you or a character in a story falls in love with, you can’t do much with that feeling if the person you love isn’t receptive to it on some level. Even if they don’t eventually love you back, you work under the assumption that they’re open to love.

That’s usually a pretty safe assumption. Between the novels I write, as well as the many other epic love stories that have been written, it’s clear that humans are a very passionate species. We fall in love almost as often as we go to war for stupid reasons. It’s literally hardwired into our brain.

However, it’s that same wiring that makes love such an erratic, fleeting emotion. It’s the primary reason why that, until recently, a marriage built around love was seen as unstable. That makes an unsexy bit of sense when you think about it. Given how easily we fall in love with others, or how horny we get after being with one person for a while, relying on love to hold a marriage together seems like a bold bet with long odds.

Granted, it’s a beautiful thing when it pays off. However, as with any bet that has such high stakes, it’s safe to assume that someone will try to cheat in order to change the odds. Why else would so many stories involve love potions, spells, and elaborate lies that blow up in someone’s face?

While those kinds of manipulations can be dishonest, and more than a little creepy, it’s also understandable. It’s an unfair world full of unfeeling people who seem eager to crush your emotions, burn them to a crisp, and spit on the ashes. If there was a way to just nudge someone’s emotions to be in line with your own, wouldn’t you take it?

That leads to a distressing, but relevant question. It’s part philosophical, part practical, and part ethically suspect. I know those are a lot of conflicting parts, but bear with me because it affects our love lives and our sex lives so it’s pretty damn important. Here it is and feel free to take as much time as you need to contemplate it.

“Is a love that is conditioned, coerced, or magically conjured in someone any less sincere?”

I know what the knee-jerk reaction to that sort of question is. The idea that any kind of love that’s forced is somehow sincere seems like something you shouldn’t imply unless you’re wearing a suit of adamantium armor. Most love stories built around forced love tends to either fall apart or turn into some twisted form of BDSM erotica. It can even show up in classic Disney movies, albeit indirectly.

In a perfect world full of singing animals and naked supermodels, love would never have to be conditioned or coerced. Those in love would just need to follow the steps laid out in every John Hughes movie ever made and that’s it. You’ll win the love of whoever you desire.

Sadly, we know this isn’t a perfect world. Animals don’t sing. You have to pay to see naked supermodels. Love and heartache aren’t always mutually exclusive either. Every other love song ever made is proof of that. So why shouldn’t we entertain the thought that a magic love potion every now and then might be warranted?

The substance of this question was inspired, in part, by the post I did about the less pleasant details of Marvel’s defacto Wonder Woman, Carol “Captain Marvel” Danvers. Early in her history, one of Carol Danvers’ most defining stories came when she was manipulated by a powerful being named Marcus Immortus into falling in love with her.

Sure, he did it so he could impregnate her and be reborn before he died of accelerated aging, but his tactic worked. He did get Carol to fall in love with her and bear his child. It might be one of the most infamous Marvel stories that doesn’t involve clones, time travel, or deals with the devil. Some go so far as to call it rape and that wouldn’t be entirely wrong in certain jurisdictions.

That still doesn’t change the actual results of Immortus’ efforts. As much as asshole as he is, does that make Carol’s emotions in the story any less real? From her perspective, does it really matter if the love she feels is forced, conditioned, or magically conjured? It’s easy for anyone not in Carol’s position to be disgusted by that kind of treachery. When you’re in love, though, you tend not to care much for those kinds of details.

It has been well-documented in both science and any number of one night stands. Being in love is like a drug, one that induces a sense of euphoria on par with a cocaine binge with Led Zeppelin. Your brain, being the crude hunk of biomatter that it is, doesn’t care about the circumstances. It loves to love. It wants to love. It doesn’t give a wet fart where it comes from. When it happens, it lets us know how awesome it is.

It doesn’t help that the brain is incredibly easy to fool. Con artists, street magicians, and used car salesmen all know this better than anyone. The brain, as wonderfully complex as it is, can be tricked and manipulated. If someone can evoke the right chemical cocktail in your cerebral cortex, it won’t ask twice. It might not even ask once. If it checks all the right boxes, we’ll get that same passionate rush.

It’s a disturbing thought, but it’s distressingly easy to imagine. Say, for instance, that someone conditioned another to love them the same way Marcus Immortus did with Carol Danvers. That person now loves them with all their heart. They don’t know, nor do they care, how that love happened. They just feel it and that’s all there is to it.

Now, imagine that same person living the rest of their life with that conditioned love. They never find out that it was forced or conjured within them. To them, it’s as real as any genuine, non-coerced love that we’ve ever felt. They love someone and feel loved in return. They go to their graves having felt that love, experienced it, and cherished it with all their hearts.

While the idea of creating that kind of love seems distressing, requiring that someone has no respect whatsoever for someone else’s individual autonomy, it does seem oddly pragmatic. It even seems like a win-win on some levels. One person gets the lover they want. The other gets to live a life immersed in the high that is love. Other than the guilt one person might feel for resorting to such tactics, it’s not like anyone really suffers.

I don’t bring this issue up to undermine the profound nature of love. As an aspiring erotica/romance writer, contemplating these things and asking these sometimes unsexy questions are just part of the job. Capturing the appeal of love in a novel is something I try to do with every story I write. I did my best with “Passion Relapse.” I hope I succeed even more with “Rescued Hearts.”

However, there’s no denying the complexities of love and the passions behind it. They’re not always pure. They’re not always sexy either. Stories like that of Carol Danvers and Marcus Immortus highlight a fundamental tension, of sorts, within the nature of love. Our brains can’t always tell the difference when a feeling is real or induced.

At the end of the day, though, does that really matter? Isn’t a feeling as powerful as love worth it? It’s something to contemplate when scrutinizing love or telling sexy stories. As long as we remain such a passionate species, we’ll keep seeking that feeling with our hearts, our genitals, and everything in between.

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