Scientists who examine rodent sexual behavior have found that male rats and human men have similar behavioral characteristics when it comes to sex and the need for variety. But to be completely fair, at least one study implies that some women have much in common with their female rodent counterparts as well—and that’s a good thing.
I’ll explain. Eight months ago I read the Scientific American article “A Tale of Two Rodents”. Interestingly, over the past eight months, the studies reported in this article keep popping into my mind when interviewing experts on human sexual behavior. This was especially true during my recent interview with Eric Anderson, Ph.D.—whose research and book, The Monogamy Gap: Men, Love and the Reality of Cheating, shows that men crave variety in the bedroom to the point of having extreme difficulty with monogamy. During my interviews with Pat Allen, Ph.D., I thought of the rodent article yet again when the leading relationships expert and best selling author pointed out, that while men aren’t built for monogamy, women repeatedly fall for dishonest and selfish guys after they have sex prematurely, and are blindly bonded due to a rush of oxytocin. (See an interview with her here.)
Here’s why the Scientific American article keeps percolating in my mind. One study in the article revealed that when a male rat and his mate were put into a cell together, the male rat was extremely amorous in the beginning and initiated sex multiple times a day. In fact, the male rat often sang during sex and seemed to keep going for a long time. (The results of this study were shown to college students that apparently became very interested during this period!) After a while with the same female rat, the love making sessions became shorter and less frequent. After one particularly short love making session, with the male rat becoming listless afterwards, the researchers put a new female rat in the room. Suddenly, as one might imagine, the dynamic shifted and the once tired rat transformed into a sexual dynamo—but with his new love interest.
Another provocative study reported in the article was of female rats (presumably with gps locators on them) who would walk many city blocks thwarting the advances of male rats. In fact, Kelly Lambert, Ph.D., concluded: “Rodent females are choosy, traveling up to seven city blocks—a long way for a rat—to find a male who meets her standards. She sniffs out his biological germ-fighting arsenal.” Basically, she’s looking for a male with the “right” smell. (Old Darwin obviously knew a thing or two about this type of selection.) Females in this study waited to mate until they found a male that smelled healthy enough to give her healthy children.
I remember reading this article in the waiting room of my son’s therapist’s office and just busting out laughing. Basically, it proves what a lot of cynical people already espouse: men, at their most base (rodent) level, will take sex any way they can get it and variety is the spice of life. Women, however, know they can get pregnant and need to be sure their man is healthy and kind. He has to have the attributes she’s looking for to give her healthy children if she gets pregnant, and be kind enough not run away and help take care of the children when they arrive.
Why, then, aren’t all of us females as strong-willed and as savvy as that female rat who hiked seven city blocks? Why can’t we all thwart the advances of those smelly bad boys?
Of course, we humans have complicated the issue a bit, haven’t we? We’re all looking for our soul mates—well, some of us anyway—and think we’ll find them on the internet or at bars. And we just might. But the key for women to be successful with our rat-sniffing abilities, according to some experts, is to keep alcohol and drugs out of the picture and NOT to have sex too soon. Dr. Allen explained to me during private sessions, when I was grappling with my ex’s infidelity, that men and women are just built differently. Not all men will cheat—but they want to. Finding the men who actually won’t disrespect their wives, takes a bit of effort. Women, however, have built-in radar called intuition that lets us know when a man is kind at his core. We also know instinctively when they aren’t. We lose this radar, however, when we drink or have sex too soon in a relationship—blinding us from acknowledging blatant red flags and putting us in line for future heartache.
I imagine that Dr. Anderson might look at these rodent studies as further proof that human beings need to re-evaluate how we perceive relationships and our expectations for monogamy. What do you think? Are we really just rats at the core? At the end of the day, will you, as a single mom, walk the metaphoric seven city blocks until you find a man that sniffs of kindness who will love you AND your children? I’m sure many of you are nodding saying, you bet. But years down the line, once you have the right man, will you be willing to let another female into the room to give your kind, nice-smelling man a bit of the variety that he craves? That’s a hard one to even consider isn’t it? I think I’ll leave that scenario to the rats for now.
- Penguin sex habits shocked 1910 scientist (upi.com)
- Study traces origins of monogamous coupling (wvgazette.com)
- Love Hurts: Brain Chemistry Explains the Pangs of Separation [Excerpt] (scientificamerican.com)
- Chemistry makes us cheat (salon.com)