The Coolidge Effect : Why Men Go Off Sex With Their Partner

Have you heard all the stereotypical male comments such as “she’s always got a headache”, “she seems more focused on her career than sex”, or “since the birth of our child sex is the last thing on her mind”? Are these comments fair? Perhaps not. Take the following joke for example:

A couple goes to a marriage therapist. The wife complains that her husband has gone off sex. The therapist grabs hold of the woman and kisses her passionately until she begins to “ooh” and “aahh”. The therapist turns to the husband and says “see, your wife needs this every Monday, Wednesday and Friday”. The husband thinks for a minute and then replies “Monday and Wednesday are fine, but I can’t bring her to you on Friday as I’m playing golf”.

The truth is the male sex drive goes into decline as a relationship progresses, but men rarely want to admit it because they see this as a threat to their masculinity. Why is this the case when men’s primary function is to have sex as much as possible in order to ensure the survival of the species? Male dopamine levels, a neurochemical linked with motivation and reward, decline when a man has sex exclusively with one partner over the course of time. The term ‘Coolidge Effect’ describes a phenomenon, seen in every species tested, whereby males only show continuously high sexual performance given the introduction of new receptive females.

The term comes from a joke whereby president Calvin Coolidge and his wife visited a poultry farm. The farmer proudly boasted that his roosters ‘performed their duty’ several times a day. On hearing this Mrs. Coolidge said “perhaps you could point that out to Mr. Coolidge”. The farmer then mentioned that there were many hens for each rooster, to which Mr. Coolidge said “perhaps you could point that out to Mrs. Coolidge.” 

So the issue appears to be a universal one. While there are always exceptions to every rule, women’s sex drive will naturally decline with the pressures of a career, sharing the responsibility of a joint home (or doing all the work!) and having children. This often leads men to feel rejected and so, in time, withdraw from all forms of intimacy. A stand off ensues whereby a woman may say “if you are nicer to me, I’ll have more sex with you” and a man may say “if you have more sex with me, I’ll be nicer to you.” Catch-22. The simple fact is that a mismatch in sexual desire is the number one reason couples go to marriage therapy. A recent study found that 1 in 3 couples struggle with issues of low sexual desire, and that 20% of couples have sex less than 10 times a year! This can lead to a weakening of the emotional bonds between them.

To compound the issue no mammals are monogamous and only 3% pair-bond (including us humans). So how do men get around these biological roadblocks, and learn to show more empathy if their partner wants less sex? There are no bullet proof solutions, but the following can be used as a guide.

Take time every day to have an intimate moment with your partner. Remember, we’re not talking about sex here we’re talking about intimacy. Listen to her. Make time every day to sit down and communicate with your partner, remembering that you don’t have to find solutions – just listen and occasionally ask appropriate questions. Go on a date once a week to keep the romance in your relationship. Don’t forget her Birthday, your Anniversary or Valentine’s Day. Take time to do the little things like tidying up after yourself. She’s your partner not your mum! By staying involved in the relationship at all of these different emotional levels you can hopefully ‘keep the magic alive’!


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