Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Love, Sex and Divorce

The winter continues although today's snow only a trace compared to the 10+ storms of six or more inches that we have experienced so far.  Temps under 40 all week (normal is 45 or so) so even with some sun the snow piles are not dwindling.  Most people one encounters is wishing for spring's arrival.  In the meantime, while we are in the arms of old man winter, California is as dry as a bone and record heat has plagued many in the southern hemisphere.  Climate change is everywhere to see yet there are still so many people denying its existence, some due to the influence of Fox News and its legion of naysayers who either actually live with their heads in the sand, or more likely draw their salaries from the fossil fuel industry that is most threatened by climate change facts, and some who are just too busy or tired or uninterested to think about what is going on around them.

Like the proverbial frog in hot water, it will be a hollow told-you-so victory for those advocating for action now when nature's boiling over burns all of us, and those who have placed their profit above the health and security of their children and grand children are finally awakened to the nature of their foolish actions and short sighted denials.

But, that wasn't what I wanted to blog about today.

I recently read two articles in the February Smithsonian that touched on love, sex and divorce.

The first, Valentine's Revenge, detailed a brief history of divorce in the last 500 years.  Of course, as is true of much of history, divorce was exclusively a tool for men to control women.  Whether it be through divorce rules that required little proof for men but an overwhelming standard for women, or via the various tenets of religions that required the woman to always obey the man, or just by the simple fact that it is woman who is bears all the physical requirements of bringing a baby into the world while depending on the man to provide more than just the sperm, divorce until most recently has not been a viable option for women.  (A lingering sign of these times is the abuse some women of means encounter when they choose to raise a child on their own, without a father.  While I would certainly prefer two parent families, it strikes me as the height of hypocrisy when I see a young woman being attacked by a man for "breaking apart" the family unit, when these same men have little or nothing to say about holding the sperm provider accountable for all the babies born out of wedlock but have no problem with pontificating for women to put an aspirin between their legs or labeling as sluts those women who advocate for birth control in insurance plans).

Oops, I strayed again.

Anyway, if one would spend even a few minutes reviewing the history of divorce, it would be clear that it has been a process which favored men for a large percentage of the time.  Hence, women who tolerated their man's infidelity, cruelty or just plain assholeness, had no recourse but to stick it out.  No wonder then that the divorce rates have climbed in the past 50 years.  Women have finally received a fair legal shake and have a much better chance of surviving, economically, then all the generations of their sisters gone by.  As the optimist I am, my hopes is that the divorce rates will level out in the next few generations as we continue to evolve socially, which includes marrying at a later time in life, waiting a bit longer to have children and limiting our families to a size that we can support.

The other article was about Voles and the recent studies that have featured them in an attempt to understand love, bonding and monogamy in people. 

Interestingly, their are two types of voles which behave much differently; let's call them city and country vole.  The city vole bonds for life with the male spending much more time helping to raise the little ones than its country vole counterpart.  In studying the vole, scientists have isolated the RNA/DNA interactions which seem to create this difference, and have actually changed a country vole to act like a city vole by altering that interaction. 

Of course, there is no proof that a vole, or any animal, loves its mate.  Still, while the vast majority of mammals do not mate for life, do not have males that stay with the mother of their progeny, the vole does exhibit these traits.  So, if we assume that rearing a family with two parents is the ideal natural way, it is curious that it seems to be the exception rather than the rule.  Or, one might argue that man has evolved a bit farther than most other animals, has a deeper or more critical requirement for pair bonding; that nature has selected this trait for us to prosper. 

The interesting thing about voles and sex however, is that voles are not necessarily sexual faithful.  They stray, both males and females, but tend to return to the original mate.      

So, perhaps it is sex that is the problem.

Voles aside, do we attach too much value to the sex act?  Since we know how to control procreation, sex is less about babies and more about enjoyment.  I read recently that money problems are the number one cause for divorce, not sexual infidelity.  Would the human race be better off if we learned that sex can be both an expression of love and a physical activity, and that sex outside marriage should not necessarily destroy that marriage if it is done so openly, safely?

Unfortunately, it seems to me that sex, like so many other activities, is often used as an expression of power with rape being the ultimate example of that type.  And, sorry to say guys, men are much more immature in their understanding of sex.  As we continue to learn about the working of our brains, the influence of DNA and the environment on our behavior and the interplay of those dynamics, I hope there is more research concerning oxytocin and vasopressin, voles and humans, males and females so that someday the world will have much more love and sex, and much less divorce.


Thursday, February 13, 2014


This past week, there was much ado about the 50th anniversary of the Beatles appearing on the Ed Sullivan show.  I must confess, I was never a huge fan of the Fab Four.  I guess part of the reason is my age; I was just six years old when the Beatles visited America in 1964.  I also had a sheltered exposure to music until high school, at which time the Beatles were long past their heyday as a group.  I do remember exactly where I was when John Lennon was murdered, and I remember thinking that it was a great loss to the world, so I had established a respect for Lennon.  But I always thought Paul's solo music was a bit too pop so when I was seeing a rock concert twice a month in the late 70's and early 80's, the Beatles were not represented in any form.

During my newspaper delivery days, I did feel a modicum of admiration for the Beatles via a few particular disc jockeys who played Beatles music for hours at a time in the early weekend mornings, and I have also gained a much bigger respect for George Harrison in the past few years.  He was clearly a unique man in terms of his life perspective. 

Still, I am far from understanding Beatlemania.  But, all that being said, I was glad to see the 50th anniversary celebrated as it has been.  These kinds of events, sometimes understood at their occurrence as historic, sometimes only perceived as important after the fact, mark societal changes that effect everyone, those involved in the details, those who feel the significance of the event, and even (perhaps especially) those who were unaware of the event.  Whether we attach the popularity of long hair on men, the influence of Beatles music on all music which followed, the continuing revolution that allowed women to express their sexuality more openly, or any of the subtle and myriad ways that America changed in the 60's, the Beatles phenomenon was a factor in how America, and all Americans, live their lives today.

Speaking of icons, Shirley Temple (Black) died this past week.  Again, before my time, much before, I was never a Shirley Temple movie watcher.  I may have never watched one of her movies all the way through in my life.  But, her influence on American culture is undeniable.  At a time when America was suffering through the worst financial crisis in its history, the Shirley Temple characters gave us hope for the future.  She allowed us to look at the world through eyes less cynical, with a perspective that saw the goodness in others and in life's experiences.  Perhaps it was a bit too sugary sweet, but it was a sweetness in demand at a time when real life was not full of lollipops and sunshine.

Finally, another Olympics is ongoing this week, this one from Sochi, Russia.  From what I have read, these Olympics represent some of the worst that man has permitted and actively committed against his fellow man.  The history of the native folk who live in the Sochi and surrounding areas is rife with cruelty and killing.  And, Putin's efforts to dress up his country despite its horribly low life expectancy, horribly high alcoholism rates, poor economy and severe income inequality, are as politically motivated as any Olympic games have been.

(Quick note here, perhaps those who still cling to the belief that income inequality is OK should take a look at countries where the top earners control a large percentage of the money, and how devastated is the middle class of those countries, and how limited upward mobility is for its citizens.  Also, perhaps the Republican party and its far right conservative "Christians" should reexamine their affiliation with Russia in terms of their treatment, legal and social, of those with a different sexual orientation.)

Still, I enjoy the Olympics.  Perhaps I am biased as I attended two Olympics as a young adult, the 1976 event in Montreal and the 1984 extravaganza in Los Angeles.  (No, I was not an athlete, just one of the thousands in the stands.)  Yes, sports stars today are overpaid, and the Olympics has long shed its requirement that participants be amateur, yet sports, and the Olympics in particular can still act as a bridge between people from different backgrounds, cultures, races, religion, enabling them to build upon their commonalities rather than focusing on the differences.  Perhaps not as much today, but I recollect many a love story between two completely different people, emanating from past Olympics.  And, in addition to the obvious interplay between people of different perspectives, there are the wonderful stories of everyday Americans, Swiss, Norwegians, Canadians who have dreamed of someday performing on the world stage, and, through perseverance, and family (sometimes even community assistance), have achieved their dream.  Even more inspiring, (when we can put aside our obsession with winning) are the stories in which competing is the reward in itself because in the competition, individual bests are posted and medals are insignificant.