Isn’t Synergy “unnatural”?

TurningPointSynergy Explorers

People sometimes declare Synergy “unnatural” because animals always ejaculate when they copulate…or do they? In fact, various primates don’t always ejaculate when they copulate.

Moreover, this behaviour is more common than imagined. Male macaque monkeys, for example, ejaculate in roughly half of their copulations. And tamarin monkeys, which are socially monogamous like humans, seem to use non-ejaculatory mounts as part of a wide range of pair-bonding activities. These include grooming, stroking and cuddling as well as sexual behaviour.

Tamarin researcher Chuck Snowdon discovered higher blood levels of oxytocin in the monkeys who most engaged in such behaviours. The hormone oxytocin promotes emotional ties. Interestingly, when asked, Snowdon was, “almost positive [ejaculations] did not occur on every mount, but I can’t make even an educated guess on what the proportion might be since tamarins don’t show anything like an orgasmic response.”

What about the bonobo chimps? Aren’t they much celebrated for bumping and grinding at every opportunity? Yes, but they frequently don’t climax. Researchers report that a lot of bonobo genital rubbing is “rather casual and relaxed.”*

In short, it seems that primate sexual activity promotes social bonding even without climax. So, why isn’t this common knowledge?

Strange bedfellows: St. Augustine & sexologists

If you’re Catholic you may be familiar with Augustine’s insistence that mates should only use sex “procreatively.” He and his intellectual progeny taught that because sex is a consequence of the “animal” in man—and animals have no interest in using sex to foster love or unity—the proper use of sex in marriage is strictly for breeding.

Alas, Augustine was mistaken. As explained above, other primates engage in copulation without ejaculation to strengthen their emotional bonds. Of course, the motives for monkey sex may have constituted TMI for the Church fathers. Yet the fact remains that primate sex “fosters love and unity” when employed for that end.

Sadly, Church authorities are not alone in their unwavering faith in the indispensability of climax. Ask sexology experts to compare the stress levels or wound-healing speeds of couples engaging in orgasm-based sex with couples practicing Synergy. You’ll hear, “That wouldn’t get past our ethics committee because we consider sex without orgasm a paraphilia or sexual disorder.”

Is the dubious conviction that the only healthy sex is orgasmic serving lovers? Certainly, this stricture creates unnecessary distress and frustration in the less orgasmic or anorgasmic—and their mates.

Might this assumption also delay investigation of wellbeing in relation to climax frequency? Indirectly, this “orgasm-requirement” bolsters the belief that pursuing sexual urges to exhaustion is a neutral, or even beneficial, practice. Could this cause patients and their caregivers to misattribute symptoms arising from simply too much of a good thing?

No doubt people have sometimes avoided orgasm during sex for pathological reasons. However, the benefits from the practice of affectionate intercourse without orgasm have been reported often, and in many cultures. Emotionally healthy people must make this choice too. For example, a sample of Chinese men found sex without ejaculation just as satisfying as ejaculatory sex.

To an open-minded future

Ironically, the psychology profession occasionally stumbles over the benefits of not pursuing climax. (The Church has too.) To restore harmony between couples, therapists regularly prescribe a therapeutic technique called sensate focus. It is essentially bonding behaviors without orgasm.

Promisingly, Canadian sexologists published a paper in 2009 entitled ‘The components of optimal sexuality: A portrait of “great sex”’, emphasising that,

Perhaps clients know intuitively that they were seeking something more fulfilling, exciting and meaningful than predictable and reliable genital responses could have provided all along. If clients truly wish to experience “sex worth wanting”, therapists need to aim much higher than merely returning their clients to adequate physiological functioning. In other words, perhaps much of what is currently diagnosed as sexual desire disorders can be best understood as a healthy response to dismal and disappointing sex.

In order to help those seeking optimal sexuality, or even sex worth getting excited about, clinicians will need to acquire new skill sets and learn how to develop new capacities in our patients.

Happily, the world’s sexologists have issued a “Declaration on Sexual Pleasure” recognising that the experiences of sexual pleasure are diverse and subjective, and should be free of discrimination. They call for the development of evidence-informed knowledge of the benefits of sexual pleasure as part of wellbeing.

Perhaps one day sexology researchers will boldly investigate bonding-based sex without the goal of orgasm (Synergy).


* Paul R. Abramson and Steven D. Pinkerton, Sexual Nature/Sexual Culture (University of Chicago Press, 1995), page 48.