Cupid's Poisoned Arrow

With an entertaining blend of personal experiences,  neuroscience, and forgotten insights from a variety of cultures, Cupid’s Poisoned Arrow: From Habit to Harmony in Sexual Relationships confronts current assumptions about sex and love and offers a refreshing, practical approach to sexual intimacy.


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I tried all the familiar recommendations for healing disharmony in intimate relationships: improved communication, finding a more “ideal” mate, more passion, loving my inner child, negotiation, and so forth. Yet these remedies did not arrest relationship deterioration when trouble started. Eventually I realized that they sometimes address only symptoms of a more fundamental problem. That problem is right under our noses. It has always been there. But now that we can dissolve our marriages with greater ease, it is even more glaring. Once we acknowledge the problem, the solution is evident.

The trouble begins with sex. Not exciting sex versus boring sex, or too little sex versus too much, as most of us conclude, but rather fertilization behavior itself. After all, platonic friendships between men and women work fairly well. The trouble generally erupts after we become lovers. And what else begins then? For everyone? The quest to have our sexual needs met as thoroughly as possible.

Passion seems like our best friend, often the one indisputably good thing about an otherwise dysfunctional relationship. However, sexual satiety—that “I’m done!” feeling after sex—turns out to be a subconscious, surprisingly persuasive, mammalian signal. It urges us toward habituation (feeling fed up with a mate). Because we’re unaware of this signal, we ascribe the friction in our relationships to other causes.

Finding another way

The more dissatisfied we grow, the less likely we are to stumble upon the other way of easing sexual tension: relaxed, gentle intercourse that soothes sexual frustration entirely differently. …

This subconscious alienation—which mates so often encounter despite their desire to remain in love—is the result of an unsuspected poison on Cupid’s arrow. When we fall in love, a primitive part of our brain pierces us with a desire for great passion (Cupid’s dart). An orgasm feels great, and if it were the end of the story, lovers would be able to do what comes naturally in the bedroom and live happily ever after.

The problem is that sex—especially the kind with lots of orgasms all around, leading to that feeling of “I’m definitely done!” (sexual satiety)—isn’t an isolated event. Orgasm is the peak of a much longer cycle of subsequent changes deep in the brain. These lingering effects, and the unwelcome feelings they evoke, can poison our relationship without our conscious awareness. Remarkably, such diverse symptoms as selfishness, unfulfilled needs, communication  problems, infidelity, and sexless marriages can all originate in these hidden commands.

Robinson, Marnia. 2009. Cupid’s Poisoned Arrow: From habit to harmony in sexual relationships. Berkeley, Calif: North Atlantic Books.