This article was last updated on June 18, 2022
The first time I heard of this concept was in 1972 when I took my very first psyche course at university. I don’t remember hearing this expression to describe the phenomenon but I certainly never forgot the idea. The story, as I recall it, went like this:
Test #1: A ram in heat is put in a pen with a sheep. The ram attempts to copulate 7 times in 1 hour.
Test #2: A ram in heat is put in a pen with a sheep. After the ram copulates with the sheep, the sheep is removed and a different sheep is put in the pen. The ram attempts copulation 14 times in a half hour.
7 times an hour vs. 14 times in a half hour? Wow. But what exactly did it mean?
History has it that the ethologist (ethology = study of animal behaviour) Frank A. Beach (1911-1988) coined the term in 1955. The neologism is attributed to:
“… an old joke about Calvin Coolidge when he was President… The President and Mrs. Coolidge were being shown [separately] around an experimental government farm. When [Mrs. Coolidge] came to the chicken yard she noticed that a rooster was mating very frequently. She asked the attendant how often that happened and was told, “Dozens of times each day.” Mrs. Coolidge said, “Tell that to the President when he comes by.” Upon being told, President asked, “Same hen every time?” The reply was, “Oh, no, Mr. President, a different hen every time.” President: “Tell that to Mrs. Coolidge.”
You can wade through all the scientific literature about this but it basically boils down to how the male works in trying to propagate the species. The male tries to spread his seed to as many females as possible while the female seeks a more stable relationship to raise her young. Okay, that may be pretty simple but it underlines how men and women or males and females are wired differently. Yes, there are exceptions and not all examples are that cut and dry but it is the gist of it.
As a FYI, it seems that this effect may not be exclusively the domain of males. In this paper from 1988, “Effect of novel and familiar mating partners on the duration of sexual receptivity in the female hamster.“, the researchers noticed the same behaviour in female hamsters.
What’s really interesting?
People like to take this idea and apply it to human beings. How much of a fit is there? Is the jury still out? Some people are convinced this is very applicable to all of us and sometimes use it to explain why men are such horny old toads. I have noticed a number of web sites dealing with relationship issues addressing this problem by name, The Coolidge Effect, and attempting to offer advice to men and couples as to how to “combat” the Coolidge Effect.
Coolidge Effect in Sheep applied to people
Glenn Wilson (b 1942) is a psychologist of some renown. According to Wikipedia, in 2001, Wilson was ranked among the 10 most frequently cited British psychologists in scientific journals.
In a short article about the Coolidge Effect, he displays a graph showing the time between copulations of a ram as per the study Beamer, Bermant and Clegg, 1960. – I’m convinced this is the study I first read in my 1972 psyche class.
Dr. Wilson goes on to cite his own work
Although the Coolidge Effect is somewhat diminished in force within primates, and perhaps especially so in humans who have moral compunctions to deal with in addition, vestiges of it are nevertheless apparent. Before marriage it is usual for men to initiate intercourse at a fairly high frequency with their fiancée. After a few years of marriage, however, the husband’s sexual appetite begins to wane and an apparent reversal of libido may even occur, with the now frustrated wife demanding more love-making than her ‘tired’ husband is able to supply. He, of course, is still perfectly capable of being aroused by his mistresses and office girls and, if fortunate enough to secure an invitation to an orgy, would have little difficulty completing intercourse with two or three anonymous young women in the course of the evening’s festivities. Sex therapists see many men who are reported as ‘impotent’ by their wives but who privately confess to considerable prowess with a succession of mistresses. Clearly, this is more of a social problem than a medical condition.
Data illustrating the Coolidge Effect in human beings have been reported by Wilson (1981a). Large samples of men and women were asked if they were ‘getting enough sex at the moment’, 56 per cent of men and 41 per cent of women replying that they were not. When asked what their ideal would be, 63 per cent of women said ‘more sex with their spouse or steady partner’ (compared with 38 per cent of men) and 37 per cent of men said ‘more partners’ (compared with 18 per cent of women). Separation of the data into results for people of two different generations (younger and older than thirty) showed no change in this sex difference as a result of the new climate of sexual equality in which the younger generation has been raised. Evidently partner variety is of greater interest to men than to women, and this difference is reliable and enduring.
What does this mean?
First of all, would any man dare to use this as a justification for his not so monogamous behaviour? Go get’em tiger! Or is that “Tiger”? (see Wikipedia: Woods admits to multiple infidelities)
As Dr. Wilson states, humans have moral compunctions; we’re not completely out of control. Nevertheless, there is an underlying genetic makeup which plays a part in our behaviour, our interests and our being.
What to do about it
Call up Google and type in “Coolidge Effect spice up your relationship” and you’ll end up with all sorts of sites purporting to tell us how to get over the ho-hum and back to excitement.
Q&A: How Can We Reignite the Passion?
By Dr. P. Sándor Gardos – July 11, 2008
Q: My wife and I have been married for 17 years and love each other very much. The problem is that things just aren’t as physically exciting as when we were first married. We used to have great sex all the time; now it seems we are both tired and uninterested. What’s going on? Is this common?
A: You know the old expression, “Familiarity breeds contempt”? I heard John Money (a famous sexologist) put it a different way: “We don’t want to have sex with the person we take out the garbage with every day.”
Novelty is an extremely powerful aphrodisiac.
[author mentions the Coolidge Effect]
So yes, what you’re experiencing is normal and very common. But that doesn’t mean you can’t do anything about it. If you have a good relationship, there’s no reason that you can’t reignite the passion. But it takes work.
Think about the things that you used to do when you were first dating and romancing each other. Set aside special time each week. Go out on dates. Do whatever it takes.
Sex with someone you’ve been with for many years may not be the same as when you were first together. But, while it may not have the raw lust, it can have a level of intimacy and pleasure that’s simply unmatched!
Can we completely escape our genetics? Or by understanding ourselves, can we live better lives? If the Coolidge Effect demonstrates an underlying biological reason for variety, is there any reason why we can’t have variety? We don’t mind eating at the same restaurant but do we always have to order the same thing off the menu?
Falling in a rut seems to happen without us knowing about it. Recognising we’re in a rut may be difficult and doing something about it even harder.
I’m sure Mr. Coolidge would agree that a change of hen isn’t necessary but a change of feather would be nice.
Click HERE to read more from William Belle.
Wikipedia: The Coolidge Effect
Wikipedia: Frank A. Beach
Frank Ambrose Beach, Jr. (13 April 1911 – 15 June 1988) was an American ethologist, best known as co-author of the 1951 book Patterns of Sexual Behavior.
Wikipedia: Refractory period (sex)
In sexuality, the refractory period is the recovery phase after (normally male) orgasm during which it is physiologically impossible for an individual to have additional orgasms. It is also sometimes defined as “the time immediately following orgasm during which a man cannot achieve an erection.” The penis may be hypersensitive and further sexual stimulation may even feel painful during this time frame.
The refractory period varies widely among individuals and across species, ranging from minutes to days. An increased infusion of the hormone oxytocin during ejaculation is believed to be chiefly responsible for the refractory period and the amount by which oxytocin is increased may affect the length of each refractory period.
Another chemical which is considered to be responsible for this effect is prolactin, which represses dopamine, which is responsible for sexual arousal.
Unlike most men, most women do not experience a refractory period immediately after orgasm and in many cases are capable of attaining additional, multiple orgasms through further stimulation. The female sexual response is more varied than that of men, and there are many women who experience clitoral hypersensitivity after orgasm, which effectively creates a refractory period. These women may be capable of further orgasms, but the pain involved in getting there makes the prospect undesirable.
According to some studies, 18-year-old males have a refractory period of about 15 minutes, while those in their 70s take about 20 hours, with the average for all men being about a half-hour. Although rarer, some males exhibit no refractory period or a refractory period lasting less than 10 seconds. This, however, is not a lack of a refractory period per se (the ability to achieve another orgasm), but rather the ability to maintain an erection and resume sex immediately, whether to orgasm or not.
First use of the term
Request for Question Clarification by tehuti-ga on 01 Jul 2003 05:28 PDT
Hmmm, I have a feeling this is an apocryphal tale.
Apparently, the term “Coolidge effect” was first introduced into the psychological vocabulary by Professor Frank A. Beach of the University of California at a 1959 meeting of the Western Psychological Association:
“Fisher presented a paper at the Eastern Psychological Association outlining the basic effects of female novelty on the copulatory behavior of male rats. Beach and Richard Whalen repeated this work in Berkeley in 1959… Whalen’s WPA address provided the opportunity to relate this [Coolidge] story, for the chairman of that particular session was Professor David Krech, whose ability to appreciate a joke is well known. So at the critical moment, just before Krech ascended to the podium to introduce Whalen, Beach shot him a note with the request to introduce the talk under the heading of “The Coolidge Effect.” Krech complied.”
Beach and colleagues went on to use the term in a 1963 paper: Wilson, J., R. Kuehn, and F. Beach, “Modifications in the Sexual Behavior of Male Rats Produced by Changing the Stimulus Female,” Journal of Comparative and Physiological Psychology 56 (1963): 636-44]
Gordon Bermant, “Sexual Behavior: Hard Times with the Coolidge Effect,” in Michael H. Siegel and H. Philip Zeigler, eds., Psychological Research: The Inside Story (New York: Harper & Row, 1976), pp. 76-103, at pp. 76-77.
Beach first used the term in 1959, three decades after the end of Coodlidge’s term of office. I suspect that he was referring to a joke that was doing the rounds rather than to a true story, especially since he first used it while trying to introduce humour into dry conference proceedings.
Wikipedia: Glenn Wilson
Glenn Daniel Wilson (born December 29, 1942 in Christchurch, New Zealand) is a psychologist best known for his work on attitude and personality measurement, sexual attraction, deviation and dysfunction, partner compatibility, and psychology applied to performing arts.
In 2001, Wilson was ranked among the 10 most frequently cited British psychologists in scientific journals. He is a Fellow of the British Psychological Society and makes frequent media appearances as a psychology expert, especially in TV news and documentaries.
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