#401 – A Critical Examination of Monogamy with Christopher Ryan PhD

Christopher Ryan

Christopher Ryan Ph.D. received a BA in English and American literature in 1984 and an MA and Ph.D. in psychology from Saybrook University, in San Francisco, CA twenty years later. He spent the intervening decades traveling around the world, living in unexpected places working at very odd jobs (e.g., gutting salmon in Alaska, teaching English to prostitutes in Bangkok and self-defense to land-reform activists in Mexico, managing commercial real-estate in New York’s Diamond District, helping Spanish physicians publish their research). Somewhere along the way, he decided to pursue doctoral studies in psychology. Drawing upon his multi-cultural experience, Christopher’s research focused on trying to distinguish the human from the cultural. His doctoral dissertation analyzes the prehistoric roots of human sexuality, and was guided by the world-renowned psychologist, Stanley Krippner.

Christopher has lectured at the University of Barcelona Medical School, consulted at various hospitals, contributed to publications ranging from Behavioral and Brain Sciences (Cambridge University Press) to a textbook used in medical schools and teaching hospitals throughout Spain and Latin America. He’s been featured in major national media, both conventional (e.g., MSNBC, Canada’s CBC-TV, Oprah Radio, CNN, NPR, The Washington Post, Time, Newsweek, The Atlantic, Outside magazine) and Internet-based (e.g., Salon.com, Seed.com, Big Think, and Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish blog over a dozen times). He and his work have also appeared in many international newspapers (e.g., The Times of London, Toronto Globe and Mail, Israel’sHa’aretz, The Sydney Morning Herald, SonntagsBlick) and television (U.S., Spain, Russia, Canada, Australia).

Christopher contributes to both Psychology Today and Huffington Post.

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A psychology podcast by David Van Nuys, Ph.D.

copyright 2014: David Van Nuys, Ph.D.

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3 Comments

  1. George W. Hebert, II
    Posted May 1, 2014 at 10:21 pm | Permalink

    Dr. Dave,

    Thank you very, very much for entertaining this interview. I have followed Dr. Ryan yet felt that your interview really served a huge amount of meat and potatoes. I both agree with his position and also suffer silently with the trappings of monogamy and the false peramiters that society heaps upon us because others are too uncomfortable to question everything. I guess we all have to drink the hemlock in some way? I will be sending support soon as well. Your podcasts have made their way into my work as I study for my master’s in Mental Health Counseling currently.
    Regards,

    G. W. Hebert, II

  2. Posted May 11, 2014 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    Hi Dr. Dave,

    I really enjoyed this episode for the content, challenging ideas, and fast pace. You guys covered a lot of ground with clarity and frankness. Seeing sex as having multiple functions for humans, rather than just as a means of procreation, is so important.

    I recently listened to Dr. Sue Johnson’s book, Love Sense, after really getting a lot out of the Shrink Rap Radio interview with her. Then I went on to read Attached by Amir Levine and Rachel S. F. Heller, and Sue Johnson’s other book Hold Me Tight. Excellent each one.

    Dr. Johnson’s work seems to contrast fairly sharply with a lot of what was covered in this interview. I’m thinking of her observation of the way nature is dyadic and the role of sex in creating and maintaining strong pair bonds in humans. I think she comes out and says that monogamy is the norm in humans.

    At the very least I think we can say that for the majority of adult humans, a secure attachment with one other person, i.e. a romantic partner, is where we get a large portion of our emotional, social, and sexual needs met. The security of the bond is key and sexual activity with others weakens or collapses the security of the pair attachment. And if the attachment is not secure, then the benefits of pain reduction, and other health and longevity effects Dr. Johnson covers, will not be there. Maybe I’m making too much of this, but it’s hard to align all the information presented in these two interviews.

    Lastly, I question if the ability to separate emotional connection from sex, i.e. “it was just sex,” is healthy. It sounds very similar to an avoidant attachment style, so I’m wondering.

    Anyway, all very thought provoking and important material. It’s this kind of material we need to be discussing as the roles and norms of our culture shift.

    Much appreciated,

    Richard

  3. Dr. Michael Ocana
    Posted May 23, 2014 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

    I agree with you Robert. The contrast between Dr Sue Johnson and Christopher Ryan struck me as well. I actually don’t think Sue would disagree with a lot of what Christopher says. The difference has to do with attachment that Christopher did not cover in the interview. The attunement and security of a secure attachment is what keeps monogamy alive. Without this security we are much more vulnerable to the lures of infidelity. I’m not sure we need to be as pessimistic about it as Christopher suggest. Simply seeing infidelity as inevitable or simply unavoidable is likely counter productive. I enjoyed Christopher’s contrast between the world of the chimpanzee and the bonobo. From my reading of anthropologists such as Hrdy, and Jared Diamond it seems that prehistoric humans probably had largely matriarchal systems but that these shifted to patriarchal systems in late prehistoric times. The recent shifts towards greater empowerment of women and reductions in global rates of violence (see Pinker) is interesting in this light.

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