Researcher Marcia Esteves Agostinho launches the book “Why do we marry? Sex and love in life for two”, by Almedina Brasil publishing house, offering a multidisciplinary approach on marriage and its multiple perspectives throughout history. The work brings reflections on the reasons that lead couples to assume the marital commitment, in the face of contemporary social and cultural transformations.
With a deep and sensitive analysis, the author explores the eternal dichotomy between nature and culture, questioning the motivations behind the choices of relationships, monogamy, love and sex. The book is divided into three parts, addressing the evolution of the marital bond over time, discussing current issues related to modern marriages and, finally, exploring future possibilities for marriage.
Marcia Agostinho, master and doctoral candidate in History at the University of Rochester, in the United States, unites her academic experience with her dedication to her family over three decades. By combining knowledge from history, evolutionary biology, neuroscience and psychology, the author invites readers to a journey of reflection on love, commitment and the complexities of human relationships. The work promises to challenge perspectives and propose new views on marriage, inviting everyone to a deep introspection on what it means to be bound through love.
The title of the book “Why do we get married? Sex and love in life as a couple” already brings us a deep reflection. What was the inspiration behind this theme and the development of the work?
In fact, this is such a profound reflection that we end up avoiding it. Each year, in Brazil, more than one million weddings take place. Nearly half of the country’s adult population is officially married. Even so, we rarely stop to think about why we get married. My inspiration for writing a book that tackled this issue head-on was the modern career versus family dilemma. This is a topic that interests both women and men. After all, the dominant discourse tends to privilege the professional success of both, as if the house were managed by robots. Who takes care of the children? Is there still room for children in contemporary family arrangements? After all, there are more and more childless couples. Even more, how is the care of the marital relationship? And if the focus is work, why do we get married What do we expect today from the marital bond?
The book addresses the evolution of the marital bond throughout history, exploring different models of social organization. What are the main points highlighted in relation to changes and permanence in this context?
As I often say, marriage evolved from mating in the human species. As our existence became more complex, the marital bond became more sophisticated. In this process, a very peculiar human adaptation emerged: the predilection for sex in secret. In the book, I explain that this behavior, so characteristic of our species, is critical to the formation of our sociability. In any culture, we humans live in social systems made up of many adult men and women. Therefore, community living implies uncertainties regarding paternity. But the survival of human offspring to adulthood requires the investment of man and woman over a long period of time. Sex on the sly has remained in our behavior as it has the advantage of strengthening the bond between a given man and a given woman. When forming a stable couple,
In recent decades, we have seen a growing appreciation of independence and individualism, which has impacted marital relationships. How do you see these changes and how do they influence people’s choices about marriage?
We have less and less access to tradition to help with our everyday decisions. This is part of our condition as modern individuals. The problem is that choosing autonomously is a very big challenge for anyone. We need someone who shares our afflictions, or who at least cares about us and supports us when we make bad choices. Traditionally, relatives and friends fulfilled this role. But nowadays, when most of the population lives in large urban centers, we have less access to these people who accompanied us in childhood and adolescence. Maybe that’s why we’re getting married now. No longer because it is an obligation or a material need. But, because we look for partners who satisfy our needs for protection and emotional comfort. As I said in the book, “The marriage contract does not create partners, but relatives”. The question is whether spouses can withstand the expectations and frustrations of increasingly demanding individuals.
One of the topics addressed is the relationship between love and sex in the life of a couple. How do you explore this connection and how can it affect the stability of relationships?
Love and sex enter the book as manifestations of culture and nature on human behavior. What I find particularly interesting is how the two work together to stabilize couples’ relationships. An example of this is the action of certain hormones, such as oxytocin, which reinforce affective bonds. Produced in the body stimulated by physical contact, these substances modulate feelings that language makes intelligible. By the most diverse neural mechanisms, love and sex give meaning to life as a couple. As Rita Lee sang, “love without sex is friendship; sex without love is will”.
The book also discusses issues such as infidelity, breakup, and reconciliation. How are these themes addressed and what perspectives are presented?
Most contemporary marriages that end in divorce have experienced episodes of infidelity. Some more painful than others, rare are the experiences of infidelity that are not traumatic, both for the couple and for the children. It is curious to note that today it is easier to talk about polyamory (but not polygamy?) than about monogamy. Is fidelity too high a stake, an ideal that is sure to be frustrated? Does lowering expectations, already reserving the place for a third party, lessen the pain of not being unique to the other? In the book, I address infidelity in its most typical manifestations, including resorting to stereotypes so that a certain humor alleviates the pain of those who recognize themselves there. When dealing with the theme of breakup, I describe how, in general, frustrated expectations, among them with regard to fidelity, lead to the end of the marriage bond. The book could well end there. Right? No, wrong! We need to revisit the narrative that marriage is like a submarine – made to sink. The truth is that marriage is good, both for the individual and for humanity. But, in order to reap its fruits, we need to know how to invest and take care of the relationship. That’s why I wrote the chapter “Reconciliation”. There I argue that “reconciling with those who betrayed us implies – more than forgiving – reestablishing the intimate ties that, for some reason, were broken”. we need to know how to invest and take care of the relationship. That’s why I wrote the chapter “Reconciliation”. There I argue that “reconciling with those who betrayed us implies – more than forgiving – reestablishing the intimate ties that, for some reason, were broken”. we need to know how to invest and take care of the relationship. That’s why I wrote the chapter “Reconciliation”. There I argue that “reconciling with those who betrayed us implies – more than forgiving – reestablishing the intimate ties that, for some reason, were broken”.
You combine your academic career with dedication to your family, being a teacher, advisor, researcher and author. How might this personal experience have influenced the approach to the theme in the book?
As I said here at the beginning, the inspiration for this book was the career x family dilemma, which I saw in my students, but which, mainly, I lived as my own experience. I was an engineer and had started a professional corporate path. So then I met a handsome young man whom I married. He’s also an engineer, with a fast-paced career, we were always on the move. That’s how academic life came about for me as an alternative for reconciling family and work. Even better, I would have the flexibility to raise my children as I believed I should. (I think I did a great job in that sense!) And the teaching job has a great synergy with the parental role: we develop the ability to find simple ways to explain what is complex. That’s what I do in this book.
The book uses several areas of knowledge, such as evolutionary biology, neuroscience and psychology. How do these contemporary sciences contribute to a more complete view of marriage and affective relationships?
Marriage is an intrinsically human phenomenon and, as such, is extremely complex. No area of knowledge alone is capable of handling the simplest issues in life together. Nature and culture are very intricate in conjugal experiences. I was lucky as a chemical engineer and historian to have had training that allowed me to move between the sciences of nature and society. In addition, my intellectual path brought me closer to the sciences of complexity, which provide a more integrative view of multiple disciplines. The result is a book that approaches marriage from multiple perspectives but still treats it as an integral phenomenon.
The preface written by Deonísio da Silva emphasizes that readers will leave the book with their emotions “disarranged” and rearranged in other ways. How does the emotional sensitivity of readers work in your work?
Deonísio da Silva is a dear friend! His talent with words is well recognized – he was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2022. After I read this sentence of his, I felt even a little bit of remorse. Should I have been wary of my readers’ emotional sensitivity? It is true that many of them have reported a certain initial discomfort (by having their feelings “messed up”), but soon comes the satisfaction of being able to “rearrange them in other ways” themselves.
At the end of the book, what are the main reflections or conclusions you reached on the question “Why do we get married?” and the marital bonds in our current society?
I take advantage of this question to reproduce an excerpt from the book. “We, “hypermodern” subjects, remain in need of a lasting bond to fill the existential void left by abandoned traditions. Friendships don’t fulfill you as we need, because they don’t make us believe that we are unique. A melting bond like the sex present in conjugal love is necessary. We need the kind of bond that demands of us and that offers us, reciprocally, the guarantee of exclusivity, because that is the only way we feel special. Without exclusivity in the eyes of those we love, we do not differentiate ourselves from the amorphous mass of men and women, we do not become unique. It is in the distinctive look of the loved one that we feel safe, because an unconditional love emanates from him that gives us the courage to walk a meaningful existence. Conjugal love is more than instinct and feeling, it is also reason and morality.” (Why We Marry, p.203)
What is the main message or learning that you hope readers will take away with them after reading “Why we get married: Sex and love in a couple’s life”?
Many readers have commented on how surprised they were by so many things they didn’t know. That in itself is a great thing to take away from a book. However, the most important thing for me is to show that we can address what seems difficult to us, or problematic like marriage, and rearrange our ideas. There is so much knowledge available in the world! It is enough that we are open to listening to what both the natural sciences and the social sciences and humanities have to say. We need to remember that all scientific knowledge is provisional. It is valid as long as its explanatory power remains valid or no better explanation emerges. Knowledge is there for us to think critically about the things that are of value to us.
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