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Home   >   Opinion   >   Article

Number of partners multiplied by orgasms equals true happiness

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November 28, 2003

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For those so concerned with the health benefit of sex, how about a little mathematical erotica, writes David Campbell.

Oh yes, Bettina Arndt "Fantasy as the facts of life", (Herald, November 25). In fact, having just read the article again ... oooohhhh YESSSS!! Which proves that even reading articles about sex can also lead to a bit of fantasising.

But Arndt's examination of scientific studies linking sex with all manner of beneficial health effects has only just skated across the surface of this fascinating subject. If you really want to understand what's going on beneath the covers take a look at Dr Clio Cresswell's recently published book Mathematics and Sex (Allen & Unwin).

What? You've never really linked calculus with horizontal folk-dancing? Well, cast your eyes over this little piece of bodice-ripping prose:

"Their parallel eye-beams intersected across the hexagonal table in a blue-green matrix of hyperbolic lust. His eyebrows fused horizontally, her nostrils dilated exponentially, and violet collagen met black moustache in a congruent triangle. His tongue sought her centre of curvature as he developed an orthographic projection and established a one-to-one function with a single input and a single output."

No, that's not from Cresswell's book. It's just a dose of mathematical erotica to get your juices flowing. The good doctor herself is heavily into equations that provide an insight into real-life dilemmas.

There are the University of Washington psychologists John Gottman and Catherine Swanson who, with mathematician James Murray, have come up with a coding system that predicts marital break-ups with a claimed 90 per cent accuracy.

The code "weighs up and scores positive and negative interactions during a couple's conversation", rating anger, sadness and whining negatively, and humour, interest and joy positively. Their controversial conclusion from a study of more than 100 newlyweds was that couples with low negativity thresholds (that is, where the complaining started sooner rather than later) were most likely to survive: "low tolerance = long-term happiness."

So now you know. If things at home seem a little bit rocky, solve the problem with: "Honey, have you been letting your marital negativity threshold rise again? I know I have and I'm not going to take it any more!"

But what about finding a suitable partner in the first place? Cresswell has a solution, reporting the work undertaken by Peter Todd, from the Max Planck Institute for Psychological Research in Germany. He tackled the question: "How many potential partners ... should we cruise through before settling down with reasonable confidence that we have made a good choice?"

The answer? A dozen should be enough, and then "settle down with the next best that comes along". This, apparently, gives you over a 75 per cent chance of success, but it goes with a word of warning. The mathematics say that if your enthusiastic efforts lead you to sleep with more than about 30 potential partners then you're probably guilty of over-researching.

And the figures don't lie.

So there you have it. Of course, there's much more in Cresswell's fascinating little book, including an exploration of the mathematical mystery of orgasms. But that's enough for now. I've got a headache.

David Campbell is a Melbourne writer and mathematician.

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