Yesterday I wrote about bringing pickup out of the shadows, and told you I would review a book that presents a vision of how evolutionary principles can be used to form healthy relationships. That book is The Married Man Sex Life Primer by Athol Kay. It’s not really a book about “pickup” — as in, picking up new women — because the author is already married. It’s just good relationship advice for married couples.
This book tackles a recurring theme on this blog: a mismatch between our biological wiring and our modern habitats. What men and women are wired to look for in mates, based on millions of years of evolution, can wreak havoc on our modern lives.
We already know the wrong answer to that problem: attempt to revert exactly to how (we think) things used to be at some prehistoric point in time. The smarter answer is to understand how humans came to be, as best we can, and then to use that knowledge to lead the lives we want to lead today in the modern world.
Who should read this book?
Athol wrote the book for married men who find themselves in unhappy, almost sexless marriages. He fully expects wives will sneak a peak too, and some of the first and last words in the book are directed at them.
Anyone interested in relationships, dating, love, and sex will find it fascinating as well. I certainly did, reading it in four or five sittings. But keep in mind that this book is aimed at people whose marriages are already failing. If you maintain a happy marriage or dating life using a different approach than the author recommends, then more power to you. But that is not a refutation of his method. Go write a sex and relationship book sharing your secrets to success.
The book is fairly long (250-300 pages), but each chapter is broken up into small sections that make you feel like you’re reading a series of well-ordered and well-written blog posts. The author is humorous, and the writing is clear and simple. And of course, the salacious subject matter makes it a rather engaging read.
Note that the book focuses only on heterosexual relationships.
First, some background on the author. Athol Kay is married, and he describes himself as a “Mixed Marital Artist”. He and his wife were each other’s first and only sex partner and they married at time when he was an evangelical Christian. They have two children. He blogs under his real name. And yes, he is a nurse (not exactly a stereotypically masculine profession).
All this is to say, Athol Kay is a Nice Guy. And the messenger is one of the principal strengths of this book. It is written for Nice Guys by a Nice Guy. Or more accurately, it is written for Nice Guys by a reformed Nice Guy. More on that later.
Athol doesn’t have the same goals as some of the early figures in the game world. He isn’t interested in going to a bar and hitting on chicks — all just to get laid by some random girl. Athol’s goal is to get “laid like tile” by his wife — and to have a great marriage and raise terrific children. As he puts it on his blog:
“Tired of a tiny trickle of marital sex? Wondering why the hell you even got married in the first place? Basically feel cheated out of the main reason you got married? It’s an all too common tale. Most men are never taught anything about women and marriage, so it’s not all that unexpected that she confuses you and your attempts to please her fail her more often that not. The truth is for the typical guy, the woman able to give him the hottest sex possible, and his best shot at lasting happiness, already climbs into bed each night with his wedding ring on her finger. Welcome to the journey to reclaim that.”
Athol views this journey with the utmost importance. An eye-opener for me, he describes a sexless marriage as an offense on par with infidelity:
“Marriage is at its heart, a sexual relationship. Without the sex it’s just a legally binding friendship, which is a needlessly complicated way of having a friend. The basic agreement of being married is to meet each other’s sexual needs and not to run round getting them met anywhere else. Both affairs and sexless marriages break that relationship agreement.”
Marriage isn’t only a sexual relationship, of course — but sex and sexual fidelity is at the core of what it means to be married. If you’re happy in sexless marriage, then again, more power to ya…but I don’t expect I’ll be in that camp.
Part One – What She Really Wants
Why does the sexual passion fade? Why do so many couples find themselves in unhappy and unsatisfying marriages where the man is practically begging for sex and the wife just doesn’t want to have it? Blaming the other partner probably isn’t going to get you very far. You’ve got to understand why it’s happening. So the first part of the book explores the biology of sex and mate selection. It’s a concise overview of sex and bonding hormones, concealed ovulation, sex rank, and Alpha and Beta traits — and how and why women find them desirable or off-putting.
If there is a particularly novel aspect to the book, it’s Athol’s take on the benefits and attractiveness of Beta qualities: loyalty and faithfulness, being a provider, offering emotional support, and being a good father. In many game books, Beta is a synonym for bad. But it all depends on your goals. If your goal is to have a long-term, monogamous relationship with a single person (and particularly if you plan to raise children), then you need both Alpha and Beta qualities to make it succeed.
“Alpha is about making people want to follow you and pulling the attraction of women. Beta isn’t about being a weak man that struggles to please a woman. Beta is about purposely creating a place to raise a family and creating comfort in your presence.”
In other words, Beta ain’t bad. Furthermore, Athol subtly complicates the stark the division between Beta and Alpha qualities, embraced by much of the pickup world, which is probably a little too neat and tidy a division. For example, a father could firmly discipline his children. Is that Alpha dominance? Or Beta child rearing? It’s unclear. Not all behaviors fit neatly into these two divisions — though many do.
The basic takeaway is that you don’t just want to be a Nice Guy all the time, or your wife could grow contemptuous of you and lose her sexual attraction for you. You don’t want to be an Bad Boy all the time either, or you aren’t going to even hang around long enough to build a life together. As Athol argues, you want to be a mix of Alpha and Beta: a Nice Guy with a Hard Edge.
Part Two – The Male Action Plan (MAP)
Part Two lays out the Male Action Plan — or The MAP, which is a plan to improve yourself, and through it, your relationship. (It’s much easier to change yourself than others.)
The MAP covers a variety of ways for men to improve their sex appeal. He covers the basics of health, with very brief discussions of weight loss, building muscle, raising testosterone, etc. He goes into greater depth on a variety of traditional game concepts, like playful teasing, touching, social dominance, dealing with children, and how to spot and respond to fitness tests (ways in which women test men, consciously or subconsciously).
Much of the game material in the book isn’t particularly novel if you have read a couple books or blogs on game. Athol admits that he’s cherry-picked these concepts from others. However, if your only knowledge of pickup or game is an article in the popular press, TV shows, or talking with your girlfriends at brunch, then much of the material will be new. Many people have a cartoon version of game defined by the most negative and sensationalistic aspects of it. Kind of like paleo. Ever been asked if the Caveman Diet is where you only eat raw meat?
Part Three – The Sexy Moves
Part Three is where Athol gives specific examples of how a natural beta can act more Alpha AND ways for a natural alpha to act more Beta. Most pickup artists only teach methods for a man to be more Alpha. But for a married man, it’s all about striking the right balance. Enough Alpha to keep her turned on (teasing, naughtiness, decisiveness, physical strength, income, status), enough Beta to be a good husband and father (loyalty, house chores, repair work, raising children).
Part Four – When Push Comes to Shove
This part deals with what happens when a marriage is near the brink: how to deal with infidelity, how to deal with a partner who won’t change, and other difficult situations near the end. Harsh realities.
Warnings and weaknesses
- This book is about sex, and thus, there’s a lot of explicit language. It’s not gratuitous, in the sense that Athol isn’t trying to get a rise out the reader for its own sake — but he doesn’t shy away from it, and nothing is censored. If it were adapted into a movie, it’d be X-rated. You’ve been warned.
- This book tackles some potentially dark aspects of human nature, including infidelity, divorce, gender roles, social dominance, and rough sex. I think it addresses these emotionally-charged issues much more responsibly than most books, but it’s also human nature to fly off the handle when reading about areas where there’s a lot of self-deception — so I fully expect angry comments taking parts of the book out of context. Bring it.
- This book is not a scientific argument so much as a practical manual of principles, tips, and tricks. One potential weakness is on the science, when it does come into play. There’s a section where Athol writes about sperm competition (what happens when a woman sleeps with multiple men of the course of a few days). It sounds like his source material is the book Sperm Wars, which is a book that makes a lot of scientific claims based on very little cited evidence. The author of Sperm Wars doesn’t include citations by design, but suggests the book has the backing of science — not cool. My searches for credible sources on the claims in Sperm Wars has come up pretty thin. I would maintain a little bit of skepticism as to the exact underlying science around sperm competition. But it’s a minor part of the book. In general, I would view The Married Man Sex Life Primer as the author intends it: a practical survival guide to a modern sexless marriage, and it should be judged by whether the advice works or not.
Strengths and implications
Now a few thoughts on how this book stands out from many other game books and blogs.
Until the last few years, most pickup artists focused on short-term relationships: techniques for meeting new women, quickly building rapport, and having sex with them. In contrast, this manual focuses on building a long-term relationship with a woman who knows you. This is a very profound and important difference.
When you look at the field of game theory, the results of various games can change dramatically depending on whether they are one-off games or iterated games where the players gain information and can change strategies. This is no different. Having repeated interactions is one of the major differences between short-term and long-term relationships.
Consider some standard pickup artist advice: wear a distinctive article of clothing (a funny hat, a pendant, aviator goggles), have a few standard opening lines that don’t broadcast interest (“Hey, I need a girl’s opinion on something.”), and use alpha posture (don’t hunch over, approach a girl immediately after making eye contact, and approach at an angle – not head on). Many people claim that these are tricks that manipulate women. Let’s accept that as true for the moment, and put them in the same category as women wearing make-up, showing cleavage, and getting plastic surgery.
Now try using those tricks on your girlfriend or wife. One small problem: you can’t use the same line over and over on your wife or girlfriend. She’s gonna get bored. (“Hey, I need a girl’s opinion on something. What do you want for dinner?”) And she’s going to wonder why you’re wearing aviator goggles around the house when she knows you failed your pilot’s safety course.
See, there’s this little troublesome fact: your wife or girlfriend knows you. (And you know her.) She has deep information about you from thousands of daily interactions. Random chicks at the bar don’t know you. The only information they have is the surface-level information they can gather quickly and from a distance (appearance, posture, opening lines).
Therefore, pickup can rely on “manipulative” outer game: memorized openers and one-liners and set pieces at bars with anonymous women. But a long-term relationship relies far more on inner game: persistent qualities of character that are hard to fake. Your wife knows whether you’re actually alpha or not, your wife knows whether you’re actually there when she needs you or not, your wife knows whether you and she actually laugh at the same parts of movies. It’s hard to fool people over a long period of time.
So if you seem like a Nice Guy over many interactions, then it’s probably because you’re actually a Nice Guy. If you seem like a Bad Boy over many interactions, then it’s probably because you’re actually a Bad Boy. So good long-term game means developing lasting qualities of character.
Game is an entirely different game when you have repeated interactions.
Now let’s reverse the situation and see how this affects women. A woman can use make-up to make herself seem younger and more attractive. And if you see her for the first time at a bar, you might think she’s two years younger and slightly healthier than she actually is (eyeliner makes her eyes look larger and whiter, cover-up hides blemishes, and lipstick adds color to her lips). The deception works — how manipulative! Now, if you end up dating this woman, you’re eventually going to see her without her make-up. That is to say, it’s harder for her to “trick” you over the long-term.
Some men don’t mind being “tricked” if all they want is a short-term lay. For example, I know a lot of guys who would be more than happy to have a one-night stand with a “fake beauty” (make-up, plastic surgery, implants, dumb, unkind), but would never consider marrying one. Better find someone who has a natural beauty that you are attracted to, and which doesn’t just depend on make-up and plastic surgery. And since you’ll be spending a lot of time with this person, it might be a good idea to take into account other qualities besides looks. Longer time horizons change the calculus.
Make-up also helps us understand a healthy balance of “game” (in this case, female game). Yes, I suppose you could go au natural, refuse to use make-up, and burn your bra. Damn the system for objectifying women! On the other extreme, some women get tons of plastic surgery and wear full make-up at the gym. I’m going to land a man with a big boat! Or, like most women — who have used the technology of make-up for millennia — you could use make-up in a reasonable, un-obsessive way to put your best foot forward. I, as a man, don’t feel duped by a woman wearing make-up, and I expect my girlfriends or wife to use it appropriately. What is so damn hard about all this?
In the end, good married man game depends on general principles applied to novel situations, not exact prescriptions for specific conditions. Some canned lines might be good enough to get into a conversation with a random woman, get her number, a date, and maybe even some sex if that’s what you’re angling for.
But if you want to attract someone for the long haul, you need qualities that are persistent and hard to fake: real intelligence (vs. memorized trivia), real health (vs. a tight shirt), real kindness (vs. false modesty), real resources (vs. a fake watch), a real sense of humor (vs. canned jokes), real confidence (vs. alcohol-induced confidence), real self esteem (vs. temporary highs and lows), or real talent (vs. tricks).
Short-term flings favor outer game that can be faked: information that a woman can learn about you quickly and from a distance. Long-term relationships favor inner game that is harder to fake: information that a woman can learn about you slowly and close up.
I should also say that I don’t see an issue with men using canned game at first, if they really are struggling to meet women and gain confidence. Every girl reading this probably had some older female relative or friend teach them how to apply make-up. (Or did you discover the youth-enhancing effects of eyeliner on your own?) Social dynamics can be difficult for us socially-awkward men — so we had to understand the underlying logic first.
You may feel that exposing the underlying logic takes away some of the mystery of it all. Perhaps, but the people stuck in failing marriages probably wish it were a little less of a mystery. In the end, books like The Married Man Sex Life Primer show that improving yourself and your married sex life isn’t about deception or tricks. It’s about long-term development of real character and authentic charisma. It’s about becoming the best man that you can be, in your own distinctive way.
Remember, your wife or girlfriend is no dummy. To the extent it works, it’s because your woman actually likes it too.
You can buy it on Kindle here. Here is a link to Athol’s blog, Married Man Sex Life, where you can also buy it as a PDF.