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Cupid's Poisoned Arrow: From Habit to Harmony in Sexual Relationships

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Zing! Cupid’s arrow skewers a primitive part of the brain. Obediently, we fall in love amid showers of passionate fireworks, bond for a time … and then often get fed up with each other and grow irritable or numb. Perhaps we try to remodel our mate, seek solace online, or pursue a new love interest. Ancient sages recognized this biological snare and hinted at a way to dodge it: use lovemaking to balance one another and harmony arises naturally.

 With an entertaining blend of personal experiences, the latest neuroscience, and forgotten insights from around the globe, Cupid’s Poisoned Arrow confronts current assumptions about sex and love and offers a refreshing, practical approach to sexuality.

416 pages, Paperback

First published June 23, 2009

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Marnia Robinson

3 books12 followers

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5 stars
209 (43%)
4 stars
152 (31%)
3 stars
86 (17%)
2 stars
25 (5%)
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9 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 59 reviews
Profile Image for Liberality.
27 reviews1 follower
October 5, 2009
I don't know how many people will buy into the idea that orgasm is bad for you. I certainly have always enjoyed my own and I am, for the most part, happily married for going on 28 years. However, maybe the idea that we are focusing upon orgasm too much and that it is hurting the overall relationship is an idea I can consider.

The author goes into the biological impact of orgasm upon the brain and that is very interesting in itself. She also explains how the pair bond is formed and the effects of pair bonding upon the brain. This part just fascinates me! I have been conducting an experiment of my own. I've been increasing the pair bonding behaviors she lists with my husband and wow, I gotta tell you, he is much more loving toward me in return. That shouldn't be so surprising to me but it is. Sometimes the simplest things, right in front of our face, is the easiest to disregard.

I've also been more physical with my family and friends and notice the good results and how much less stressed I feel. I think these are important behaviors for me to emphasize because I come from a dysfunctional family and didn't have such behaviors modeled for me or with me. I have a standoffish attitude as a result that pains me at times and I have been at a loss on how to be different--instead of just romanticizing being the loner. So for that reason alone, I am grateful for this book.

I have finished the book and consider it good enough that I want to own my own copy.
Profile Image for Reginald.
41 reviews13 followers
August 22, 2017
For those who simply want the science, first read the "'How Do I Explain This Book To My Friends?': A Synopsis Of Key Ideas" section at the end of the book, then begin reading at chapter 4.
Profile Image for Liaken.
1,498 reviews
January 11, 2013
Okay ... so, this book is very repetitious. VERY. For the need for editing (to cut the book by 2/3), I would give this book a star or two.

BUT! for the ideas, I would give it five stars. So, despite the drastic need for editing, I'm giving it all five stars.

Because the ideas are worth getting to. They really are. At least they were for me. The book gave me scientific reasoning to explain why my marriage is so awesome. Basically, what we've been up to is bonding instead of mating. It was great to have someone explain it, and even give us all the science behind it (the chemicals released during bonding vs. the chemicals released during mating).

If you want to have a better relationship with your spouse and feel like sex is problematic, this book could be gold. OR if you're like me and have a great relationship and wonder if you're missing something by not doing what everyone else is doing, this book will be enormously helpful and validating. Either way, it's a win.

One reading tip: You'll probably read the first in-depth chapter about the two-week cycle orgasm creates and be amazed. Then, as you start the next chapters, you'll probably think to yourself, "Didn't I read this already?" Yep, you did. Skim forward until you hit a chapter later on where it all seems new again, that will be the chapter that introduces the science behind bonding instead of mating. Then, after you've read that and turn to the next chapter and think, "Didn't I already ..." just skim ahead. Watch for bits that stand out to you. Really, this book could have been so much shorter. So. Much. Shorter. And I wish it were, because then I would wholeheartedly recommend it to everyone.

Of all the books I've read on sexuality and sexual relationships, this one has actually been the most helpful to spell things out and help me see the why behind it all. It's also probably the most poorly edited. Alas. But, really, check it out from your library and give it a look!
2,141 reviews
August 28, 2010
ILL I keep dreading reading this to do an adequate review. Next time just do one chapter.

Read the Goodreads description of this book. It was probably written by the author. This book does NOT have the newest neuroscience. As far as I know it uses ideas out of context and junk science. Not in the mainstream of science at all.

about Kerreza

It gets one star because I don't like this book. It doesn't steer people in a usefull direction IMHO. However it is clear alright, just clearly wrong.

Biology has plans for your love life -- Elephants in the living room -- A whale's tail -- At the heart of the separation virus -- The passion cycle -- The road to excess -- Outsmarting our sneaky genes -- Science that binds -- Bridging the gap -- The path of harmony -- Any questions?
Profile Image for Kimberly.
150 reviews58 followers
February 4, 2012

Nice book that directly (rather than wishy washy and ethereally) discusses the Taoist lovemaking (the physical ramifications of orgasm based sex) and channeling energy between partners. Very practical with sound examples. Through reading this book, I'm FINALLY connecting as to why, after I sleep with someone, I don't want to be around them and would rather "throw them away" and move onto someone new. And why, even with my best efforts, sex still seemed like combative showmanship in orgasm achievement.

Fascinating book and I highly recommend it. Will update my review upon completion.
Profile Image for Steve Bedford.
150 reviews7 followers
January 16, 2015
An intriguing premise that could have been explained fully in roughly half the number of pages.
Profile Image for KB.
16 reviews10 followers
April 4, 2018
What I like so far...Good argument, but no solid conclusion

To be clear, there are no actual studies that Karezza in and of itself saves marriages, or rebuilds lost passion in a relationship. However, the reason why this book is very interesting is that the author has collected enough science and research from neurology, zoology, anthropology, and psychology to make a very compelling case that orgasm-centered sexuality creates an undesired neurobiological reaction that is responsible for lost romantic passions. I like that. What she does is essentially put together a lot of puzzle pieces to start a conversation about a topic that hasn't been widely explored.

Currently, I doubt there could be any studies about this, as this sexuality style is so fringe that literally no one has heard about it. But I'm sure in about 10-20 years, if/when it becomes more mainstream, we'll finally get some studies to validate her research... but... until then...

What I didn't like so far... Too Much Spiritual New Age Jargon & Overly Strict Attitude The Author Takes About Karezza

The author's chapter system works in such a way that in between chapters, she includes pieces explaining how the knowledge of Karezza-style sex has been part of many religions, philosophies, and even some long-forgotten psychology practices. Ok, that's cool. But for the rest, I find the talk about "energy exchanges" throughout the book and the inclusion of Yin/Yang system in her intimacy building exercises in the back of the book (her "Ecstatic Exchanges"), really annoying, kinda inappropriate and cringy. Sure, I'm open-minded enough where I can see past that and get to the bigger picture, but still. If you're targeting everyone and trying to have this book pass as research on sexuality and psychology, it's best for the language in this book to stay frank, and scientific.

The other problem I have is that she discourages sexual excitement and arousal during intercourse, even when this advice isn't strongly supported in her book, as her advice against orgasm-centric sex. Many of her "ecstatic exchanges" (intimacy building exercises), are very platonic and actively suppress sexual excitement and arousal as much as possible. To an extent, based on her extensive research, I can get behind this with the Ecstatic Exchanges, but at the same time, she seems to forget (or bypass) that there are other ways to practice Karezza intercourse and that ranges from cuddling while your partner's penis inside of you to "edging" (getting as close to an orgasm as possible without actually orgasming). All the while, partners have still commented on overall improved intimacy and mood. So with that also being said, none of her research has ever concluded or suggested that arousal or sexual excitement causes mood shifts or the "passion cycle". In fact, in many of her chapters, she hints that before the orgasm creates a dopamine crash, your dopamine and other healthy neurochemicals rise during arousal and excitement. So...? Yeah.

I think when some psychologist studies this and writes a follow-up book, 20 years in the future, they are going include more open-ended instructions and a franker straight-forward discussion of the topic. Until then, I'll be patient since she and only a handful of others are pioneering this topic, so there's going to have to be room for some bullsh*t. In a similar way that Greek philosophers pioneered democracy, but also had room for bullsh*t....or how Freud pioneered psychotherapy...and had plenty of bullsh*t to go along with it too...

IN CONCLUSION, apart from the New Age stuff, words cannot express how much I appreciated this book and hope to one day try this out with an open-minded partner...While I will try a lot of her ecstatic exchanges (the ones that make sense to me), I still want to do this my way. The bigger picture I get from Karezza is that it's pretty open-ended so long as it's bonding-based and lacks an orgasm.
Profile Image for Manya.
14 reviews
April 6, 2015
This book offers insight into the neurochemical changes that take place during various stages of romantic relationships/encounters. As a person who likes to learn about mind-body connections, it was really interesting for me to learn about how the early infatuation stages of a romance are neurochemically speaking pretty much like being on drugs. I had quite a few a-ha moments reading this. The book not only explains in simple terms which neurochemical changes take place and what causes them, but also how to circumvent your primitive procreate-and-move-on programming and move into a more bonding-based experience with your partner which is less focussed on inducing orgasm. I like that every alternate chapter highlights ancient practices from around the world which were used long before there were scientific studies and technologies to prove their effects on mind-body well-being. All-in-all highly recommendable for everyone interested in this topic, even if some of the theories and suggestions are perhaps subjective and (dare I say) open to (s)exploration. ;)
Profile Image for Dimfy.
4 reviews
December 25, 2021
By far one of the most fascinating and refreshingly insightful books about sex, intimacy and relationships that I have read up until this moment. Like Don Miguel Ruiz’ Toltec approach and David Deida’s Intimate Communion: Awakening Your Sexual Essence — with which I feel this book resonates on many levels — it has shifted my perception of sexual and romantic connection in ways that I’m sure will have a lasting impact.

Interestingly enough, I started reading this book immediately after finishing Come as You Are: The Surprising New Science that Will Transform Your Sex Life by Emily Nagoski, which is all about reclaiming and celebrating (knowledge about) the ‘female’ body and women’s sexual experience and health, including (but not limited to) physical pleasure and orgasm. After reading in detail about how to get rid of all the garbage and misconceptions and create contexts that clear the path to and increase physical pleasure — which can lead to orgasm, although that is of course not a requirement — it was a bit of a switchover to now read about all the possible suboptimal effects of orgasm in both men and women. At first these felt like contradictory messages, but the more I thought about it the more I was able to see Nagoski’s book as more of a guide to the fundamentals of sexual wellbeing and awareness about the spectrum of sexual experience, from which one can then choose to explore the path that Robinson brings forward in her book. Or at least consider the insights that she shares.

What I liked about both these books is the similar way in which their authors have written them: they are a pleasant mix of (personal) experience, science and practice (including exercises) topped off with a refreshing dose of humor.

Profile Image for Andy.
38 reviews
August 14, 2022
slightly repetitive on the larger scale, although it makes sense considering how much buy in the writer needs from readers to authentically consider these ideas.

I'm excited to move forward with greater discernment between my brain's bonding program and mating program now. and I feel more hopeful generally about the kind of long term love possible between people when we do it intentionally and with an awareness of our evolutionary programming (which may be pushing us towards things we don't want long term).
October 17, 2020
The first couple chapters on the history of the techniques they discuss are very interesting. The following chapters can become extremely repetitive and don't seem to be structured very well, although the content is engaging and thoughtful. It acknowledges that hard science has yet to conduct any studies on the subject of karezza but provides possible explanations that are left to the reader to decide whether or not it serves as a satisfactory explanation.
Profile Image for Greg.
18 reviews17 followers
October 27, 2013
I'm very ambivalent about giving this book 4 stars, because of the many instances where the author misrepresents or cherry-picks scientific studies to support her thesis. For reference, I am currently a working neuroscientist but in my former line-of-work I studied the psychology of addictive behaviors. The author unquestioningly embraces the "dopamine = reward" hypothesis, and a naive interpretation of brain plasticity. The dopamine=reward hypothesis has been effectively criticized by experts as overly simplistic (e.g. "The mysterious motivational functions of mesolimbic dopamine", by Salamone, et al), though non-experts like Robinson represents it as though it was gospel. Regarding brain plasticity, Robinson probably vastly overemphasizes the importance of plasticity in the development of maladaptive sexual behavior; although, admittedly, the research about the heritability of sexual dysfunction is scarce, it would have helped her thesis to emphasize that many individuals might be predisposed to sexual dysfunction, and might have masturbated compulsively even in the absence of pornography.

However, these criticisms aside, this book advanced a thesis that is both highly novel and potentially destabilizing to the current paradigmatic secular-liberal understanding on sexuality ("reject religious proscriptions regarding sex! sexuality equals liberation"). This book is, I suspect, the first drop in what will eventually be a torrent of scientific books examining the notion of pornography as a potentially-addictive superstimulus.
Profile Image for Brent Cope.
Author 1 book5 followers
January 25, 2013
A really interesting perspective on the biological, neurological and psychological consequences of orgasm. Thoroughly engrossing, the facts and research as well as the 'ancient wisdom' tidbits spread throughout really make the book fun to read. It gives a lot of insight into our own behavior and can really help you acquire focus.

If you're in a relationship already I definitely recommend it for both partners to read together and share with each other, it's that kind of book.
Profile Image for Henri Junttila.
Author 12 books19 followers
May 15, 2014
Could having too much sex be ruining your relationship? Yup, turns out it can. This book dives into why we do what we do, and how we can use the different parts of our brain to not only have more fulfilling relationships, but be happier in general.

I'd recommend this book for anyone who wants to make their relationship work, and work well (after the initial 1-2 year honeymoon period).

This book was repetitive in parts, but I liked it. It helped me learn and retain the information.
Profile Image for Kesley Cage.
5 reviews11 followers
March 21, 2020
Robinson seems to write to convince, she's on a mission to convert people to orgasm-less sex. She reckons that the hormone cocktail released on orgasm keeps us addicted and using one another for sex instead of cultivating real intimacy. She also notes the tiredness after sex as a sign of loss of vital energy, suggesting that orgasmic sex is life and health depleting.

Robinson calls sex without sex transorgasmic, which might be confusing for transfolk out there who may be don't see seen and spoken to by such a term, so I'm bearing that in mind. It's curious that some trans people find it difficult to orgasm after their surgery and so it could be quite triggering for them to read this book.

Trans mean 'beyond' and so that would imply actually reaching orgasm and going over the edge, however that is not what this book preaches at all. More sort of arousal-calming sexual intimacy, which is also called the Karezza Method. I think it's a nice idea, and I've tried it and it works well however it isn't superior to orgasmic sex, it's just another way to do it. A taste, a flavour, a preference. The more one pursues any path or process the deeper it becomes, so it's quite possible Karezza can be radically enlightening for many people to use as a practice.

It's a sweet option that perhaps I may continue with in future depending on the needs and agreements in my sex-life. It does promote a very deep exchange of arousal and sexual energy which is stilling and calming, however it is no less satisfying than other forms of sex, and no more either. It depends on the needs and desires of the people making love, whether Karezza will be a good practice to follow. Either way, in my opinion, like any habit it would be good to continue with it and experiment for an extended period, as long as it feels right to do so. Then the sexual relationship can be renegotiated consciously and at will.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
3 reviews
February 16, 2019
This book talks about the fact that we easily get habituated (fed up with our partners) after repetitive sexual encounters until orgasm. We get the feeling of being "done". It is a mammalian mating signal to lose interest in your partner. Constant repetition of sexual acts until orgasm drive us towards subtle changes in our mood and thus creates some friction between lovers over time. This is what the author refers to as Cupid's Poison.

Having an orgasm causes a neurochemical reaction in the brain, which in turn may speed up habituation. This reaction may last up to two weeks, also known as the orgasm cycle. During this duration we perceive certain things differently, such as the world around us or even our partner. As a result, romantic bonds between partners tend to weaken, which in return tends to make novel partners seem more attractive.

The author brings up a different approach to sex for it's readers. There are two main fundamental ways on how to have sex. One is more fertilization driven and the other is more close bonding driven (karezza). Karezza focuses on practicing gentle intercourse with periods of stillness and lots of affection together with bonding mechanisms - but no orgasm. Bonding mechanisms, such as eye contact, touching, skin to skin contact, listening are mechanisms that can be used while practicing karezza with a partner.

This book is a must read! Whether or not you feel like participating in the acts presented in the book, it is still an eye opener on how sex and orgasms can affect our perception on life and our relationships.
Profile Image for Mercedes.
6 reviews
October 11, 2021
Not a higher amount of stars because the book repeats itself a lot. I can understand the desire and reasoning - the argument of the book goes against most common advice and assumptions on orgasm's role in a healthy sexual and romantic partnership. I appreciated the combination of historical, scientific, and anecdotal evidence. Sometimes it felt like the anecdotal and the reasoning on how it played back to its main argument did not match or sense. It feels like the book was arguing that relationships are only bad because of orgasm and that orgasm is the only reason why people in a couple start behaving poorly. That sort of constant circular thinking, taking everything as evidence for their argument, did put me off. Also the inherent lack of exploration on relationships outside of heterosexual monogamy was annoying - but at the same time I suppose if I was looking for if this argument could apply to all sexual relationships I might just need another book. It wrote what it had the evidence for which seems to only be heterosexual relationships. It can't say that it would match up for anyone else, but hey maybe give it a shot. In my opinion, I felt like the arguments inherent to it meant that it could apply to a wide variety of people in sexual relationships.
5 reviews2 followers
June 6, 2018
The book you can't afford not to read

This book blew my mind. The implications of our neurochemistry on individuals, relationships and society as a whole are nothing but huge.
Yes there is such a thing as habituation in couples and it's probably killing your love relationship.

In a sense, the history of civilization has been a sad descent from trusted relationships and connection—to an escalating and compulsive search for substitute mood medicines, ie. food, porn, drugs or shopping.

You've got two choices:
- mate to further spread your genetic pool and feed your compulsions, thus leaning toward habituation and feed even more compulsive behaviors (your rewards circuitry get hooked on it),
- or bond to develop affectionate companionships, trust and satisfaction (think tribal care and support).

Whether in a relationship or not, you can't afford not to read that book.
179 reviews21 followers
April 3, 2021
Heretically truthful book about sex and relationships.

In short: don't pursue the dopamine, and instead pursue the oxytocin. The latter brings the former.

Some more of my rants on the topic: There's such a variety of opinions from authors on sex's role in the modern world, where our societal norms seem to go against our human nature, or more accurately, our "ape" nature. The spectrum seems to go from hedonical orgasm-chasing to Puritanic abstinence or even celibacy. And I've seen both manifestations in people around me and in very well-known people. My opinion? Channel this natural source of energy (some may even argue survival) of us into a cause greater than ourselves. After all, this book shows that, through delayed gratification and deliberate practice, this is very much possible.
Profile Image for Redeemed.
54 reviews
November 30, 2018
A surprisingly good read about sexuality from a neurological perspective. It does give some spiritual basis to the claims as well, but most of it reads more ancedotally rather than with some spiritual authority. They quote the gospel of Thomas as a source, which is stupid. The science is goof, though. The book overall is well-researched and easy to read. I can't apply a lot of it, since there is a context for couples, but science has immediate application.

The short version is that chasing after orgasm via casual sex, pornography, and even the overly active marriage bed does more harm than good. Sex is meant to bond other and done unselfishly. You have to use discernment with the book, but it does challenge the two extremes of "sex is inherently bad" and "wanton sex is good".
Profile Image for Kaeru Kurisu.
10 reviews
August 13, 2022
Really insightful book about the types of sexual behaviour. Mainly focusing on mating type and bonding type. Offering both esoteric and scientific explanations, such as tantric or other religious wisdom and proofs of the functions in mammalian brain carried out with rodents as test subjects. Introducing the Karezza method for the reader to promote the harmony & bonding cues. For me the most eye-opening thing was the explanation how there’s hormonal inbalance after orgasm for ~2 weeks (passion cycle). And how that can explain a lot about the chemistry between the sexual partners as well as about the personal wellbeing during that period. The book has left me with a curious feeling of wanting to practise some Karezza techniques in my sex life.
Profile Image for Jonathan Inman.
68 reviews4 followers
October 10, 2018
This book isn't perfectly well-written, but the information in it is well-researched and vital, so I'm giving it five stars.

First of all, the first two chapters are just the author's long-winded backstory, which contain some story conclusions that aren't the strongest. The real meat doesn't come until chapter three. And then, on occasion, the book feel repetitive with its info. But such repetition can be good, as it drills home the point.

Thanks to this book, I, once again, have had an experience that has opened my eyes to the truth about the world I only thought I knew.

Great book for anyone desiring the healthiest pair-bond relationship they can possibly have.
2 reviews3 followers
November 13, 2018
This book offers us a scientific look at monogamous relationships, what makes them last/stronger and how to avoid getting used to our partners and thus decrease our enjoyment.
It's not a boring book on relationships in the form of "Just spice it up", what I admire a lot!
For me it was a "revolutionary" read and has provided me with crucial informations. The concept of Karezza is very beneficial for monogamous relationships.
Things I disliked - partly repetitive content, way too anti-hedonistic approach to Karezza.
1 review
July 6, 2018
Worth a read (and a try) for anyone who wants a beautiful, fulfilling and long lasting relationship. At first the whole idea might seem weird (thanks to our evolutionary tendency to defend any behavior that might lead to procreation and unconscious defensiveness to alternative ideas), but once you start reading this insightful book, you'll soon see the logic and wisdom behind this alternative approach that authors suggest. One of the best books on relationships IMO.
Profile Image for Joe.
21 reviews4 followers
January 25, 2018
The book weaves a tapestry of personal example, 3rd person testimony and actual scientific data to explain why relationships seem to just fall apart so easy. Then the book offers a mind blowing solution that has changed my whole outlook on intimate relationships. The book has managed to incite a change in me. 11/10 obnoxiously recommending this to any person I ever meet.
3 reviews1 follower
March 1, 2021
Robinson presents an interesting idea, but this book is lacking in several areas. First of all, the writing is extremely repetitive. Each point or argument is repeated AT LEAST three or four times. It gets a little tiresome for the reader. I found finishing the book challenging to finish because of this. Once I got about halfway through the book, I found that I was not reading any new information. Secondly, Robinson does not address any counterarguments in the book. This is a vital element in crafting a strong argument. It is very easy to assert that you are right if you do not seriously consider the best arguments from the other side. Finally, I found the personal anecdotes incredulous. These claims presented non-orgasmic sex as a wonder drug and cure-all. This may be some people's "lived experience," but it is a little irresponsible to include them in such a number in a book that purports to be scientific. Mixing these spectacular anecdotes alongside with hard scientific information is manipulative.
I think Robinson's thesis is worth exploration and consideration, but the presentation is problematic and misleading.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
2 reviews
March 17, 2022
Prior to reading this book I was already interested in semen retention, this was a deep dive into a more broader spectrum of a different approach to sexuality which has at its basis the retention of semen.

I recommend this book for people in general, specially those who are feeling unfulfilled in their sexual lives and relationships, give it a try!
8 reviews
July 17, 2017
Interesting book and theory. Not a scientist but I recognize the parts with being more sharp after a few days / weeks. Too bad she did not go into more details about how this affects people without a partner.
Profile Image for Michael Baroody.
10 reviews
January 7, 2019
It was an interesting book on the effects of orgasm (and the corresponding neurotransmitters released thereafter) on sexual satiety in monogamous relationships. Advocates for karezza and orgasmless sex/bonding.
Profile Image for Brandon.
19 reviews11 followers
August 1, 2019
Really powerful book backed by science. The chase of dopamine is really hurting our society and our relationships. We don't fully understand yet how porn is affecting our lives. Would have given 5 stars were it not a little redundant.

Highly recommended!
Displaying 1 - 30 of 59 reviews

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