I know what you’re thinking, neophilia? Sounds a bit perverse, right? Neophilia is not a fetish, it actually means the love of or enthusiasm for what is new or novel. It’s a concept I discovered recently and I’ve been curious to see if there is a correlation between an attraction to novelty and non-monogamy.
I’ve always had an attraction to new things and would tire of certain things if they became too repetitive. I will find several different ways to drive to a location and often change the route just for fun. I like to try new food and love to find new places to eat. I find new places to explore and spend a good deal of time every year looking for new places to go like museums I haven’t tried yet, a new park or just an unexplored part of town. I enjoy meeting new people and like to have a variety of friends. Sometimes this desire for the new doesn’t work in my favor. I find driving the same route everyday somewhat depressing. I’ll devour books of a certain author or genre then for an unknown reason tire of it and just move on to another. I have so many different boxes of cereal it rivals Seinfeld. Also, while I’m very happy with the man I’m married to, I’m also attracted to other people and new sexual experiences.
I spent lots of time trying to figure out why I was attracted to the idea of multiple partners and multiple relationships during our early days of discussion and exploration. Earlier this year a New York Times article caught my attention, “What’s New? Exuberance for Novelty Has Benefits.” By John Tierney. It presented the idea that people are naturally “novelty-seeking” and this has health benefits. This novelty-seeking behavior has different levels and is also known as “Neophilia.” Could neophilia explain my desire to change partners? Perhaps this attraction to novelty and change may explain how my brain works.
I found more than I expected on the subject. “Sex at Dawn” by Dr. Christopher Ryan is the first book I read that delves into this idea of novelty seeking. We are by nature attracted to novelty in that we look for different partners for sperm competition and we have an attraction to sexual novelty. As for the specific science of novelty attraction it was the book “New. Understanding Our Need For Novelty and Change” by Winifred Gallagher that really opened my eyes. Gallagher believes we are a neophilic species and this desire for new experiences is what drives us to explore and experiment.
Not all of us experience neophilia in the same way. Some of us are neophobes who shy away from new and different experiences. Some are middle of the road neophiles who enjoy a moderate amount of risk taking. Then there are the neophiliacs who are the extreme novelty seekers. Those who are natural risk takers (neophiles and neophiliacs) usually are good problem solvers, inventors and are often highly creative. The neophobes balance everyone out by providing someone who makes us take a moment to examine that crazy idea and provides stable advice when the others would like to race forward in excitement. I am in the middle, a neophile. I don’t take crazy risks but I don’t enjoy predictability and lack of variety. Neophiles are outgoing, lively, creative, quite often also a technophile and “open to experience.” I can certainly use those words to describe myself. This desire for the new and different just might explain my choice to be non-monogamous.
So can I say non-monogamy is genetic? Well, maybe. The beginning research I’ve done seems to point in that direction. There are genetic markers like the 7R or “migration gene” that may indicate the presence of neophilia. There are also studies that are looking into how the brain processes dopamine. The different ways in which risk taking is processed in the brain may explain why some people are happy in long term monogamous relationships, some are players who can’t stay in any relationship and others have successful and healthy open relationships.
I have only found the tip of the iceberg. Research is ongoing and becoming more extensive. My only hope is that we can move away from the usual fear of including the non-monogamous in research. Even Ms. Gallagher states in her book that we are living in a very neophobic time. I hope society can get past this and move forward with an open scientific mind. Until then, I’m going to continue to think of myself as a neophile, happily exploring the new while enjoying the stability of the familiar. The world needs neophiles to continue to progress and grow. The neophile’s, and certain neophiliac’s, inquisitiveness and need to have new experiences can be an asset. This means novelty exploring non-monogamous people are a boon to society bringing an ability to think outside the box and come up with new and highly creative ideas and solutions.