Have you ever noticed that when you’re told not to do something, that’s all you want to do? This is called the Forbidden Fruit Effect. We are all born with a natural curiosity that turns into boundary pushing as adolescents. But if we never pushed the boundaries, we would never grow. What does this have to do with sex? A lot! Listen to this episode to see how this Forbidden Fruit Effect can help your sex life in your marriage, not hurt it.
Why do we want what we can’t have? Why are the things that we are told aren’t good for us are the things we want the most. I have many clients and listeners reaching out to me wondering why the forbidden (especially when it comes to sex) is so enticing. And today we are going to answer that question.
As children, our curiosity is what taught us about the world. It is what led us to try new things. Curiosity is almost instinctual in most children. A basic need to learn, to grow, and to discover more about this world we are living in. I talked a lot about curiosity way back in Episode 51. As children, we were testing our limits and our boundaries to discover more about ourselves and our surroundings, to experience things firsthand. We were probably given certain rules by parents and caregivers to keep us safe, and some children probably felt a stronger need than others to see beyond those boundaries and test them because of this natural curiosity.
As we moved into adolescence, it was important for us to differentiate ourselves from our parents by making our own choices and defining our own path, often by seeking after what we were told was not allowed as a way to do this. The forbidden becomes more attractive when we are looking for ways that reaffirm that we are different and unique.
Now, if our parents (or us as parents) are smart, we give reasons for the forbidden. We explain and define the motives and the values of that wrong choice rather than just outright forbidding it. This always helps the child understand the implications and helps them see the value in it, rather than thinking they are just being controlled.
The biggest thing here is that when something is forbidden, it pushes up against our need for agency and freedom. Most humans value agency and freedom very highly. It is what helps us create our life as we want and is essential in defining ourselves as individuals. As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we value agency higher than just about anything. It was what we fought the war in heaven over in the pre-existence. We know that agency is essential to the Plan of Salvation and without it we would not learn or progress. So when something is forbidden, it directly contradicts this innate desire in us for agency.
When something is forbidden it appears to be more attractive that what is easily available. When things are available we end up getting bored or losing interest. This is what is known as the Forbidden Fruit Effect. When something is forbidden it immediately catches our eye, piques our curiosity, and we are highly motivated to learn about it, achieve it, and explore it. It is the affirmation that we are truly free and have the agency to choose for ourselves.
Throughout our life, family, church, society, and even God has told us what is good and bad. They have imposed certain limits that we need to obey or else there will be negative consequences. But, as I said before, when we know that there are things that are forbidden, our natural curiosity and desire for freedom and agency draws our attention to it and to test the limits. Why?
As humans, we often get a sense of pleasure from something known as “conscious fear.” This means that, although we are aware of the consequences that we could potentially face, we are also aware of the control we have in the situation, so if need be, we can stop at any time. This makes me think about haunted houses. Most of us would not put ourselves in situations where there are truly scary things and people, yet we go to things like haunted houses because there is this “conscious fear.” Yes it’s scary, but it is also controlled. My oldest son loves haunted houses. He loves scary movies. I don’t enjoy those at all, but for him, it’s a rush. This “controllable danger” makes our adrenaline kick in and it’s exciting and pleasurable. But as soon as that element is gone, it’s no longer exciting.
This is what is happening in the early stages of your relationship. You can barely keep your hands off each other. There’s an element of danger and the forbidden. But as soon as you are married and it’s “allowed” that spark is gone because the forbidden element is no longer there.
So how do we bring it back? I would suggest creating an atmosphere much like the haunted house. Where the element of forbidden is there, along with the control.
Roleplaying is a great way to do this. Role-playing is all about being someone else for a little bit and acting out desires with your spouse. I understand that it can feel intimidating at first, and of course really weird and awkward if you are new to it. But, as most sexual things go, with practice and communication, things get better. Next week’s episode is going to be all about role-playing and how to do it, so tune in then to get all the ins and outs.
I think it’s a great idea to talk about fantasies. Even the ones that seem “taboo” or out of your value system. You aren’t necessarily going to be acting these out in real life (although role-playing them can be fun), but that can really bring in a forbidden element as well as open you up to more intimacy by sharing something so vulnerable.
Another way to bring in the forbidden is to try new things. Things that maybe you’ve been hesitant to do in the past or things that maybe you had “heard” would be frowned upon. So many people ask me “what does the church think about this…” and the answer is, it doesn’t. The Church and general authorities are not the authorities when it comes to your sex life. For most, we want to live within the Law of Chastity, which is to not have sex with someone you are not married to. Beyond that, you and your spouse get to decide what your sexual relationship looks like. What you want to do together and what you don’t. My rule of thumb is always “does it bring goodness to your marriage and sexual relationship?” If the answer is yes, then do it. If the answer is no, then don’t. That’s it. So maybe that’s a new toy, a new position, a new setting, a new outfit. Maybe it’s just changing things up – different music, candles, the lights on instead of off. Playing with the senses is a great way to change things up.
Often, as Christians, playing with the forbidden feels dangerous to us. We’ve been taught to stay as far away from that edge as possible. To stay where it is safe. And there is some truth to that, of course. But playing it safe doesn’t always work. If we always played it safe, we would have never ventured beyond the cave. We would never learn about ourselves or our environment. I’m so glad that Eve didn’t play it safe. She stepped into the unknown. She stepped into the discomfort because she knew that it would help her to grow.
I think learning about your sexuality often feels like it is dangerous or forbidden. But learning about sex and sexuality is a way to help us use our agency in a way that makes ourselves and our marriage better. It helps us step into the discomfort of growth, which in my opinion, is always worth the effort.