The Origins of the New-Cow Theory  
Animal Husbandry (Laura Zigman)

book cover

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The males of most mammalian species have a definite urge towards seeking variety in their sexual partners. If a male rat is introduced to a female rat in a cage, a remarkably high copulation rate will be observed at first. Then, progressively, the male will tire of that particular female and, even though there is no apparent change in her receptivity, he eventually reaches a point where he has little apparent libido. However, if the original female is then removed and a fresh one supplied, the male is immediately restored to his former vigor and enthusiasm.

--Glenn Wilson, The Great Sex Divide

It was, by all accounts, an inauspicious morning.

In fact, it was just like every other morning I'd had since being dumped.

I woke up before the alarm.

I remembered a dream I'd had about Ray. (A wild boar was chasing him around the greenroom. Was I the wild boar?)

I recalled a few choice aspects of our relationship (his washboard stomach, his bad-love-poetry E-mails, his impeccable taste in cheesy vacation souvenirs).

Which made me cry.

Which made me mad.

Which propelled me into the shower, and then to make coffee, and then to sit at the kitchen table smoking cigarettes until I realized that nothing would become of me unless I got dressed and dragged my ass to work.

Little did I know that when I opened the science section of the newspaper at my desk an hour later, I would find the nugget, the germ, the essence of what would become my obsession over the next year: a reference to the mating preferences of bulls buried in an article on human male behavior.

I stared at the article.

My heart pounded.

My breath become shallow.

I started to sweat like Richard Nixon.

I read the article twice, clipped it, stapled it together, then read it again -- this time with a yellow highlighter.

The Coolidge Effect was the technical name for it -- it -- the need to provide bulls with multiple cows for mating.

Multiple cows for mating.

I took my reading glasses off, then stood up and checked my watch: forty-five minutes before the production meeting with Diane. I call-forwarded my phone and ran down the hallway to our reference library, small but well stocked, where all PBS staff could do preliminary research on news stories, show topics, and guests.

The Coolidge Effect.

The Coolidge Effect.

I stared at the shelves trying to figure out which books to pull out. I opened the C volume of the encyclopedia and checked under Cattle.

History of the U.S. Cattle Industry.

Cattle Raising.


Breeding Techniques.

See Animal Husbandry.

I scanned the shelves.

A volume missing.

No books on agriculture.

Or farming.

Or animals.

I took a step back and ran my eyes over each section of the shelves -- history; politics; psychology; literature; sociology. Finally something caught my eye: The Great Sex Divide (Glenn Wilson, 1989). I lunged for it. As soon as I saw the Coolidge Effect listed in the index, I knew victory was close at hand.

The...effect is seen...strikingly in farm animals such as sheep and cattle. Rams and bulls are unmistakably resistant to repeating sex with the same female (Beamer, Bermant and Clegg, 1969). Thus for breeding purposes it is unnecessary for a farmer to have more than one male to service all his sheep and cows. A single bull can be relied upon to do the rounds of all the available cows, and a single ram will eventually service all the sheep in his domain.

Unmistakably resistant to repeating sex with the same female.

I read on: Male animals do not choose their mates randomly: they identify and reject those that they have already had sex with. In the case of rams and bulls it is notoriously difficult to fool them that a female is unfamiliar. Attempts to disguise an old partner by covering her face and body or masking her vaginal odors with other smells are usually unsuccessful. Somehow she is identified as "already serviced" and the male moves on to less familiar females.

Already serviced.

Cow Old Cow.

I stared at the book.

I smiled.

Then I faxed Joan and told her to meet me at Aphrodite for lunch in two hours.

"So, Dr. Goodall. What's the meaning of this cryptic fax?" Joan said, pulling it out of her bag:

New-Cow theory sheds much-needed light on narcissistic behavior in the male species. Stop. Dr. Goodall, disciple of Freud, Leakey, Fossey, and Jung and founder of the Institute for the Study and Prevention of Male Behavior, will present research findings at emergency Aphrodite lunch symposium. Stop. Nota bene: No cameras, please. Stop.

Once Joan had finished scanning it, Dr. Goodall checked the hair in her nonexistent bun. "Yes, you see, my rather busy schedule of research at the Institute and lectures at various conferences around the world about male behavior have, I'm sorry to say, prevented me from transcribing my rather illegible findings into formal papers, and I'm afraid it would do science a great disservice were the press to review my data prematurely -- "

Joan lit a Marlboro and looked at her watch. "Come on, Jane. Tell Dr. Goodall to make it snappy."

I pushed the menus aside and leaned forward. "Remember the time I saw that graffiti on the subway?"

"'Baby I loves the toilet you sit on?'"

"No, no, no. 'I's tired of fucking the same woman every night.' Remember how we thought there might actually be something to that? Like maybe it was some kind of window into their -- "

"Schizophrenic behavior?"

"Well, it is," I said, taking out the newspaper. "The New-Cow theory -- "I's tired of fucking the same woman every night' -- same thing."

I spread the article out on the table and watched Joan read it. Then I showed her The Great Sex Divide.

"You see, we were Old Cow," I said, pointing at the book. "We were 'already serviced.' And they wanted to move on to "less familiar females.'"

Joan shook her head. "I don't know. It's too simple. And besides, that applies to animals."


" can't extrapolate that the same is true in humans."

"Why not?"

We looked at each other. "Why can't we extrapolate that?" I asked, as much of myself as of Joan.

She thought a minute. "Because. Because humans are more complex. There are a thousand things that affect what happens between them. This Coolidge Effect or the New-Cow theory is too simple, too one-dimensional. It's much more complicated than that."

"But maybe it isn't," I said, thinking out loud. "Maybe we just assume it's more complicated than that with men when in reality it's something as incredibly obvious as this."

Joan didn't blink. "You really think so?"

"I don't know. It's just something I've been wondering about lately."

In about eleven different notebooks.

"What?" she asked. "Cows and bulls?"

"No." I lit a cigarette and exhaled slowly. "About what the answer is. About why men flip-flop from passion to panic until they finally disappear." I thought about the notebooks and the clippings I'd collected. I thought about Evelyn the cat. And for a moment I was tempted to mention them, to tell Joan more of what I'd been reading and finding. But I didn't. It was too soon -- my thoughts were too jumbled, too unformed, the data still too raw.

"Well," Joan said finally. "It certainly would explain Jason."

"And Ray," I said.

We looked at each other, then said the same thing:

"And Eddie."
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Excerpted from Animal Husbandry by Laura Zigman. Copyright © 1998 by Laura Zigman. Excerpted by permission of The Dial Press, a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.