I was intrigued, more than dismissive, when reading the recent Huff Post column “Is Cheating a Rational Choice?” by Eric Anderson, Ph.D. The sociologist, professor and author of The Monogamy Gap: Men, Love and The Reality of Cheating reported his conclusion (based on his research of men only) that cheating in marriage is the “only rational choice” for men to obtain their two basic goals:
1. to keep their emotional relationship with their wives and family intact and
2. to fulfill their strong sexual desire to have more sex with a variety of partners.
Anderson’s idea that cheating allows men to have a bit of fun without their wives knowing, doesn’t seem grounded in reality. Before I launch into why, let me first say that I waited to post a reply to this hotly contested column because I really wanted to chat with Anderson first, whom I interviewed via email this week. Before launching into any response, I need to remind my readers that Anderson is a sociologist and anthropologist who conducts research studies and reports his findings. He reiterated that he is not a psychologist or marriage and family therapist and that he does not, in any way, “give advice” to married couples. He responded this way to me when I asked him for advice regarding how women and men can come to terms with the problems that arise once affairs are discovered. I explained that the lies and cheating erode the trust and friendship that is critical for women to let go and explore in the bedroom. Most women (of course, this is not based on formal research, but just on my own experience and what girlfriends and therapists have told me) become more adventurous in the bedroom when they feel loved and trust their man. When the trust is gone, they often have a hard time turning on that switch that lets them light a fire in bed. So, my premise is that men risk great sex at home—and their marriage and kid’s welfare—when they explore outside and lie about it.
Anderson declined to comment other than to say that he will be conducting research about why women cheat later this summer—and I’m very glad to hear it. For many reasons. First, I wonder how many wives of the married men in Anderson’s studies were also bored with their sex lives? Sure, perhaps men, in general, do have stronger libidos than women, as Anderson explained. But many women are bored at home as well. If a man isn’t helping out with the kids or isn’t offering any nights out that stimulate a woman like foreplay with an infusion of romance, it’s easy to shut down. Perhaps the husband isn’t making much of an effort? Perhaps he’s drinking too much (inhibiting his sexual performance), working too much, and isn’t adventuresome with his wife. If that man then rushes out to have sex with another woman—doesn’t this mean that he feels his needs are more important than his wife’s and his actions are justified? WHAT about his wife’s needs?
And the idea that the other woman won’t become attached and will allow the married man to have noncommittal sex that doesn’t endanger his marriage and children is a bit naive. Women fall prey to oxytocin bonding with men during sex, experts say. That’s why it’s so hard for women to just pull away emotionally or have anonymous sex unless they are sex addicts. This was explained to me in previous interviews and sessions with Pat Allen, Ph.D., of Millionaire Matchmaker fame and author of several best-selling booksThe Trust About Men Will Set You Free (but First It Will Piss You Off!) She warns women of sleeping with men too quickly as they will become bonded and ignore any red flags and their own intuition about whether the guy is right for them. (See more of my interview in my article “Relationship Guru Dr. Pat Allen Sets Me Straight!”.)
As mentioned, Anderson’s idea that cheating allows men to have a bit of fun without their wives knowing, isn’t realistic. In fact, oftentimes, the “other woman” will pick up the phone or send an email anonymously to their paramour’s wife—even if she said in the beginning that she understood the situation. (I’ve heard about incidents such as this from several readers.) Does a man who loves his wife and kids really want to risk that?
I do, however, agree with Dr. Anderson on quite a few points that he made. The first being that society refuses to look at the problems with monogamy when only pointing a judgmental finger at those who cheat. He also said that cheating makes more sense because society also doesn’t accept open marriages and most wives would balk at the idea if their husbands broached the subject.
Sure, he has a point. Open marriages are frowned upon. And if Dr. Anderson is correct that most men, when first married, are so in love that they assure their wives they can be faithful and that sex with just her, is all that he’ll ever want. Once a man says that, it’s very hard to take it back with a line such as: “Honey, I know I said I only needed you for the rest of my life, but, (cough) I kind of crave being with more women than you. Do you mind?”
Dr. Anderson justifies cheating (or the men in his study do) because of this. They are terrified that if they are completely honest about their needs, they’ll lose their wives. But isn’t there something implicitly wrong with then leaving your beloved wife at home with the kiddos while you then romance, spend joint money on, and have wild sex with random women? Isn’t this just called having your cake and eating it too?
When I asked Professor Anderson to respond to how women could then navigate open marriages or open arrangements, such as discussing rules that might be involved, he responded:
“You ask me a few times about my advice, and I’m really just a sociologist whose more interested in finding out ‘what is’ rather than saying what individuals should do. I’m not big on advice giving. I do say in the book, however, that monogamism will not decrease until open sexual relationships are held in social parity with monogamous relationships. Only then will couples (or triads) be able to make decisions. I suggest in the conclusion that we need a variety of sexual relationship types (celibacy, polyamory, swingers, open sexual, and others perhaps not yet invented) without heirachy or hegemony.”
Okay, Dr. Anderson. I understand that people may have needs that society doesn’t approve of. But wow, doesn’t a man marry his best friend? And as a best friend, can’t these men take a risk and open up to them about their desires? And this is the problem. It takes courage to be honest, doesn’t it? In fact, it takes guts. And while most men reading this might not believe me, I don’t think I’m in the minority of women who would rather have a private conversation with her husband about his desires and his growing need to be with another person sexually. That’s a whole lot better than learning two years later that he was out having sex every Wednesday “poker night” while you’re at home taking care of the kiddos solo. Or that his business trips to exotic locales had additional days tacked on so he could lie on the beach with a mistress while you were up to your ears in diapers. Seriously, the behavior is just selfish and takes advantage of the wife.
I wonder how many women might even become a bit turned on by their hubby’s confession? (It’s a whole lot better than being treated like crap, right?) Can you imagine what type of conversations could spurn from that initial confession? Maybe the two would become more honest about their fantasies? Dr. Allen suggests in couple therapy, especially to couples recovering from infidelity, to start fantasy journals. She says it’s a way for even the shiest couples to take turns writing down their fantasies in the journal and then leaving it in a drawer by the bed. When the other isn’t there, the husband or wife can then take turns reading what the other wrote down. She claims it’s an eyeopener for most couples and sparks flames in the bedroom. In the book The Kosher Sutra by Shmuley Boteach, Rabbi Boteach encourages couples to be open about their desires and warns the men reading the book how women “are like onions” with layers and layers of depth. This depth gives them much more vivid and erotic fantasies that most husbands rarely know anything about—something that will reignite a couple’s sex life. A husband misses out on this opportunity if he slinks out the door and into bed with multiple other women behind his wife’s back.
And as I mentioned, once the trust is gone, it’s very hard to stay together—let alone become a sexual diva in the bedroom. So, I challenge the married men who are craving sex with gals at the office or at the gym, to first talk with their wives about their fantasies. Go crazy and write them down if necessary. Maybe even sign up for a tantric retreat. Start exercising together if attraction is diminishing from weight gain. If you love your wife, treat her with respect and re-ignite what you have first. And who knows? Maybe your wife might even surprise you by entertaining the idea of private tryst? You’ll never know if you don’t try.
What do you think my readers? Would you balk if your husband came to you with a confession such as this? Please chime in!!
- Vicki Larson: Are Kids Learning How To Be Unfaithful in College? (huffingtonpost.com)
- Why Are Some Men Faithful to Their Wives? (psychologytoday.com)
See that… You get it. It’s a scientific study that justifies men taking advantage of women. Why oh Why is it NEVER breached that women have the right to stray? Seriously. Let’s put men in the hot seat. What if the their wives “stepped out” while they were home? How cock whipped and lily livered would their cockolded asses feel? See that? Now how do they like being on the down trodden end of the study? What I hate MOST about the study is it puts women in the home waiting for their man to come home. Um. How many women actually still live like that? Don’t we also have temptations to have sex with colleagues on our business trips? So isn’t “Men’s drive to have sex w/ many partners” really just a desire for him to dominate? To do what he wants when he wants so he feels powerful? Because how powerful does he feel while his wife is on that business trip in Dubai and he’s in charge of soccer practice and laundry? If you want respect you have to give it. And don’t set rules for her that you wouldn’t set for yourself. Just sayin’.
Thanks for your reply Michelle! It will be interesting to read Dr. Anderson’s study of women.
Hell yes I would object if my husband wanted my permission to have sex with other women! That being said, I also would prefer he talked to me about it and his need for “newness or variety” rather than taking the selfish liberty himself to go out and partake behind my back. Been there and done that and it is a devastating blow to a relationship. I’ve wanted to write about this book for a while now but I was so conflicted by it that I have left it in on my list of things to do rather than tackle it. I’m definitely interested in the studies on women and even more so if he includes the wife of the same men who led him to this brilliant conclusion that monogomy is virtually impossible for a man to withstand without “losing himself” in the process. Men will be shocked at the depth and power of our fantasies and our sexual desires. So one question on my mind is, why is it possible for women who have all of these same fantasies, desires and secret wants to remain faithful in a relationship, but not men? Is it really as simple as the hormone Testosterone? Or is it just a double standard we are being fed? Men will be men and can not help themselves? Bullshit.
Thanks for posting on this topic! It’s interesting to hear other women’s thoughts on it. Hope you don’t mind if I reblog it…
Reblogged this on screw infidelity and commented:
This books is a topic I have on my list to tackle in my blog but I have avoided it because the topic is a very conflicting one for me. I am reblogging this post because I enjoy the writer and found it interesting to hear someone elses point of view on the subject.
Thanks so much for the reblog! I am honored. It’s such a hard subject to tackle after infidelity is discovered isn’t it? All the best to you. X
The same arguments have been used by androcentric scientists to justify rape, have they not? This stuff is so old…
OH BOY!!! I am the wife who discovered my husband was cheating. He is not a serial cheater,thus perfect example for this article. It has been the single most devastating thing to occur in my life. I did not find it sexy, nor do I find it in the least endearing. Has he learned? Yes I truly believe he has. But the larger point is that I as his wife continue to learn, and suffer. It just sucks to be cheated upon, and honestly I feel now that it is bound to happen as we are only selfish humans. The big, huge, ugly lesson???? He has learned more about himself but as his wife I am left with a life lesson that has no end. I struggle to place this in perspective, and I simply cannot. Is this my fault as a woman? I think not! I do work daily on this issue and I will say this one fact. My husband and I are working on a new and different marriage. I no longer know why I have lingered……and daily I am an angry person. Infidelity has lessons that people can grow from, but the cost is so much more than any human can control. It isn’t worth the pain for the lesson.
Thanks so much Maria for sharing your story. I hope you can find a way to lift your anger. But I know it is justified. You might get a lot out of this article “The Power of NOT Holding It All (Together)” http://navigatingvita.com/2012/03/28/the-power-of-not-holding-it-all-together/ guest-posted by my friend and psychologist Lisa Nastasi about how she dealt with her anger and the guilty feelings about her even having so much anger through mindfulness. All the best to you. x
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This really just opens the discussion of to what extent homo sapiens have free will in their impulses and behaviors. Assuming we were a completely logical species and that sex was approached logically, monogamy would work perfectly and life would probably be simpler in some ways. Unfortunately, humans did not evolve this way for several reasons.
Firstly, if we were too logical in our approach, the species would end/decline… Because without hormones, pleasure, and emotions guiding our decisions, there isn’t a huge incentive to reproduce (finding the prospect of children attractive is still an example of hormones and instinct guiding one’s desires and inclination).
Secondly, the role of males is to put more genetic variety in the species. Obviously men are going to make excuses for why they want to have sex with more women. The mistake of this article and the mistake of sociologists like Dr. Anderson is assuming that the excuse matters, all that matters is the reason. The answer is never going to be logical, because the propagation of the species is largely illogical. So a woman is very prone seeing problems with the reasoning of men for why they want more women, because there aren’t very many good reasons because men don’t really know how to explain a part of their nature that lacks proper explanation.
Sure, you can call it selfish, disrespectful, and inconsiderate for a man to want these things–but again, if humans thought things through in great detail when it came to sex, the species would be in trouble.
As for the observation that women may become equally bored, this is accurate. However, in regards to homo sapiens, it is the males that are slightly more polygamous. As a species, you can tell that we have a history of polygamy because men are generally larger in size than females (our sexual dimorphism). In species where there is more monogamy, the sexes are more identical (like bonobos). In species with very high rates of male oriented polygamy (like most gorillas), the males are quite large compared to the females.
Dr. Anderson may be due for another study regarding women’s cheating tendencies, but I speculate that we already know some of the answers given that in our species the female is not the gender responsible for genetic variation. (And nor could that be the case, given the length of human gestation and the length of maturation for human offspring).
So getting back to my original question of “free will”–I do not intend to excuse men just because they are evolutionarily predisposed to break a current Western cultural norm (monogamy). However, I think Dr. Anderson is at least on the right track in that monogamy isn’t completely natural to our species, and so of course problems will arise. Homo sapiens typically mate monogamously, but they do not mate with one person for life, nor is this their natural inclination but rather a forced characteristic that a human can adopt merely because humans are very adaptable to a multitude of environments–environmental, social, or otherwise. But I think it would help spouses if they could open up an actual dialogue regarding sex. It isn’t quite fair to hate men for their programming–which plays as strong a role in their decision making, as much as biology predisposes women to want children, or sexual loyalty (although this goes for both genders).
I don’t intend to say that free will doesn’t exist in some way, but I think we expect too much from ourselves and humans refuse to acknowledge their flaws and impulses. In this culture we also seem to have some sort of weird aversion to discussions of how much our impulses truly guide us. We want to be more rational than we really are. And this goes for both sexes, as I could think of laundry lists of nonsensical programming in either sex. Our greatest “flaw,” however, is viewing our natures as flawed. We can describe male inclinations as selfish and therefore “flawed”–but our flaws (male and female alike) are the foundation of life on this planet and why we exist in the first place. One could make the argument, in fact, that we are only intelligent and capable of logic in the first place because we were driven by impulses to increase genetic variation–which is responsible for our intelligence and the health of the species.
To put it all bluntly, evolution hasn’t yet worked around how to deal with the consequences of male irrationality (or female irrationality for that matter). When you asked Dr. Anderson to offer advice, for example, he can’t possibly because the truth is the situation is too complex. But again, evolution works very slowly and widespread monogamy is a relatively new phenomenon. So we aren’t going to see any real answer to this in our lifetimes. Suffice it to say, calling it “wrong” or “disrespectful” for a man to want another woman while his wife cares for his children, does not adequately address the topic. It begins to sound petty and un-intuitive of the actual situation.