Women have longed asked the question “Why do men cheat?” Culturally, we tend to think of men as voracious creatures with large sexual appetites. Centuries old wisdom tells us that men can be tempted away from monogamy even by rather plain women, because “boys will be boys” and sex is simply too hard for them to resist.
The reality is that much of this isn’t true. Men and women both cheat, and men are no more likely to go astray than their female counterparts. (And, in fact, a recent study showed that when women cheat, their affairs tend to be much more dangerous to their relationship, because they tend to form more emotional and intimate bonds with their lover.)
Furthermore, it is both misguided and destructive to believe that men have no control over their sexual behavior. In doing so, we not only don’t give men enough credit (men can and do turn down sex, for a variety of reasons), but we also let them hook for their bad behavior. Instead of getting angry with the cheating husband, we direct much of our outrage at the mistress. Instead of demanding respect and consent in the bedroom, we assume that men simply can’t control themselves in that situation and that women shouldn’t be “teases” if they don’t want to go all the way.
Again, none of this is true. Most men would never cross the line or step out on their wives, but when that happens, the blame lies with no one but themselves.
However, a new study from University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University has found that men might exhibit higher levels of sexual impulsivity. For the first part of the study, researchers asked men and women to recall a time in their life when they were tempted by a member of the opposite sex who was “off-limits” to them, such as a friend’s boyfriend or girlfriend. The researchers found that while the men and women in the study reported equal levels of self-control in those situations, the men also reported a higher level of sexual impulse. In other words, their urge to be with the forbidden fruit seemed to higher than that of the women’s urge.
In order to learn more about sexual impulsivity, the researchers conducted a second study. This time they asked men and women to look at a computer as images of attractive and unattractive people flashes across the screen. Some of the people were labeled as a “good match” and some as a “bad match.” The participants were asked only to choose partners who had been labeled as a “good match” for them.
Once again, the researchers found that the men in the study had a harder time resisting the attractive partners, even if they were labeled “bad match.”
Does this mean that men truly don’t have control over their sexual behavior? Not at all. The study found that both men and women were capable of self-control and restraint, even when they were greatly tempted.
However, it does seem as though temptation might be just a bit harder to resist for the men, perhaps because they are biologically programmed to want to mate with women they find attractive. Or, perhaps it is because we live in a society in which men are encouraged to be more sexually aggressive and open about their desires, and in which women are encouraged to be more submissive and passive. This might make it easier for women to say “no” to temptation rather than lingering on a forbidden fantasy or yearning for a partner who is off-limits.
But the good news is that they don’t have to give into impulses, and that this study in no way condones cheating. Instead, it simply helps to reveal how gender might impact the way we approach monogamy and the way we look at the opposite sex.