Any man who has ever been on the receiving end of that question, whether
dodging crockery or wiping away his wife’s tears, knows that some women really
want an answer. Do men who cheat really outnumber their female counterparts? Is
infidelity in marriage more natural to men than women? And do some husbands
think that “monogamy” is a board game?
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“There’s no question that men cheat more than women,” says Steven Nock, PhD,
a professor of sociology at the University of Virginia who has followed the
marriages of over 6,000 men since 1979. “In the bad old days when we had to
prove why we were getting divorced, that was the leading cause.” This was
mostly because the husbands were guiltier of infidelity in marriage than their
wives — but also because, says Nock, “society is more tolerant of men’s
Men who cheat, so the conventional wisdom went, were just being men, while a
faithless wife was a true pariah. You may remember from your American
literature class, it was Hester Prynne who wore the scarlet letter, not the man
who did her wrong.
“Men and women cheat in different ways,” says Mark Epstein, MD, a
psychiatrist in private practice in Manhattan and the author of Open to
Desire: Embracing a Lust for Life. “It’s more like an appetite thing for
men, more oral in a way; their partners are more disposable. And the
experiences are more disposable.”
Infidelity in men: Does the biological argument hold up?
Wives may consider their husbands disposable when they discover they’ve been
cheating, but they still wonder why. Could it be a biological imperative, as
some scientists have allowed? Cole Porter may have thought that birds who “do
it” and bees who “do it” were falling in love, but if love is what you’re
calling it, there is plenty of evidence that the animal kingdom pretty much
falls in love indiscriminately. And even we Homo sapiens have spent more
evolutionary time seeking multiple partners than we have in pursuit of romantic
matrimony and monogamy.
“There is a natural tendency that is pretty hardwired in us as a species
that suggests putting your seed in as many places as possible. It’s what got
humanity to this point in history,” says Louanne Cole Weston, PhD, a marriage
and family therapist and board-certified sex therapist in Fair Oaks,
California. “That non-monogamous urge persists in many men — though many manage
serial monogamy despite that urge.”
The evolutionary argument, however, will only get you so far. One could
argue that men also used to beat each other with clubs. But outside of some
parts of the Bronx, this practice is generally frowned upon now. And there are
no country songs about it. So the fact that many men do remain faithful seems
to argue for a behavioral cure to what may be only partly a biological problem.
Can counseling, for instance, get a man to stop cheating?