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I shouldn’t be as surprised as I am about the responses to my latest Huffington Post piece, Why Men Need to Cheat — more than 3,800 comments! — but I am. I’m not surprised that the topic would upset people; hey, infidelity is a hot topic (because so many people have their lives touched by it). Nor am I surprised that people want to get off-topic — “Women cheat, too!” “People who cheat are immature!” “People who cheat don’t know what commitment is!” (Yawn). Nor am I surprised by the people who want to attack me personally, even though I didn’t conduct the study or write the book; but, that’s online “discourse” for you. I’m also not surprised that the “non-liberal” media like the Culture and Media Institute and Newsbusters attacked me (but I am upset that they put Dr. Eric Anderson’s words in my mouth; so much for “advancing truth”!).

Instead, I’m surprised at how many people aren’t willing to question their own belief systems — why do we expect monogamy in relationships? — or explore if it is something that’s working well. Perhaps I shouldn’t be. 

Is monogamy working well? In study after study, Americans by huge margins say they are against infidelity — more now than even in the 1970s. Yet, infidelity continues to happen — yes, by men and women! — and most likely by many of the very same people who say they’re against it. We say we believe in monogamy and we enter marriage/relationships expecting it, but our behavior proves otherwise, and that is part of what I found intriguing (and disturbing) in Dr. Eric Anderson’s book.

The young men (and he details why he chose undergrads, which I will not get into here but it makes sense) who were cheating saw themselves as monogamous. Well, if you have yourself cheated or know someone who has (and most of us know plenty of cheaters or those cheated upon), you know that people who are having sex on the side have lots of justifications and rationalizations to make it work for them, especially if they believe that they truly love their partner and don’t want to hurt him or her.

Another thing that I found upsetting in his book is how the young men thought it was OK for them to cheat but not their girlfriends (which I asked him about). But, of course, that is human behavior — I can trust myself to have recreational sex on the side without getting emotionally involved, but I don’t trust that my partner can do that. Sorry, that’s not going to fly with me. Either you have an agreed-upon open relationship or you don’t. It is that black or white for me.

Dr. Anderson was kind enough to give me lengthy answers to my (lengthy) questions, all of which I had to edit down for HuffPo. So, I am running the entire email interview below; perhaps that will clarify some things for people (or, make them more upset!).

                                                         *************

Your study includes just 120 undergraduate men, straight and gay; isn’t that too small a sample to really know what’s going on for men?

If I were attempting to determine what percent of men cheat, then yes it would be far too small a sample to make a definitive statement. But we already know that answer: large scale surveys show us that cheating remains the norm for men (women are not much better). Thus, my aim with this research was to understand why so many men cheat. I wanted to examine the very notion of monogamy, not morally, but rationally. I wanted to know why men want monogamy but nonetheless cheat. 120 men was more than I needed, because most men said the same thing.

You write that men want to be emotionally monogamous, but their “body craves sex with other people somatically.” People crave food, drugs, booze, sometimes to disastrous results as far as health and mortality. We can’t have everything we want. If there can be self-control with other cravings, why can’t men control their body urges?

But do we really control these other bodily urges? Humans are largely lousy at controlling our bodies’ desires. This is why despite the fact that most everybody wants to be slim, 70% of Americans are overweight. Judging people who indulge in (booze, food, or sex) as immoral has very little practical value. Stigma doesn’t work well in controlling these behaviors. We say we don’t want to eat that Snickers bar, but we also really do want to eat it. We eat it, we feel guilty about it, and afterwards we promise ourselves not to eat one again; but we nonetheless do. It is this same phenomenon, only with cheating, that I explore in the book. I wanted to understand why this phenomena of wanting but not wanting to cheat exists.

The men in your study experienced a sharp decrease in the frequency and enjoyment of sex after two monogamous years.  But since no one can sustain the kind of thrilling sex couples have in the beginning of a relationship — when the chemical changes in our brain literally make us  sick — isn’t it a healthy thing that it decreases?

I wish young men got two years of good sex before it dropped off! It’s a lot less than that! It may, however, be good that the sexual desire for one’s partner weans; it means that we end up staying with our long term partners for the socio-emotional connection and not for the sex. If a couple is going to raise a family, it is the emotional connection that counts, not the sexual.

But it is also important to recognize that our physical desires don’t die; they just change from our partner to people other than him/her. We, as a society, are fairly unaware of this. We falsely believe that when the sex dies, the relationship has also died. The reality is the opposite, when the sex dies the relationship has just begun.

Sure, sex with the same person can get boring no matter how much you spice it up. But, what about the idea that long-term relationships makes sex become deeper, more intimate and more meaningful?

I wish more people understood your first sentence. I want people to understand that, as you say, the sex will decrease,  both in intensity and frequency. Many marriages will end up sexless. But the diminution of sex is simultaneous to one’s emotional bonds growing stronger.

Long term partners may have more intimate sex (most just have very little) but when men see a guy or girl who turns them on, it’s not intimate and meaningful sex they are craving. I argue that we can have both that hot carnal sex with strangers, and the intimate, even if boring, sex with our long term partners. Open relationships (which generally grow out of monogamous relationships) facilitate both.

Honesty is a huge part of a relationship, yet you argue that cheating is less risky for men as far relationship stability (than telling them they want sex with others?). How good a relationship can one have when there’s deception, especially since you say after men cheat spontaneously, they are more likely to plan cheating?

Honesty is good sometimes, yes, and horrible at other times, “Yes, honey, you have gotten fat” isn’t necessarily a good form of honesty. There are good reasons to lie; it is an essential skill for keeping community and relationship peace. The reason men lie about cheating, however, is mostly because they know that if they ask for permission to have recreational sex: 1) they will be denied 2) (after they are denied) they will be subject to scrutiny and increased relationship policing; 3) they will be stigmatized as immoral, and most likely broken up with. Thus, honesty doesn’t meet their desires of having both a long term partner and recreational sex with others.

The way cheating men see it, it’s either cheat or don’t cheat, but telling their partners they want sex outside the relationship, or telling their partners that they actually cheated, is viewed as a sure fire way of achieving relationship termination. It’s very important to remember that when men cheat for recreational sex (I’m not talking about affairs here) they DO love their partners. If they didn’t love their partners, they would break up with them.

Rather than promoting nonmonogamy, which clearly would be upsetting to many people because of the deception, wouldn’t it be less harmful to relationships if we became serial monogamists — marrying two, three or four times as our sexual needs change as we age?

It seems to me you have this backwards, monogamy is dishonest and nonmonogamy honest. Where is the deception in two people agreeing to have sex with others? But just because cheating is not honest, does not mean that it is not rational. Cheating is rational, and it is logical. I show that men find cheating to be a way of keeping their partners and having some extra sex; that makes cheating practical, and that’s why most men do it.

But your question also misses this sensible middle ground. Rather than marrying 20 times or more in one’s life via serial monogamy, we can keep one emotional lover and just have casual, meaningless—and hot – sex with strangers (oftentimes in threesomes with their partner). This gives us the long term emotional stability we desire psychologically, alongside the hot, carnal sex we desire somatically. It makes much more sense than the lying and cheating of today’s relationships, or the difficulty of breaking up with a loved one simply because you want someone else’s body for an hour.

I’m sure feminists would be surprised to know that feminism has led to today’s young men wanting extradyadic sex more than men of previous generations. What role does feminism play, and wouldn’t feminists want the same for themselves?

No. It’s not feminism that has done this. It’s the increased availability of sex, the ability to have it earlier and more often; alongside the panoply of pornography available on one’s computer or cell phone that makes monogamous sex look boring compared to the way it was looked at in the 1950s.

Infidelity breaks up many marriages, as you note, but often it isn’t the act of sex that’s so upsetting — it’s the deception and lying, clearly problematic for the emotional intimacy you say men want. So cheating for sex may be “just about the sex” for him, but not for his partner.

Infidelity does not break marriages up; it is the unreasonable expectation that a marriage must restrict sex that breaks a marriage up. One of the reasons I wrote the book is that I’ve seen so many long term relationships broken up simply because one had sex outside the relationship. But feeling victimized isn’t a natural outcome of casual sex outside a relationship, it is a socialized victimhood. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating cheating, instead I’m advocating open and equitable sexual relationships. When both in the couple desire this, when both realize that extradyadic sex makes their partner happy, and they therefore want their partner to have that sex, a couple will have moved a long ways to ward facilitating emotional honesty, while simultaneously withering at jealousy scripts, which can be very damaging to a relationship. But if one can’t achieve this with a partner that’s hostile to the idea, cheating is the reasonable action.

Part of the problem with cheating is that it denies the other person the right to decide if he or she wants that kind of a relationship. Yet most of the men in your study were OK with sex on the side for them, but not their girlfriends. Not only isn’t that unfair, but it also seems incredibly selfish.

I argue that monogamy is culturally compelled, so the decision has been made for us. For example, how much of a chance would a man stand to have a second date if on the first date he said that he was interested in an open relationship? But equally as important, at the point men enter into relationships they too think they want monogamy. It’s only after being in a relationship for months or years that they badly want sex with others. But by this point, they don’t want to break up with their partners because they have long standing love. Instead of chancing that love by asking for extradyadic sex, they cheat. If they don’t get caught (and most don’t) it’s a rational choice.

But it is indeed selfish for men to want sex with others but not to want their partners to do the same. This however is not just a ‘man’ thing. Women also cheat; they also lie about it; and they also want to be able to cheat without their partners doing the same. Monogamy is a problem for all sexes; it builds in an ownership script regardless of gender.

I often ask my students what is more important to their relationships, their emotional or their physical connection. They unanimously agree upon the emotional. I then ask why they only police the physical. Why can a girl tell her girlfriends things she does not tell her boyfriend? Is this not emotional cheating? And is this not a worse violation than physical cheating? My point, of course, is that one person cannot meet all of your emotional or our physical needs. Maybe one person can for a shortwhile, but ultimately we need other people in our lives.

You write that love is a “long-standing sense of security and comfort.” So, wouldn’t open relationships potentially pose a threat to that security since, even if couples play by their own sexual rules, there’s always a chance one could end up preferring a new lover over one’s partner?

People in open relationships structure their engagements as to reduce emotional intimacy. But, yes, of course it can happen. What I find from those in open relationships however, is that once they have had sex with that person they fancied, they tend to get over them.

But if we really want to prevent our lovers from developing the lust of others, or worse, emotional intimacy with others; if we really want to prevent men and women from cheating, we would be best to sex-segregate our jobs, our classrooms and social arenas, too. Emotional intimacy is the real threat to a relationship, not a one-off hour with a stranger from Craigslist; and this can happen anywhere. Ultimately, there are no guarantees that one’s partner won’t find love elsewhere; this too is part of being human. But controlling one’s partner to prevent it only makes matters worse – it makes them want to leave you. A better strategy is to be open, emotionally and perhaps sexually, too.

23 Responses to “Why monogamy is failing men”

  1. Dr. Cool says:

    Great interview. Thank you for discussing the topic in such a way that challenges societies norms.

  2. Cal B says:

    #IAMTRAYVONMARTIN There is much discussion to be spawned from this piece. Thanks for being honest and truthful with your research. #tellthetruthshamethedevil

  3. David says:

    So, you are the mother of 2 young men, who will fall in love and be cheated on … and you will tell them:

    “My sons, love is unrealistic, a collection of illusions. Cheating is what we were born to do. Embrace cheating and get over your silly notions of fidelity… and be sure to tell my grandsons the same thing.”

    And so your sons will divorce, and you will tell them, “My sons, marriage is unrealistic, a collection of illusions. Divorce and cheating are what we were born to do. Embrace divorce and cheating, and be sure to tell my grandsons the same thing.”

    Lovely world view in your home. Thanks for setting all us romantics who do not cheat straight on these facts of life.

    • OMGchronicles
      Twitter: OMGchronicles
      says:

      David — Thanks for reading and commenting. First, the study was not done by me but by Dr. Anderson — he is saying monogamy is failing men (and women, too). I am just reporting on it.

      There are many people who do not cheat, there are many people who do cheat and there are many people who don’t cheat but still struggle with monogamy — I’ll bet you know people who fall into all three camps, as do I.

      My sons are very much romantics — they’re young and in love; no one wants to hear my thoughts about love (or anything else, quite honestly!) But all they have to do is look around them to see how many marriages have ended in divorce and how many marriages involved cheating. They don’t have to look much past their own family, quite honestly.

      The only thing I truly hope my sons do before they marry — if they do marry, that is — is first have a discussion about monogamy and decide as a couple what they consider cheating to be and whether they can be truly honest with each other about lust and longing. Better to be on the same page about that and not assume anything.

      • David says:

        Do you really expect your romantic sons to discuss open marriage with their future brides? What young man would ever marry with the intention of sharing his bride? NONE! Can you envision a future where marriages are open from the beginning? Seriously?

        The issue is competing human instincts: ‘to have and to hold’ versus, ‘I copulate, therefore I am’.

        Let all cheaters consider your sons and daughters. Go ahead and cuckold your husband just as you hope your daughter in law does to your son. Cheat on your wife as you pray your son in law does to your daughter.

        Open marriage may work for older couples that have lost their mojo … but newlyweds (and society) need(s) the exclusivity of monogamy to keep the world spinning.

        • Ivan says:

          I’m sorry but I have to disagree with David. You can’t just assume things are going to be that simple. I’m in my 20′s and in all honestly, I also don’t believe monogamy is realistic. Personal attacks to someone who is challenging society’s views are normal and I actually acknoledge that the reporter had the ‘cojones’ to publish something that she knew would have controversy but would inject knowledge into our brains. That’s the main purpose of journalism and I think she did a great job. Let’s stop wondering about her son’s personal lives yeah? This is more about what WE can learn from this.

  4. Lily says:

    Perfect sense. Fascinating chap, Dr. Anderson. That David fellow’s not too bright is he?

  5. Vicki
    Twitter: OMGchronicles
    says:

    I agree, Lily, fascinating indeed; it’s good at least open our mind to possibilities even if we later decide nah, that’s not for me. Thanks for dropping by!

  6. Linda O says:

    Statistics show that marriages are failing at exponential rates in the US but if you think there are more cheating spouses in the US than other parts of the world, it’s time to think again! Divorce rates are lower in other parts of the world, why? I don’t know. However, look at the attitudes of love and marriages outside of the western nations. Monogamy is not an imposed virtue, and women divorce their cheating spouses because of extradyadic affairs but for fear of contracting illnesses. Some women view ‘the other women’ as toilets/outlets/garbage bins to be used by their husbands who always come back home ready to provide and get involved in their family affairs. Women love women in other worlds — they care for each other, have supportive friendships and groups that take care of their emotional and psychological needs. Yes, I agree with the quoted author that it is unreasonable to rely on one person for your entire emotional and physical needs. By not over-relying on their men for all their needs, the men are able to spring back to their women to discover the source of their contentment and peace — this sense of confidence is irresistible to men. Men are what they are, part of it is genetic part by design, you may divorce them but eventually the smarter women learn to live with them and use their divine wisdom to keep them from straying.
    Just look at the Middle East, Africa, Asia….yes this author is not here to teach us about cheating, but to tell the truth of the matter.

    • Vicki
      Twitter: OMGchronicles
      says:

      Hi Linda,
      Thanks for commenting.
      I find it intriguing that you say, “men are able to spring back to their women to discover the source of their contentment and peace.” I think that’s what Dr. Anderson was saying — “let us have our sex with random strangers, but we will always come back to the one we love and feel accepted by.” I’d like to believe that’s true, but even he acknowledges there are no guarantees — ever — and anyone who agrees to such an arrangement will have to be OK with that.

  7. Adrienne says:

    Wow. Amazing interview. Really made me think… Great points were brought up. Nice job!!

  8. Kris says:

    Lol, this is a joke right? You people will listen to, and believe, anything that makes you feel better about your selfishness. Do you know why people REALLY cheat? Because they are selfish that’s why! Bottom line, if you can’t be faithful then don’t even bother getting into a relationship. Just stay single, that way you can contract all of the nasty STD’s that you want to, without destroying your partners clean bill of health in the process. Oh, and before you even respond with the condom bit, there are many permanent STD’s that you can contract even while using the condom. This entire article, as well as the majority of the comments, was quite laughable.

    • OMGchronicles
      Twitter: OMGchronicles
      says:

      I think what is being said is that many men would like to have a nonmonogamous relationship but since saying that outright to the woman they love and want to have the emotional connection with might send her packing, they opt to say nothing — and then eventually cheat. No one is saying it’s right; I think people are acknowledging that it is.

  9. Bijan says:

    because men natural produce 20 times more of a hormone that is responsible for wanting sex in both men and women than female body does the man need to have sex is 20 times more. Naturally to ask a man to be in a monogamist relationship is like to ask a rhino and a rabbit to eat one carrot each per day and claim you have been fair.
    One would be content one would starve. Maybe survive but wont be happy.
    The point is if we want men to put a lid on their nature and be happy with this women at least should step up. Remember one day with out sex for a man is like 20 days with no sex for women.10 days is equivalent to 5 month with no sex for men.
    This is nature and yes men can suffocate it but how are they expected to be happy at the same time?
    Guys from very yong age educate themselves about woman in order to learn how to gain their interest but sadly we don’t see many women study men sexual nature or over all behavior since guys chase after them anyways and they don’t feel the need and this is source of many problems.

  10. Jeff says:

    His responses to your questions mostly match with my experiences. I’m a middle-aged man married for 17 years and deeply in love with my wife. But I crave sex daily while my wife is content to have it once or twice a month. It just isn’t right. I have never ‘strayed’ (society’s term, not mine), but I know that I wish I could. It is only society’s–mostly driven by religion–rules that enforce this false monogomy upon us. And I think it is logical that men think it should be okay to have sex on the side (hopefully safely) while not necessarily agreeing that it is the same thing for women to do so. The reason is that most men can have such sex without needing an emotional attachment, while we fully expect most women would develop an emotional attachment to their extramarital partners. It’s both funny and sad to see some of the responses above…so many people unwilling to examine life from anything other than through society’s blinders.

    • OMGchronicles
      Twitter: OMGchronicles
      says:

      “we fully expect most women would develop an emotional attachment to their extramarital partners.” And you would be wrong, Jeff.

  11. Dodged Bullet says:

    I offer sincere questions to Jeff above and to this forum, and hope for a sincere answer.

    If, as Jeff and the study in question says, it’s logical and fair that a married man of any age expect/require monogamy from his partner but not from himself, and justify this, as per the arguement: “most men can have sex without emotional attachment” while “most women develop emotional attachment to their sexual partners.”

    Where then, are the women to be found, who lack the emotional attachment factor needed to be a “non-threatening” extracurricular lover to the married? And why then, if carnal attention alone is all men really want from extracurricular sex, do men not confine themselves strictly to sex workers with no emotional attachment, rather than pursue single and married women who are not sex workers?

    And what of the motives of the female who is NOT a sex worker, but who engages in affairs with married men? Sex workers can be logically called money motivated or carnally motivated, rather than emotionally motivated. But what of the women, single and married, who engage in sex with cheating married men, as opposed to openly-married men? Is it really just a matter of proximity and opportunity, such as in the workplace? Or are there other motives involved?

    These are interesting questions, and I look forward to your responses. My take: there is a huge moral difference between cheaters and the openly non-monogamous that comes down to character and integrity, versus common narcissism and full-blown sociopathy, more than to simple sex urge. Cheating in and of itself is a narcissistic and destructive urge that our narcissistic society sadly nurtures and feeds, and yes, it would be far better to openly deal with issues of monogamy/nonmonogamy — and engage in open relationships if BOTH parties mutually agree — but this narcissistic and unjust DOUBLE-STANDARD has to go where supposedly “nonemotional” men get a pass on what actually constitutes cheating, not open relationships, but “emotional” women do not.
    Men, man up, and stop making excuses for cheating instead of openly declaring your intentions to the women in your lives and start bonding only with women who will practice open relationships with you, if this is truly your need. It really is not acceptable to whine that you’re “forced” to cheat because honesty would doom your relationships. When you date or marry the monogamous under false pretenses, your dishonesty is dooming your relationships, not your biology. Find and pursue polyamourous women and be man enough to compete with other men openly, rather than behind their backs with infidelity.

    My take: Men are afraid of the direct sexual competition with other men, and hence like the rigged game of infidelity — if this were not so, men would be more willing to be upfront about their own nonmonogamy and also not demand monogamy from women. Men would not feign the desire to be monogamous in the attempt to ensure the monogamy of their women, if men were willing to openly compete with other men. This is an angle on the problem that I have never seen addressed professionally or by laypeople.

    And women, wise up, and deal with realities, not fantasies, of what men and relationships are. We really do need to learn the ways of honest and self-aware dialogue between men and women, and the way back to drawing some clear moral lines. Cheating is a moral violation of trust, and should not be tolerated. Open relationships between all parties concerned

  12. OMGchronicles
    Twitter: OMGchronicles
    says:

    Dodged Bullet — Thanks for stopping by and commenting (and then some!)
    I totally agree that those who want to have open or “monogamish” relationships should seek partners with the same interests. There are many websites now that cater to alt lifestyles, so saying it’s hard to find someone who’s interested in that is not quite true anymore.
    That said, your comment, “When you date or marry the monogamous under false pretenses, your dishonesty is dooming your relationships, not your biology,” is missing a point that Dr. Anderson mentions: that because monogamy is the default model in our society, many men (because that’s the population he looked at, although women are next!) go into a relationship feeling OK with monogamy until they reach a point — about 2 years — when they realize they actually want sex with others while still maintaining the love and intimacy with their partner. Which equals trouble if they act on it.
    As for men competing with men — don’t they do it all the time (and women with women), certainly while dating?

  13. J says:

    The fact that the majority of participants thought it was ok for them to cheat and not their partners invalidates any “rational” thoughts they had on the subject.

  14. Andy says:

    Sounds to me like the women are being selfish, having their cake and eating it too. To be content with sex once a month or a few times a year when their husband is wasting his life away pining for a moment of sex. Who is being selfish? The person who wants their quick gratification or the person who sees the suffering, feels indifferent to it because they are comfortable and knows that society will keep their spouse within their desired constraints. I pick the quick cheater over the person who has little to no interest in how I am spending my one and only life. And I am a woman just in case you think this is male spew.

    • OMGchronicles
      Twitter: OMGchronicles
      says:

      Hey, I’d be majorly bummed if my partner wasn’t interested in sex. So, yes, sex matters in a relationship.
      I think couples should share similar interest and energy level when it comes to sex. Certainly, conversations should be had and maybe therapy before someone gets tempted to stray. Or maybe the suggestion of an open marriage if needs aren’t being met.

  15. Jessie says:

    This guy is trying to be smart, probably to justify his own urges, but he is clearly missing the more fundamental issue. The key here is the length of time for human offspring to successfully develop.

    Now, as many people will notice, or more likely not notice, sex is actually the act of conceiving a child – remember? And successful children are incredibly resource intensive. So, to invest your penis into too many vaginas is conferring a proportionate disadvantage to each of the resultant offspring.

    In previous thousands of years, insufficient resources would have resulted in the child dying. Hence, the children of more monogamous men would survive and go on to procreate. And so on.

    Now, here is the catch.

    As many people will notice, or again not notice, the length of time to rear successful offspring is getting much, much longer.

    In previous thousands of years, if the child could walk and forage food for themselves, they were well on their way – say 2-4 years of age. These days, you can’t just have a degree, you have to have a post-graduate or two – we are looking at around 25+ years.

    And degrees don’t come cheap, so children are ever more resource intensive, increasing the need for dedication from at least two parents, and potentially recruiting grandparents.

    So, you can see the evolutionary mismatch here. On the one hand, our genes will bond parents together long enough to raise successful offspring at the historical rate of 2-4 years, but the current requirement of 25+ years is far greater.

    So, no, monogamy is not unnatural or undesirable – it has biological underpinnings. The rate of monogamy will eventually rise, with the helping hand of contraception, but will pace well behind demand.

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