Michelle Langley has written an interesting critique of modern sexual behavior, especially with regard to women, In Women’s Infidelity, she argues that:
…. young females are conditioned to believe that they are naturally monogamous and they carry this belief with them throughout their lifetimes. So when women experience feelings that deviate from this belief, particularly after they are married, those feelings can cause enormous internal conflict. Many women resolve the dilemma by dissolving their marriages.
Some women find it easier to think they married the wrong guy than to see themselves as some sort of shameful freak of nature. Their erroneous belief in a monogamous predisposition prevents them from becoming aware of their natural sexual tendencies in the first place. This unawareness can cause a chain reaction that
ultimately destroys their marriages. (Langley, 2005, pp. 19-20)
Evolutionary psychologists have long assumed that women are hardwired for monogamy. Men presumably learn to be monogamous. Today, both assumptions are in need of rethinking. As we strip away layer after layer of cultural restraint, female sexuality is deviating more and more from its supposedly innate pattern.
The truth is that culture has limited both male and female sexual behavior, specifically by restraining impulses that were hitherto considered normal. This is the price for living in larger and more complex societies. Such social environments work best when individuals can readily cooperate with others, particularly those of the same sex. No one trusts a sexual rival, and nothing destabilizes a society like large numbers of single men. To avoid this scenario, our ancestors had to limit male polygamy and female hypergamy.
How did they do it? In part, circumstances had already done it for them. In part, they consciously did it to themselves. This new niche was most successfully exploited by northern Eurasians who were already highly monogamous, since non-tropical environments made women and children more dependent on men, particularly in winter (Frost, 2008). Our ancestors then imposed cultural restraints to further limit male polygamy and female hypergamy—by shaming, ostracizing, and killing “deviant” individuals.
And now, as the restraints come off, we are no longer—surprise! surprise!—these faithful beings we thought we were.
The time has come to drop the idea that men and women are naturally good. This is a naïve kind of sociobiology that sees culture as an enemy—an unnatural force that prevents us from being truly human (and having fun!). Actually, culture is the main force that has made us human. It has helped us meet the requirements of new environments that are human-specific and that humans would have never colonized without its help. It has been part of our adaptive landscape, no less so than climate or food supply. And, as such, it has favored humans with the right predispositions and personality traits.
But this co-evolution is never complete. Our biological self always lags behind our cultural self. To the extent that we strip away the latter, we become less adapted to our environment. In plain language, we lose part of what we are.
Frost, P. (2008). Sexual selection and human geographic variation, Special Issue: Proceedings of the 2nd Annual Meeting of the NorthEastern Evolutionary Psychology Society. Journal of Social, Evolutionary, and Cultural Psychology, 2(4), pp. 169-191.
Langley, M. (2005). Women’s Infidelity. Living in Limbo. What women really mean when they say, “I’m not happy.” St. Louis (Mo): McCarlan Pub.