Friday, August 20, 2010

On infidelity

Demon of lust. Chartres Cathedral. To create larger and more complex societies, humans had to restrain impulses that were hitherto considered normal.

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.


Fred D. said...


I was wondering if you had read Jim Bowery's Genetic Omni-Dominance Hypothesis.

If you have, it'd be interesting to hear your thoughts about it.

Ben10 said...

I've read a while ago that the number of divorces recently decreased in middle class.
It's just to expensive for a man in this social category in this Madoff-age.
But rich men have always been polygamous, divorcing or remarrying at will.
Now in addition to that, last year statistics in the US showed that, in the first time in America, women are the majority in the work force!
This mean that most unemployement must fall on men.
Polygamous-rich-men (or multi-divorced if you prefer) don't have any trouble with the predictible raise in crime that follows, because single-unemployed-poor or middle class men commit crimes in their own social group.
Added to that, their is this trend in decreasing the age of puberty in girls which means that girls are supposed to stay longer and longer horny and sexless, before its politically correct to do it.
I don't know what to make of that, but everything seems to go against common sense or I should say against natural laws.

izzy said...

Does Jim Bowery ever get tired of fishing for attention under pseudonyms? One day the world will recognize the genius of comments you left on usenet 20 years ago.

Peter Frost said...



Fred D.

It's not easy to read and is perhaps not meant to be taken seriously. I see little merit in it, sorry.


The old sexual morality collapsed because young men and women were expected to remain chaste until marriage. That expectation was reasonable when most people married at 19 or 20 (after high school). It ceased to be reasonable when a university education became the norm, thus postponing the age of marriage to the mid-twenties.

Rocha said...

I do not think that we can use modern society as a norm for a free or freer society on sexual rules. What i see is a collapsed society and this collapsed morality seens to combat the old morality. As it is combating it the new morality is not neutral, so we cannot base neutral sexual morality on OUR new sexual morality. Tainted as it is by its traditions i do think that tribal rules on morality are more neutral and because of this more trustworthy.

Ben10 said...

I've read in this medieval journal, Speculum, that before the catholic church took over the sacrements of marriage, during pre-christian pagan roman time, marriage was a relatively unrestrictive association with possible polygamy and freedom to leave. That is, an unsatisfied woman could leave with good reasons and men were not imposed strict monogamy 'forever', but in counterpart, when these loose limits were crossed, arsh punishments were accepted, including honor killings.
When the church arrived, that was over. Marriage was with one and forever. No discussion, no cheating, no second thoughts. However, the Church was also aware of these somehow unrealistic expectations knowing the human nature, consequently, to punish adultery, the Church used a set of relatively milder punishments, even borderline funny. For example, the 'sinners' were attached naked by the genitals and forced to parade in this costume in the city, and that was it. Women who confess adultery were asked to penitence by fasting secretely (since the sin was confessed, the husband was not supposed to know about it), and since it had to stay secret, such guilty women were not allowed to fast in front of their husband, kind of a part-time fasting, not very harsh...

I can tell you that many men would prefer to run naked with their balls attached to their mistress's boobies in the street of St Catherine, Montreal, rather than be ruined by paying their house twice or being removed from their children forever.
Look at this ridiculous Tiger Wood who banged all the white chicks he could spot behind his wife's back, that's not the way the Pope circa 1200 AD would have punish him. First, Tiger Wood would have been forced to have intercourse in public with an ugly and old black or asian prostitute, and if he could not 'proceed', either because of racism or lack of manhood, his balls would have been cut off (let's say the jury would just pretend). I bet he could. And second, he would have been forced to give his money, not to his wife but to some african women organizations. Instead of that, the sin is worsen when ex-Ms Wood got the heafty 500 millions dollars 'compensation'. B'tch !

That's my take from: 'De jure novo, Dealing with Adultery in the Fitfteenth-Century' By Leah Otis-Cour, Speculum 84 (April 2009)

ziel said...

I believe Greg Clark showed evidence that age of first birth was in the upper-20s in England before the industrial revolution - at a time with no substantial birth control. So the causes of the sexual revolution may run deeper than just marriages being delayed beyond age 20.

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