Recently I read an article on Huffington Post that scared the crap out of me.
Essentially, it was an argument as to why men need to cheat in order to remain satisfied in a monogamous, long-term, intimate relationship.
The article was based on the research of Eric Anderson, PhD, an American sociologist at the University of Winchester in England. Anderson explains that although men may want a single partner for the longterm romantic and emotional companionship, that doesn’t change the fact they want to sleep with other people, and, I quote, “society shouldn’t pooh-pooh that.”
See, as Anderson explains, “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.” Therefore, he believes, it isn’t “infidelity [that breaks] marriages up; it is the unreasonable expectation that a marriage must restrict sex that breaks a marriage up.” As time goes on, you see, ”our physical desires don’t die; they just change from our partner to people other than him/her. We falsely believe that when sex dies, the relationship has also died. The reality is the opposite; when the sex dies the relationship has begun.” And, although men would love to be able to share these things, their dense female partners just aren’t complex enough to grasp this fundamental reality of romantic relationships. As a result, in these circumstances “honesty doesn’t meet [men's] desire [for] both a long-term partner and recreational sex with others.”
At first, emotionally, I cringed. Then, I put my thinking cap on. I had a long talk with my boyfriend. I slept on it, for a week. And now, rested and restored, I have decided Dr. Anderson is full of it.
And, here, my friends, are just a few of the reasons why.
1. His study is absolutely ridiculous
Anderson’s highly publicized opinions come from, what I can tell, a single study that examines 120 undergraduate men. This “groundbreaking” study shared the astonishing fact that 78% of them admitted to cheating on their partner.
Well, I’ll be damned. You’re telling me undergrad boys are cheating on their girlfriends? Well, wowzers mister Anderson, you ARE quite the professor. I had no idea!
If the world knows one thing, it’s that undergraduate men, especially those in large universities, aren’t famous for their family-men mentality. In fact, right before I read about professor Anderson, I had just read this little delight on Jezebel – a leaked e-mail by a frat boy that should be incredibly ashamed of himself. In it, he explains, graphically, how to be a good “cocksman.” Well, he makes me want to throw up. In my mouth. All over things. I’m not a violent woman, but I’ve been diligent with my 30 dayyoga challenge and if I met him in person I wouldn’t refrain from cocking my downward dog straight into his… you get the idea.
Anyways, enough on that. My point is, Anderson’s study was based on undergraduate college boys. Not a good place to start, and a ridiculous population and sample size to even pretend this is credible evidence towards his argument.
2. He doesn’t give men enough credit
Yes, infidelity happens. In fact, it is estimated that roughly 30% to 60% of all married individuals (in the United States) will engage in infidelity at some point during their marriage (Psychcentral). But guess what? People also fall out of love. And people marry the wrong people. And things happen. This does not mean that infidelity is a normal, or even healthy, part of a monogamous relationship.
When I read this article, I have to admit, at first I was nervous. I felt boxed. It basically meant that unless I went into my adult life and relationships accepting that it was only normal that I should be cheated on, I was doomed to failure and really restricting my partner from happiness. Well, that sure puts a damper on the whole “opening up and trusting love” bit. So, after letting it put me in a funk for a few hours, I did the only thing I knew to do – I brought it up with my boyfriend. I have to admit, at first I was terrified. I thought it might really get him thinking and next thing we knew he’d be breaking up with me so he could go find emotional fulfillment in sowing his wild oats. Well, per usual, he blew my mind. He totally disagreed, and got even more worked up than even I did about the whole thing! He said, and I quote, ”What I think is that this is a systematic collapse of human society as we know it. Soon we’ll be figuring out how to make tools and pooping as we walk. I mean, really, what is he trying to say?” (Mockingly:) “I think I should be allowed to punch people in the face. Because, that’s my need. And if people don’t understand that, then that’s their problem, and that’s not fair to me, because that’s my need. I think I should be able to drive my car as fast as I want, and if people don’t like that they should get the fuck off the road, because that’s my need.”
Now, I realize that all men aren’t like my boyfriend (and yes, I got lucky, and was relieved to hear it). In fact, there is scientific evidence that points to the idea that some men are biologically wired for monogamy, and others aren’t (post coming on that next week). But, the point is, some men can handle it, and – I hope – be happy. I am not claiming that it’s easy – I think it takes a strong man to embrace and enjoy a monogamous relationship, I really do – but I choose to believe that those men are out there. As my good friend Nick always says, “An intellectual is a person who has discovered something more interesting than sex” (Alduous Huxley). Now, just because a man is willing to work hard to make monogamy work, it doesn’t mean we have the green light to pig out and “never be in the mood” until death do us part. I have a big problem with the “get him to put a ring on it then stop holding up my end of the deal” mentality. I also think that just as it’s their responsibility to keep being romantic past the early, exciting periods in order to keep us satisfied, it’s important that we, as women, do our best to be someone he’s attracted to and excited by. It’s important to be in the mood, and take chances, and keep a little mystery when possible. Two way street, folks.
3. Sex is an important barometer of a relationship
David Schnarch, PhD, is a world-renown sex therapist that wrote the classic book “Passionate Marriage.” He focuses on “helping people reach their sexual potential and have the best sex and intimacy of their lives – within a long-term relationship – even after passion and desire have waned.” I have read many, many times that older adults often have the best sex of their lives, which is often attributed to things like emotional maturity, a deeper capacity for intimacy, letting go of body insecurities, and the growth and evolution of the romantic relationship. The overarching theme has tended to be that sex moves out of the “easy” realm of youth – where everyone is young, hormones are on overload, and often lives have less responsibilities and burdens (sickness, financial troubles, family dynamics) – and into a more sophisticated and emotional level.
If there is a group I would like to survey in order to understand how a future husband might approach our growth and sexual relationship over time, it definitely wouldn’t be a group of college undergrads. Further, I understand that many couples have a different arrangement from the status quo (hey, I read and love Dan Savage, I respect what these couples can do and still survive!) but that doesn’t change the fact that infidelity, for many, would break the magic in their relationship. I, personally, would shut down if I knew I was sharing my “person” with someone else. I don’t think there’s a way I could handle that. But, that said, I have a feeling he couldn’t handle sharing me either. And, you can bet your bottom dollar if my boyfriend or husband was sleeping with other people I’d be getting dressed up and going out and dating other people, and then what would we have left? We’d have a friendship. We’d be like college buddies swapping stories and pretending we were enlightened enough to be so “above it all” that intimacy doesn’t affect us. We’d be, in my opinion, friends with benefits.
4. It’s easy to make sex a scapegoat
I brought this topic up with my friend (and fellow blogger) Jeff, who is always a little bit overly-honest. I figured if I wanted to set myself up for a “worst case scenario” answer, I’d get it from him. I was astonished that, when I asked if he thinks most men need to cheat, he said “absolutely not.” He brought up another good point as well: that Anderson is presuming men are unable to look past their urges. Yes, he agrees, “every man looks at other women no matter how in love they are.” But, he explains it in, my opinion, a much more sophisticated manner. Basically, he says, ” it goes with the territory of being a man. Wise women understand this and are able to laugh about it. We don’t know why we like to look at women, or boobs, or asses, it’s just something we do – and we have the corresponding thoughts that go along with the visuals. But, acting on them? Anyone who says that is saying that we have NO control over our urges and fantasies, which may be true for some men, [but probably these are] men who are bored not only with their relationship, but with their lives as a whole.” And this really made me think. Sometimes, when my self-esteem is low and I’m cranky I take it out on my boyfriend. I get frustrated and overwhelmed and, sometimes in spite of myself, I blame it on him or us. But, when I’m using my brain, I put the brakes on my behavior and take responsibility for my life – I get to the gym, find an interesting book, start thinking about something that I can get lost in. In short, I take the pressure away from my relationship as being the solution to life, and remember that I’m lucky to have someone that loves me, and that I adore, and go back to the work of being an interesting person with other things to talk and think about than “us.” I would encourage Dr. Anderson to look at relationships the same way, that maybe him and his colleagues should find some more sophisticated diversions to bring that excitement back into life. Or, do what normal guys do that need a little shallow diversion – Google “porn.”
5. Just because you get a PhD doesn’t mean you’re exempt from being a creep
And here, I think, is my fundamental point. Just because you’re well-educated, doesn’t mean you decide that your sexual and emotional shortcomings (i.e. an inability to have the depth of emotion or creativity to have an enduring sexual relationship) are the status quo or the reality for all men. First of all, Dr. Anderson, I have news for you – women get bored too. Maybe it isn’t always sexual, but it’s hard in a relationship when you stop getting the same attention, and compliments, and out-of-their way sweetness. The same way you miss the exciting nature of a new sexual encounter, we miss a man looking at us as though he can’t believe he’s with us. But do you know what we do? We grow up. We find ways to remind ourselves that the passion isn’t always as strong, but what we’ve built is a thousand times better than a momentary rush. We get dressed up and remind our partner to take us to dinner, or that we miss the way he used to look at us. In short, we take responsibility for our needs so that they can evolve over the course of a relationship, not bail and find comfort in the “newness” of a fling – because that’s juvenile. I know that I am young, and that being with someone over the course of months and years and decades will present its own set of obstacles and challenges. I also know that people make mistakes, and one day I (or my partner) could be one of those people. But I refuse to accept that a male’s capacity for a healthy and stimulating sex life has to include casual flings at the expense of a couple and their family. I refuse to believe that you speak for all men, and we should abandon the fantasy of a fulfilling life with a person strictly because you and 120 undergraduate men haven’t seemed to find the right partner (and don’t want to keep it in your pants). And, on that note, I think you and that Jezebel frat boy character could become marvelous friends one day – you should look him up.