Facts to challenge your misassumptions about gender and affairs
“Men are from Mars and Women Are from Venus” is an outdated paradigm for examining sex and gender in the rapidly evolving modern world. This is especially true when we consider that our idea of gender as a rigid construct has been shattered. Today, we have plenty of evidence to prove that gender is a spectrum that can override our assigned biological sex at birth.
This new lens of examining the differences between the label of man, woman, and everything in between does not negate the influence of our biological variation. It simply compels us to re-envision our differences based on how we have been socialized due to the gender we identify with rather than a biological divide between the sexes in how we think, feel and behave. Despite our biological differences, the theme of the human experience is universal. Everyone should know five important human experience truths about gender and infidelity.
Truth #1: No consistent empirical evidence proves one gender cheats more than the other.
A literature review on sex and gender differences in infidelity prevalence rates reveals inconsistent findings. Some studies show that prevalence rates of infidelity are significantly higher in males than females. Other studies found the opposite results, and some studies have found that a sex-specific prevalence rate gap once existed in the past, but that gap has narrowed and is closing fast. The explanation behind conflicting findings between males and females stems from the variation of how infidelity is being operationally defined from one study to another, which skews the findings.
This inconsistency highlights the need for shifting the focus from having one’s sex as the determining factor for engaging in infidelity to looking at the relationship between the gender we identify with and its socialization process amplifying or downplaying the individual, relational and environmental causes of affairs.
Truth #2: There is a huge gender bias toward women regarding infidelity.
Throughout the course of history, men and women have been viewed and treated differently after the discovery of their affairs. Sadly, in most cultures, male infidelity is often viewed more favorably than female infidelity. This stems from the many misconceptions we have about a woman’s sexuality – they are unfairly painted as maladjusted harlots when they cheat, while their male counterparts are viewed as masculine alphas behaving from a biological imperative.
This bias continues to exist and is clearly illustrated in how men and women are punished differently when an affair is discovered. A classic, gruesome example can be seen in the honor killing practice that persists even today: In some parts of the world, suspected unfaithful women are killed in cold blood, while men receive a significantly less harsh punishment if any at all.
Truth #3: The desire for monogamy and the ability to adhere to it is not predetermined by our biology.
A prominent idea in the evolutionary biology field proposes that men and women are wired differently, which dictates the type of mating strategies they engage in. The idea is based on men having an unlimited number of sperm, as opposed to women having a limited number of eggs.
According to evolutionary biologists, these reproductive differences compel males to focus on a quantity mating strategy versus quality because they are trying to maximize their chances of infiltrating the gene pool. On the other hand, women will opt for a mating strategy that focuses on quality versus quantity because of their limited number of eggs and the need to rely on a male partner during the long gestation period for support and resources.
You don’t need an advanced degree to see the invalidity of these far-fetched hypotheses, especially when you consider that the sexual activities of modern-day humans are not solely focused on reproduction. More importantly, if we want to ensure success, we have the technology to do so without intercourse. Unfortunately, the evolutionary mating idea has propagated the myth of monogamy as an unattainable goal.
Truth #4: Men and women conceptualize infidelity differently.
Males and females exhibit major differences in conceptualizing and defining sexual infidelity behavior. For example, women tend to list a wide range of physical and non-sexual behavior, such as kissing and caressing, under the category of sexual infidelity behavior. Conversely, men often focus on specific and direct sexual acts to define infidelities, such as intercourse and oral or manual genital stimulation.
In my clinical observations, men and women also have different thresholds for what constitutes emotional infidelity. Men view emotional infidelity as having strong feelings of love toward someone. Women view emotional infidelity broadly as fulfilling emotional needs that were supposed to be exclusive to their primary partner in the relationship.
Truth #5: Men and women react differently to the type of affair.
Discovering an affair of any kind will devastate both men and women. But some studies show that males are more upset about the discovery of sexual affairs, while females are more upset about the discovery of emotional affairs. Explanation of these differences is often attributed to different mating strategies related to the reproductive pressure we debunked earlier.
Other researchers attribute this difference to the double-shot hypothesis, which sees those differences as a reflection of how men and women interpret the meaning of each type of affair. A woman believes her male partner won’t get emotionally attached to another woman unless he has sex with her. A man believes that his female partner won’t have sex with someone unless she is emotionally attached to that individual. From these presumed vantage points, the discovery of each type of affair means that both lines of fidelity were crossed instead of just one.
We must be aware of biological differences that influence various aspects of our social behavior. But most crucial is to avoid pigeonholing all men and women in rigid categories of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. After all, membership in a specific sex and/or gender category does not automatically translate to a uniform expectation of behavior and perception.
About the Author: Dr. Talal Alsaleem, PsyD, LMFT, the father of modern infidelity counseling, is an award-winning licensed marriage and family therapist specializing in helping people recover from infidelity—whether alone or as a couple. He teaches how to use the trauma of an affair to rediscover, establish and maintain healthy relationships with oneself and others through a trademarked seven-step methodology known as the Systematic Affair Recovery Therapy (SART)™ treatment program. In addition to offering intensive, one-on-one weekend retreats for couples ready to dive deep and address issues head-on versus spread treatment out over the course of weeks or months, Dr. Talal also shares his proven framework with other clinicians via CE-credited training and lectures. His book, “Infidelity: The Best Worst Thing that could Happen to Your Marriage” is available on Amazon.com, and you can find his docuseries, The Infidelity Chronicles, via YouTube. Discover more at www.talalalsaleem.com, or follow him on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn.