Sex scandals among the world’s top male politicians have long been media fodder, but what no one has been able to answer is why do they do it?
While various scientists and self-proclaimed sexperts have some ideas surrounding why men cheat, concrete facts are hard to come by. In an attempt to build some clarification, a recent study by the University of Texas offers an answer as to why men are more prone to cheating than women.
In a press release, author Natasha Tidwell and Paul Eastwick explained their findings. “Overall, these studies suggest that men are more likely to give in to sexual temptations because they tend to have stronger sexual impulse strength than women do,” says Tidwell, a doctoral student in the Department of Psychology at Texas A&M University.
A stronger sexual impulse? That sounds like a nice way of saying men have less self-control than women. Not so, says Paul Eastwick, co-author of the study and assistant professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Sciences at The University of Texas. “Men have plenty of self-control—just as much as women,” he says. “However, if men fail to use self-control, their sexual impulses can be quite strong. This is often the situation when cheating occurs.”
The study consisted of two tests. The first enlisted 218 Americans (70 male, 148 female) with an average age of 32, to divulge details of past sexual encounters and their attraction to someone they had felt it was wrong to pursue. Then they answered survey questions that essentially rated how badly they wanted the person in question and whether they put their feelings on ice or gave into their impulses.
“When men reflected on their past sexual behavior, they reported experiencing relatively stronger impulses and acting on those impulses more than women did,” says Tidwell.
In a second study, 600 undergraduate students (326 Men, 274 women) were presented with a partner selection game reminiscent of hotornot.com. Participants were asked to rapidly reject or select photos of potential mates based on a series of instructions.
Men had a more difficult time saying ‘yes’ to less attractive girls and ‘no’ to more desirable ladies than their female counterparts. Despite that, Tidwell and Eastwick found that a little self-control goes a long way. Both sexes were equally capable of controlling their responses if they exerted a little self-control.
The general premise of the study— that men are more likely to cheat— is shaky to start. In the United States, 57 percent of men admit to cheating compared with 54 percent of women, according to the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy. That’s just one survey. Other surveys say that women’s cheating is pretty on par with men’s. The New York Times has noted that past studies evaluating women’s sexual escapades may even be inaccurate, not only because women may have been untruthful, but also because circumstances were different. Today women increasingly spending late nights at the office and travel for work, and have every opportunity to cheat that men do, given the chance.
Still, the study does draw some interesting conclusions about the evolution of self-control. Eastwick postulates that self-control in humans has evolved over the last 50,000 years and that the behavior developed out of a need to combat urges—like the desire to have sex with your neighbor’s wife—that would hindered their ability to be apart of a community. Meaning, maybe, in another 50,000 years we’ll all have a little bit more self-control.