Attention cheating men: Nature didn’t cause your infidelity

I feel so bad for men and their instinctual inability not to cheat on their significant others:

When a girl is literally unzipping your pants, men can’t say no. We’re not built that way.

This is a quote from a recent article in Marie Claire about bachelor parties and what really happens at them. The man quoted above used this line as an excuse for why it was OK for him to cheat on his wife at a bachelor party — because when a woman propositions to hook up, a man’s unstoppable instinct is to oblige. In fact, Dilbert creator Scott Adams recently went so far as to group “tweeting, raping, cheating, and being offensive” as examples of bad behavior that really are “natural instincts of men [that] are shameful and criminal” according to society.

This is a tired and untrue claim made by men who don’t want to take responsibility for their actions — that their sexual desires and urges are so powerful that if a woman is naked in front of them, they are helpless to overcome their instinct to get laid. What this really speaks to isn’t a natural instinct, but a lack of willpower, self-control, and forethought. If a woman comes on to you and you are in a relationship where hooking up with other people is considered cheating, then you have the agency to decline, push her away, walk away, etc. If you literally can’t fight these temptations and they overwhelm your life, you likely need to seek professional help for a sex addiction.

Hugo Schwyzer at the Good Men Project says that this type of bachelor party behavior isn’t natural male instinct, but a social response from peers to prove one’s masculinity and maintain male camaraderie by hooking up with women:

What’s curiously absent in the Marie Claire article (and in the research on male homosociality and heterosexual behavior) is lust. Most of us were raised to believe that young men are in a state of near-constant arousal, with sex first and foremost on their minds. The reality [...] is that orgasm is secondary in importance to homosocial validation.

I’ve seen this kind of male peer pressure countless times — the most recent, documented example is from The Real World when Leroy harasses Dustin to kiss Cooke. Dustin seemed to relent only because of Leroy’s goading, and I’m sure proving his heterosexuality to male roommates after his gay-porn-star past was revealed also factored into that decision. But what he lost in making his on-and-off roommate girlfriend Heather mad, he gained in respect and validation from Leroy.

The mantra that men can’t fight their sexual temptations (see also this video which begs women to dress modestly because men can’t fight their lustful and sinful temptations) ignores that people come equipped with reason and logic. And I know that many men don’t employ the sex-crazed mantra, and many men wouldn’t encourage their buddies at bachelor parties to cheat on their significant others, but this excuse is thrown around so much in regard to sexual behavior generally that it’s unsettling. And it becomes most unsettling when used as Adams does, to excuse rape as a natural male instinct because men can’t control their sexual urges.

Or as Dan Rottenberg wants to excuse rape, as the quintessential “drama” that men — the “human animal” — naturally crave:

Conquering an unwilling sex partner is about as much drama as a man can find without shooting a gun— and, of course, guns haven’t disappeared either.

This is an example of rape apologism that I haven’t heard before — that forcing a woman against her will to have sex with you is a real thrill that men naturally seek — but follows the same rhetoric of excusing behavior because it’s deemed natural for men to do. Considering that we’re a species that prides itself on its intelligence, it’s merely a matter of convenience to revert to the “it’s just uncontrollable instinct” defense to escape accountability for “bad” behavior.

So instead of, “We’re not built to stay faithful to our significant others,” maybe cheating men should try being more honest with themselves. Some possible truths include, “I’m not really committed to my current partner,” “I’m caving to peer pressure,” or “I’m a douchebag who simply hopes to cheat on his partner, lie about it, and get away with it just because I can.”

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  1. Posted June 29, 2011 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    This is a good post, it illustrates what a hop, skip and jump it is to go from removing the free agency of men in cheating to full blown rape apologism. Also, I think if I were a man I’d feel pretty insulted by this idea that I’m that unable to use my brain or control myself.

    It’s also interesting to note that while I often see articles like this treating men as helpless bumbling innocents when it comes to those who choose to cheat, just about any article I can remember coming across about women who choose to cheat on their partners describes them as selfish, slutty, never satisfied, etc.

  2. Posted June 29, 2011 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

    And how. I can completely sympathize with men (or women, of course) who cheat, because honestly, I’ve been there. I’ve been the cheater, and I’ve been the “other woman,” and in each case, I’ve fallen down on my “scruples” because of a heady combination of lust, flattery, and genuine human attraction. So I can sympathize – and I can also call bullshit really confidently on anyone who claims they simply can’t be expected to resist such temptation, so they should just be able to get away with it! Bullshit.

    I mean really, “we can’t say no – we’re not built that way.”??? Newsflash, some of us girls aren’t built that way either. I’m not about to apologize for being a sexual person – but I have cried buckets over the few times my enjoyment of my sexuality has hurt other people, and so should you. If you’re not built to just “say no,” then figure out how to make yourself do it anyway – and if you truly can’t, resign yourself to being single until you find someone that truly doesn’t mind.

  3. Posted June 30, 2011 at 4:57 am | Permalink

    I can relate this article to so many experiences I’ve had, but the one I’m thinking of in particular is a few years ago, when I had just turned 18. I used to go out drinking every Friday night with a friend of mine, and we would meet up with the same group of guys each time. I ended up going home with one of them one night, and we kissed a bit but didn’t have sex. He didn’t push it, or try to take my clothes off or anything, we just kissed a bit then fell asleep then he drove me home the next day.

    The next weekend when I went out, everyone was looking at me weird and treating me differently, and it was because they all thought we had slept together. Not that he had told them we had, they just assumed and he didn’t bother to correct them. He just kind of basked in the attention. I remember thinking at the time how weird that seemed. Now I realise its because the sense of camaraderie he got from doing the ‘man’ thing of ‘conquering’ a woman was more important to him than the sex itself. He didn’t seem particularly turned on when we hooked up or anything, but seemed to get a massive kick out of the rumour, so to me it looked like ‘LOOK lads, I got a girl to have SEX with me, I’m a real boy!’

    I’m not suggesting thats the only reason men try to sleep with women, but its a bigger factor than they’d care to admit. Coz its not manly to admit you want your friends approval, you have to get it silently and do things even if you do want to. Or not do it and say you did.

    • Posted June 30, 2011 at 10:06 am | Permalink

      I think that’s an important angle to address — not only men hooking up with women to gain validation, but men perpetuating or not correcting hook-up rumors because of the positive response they get from male friends about it. In fact, I know of guys who have asked their female partners if they could themselves spread these rumors for the exact reason you stated — the street cred was more important than the actual sexual activity.

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