Are Men Natural-Born Cheaters?

Men are more promiscuous than women, but that doesn’t mean we should buy the cultural fallacy that men are programmed to cheat. The vast majority of men are happily, naturally monogamous.

The last few years brought several headline stories about the cheating behavior of guys like John Edwards, (former) South Carolina governor Mark Sanford, and Tiger Woods. The public—or at least the pundits’—reaction included outrage but little surprise. After all, here in the U.S., we expect guys to cheat on their partners. Research on male sexual behavior confirms what we know—that men are more likely than women to have an extramarital affair.

The research also tells us that men:

  • want more sexual partners than women,
  • have more lifetime partners than women,
  • are more willing than women to have sex with a complete stranger, and
  • have their first sexual experiences at a younger age than women.

These results all jibe with our expectations—cultural assumptions illustrated by TV characters like Charlie Harper on Two and a Half Men, Barney Stinson on How I Met Your Mother, and a host of other TV men—Sam Malone, Hawkeye Pierce, the Fonz. All these men have been the stars of their popular shows. With models like this, many of us have come to believe that men are inherently, or naturally, promiscuous.


But let’s look at that more closely. What the research tells us is that guys are more likely than women to have or want an affair or to agree to a hookup. But the research also tells us that the majority of guys don’t actually do these things. In the largest study of its kind, involving about 100 male and 100 female undergraduates from 62 countries, islands, or otherwise distinct regions, approximately 25 percent of men and 6 percent of women said they wanted two or more sexual partners in the next 30 days. These percentages are consistent with other studies like this, and they confirm that men report a greater desire for promiscuity and they do it the world over. But look at the number of men again: 25 percent. That means that 75 percent—an overwhelming majority—said they wanted no more than one partner in the next month. That is, most guys want monogamy, at least in the short term.

These survey results are only about the number of sexual partners men say that want, not the actual number of partners guys have. When you look at the number of partners men say they’ve had, the percentage of men with a lot of partners gets even smaller, somewhere in the range of 5 to 15 percent. Even in studies of college students who go to party destinations like Daytona Beach for spring break, only a minority of the guys manage to get laid. And remember, the girls are there to party too. As researchers, we have some evidence that guys exaggerate their sexual experience when they complete surveys, so the reality is probably somewhat less than the numbers reported here.

What guys tell us they do want is relationships, even though it doesn’t fit the stereotype. It doesn’t matter if we’re surveying or interviewing high-school students, undergraduates, or adults—the vast majority tell us they want to be in a relationship. And they’re serious about it: in the U.S., approximately 80 percent of high-school seniors tell us they’ve had at least one serious dating relationship. As adults, about 90 percent of guys will get married at least once in their lifetime, even though our stereotype of marriage tells these guys that they’ll rarely have sex—or fun—again after the honeymoon. While many of those relationships won’t last for 40 years, about half will. And most guys are only interested in being with one person at a time, whether that’s in the context of a marital relationship or outside of it.

Consider John Edwards, and even Mark Sanford: they weren’t sleeping with just any woman they could find, they had relationships that extended across years. These are mistresses, not hookups, and they’re longer term relationships. Having a mistress doesn’t really fit our conception of promiscuity, nor should it; a guy with a mistress chooses his partner carefully and typically has an emotional connection with her. It’s not monogamy, but it is a longer term relationship.


If you read history, or at least watch the TV shows about ancient civilizations, you’ll notice that when they talk about families, they almost always talk about monogamous couples. That’s not fiction or convenience. Most of the adults who have ever lived on earth have been involved in monogamous relationships. Sure, polygamy has been legal in many places and in many times, but the guys who practice polygamy are almost always the political and cultural leaders. Why? They’re the only guys who can attract and afford multiple wives. (Could you?)

Across all this time, generation after generation, most guys have been in long-term dyadic couples. Whether we think about that as men’s choice, women’s choice, or the result of cultural (or demographic) factors, it’s exactly the kind of ongoing environmental pressure that Darwin said shapes evolution. For Darwin, it was finches adapting to the food sources available; for humans, it’s about adapting to the way we’ve usually arranged our societies.

When researchers talk about long-term, emotionally connected relationships, they often rely on John Bowlby’s attachment theory. When Bowlby first talked about it, he drew on evidence that in most animal species, parents—male and female—care for their young. Males and females may not engage in all the same parenting activities and they may spend different amounts of time in direct care, but both sexes actively care for their children. And it’s true for humans as well. More recent research using machines like PET scanners and MRIs has shown that humans have a neurological “circuit” for this kind of attachment. This circuit seems to be relevant for our connection to our children and our connection to a long-term partner. It’s also important to note that we also have a circuit for lust, but that lust can be for a long-term partner or a new person.

There’s also an evolutionary advantage to caring for your young instead of just sleeping around. Not surprisingly, kids with two parents tend to do better than kids with one parent, for pretty much any definition of “better” you care to use, including survival rates. And if the goal is not only to pass on your genes to the next generation, but to have those genes passed on to the generation after that, making sure your child survives long enough to reproduce is the true evolutionary “win.”

Given the current and historical evidence about men’s preferences for only one partner at a time and the presence of an evolved neurological circuit that seems to facilitate it, the benefits to children who are raised by two parents, and the evolutionary logic of taking care of your children until they’re old enough to pass their genes to the next generation, it seems likely that we’ve evolved to have only one partner for several years at a time. Admittedly, I can’t really “prove” what’s happened over an evolutionary timeframe, but I’m not sure what else could explain this collection of findings.


Andrew Smiler, Ph.D., is a visiting Assistant Professor of Psychology at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. His sexuality research focuses on normative aspects of sexual development, such as age and perception of first kiss, first “serious” relationship, and first intercourse among 15-25 year olds. He is the author of the forthcoming Challenging Casanova.


More From Our Special Marriage Section:

Even stellar relationships lose their spark over time; here are the ingredients of a lasting, fruitful partnership, and techniques for weathering the the stormy times: What Your Marriage Needs to Survive

When Tom Forrister transitioned from female to male, his same-sex marriage became a federally-recognized, “traditional” marriage. The one constant was the bond he shared with his wife: My Exemplary, Everyday Marriage

Guys may think leaving is the right thing to do for the sake of the family, but according to family lawyer David Pisarra, there are a few things they should know before—and after—they walk out that door: A Guy’s Divorce Survival Guide

Encouraging princess culture—however innocently—contributes to the sexualization of girls. Men can be part of the solution to the “princess problem”: Men and the Sexualization of Young Girls

The night­mare of fam­ily court is enough to deter a guy from even think­ing about tying the knot. Marriage: Just Don’t

For all the stories written by and for women on this issue—and there are few—men are more likely to be absent from the public dialogue about intentional childlessness. Why aren’t men’s stories also being heard? Two Is Enough

If you’re married and using Internet porn regularly, your sex life—the one with your wife—is probably a lot less satisfying than it could be: How Porn Can Ruin Your Sex Life—and Your Marriage

Tom Matlack talks to married men to find out when they knew their wife was “the one”: She’s the One

As Gabi Coatsworth’s son’s bipolar disorder gave way to full-blown manic episodes, she watched her husband slip deeper into drink and detachment: Reading Between the Silences

Monogamy sounds like “monotony,” but it doesn’t have to be monotonous. Hugo Schwyzer explores how we can have the security—and the novelty—we desire in our relationships: Red-Hot Monogamy

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  1. Good day! I could have sworn I’ve visited this website before but after going through many of the articles I realized
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  2. It’s nearly impossible to find knowledgeable people on this subject, however, you seem like you know what you’re talking about!

  3. Thanks for this article. I really appriciate it. I like this site. As a female working in a bar for 8 years I tend to put all blokes in the same barrel. Stereotypes of the world, it doesnt help anybody huh. This site is informative & demands equality. I salute you. Cheers!

  4. Okay, I almost had to stop reading at a certain point. But I like to give people the benefit of the doubt. Entire article read. Now…about that comment midway where there is a difference between being promiscuous and having a mistress. There was nothing “careful” or “emotional” or planned about what happened between Edwards and his play thing. They met eyes and she purposefully waited outside a hotel building to tell him he was hot and then he invited her up to his room to talk about “working for his campaign.” She has been interviewed saying that they slept together that night and that they had unprotected sex at that. There is nothing remotely safe, planned or relational about that. That is complete lust, selfishness and recklessness. It was the premature sleeping together that mistakenly made one or both of them believe that they had a connection. The point of your article was ALMOST lost on me because of the use of these poor examples in Sanford and Edwards.

  5. crljones says:

    What is this crap? Ok, i signed up about about 1 month ago because I was hopeful that this mag WOULD actually take a male perscpective – now all I see is warmed over feminist inspired crap and you swallow it hook, line and sinker. Check me out of here.

  6. This article seems pretty reasonable to me and gives me something to think about. But, the study mentioned at the start sounds pretty lame to me — 100 undergraduates? That’s the representative sample about how men and women view monogamy differently? Not only is it a small number of people, it’s heavily weighted towards people who are middle class and weighted towards people 18-22 years old. Not necessarily the most sexually experienced or with the most realistic view of sex.

  7. A better question: how do we get past the assumption that many partners make a man skillful and woman difficult to please.

    • I’ve never heard that argument. I have heard many partners means a man is afraid of commitment and a woman is difficult to please. Skill has never been attributed to ether gender in my experience.

  8. “What research are you talking about?”

    The research alluded to in the first paragraph of the article.

  9. What research are you talking about?

  10. But, is it really true that men are less monogamous than women?

    I have heard different schools of thought upon that point.

    And in today’s politically charged atmosphere, I am not apt to take any such conclusion on faith — too many people have a “confessional interest” in skewing reality one way or the other. Unspecified “research” that confirms what an equally unspecified “we” allegedly know, doesn’t cut it for me.

    If I knew which research this was, it would help. But even then, I would incline toward skepticism. Research, after all, is created by researchers. And researchers are human — with all that this implies.

    Yes, it seems like everybody has an agenda these days. . .

  11. Personally I think promiscuity is behavioral. In some ways related to culture. Men are not invulnerable machines, they are subject to emotional frailty. How can a man be sexually vulnerable to a partner that expects invulnerability and takes it for granted. The provider role for many men does not include their vulnerability. I was curious about this and asked a number of men if they had ever been “ravaged” by their wife. The vast majority said no, but they would like to. Marital sexuality can be very confining, for both men and women. Not unlike buying the same groceries every week. I think this culture puts to much emphasis on the penis and ignores the person. Do we have to have sex outside of marriage to express infidelity. I am quite sure there are thousands of marriages where sexual intimacy is infrequent and rare. Cheating is a symptom. Are you cheating on your partner or cheating on your role?

    As far as porn goes, men are aroused by form, women are aroused by function. Men find form in nudity, women find function in romance novels. Same diff. One is sanctioned the other isn’t.

  12. Hi this is not fully on topic but it is relevant to any discussion about men.
    Mark Simpson a British author and expert in masculinities has republished an essay of his on misandry.
    I thought some of you may be interested to read it.

  13. I live in NJ and we have a very robust Governor that recently took flack because he went away with his family during a major snowstorm that caused some plowing issues. A lot of people argued that he should have broke his promise to his family to spend one week away with them, to come home during the storm just so he could be snowed in with the rest of us. In light of so many public figures that disrespected their family for money or sex, I was very proud that we had a Governor that honored his commitment to his family first and didn’t back down, breaking his commitment to spend time with his family, in favor of his political career. It amazed me how many people criticized him for this instead of realizing that here was a public figure, that was actually showing respect for his family instead of blowing them off for personal gain like so many other public figures have done.

    I certainly don’t think men are programmed to cheat even if they are programmed with greater physical desire. I do agree that pop-culture depictions of highly promiscuous men is detrimental to our perceptions about what men are about. It almost seems like certain men like that kind of low-brow portrayal of their own gender because they can fall back justifying poor actions. I’ve heard too many men say “men are just dogs” with a “wink, wink, ha, ha” attitude. And I always hated that. As if the men who said it had such low self esteem in themselves and their ability to behave honorably, that dragging all men down to “dog status”, made bad actions okay or even good because they were just boys being boys.

    Men and women both have biological reasons, drives and emotional aspects that cause us to both desire sexual experiences with many people or an on going relationship with one. It comes down to what we ultimately choose to do. This is the point of free-will. We get to decide who we want to be. We are not more programmed for one over the other because it’s the inner struggle of our two natures that make us decide who we are. And it’s for that fact that when we do choose to be monogamous, it makes it that much more special.

    Although I don’t quite agree with the conclusion that because some otherwise committed men who have infact cheated, have done so with a long term partner, that this further supports that men desire monogamy. That logic seems a bit flawed to me.

    • Andrew Smiler says:

      hi Erin,

      I agree with you that there are many factors that play into the decision to have sex outside of an individual’s primary (or marital) relationship.

      I was trying to argue that 1) most guys aren’t interested in being promiscuous and 2) that even when guys cheat, they tend to do it with a single longer term partner (i.e., mistress) and not just sleep around with any random pickup. To me, all of these different facts (and others mentioned in the article, as well as stuff that couldn’t be included here because of length) point towards that idea that the group known as men is more oriented towards monogamy than promiscuity.

      • Hey Andrew – The basis of your theory is that while men are more promiscuous then women, most men are happily and naturally monogamous, at least in the short term. Which in itself, seems a bit contradictory. If men only want short term monogamy, is that really what monogamy is even about? Because as a woman, I can’t say that I consider short term monogamy that much better then male promiscuousness. It might be “slightly” better but not by much.

        To support your theory, you reference the amount of sex men on spring break want vs the amount of sex they really get. Maybe I am missing something but if a man wants to bed many partners, but can’t, due to the unwillingingness of unparticipating females, how does that prove that men are happily monogamous? It’s the same reasoning behind the example of polygamy you used. If most men can’t afford to have multiple wives, and by default, are monogamous to one woman because they can’t afford multiple women, does that really prove that most men are happily monogamous?

        You used John Edwards and Mark Sanford as another set of examples. Why did both men engage in an affair while keeping their marriages as well? Because that mistresses fulfilled one set of needs while the wife at home clearly fulfilled another set of needs. If these duel women did not satisfy different needs, then these men would have broken it off with their current wives before they started outside relationships, even if it was for the short term. So while they might have held a long term relationship with their mistress, it’s a long shot to claim that for this reason, men respect monogamy. We don’t even know if both men still engaged in sexual or romantic activities with their wives while they had an mistress at the same time. These affairs went on for years, I can’t imagine that there wasn’t some form of affection, sexual acts or romance at some point during those years with their wives.

        I agree with you that men are not natural-born cheaters and that there are too many negative depections of men to cater to the worse possible denominator. But I’m just don’t quite agree with your examples on why men value monogamoy, which seem to be either by default of not being able to be with many woman, or by default of sleeping around on their committed partner for another partner.

        There is also a big chunk left out of your assesment touching on porn. While porn isn’t cheating in terms of physically stepping out on a partner, it does fullfill a desire for many partners. So if a man uses porn to fullfill a variety in female partners, while remaining in a comitted relationship with one woman, does that speak to monogamy or polygomy? Does he respect monogamy or is he only using it as means to an end while he keeps a harem of women in his mental bank to garner different needs from both his real life partner, and the visual aids he might covet?

        You bring up some interesting points and I don’t all together disagree with some of your points, but I do question a few of your examples as justifyable reasons why men value monogamy.

        • Good thoughts, Erin.

          • Andrew Smiler says:

            Please allow me to clarify: “short-term monogamy” refers to several years. That’s stated at the end of the article, although I think in a comment I didn’t specify length.

            I think actual sexual behavior is complex and has many causes. Evolutionary inheritance is not destiny; it’s just a bias built into our systems. This doesn’t mean that men, in general or on average, “respect” monogamy, just that they’re somewhat more likely to be monogamous than not.
            In many cases, people – individually or in large numbers – override these kinds of evolutionary biases. Some of those are due to the situation (e.g., who will meet my needs?, will a “2nd” person agree to have sex with me, can I afford a mistress) and some of those are about personal preference/actions (e.g., desire for multiple partners because it’ll make me “The Man”).

            And you’re right, I didn’t talk about porn. In a single column, there’s only so much space and a limited number of topics that can be covered.

      • My personal observations of infidelity lead me to believe that the motives for it are completely different for men and women, and those differences lead to more men being caught.

        Of the handful of men I have known that cheated in a relationship, they did so to fulfill a desire that wasn’t being met to their satisfaction (and not always sexual. It’s also not always reasonable). They remained happy with their primary girlfriend/wife (and so didn’t want to end it), but needed a little something else, so when they found it in someone else, they allowed themselves to indulge. This two timing leads to a prolonged period of time in which he can get caught, or become guilty and confess.

        Of the handful of women I’ve known who cheat (and in my observations, it has been almost 3 times as many, but that likely is coincidental), it has been to find a new relationship prior to leaving the old one. As such, it is entirely possible to cheat, and if it works out, end the first relationship, then start the second one publicly a few months later. This would make conclusively catching her somewhat more difficult.

        Of course, there are exceptions to both genders (some men search for new lovers and some women are just fulfilling needs), but this has been the conclusion I have come to

  14. Any preliminary answers that you can offer?

    • Andrew Smiler says:

      in short and with no detail: we need to do a better job of talking to & educating boys about what it means to be a good/responsible man, what it means to be a (good) boyfriend, how to express their concerns & feelings within a relationship (instead of waiting for their partner to figure it out), and how to understand that the images of masculinity presented in pop culture don”t necessarily reflect real-life experience or ideals.

  15. As I read the article I was reminded of a recent commercial that depicted a man and a woman at dinner. The “thought bubble” for the woman was all about assessing the man as a potential long-term partner while the “thought bubble” for the man was, wait for it, – I want to have sex with this woman.

    I wonder about the impact of these kinds of stereotyping have on men’s mental health amd identity development?

    • Andrew Smiler says:

      I saw that too Anth. Your question is the subject of the book I’ve just started writing, tentatively called “Challenging Casanova”

      • Andy, thank you for posting this article. I think you did a great of summarizing the research on this topic in a brief and pithy way. I printed the article to give to the men I see who sometimes tell me that is “in their DNA” to have multiple partners (read affairs) . They usually then quote some anthropological study that shows that men in Borneo have 15 wives, and everyone is cool with that. I usually point out at that point, “Hey Buddy, have you noticed this ISN’T Borneo…?”

      • Female Feedback says:

        Sounds like a great idea for a book. I’ll look forward to it. And this article was great – thank you!

  16. Female Feedback says:

    Good article.

    I’ve often wondered if much of what makes us human, such as our emotional range, our cognitive abilities including concepts of “choice,” our spirituality all derive from having two parents engaged with us and with each other.

    We are so utterly dependent for so long as children (until maybe age 15or 16?), and then even after that take many years to reach full adult development (age 22 or 23 when the brain is fully grown? – the rental car companies apparently know what they are doing!). Compared to other animals, this is an astounding amount of time, and the vast majority of it happens outside the womb.

    Some psychologists such as Alice Miller would argue that the men (and sometimes women) who are cultural and political leaders were often themselves actually damaged in their upbringing and are subconsciously seeking to use the attention and resources of political or cultural leadership to try to “fix” what was broken. Their need for this “fixing” is often what attracts women to them, particularly women who have similar deficits themselves (“like” attracts “like”). John Edwards/Rielle Hunter seem to fit this pattern?

    Other psychologists like Terry Real might argue that some men (and women) try to use sex in the same way, to “fix” something missing or distorted in their psychology from their upbringing. Tiger Woods reminds me of this. He was used and channeled as a child into becoming a golf superstar, including possibly being pushed by handlers into marrying before he wanted to because it would help his image? He may feel a bit like a “whore.”

    So it may not be a motivation to bring more children carrying their genes into the world but that for men the culture sometimes allows them only these sexual outlets to try to get nurturing/mentoring/connection from childhood fixed and psychological deficits made conscious and repaired? If the deficit has made it difficult for them to connect with other human beings in other ways, such as by talking or with emotional bonding, then that just compounds the problem?

    That is not to deny that the physical reality that men can leave the sex act without physical consequences (absent any legal or cultural penalties). So if a man can get multiple women to sleep with him and avoid as much responsibility as possible in raising the child, there is probably a genetic payoff. But to the extent he feels or is required by society to invest any energy or resources in raising that child, it becomes critical that he choose good quality women (or woman) to mate with (because he’ll have fewer chances to mate and half the genes come from the woman). And determining whether a woman has good genes takes time.

    • Female Feedback says:

      I should add to “determining whether a woman has good genes takes time,” that it also requires that she be able to do and be in the world so that he can see them. Genes for things other than physical beauty, such as genes for intelligence and other abilities aren’t visible unless the woman is a player or actor in life, rather than being a sex object. (Half the genes come from the woman even in boys’ intelligence, abilities, etc) And girls can’t manifest their abilities if they don’t have mothers and other female role models who are actors and players in public life.

      This is why I think sex equality (including women having full economic and political autonomy) is in men’s interest even if they lose the possibility of spreading genes without having to invest personally, or invest resources in offspring.

      Choose carefully. 🙂

      • Andrew Smiler says:

        Hi FF,

        You’re absolutely right – the choices that any individual make regarding sex are determined by a slew of factors. In this article, I’ve focused on some of the general trends that genuinely apply to “most men” and have offered an evolutionary explanation for those trends.

        And I agree with you that sexual equality benefits us all.

      • Female feedback:
        Most of our genes are built from times before antibiotics, forceps, transfusions, and other life-saving medical techniques. In tribal times it was seldom but hardly unheard of for women to die in childbirth or even be infertile (remember w/out international travel of foods it would be entirely possible for a tribe to have vitamin deficiencies and a host of other nutritional problems).
        That is why beauty is the #1 inherited trait for men. A man who invests his time & effort in a woman has to have a reasonable idea she is fertile & can bear children. I would imagine in ancient tribal times a woman of youth or proven to have already given an “easy” birth (short labor, no complications) would have commanded a kings ransom.

        I have read that when doing brain scans related to a different project researchers uncovered the fact that men staring at pictures of beautiful women had brains firing very similiarly to herione addicts getting a fix.

  17. Ryon McDermott says:

    The title of this article is provocative, and I think it is meant to be. The stereotype that men are often sexually promiscuous, and the belief by many in our culture that monogamy is NOT natural for men, are what Dr. Smiler is addressing here. For those who would like to mention that women can also cheat, this article is not saying otherwise. Instead, the article takes relevant research to disprove a widely held maladaptive belief about men. In my opinion as a researcher, and as a man, this article is the ESSENCE of the Good Men Project.

    • The title is what is known as a straw-man fallacy.

      • …no it isn’t? I mean– it is provocative, but it is a question for one thing, not a statement or conclusion…nor is it a representation of someone else’s argument…so. Not to be pedantic, but it ain’t.

      • Incorrect. It may draw immediate thoughts of comparison, and can quickly get lost in the first few paragraphs (as it did for me, I actually needed to reread the title when I read Ryon’s post), but the article itself argues that men are not naturally inclined to cheat, and that is what the title says.

  18. What about serial monogamy (i.e., having one partner for a few years, and then moving on)…..?

    • Andrew Smiler says:

      the evidence – and my argument – support serial monogamy.

      • So if the data support serial monogamy…do you think this is tied to evolutionary concerns, i.e., if men are serially monogamous then they can impregnate multiple partners over their fertitlity life-spans, as long as the next women they chose were still in their child-bearing years.

        also, what role/influence do religious or cultural concerns (“till death do you part) have regarding monogamy/marriage from an evolutionary standpoint?

        • Andrew Smiler says:

          I can make an argument for serial monogamy as allowing multiple wives in sequence, but I’m not sure I’d buy it. On average, a couple with a child is less likely to split up than a couple without a child. I haven’t seen data on how having a child might change the odds of an extramarital affair. And on average, kids with 2 parents do better than kids with 1 (or 0) parents, so we should expect an evolutionary bias towards staying together.

          Good questions Des. On evolution…

          Over time, the average lifespan has increased, shifting from about 35-40 in the US around 1900 to around 75-80 for those born in 2000. Average age of puberty has decreased from about 16-17 to 12-13 in that same time frame. Let’s assume that until the year 1900, that 35-40 was true – or even the upper limit – for most humans and that males, at least, weren’t capable of reproducing until about 17. (We’ll ignore females because there’s some evidence the pre-pubertal sex – child sexual abuse by current standards – is related to a younger age of puberty.) Ok, so we have about 17 for first sex and potentially 18 for first childbirth and then probably 7-10 years as parent. Of course, during that 7-10 years as parent there’s a good chance that male would impregnate that female again, and thus start a new 7-10 year cycle as parent…. Add in a life expectancy of 35-40 and serial monogamy is possible but seems unlikely after childbirth.

        • Andrew Smiler says:

          responding to “what role/influence do religious or cultural concerns (“till death do you part) have regarding monogamy/marriage from an evolutionary standpoint??

          If religious and cultural strictures regarding monogamy persist over hundreds or thousands of generations, then they would qualify as an evolutionary pressure that influences selection. If we assume there’s a gene (or set of genes) that lead to monogamous or promiscuous behavior, then that ongoing pressure would (further) alter the gene pool towards monogamy.

          • and that ongoing pressure to alter the gene pool towards monogamy may play some role in the low percentages of men seeking multiple partners, etc., that we see today?

            i wonder then if it might be just as accurate to answer the question: Are men necessarily natural born cheaters? with “They aren’t now.” 🙂

            This pressure may also continue to shift hte gene pool in that way (at least in upper socioeconomic classes) due to the apparent increases in benefits of coming from two parent homes over single parent homes in an increasingly competitive and disparate society. Studies suggest that monogamy/marriage is increasingly a domain of the better educated and wealthier (significantly lower divorce rates, more likely to afford marriage).

            I even wonder if that evolutionary pressure can be seen in increased societal attention on upper class “cheaters” in the media, e.g., John Edwards, Tiger Woods, etc., and the diapprobation focused on them.

          • Andrew Smiler says:

            Hi Des. yes, that’s part of my argument – that ongoing evolutionary pressure towards monogamy has shaped our current behavior (3rd & final section of the text). I hear you about “not now,” but that carries some implication that there may have been some period in time when male homo sapiens were promiscuous, and I don’t want to suggest that, even by implication.

            I hear you about social class differences, and it’s an interesting possibility. It’s also worth noting that those same educated folks tend to have fewer kids and wait longer before having their first child, so those kids would theoretically be outnumbered at some point. Of course, it’ll be generations before we find out.

            • I remember a recent article on negging that had some interesting comments which revolved around the pickup artists community.

              I remember a post in which somebody stated that much of the PUA community theories (of hypergamous nature of females–hope I’m spelling that right) are based on evolutionary psychology and that the main problem with this is that it is impossible to separate the social pressures (or impression of parents upon the social makeup of the person) from true evolutionary traits.

              I’m not necessarily certain that I believe that men & women are pre-programmed for monogamy. Just looking at recent history I know that sexuality exploded (in terms of number of partners and many other things) during the 60’s and the 20’s. I have read especially that in the 20’s as resources became more plentiful the morals of cheating loosened up.

              The evidence of nearly instantaneous changes within the SAME generation seems to suggest that MOST of the habit against cheating stems from the social, not from evolution.

              This can also be shown that overwhelming that when males gather the resources to have multiple partners they do. Tiger Woods had a rocking-hot wife, but it didn’t stop him from having 9 other mistresses. This plays out over & over again for those males who have access to multiple partners.

              If the PUA community’s proof is inconclusive regarding the nature of women to cheat (because it’s impossible to distill only the evolutionary habits from peoples lives) I would also say these studies that men cheat or are naturally monogamous are also inconclusive.

  19. Think men are the unfaithful sex? A study shows WOMEN are the biggest cheats – they’re just better at lying about it–theyre-just-better-lying-it.html#ixzz0Ty4fcwNw

    WOMEN are far more unfaithful than men, a survey reveals.
    Women Cheat More than Men

  20. I know this is the “Good MEN Project,” but talking about evolutionary psychology, gender, & sex is going to be a crap shoot if you don’t address the spectrum. A better question would have been “Are Humans Natural-Born Cheaters?” Human beings– male & female & those who don’t fit the nice dyad– have engaged in a number of breeding strategies in response to a range of conditions. I’d recommend checking out Sarah Blaffer Hrdy’s books– including “The Woman That Never Evolved” & “Mother Nature”– for a more balanced perspective.

    • Andrew Smiler says:

      Fair points Mordicai. Then again, the argument I’ve put forward works for women as well: with relatively lower rates of desired & actual partners, an older age of first intercourse, etc., they also appear to be “programmed” for monogamy. I like Hrdy’s work and, with about 300 pages (versus 2 for me), she gets to cover a lot more ground in a lot more detail than I do.

      • Yeah, but this leaves out big facts like– well, like concealed ovulation. & that more sexual partners– more perceived potential paternities– benefit females. I’ll definitely concur that polygyny cases are largely outliers granted by extreme resource control, but there are things like polyandry among Greenlander Inuit, in case men don’t come back from long whaling trips, for instance. & the old chestnut about sperm production– human testes being between gorillas, with their harems, & chimps, with their promiscuity. Programed to cheat? Maybe not. Prepared to cheat? Maybe.

        • Andrew Smiler says:

          I hear you about not addressing sperm production and concealed ovulation, but those are facts that haven’t changed in millenia. yes, there are “outliers”, but they’re not my focus here. Long-term, heterosexual couples have been the most common experience throughout our known history, and the biology (sperm production, ovulation) haven’t changed. To the extent that we’re evolutionarily programmed, the evidence leads me to believe the “typical” male is biased towards one partner at a time.

          • Overlapping partners, I would argue, but yeah– I mention the outliers to dismiss them. I just think a much more fluid definition of monogamy is at play. & totally agree with your caveat “to the extent that were evolutionarily programmed,” which I would say isn’t all that much. Monogamy is a good strategy, & a very common one– heck, I like it a lot. I think the factors at play are more an interplay between the benefits of multiple possible paternities & wanting to spread your genes without investing calories– monogamy is the “truce” of confirmed paternity & resource combination. & of course, with infidelity & dead beat dads, we see that even then it is a “best case.”

          • “with infidelity & dead beat dads, we see that even then it is a “best case.””

            I think that is an unfair statement. Why is it not that infidelity & dead beat dads are worst case? why should that be considered the norm and “good dads” are the “best case” discrepancy?

      • “Programmed for monogamy” is wishful thinking – and offensively blinkered. Women are less likely to cheat and have multiple partners in large part because the social costs are so much higher for women. And by ‘social costs’ I’m not even getting into the risk of pregnancy, but into the very different cultural expectations and sanctions for the same behavior in men vs. in women.

        Certainly human history has been geared towards long-term, heterosexual couples, but “long-term” and “monogamous” are not synonyms.

        • Andrew Smiler says:

          I agree that “long-term” and “monogamous” aren’t synonyms. Given the way human societies have been constructed, the two terms have been conflated in both general usage and in the research. There is substantial overlap, however.

          The fact that social costs are higher for women doesn’t eliminate the fact that social costs are also high for men and thus encourage fidelity.

          • And higher social costs encourage fidelity more strongly than lower social costs. Which is why it’s silly to argue that women are more “programmed for monogamy” than men.

            • I completely agree with you, but I think Andrew intended more to mean that women are simply thought to be better programmed for monogamy, and is attacking the myth that there actually is a difference.


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