Evidence for the Reality of the Uncontrollable Boner & the Abominable Snowman

Lori Lothian explores the evolutionary biology behind why men cheat, and why women forgive them.

In his most recent Jezebel article, gender studies professor Hugo Schwyzer wants us to believe that the Uncontrollable Boner—a man’s inability to resist his dick’s imperative to cheat—is as unreal as the Abominable Snowman.

Spurred to commentary by the recent NY Times Modern Love piece, After the Affair, in which a woman forgives her philandering husband, Schwyzer contends this boner myth gets men off the hook for extra-marital affairs, and women off the hook from demanding accountability of their mates.

But what if the boner myth is real and Schwyzer is simply wishful-thinking men aren’t horny-sex-driven-mindless creatures in need of extra-marital ego and cock strokes? What if men really are sometimes propelled by forces beyond the logical mind and the loyal heart—you know, that intoxicating mix of testosterone, testicles and evolutionary biology that sometimes, under the right circumstances, lures a man to infidelity?

What galls Schwyzer is not so much the idea men are capable—if not evolutionarily equipped—to cheat. It’s that women are so damn forgiving, ostensibly because we’ve bought into the myth that “he just can’t help it, he’s a guy.” He seems to want us woman to make men into honest men.

In a Salon interview, Sex at Dawn author Christopher Ryan explains what I’m getting at here:

Our testicles aren’t as big as those of chimps and bonobos, but our ejaculation is about four times as big in terms of volume. The theory is that when males compete on the level of the sperm cell, they develop much larger testicles, because in promiscuous animals, the sperm of the different males is competing with the sperm of other males to get to be the first to the egg. And the fact that our testicles are not as small relative to our body as the monogamous gibbon or gorillas reinforces the idea that we have been non-monogamous for a long time.

As a woman once married to a man with big balls and a whole lotta sperm, I can put my hand up in a class when asked “How many of you have been cheated on by your husbands?” I can also put up my hand to the question, “How many of you have cheated on your husband?” (Even though my justification was the affair happened in the eleventh hour of a marriage rigged to explode.)

What galls Schwyzer is not so much the idea men are capable—if not evolutionarily equipped—to cheat. It’s that women are so damn forgiving, ostensibly because we’ve bought into the myth that “he just can’t help it, he’s a guy.” He seems to want us woman to make men into honest men, perhaps with conditional forgiveness (I forgive you, but don’t ever cross me again) or maybe even a lecture-laden pardon from a moral pulpit.

But he is missing a key variable in his boner-myth equations: He’s not accounting for a woman’s natural propensity to turn a blind eye when faced with a cheating man—forgiveness comes easy when we would rather not have known all along. We forgive to forget.

In my marriage, I fooled myself into believing my husband’s Friday over-nighters on his office sofa truly were orchestrated so he could meet deadlines, or the extensions to business trips to places like Hawaii were for his alone downtime. Or I’d pretend the women from his office holiday parties, who would stare at me when they thought I wasn’t looking, didn’t really know something I didn’t about their boss or colleague.

Only when the marriage was over, and I happened to read in his new girlfriend’s diary (no comment)  “he has cheated on every woman he has been with, even his wife,” did I let in what I had always known. He was driven by his Uncontrollable Boner to have affairs, and I simply did not want to deal with the upset necessary to confront him with it.

Why do women like me put our head in the sand? For one, it’s easier, especially if kids are involved. My maternal imperative to create a stable nest overrode my female pride and my desire to look under the marital rug where I knew I’d find the dirt of infidelity

And then, there’s the sex bit. He was getting elsewhere what I had little desire to provide at home—at least at the frequency his testicles desired. I’d probably have made a great harem wife in another era because at some level, I was only too happy to share the sex load. (Condition: I knew he was a savvy health economist who worked often in AIDS ridden Africa, who was far too smart to practice unsafe sex).

And last, getting real about our marital problems, seeing a therapist, feeling vulnerable, working on the unspoken regrets, resentments and fears I had bottled up: all of that muck held zero appeal. Even had I caught him, lipstick smudged tie in hand, I would not have had the courage to follow through with repair. I would have let the damaged union limp along, albeit with an injunction to “stop seeing her.” Whether I would have enforced that demand is another matter.

In his focus on the Uncontrollable Boner as myth, Schwyzer clearly attempts to discredit the physiological and hormonal reasons a man might philander, and make a case that women insist their men be good men, no boner myth as excuses. But what he completely fails to address is a perhaps even more potent cultural node—the myth of the Scorned Woman.

Writes Schwyzer, “This is what makes the ‘myth of the uncontrollable boner’ so seductive; it’s preferable to think that a painful betrayal was the result of irresistible evolutionary imperatives rather than choice. “My man is so manly that he gets urges that trump his very real love for me” is ever so much prettier than “In the end, he didn’t care about me enough to keep it in his pants.”

Except what if the woman doesn’t care enough to insist he keep it in his pants? What if instead of the Scorned Woman, she is simply able to hold the contradiction of his love for her, and his sexing elsewhere? Or, as in my case, what if instead of an enraged hell-hath-no-fury response to my cheating man, I simply saw the convenience of feigning ignorance? Because instead of a scorned woman, I was a women looking at my husband’s choices from a cost-benefit analysis: I was weighing the well being of my children, my own psychic status quo, and more, into the equation.

In the end, the myth of the Uncontrollable Boner might be as unreal as the Abominable Snowman. But probably not. After all, the latest fringe news is a pending multi-sample DNA study to be released in peer-review journal, indicating there really is a living, breathing creature called a Sasquatch.

Just maybe then, there really exists a creature called the Uncontrollable Boner. A creature most likely to mate with wild abandon with all other mythic creatures, including a Woman Scorned.

 

Read more on Sex & Relationships.

Photo: wcdumonts / flickr

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About Lori Ann Lothian

Lori Ann Lothian is a sexy daring writer who challenges assumptions about love, sex and relationships in her columns at Huffington Post and elephant Journal and in feature articles at the Good Men Project, Origin Magazine, Yoganonymous, Better After 50 and more. Former editor of the relationship section of elephant Journal, she is now a senior editor at the Good Men Project. Follow her on Twitter andGoogle. Stay informed, sign up for Lori’s mailing list here.

Comments

  1. I love this evolutionary stuff, nature vs nurture.
    In a pre medical testing world, females, of what ever species, had no reason to be truthful or monogamous & probably were not- and I have no reason to believe they are especially true to there spouses today in a world with birth control.

    • Lori Ann Lothian says:

      Monogamy ultimately is a choice irregardless of hormonal, biological, evolutionary, psychological and emotional factors. It’s a choice/commitment the same way committing to a disciplined exercise program is a matter of focused choice. However, the piece I wrote is not really about our primal nature, as much as it is about our material one. As a woman, with children, i was all to willing to keep the nest stable because vs. topple things with truth. THAT, is why the Woman Scorned Myth is as big as the UB myth. Let’s face it, in Europe, wives expect their men to have mistresses. Here in North AMerica, it’s considered a moral travesty.

      • John Smith says:

        European wife’s expecting there husbands to have mistresses is a myth. It’s a combination of anti Catholic propaganda by the Germanic protestant country’s and anti French propaganda by the English. The French, Spanish and Italians have taken on the joke to some extent, but it is not real.

  2. Interesting perspective. I’ve often wondered: what if a wife just doesn’t care that her husband is cheating? What if she’s merely biding her time to, like you suggested, keep things stable for the offspring? What if she’s viewing it as a trade off or doesn’t feel “insulted/betrayed” by his actions? Why is it our place to judge her choices when they don’t actually affect us? And, more importantly, what right do we have to judge her?
    From my perspective, for me at least, I figure a man will cheat or he won’t. For ME I advise any man I’m with of two things: 1) I will hold you responsible for your actions. 2) If you want me to stay know that I will not expect fidelity from you ever again and I will not give it to you either. If you don’t care enough to keep your dick in you pants than I don’t have to live by the rules either. Accept it or leave.
    Cheating is not the “mistake”…it’s not doing your do diligence to TALK TO ME about things BEFORE you cheat. And if you’re “incapable” and it’s “in your genes” to cheat? Fine. I’ll fuck other men and adhere to MY nature.

    • John Smith says:

      Dee, I just want to congratulate you on putting across another, valid, point of view. The idea that honesty and equality is the basis of it all. “Want to sleep with someone else? As long as we are open and the rules are the same for me…” We should be able to ask this question of our partners with no comeback and an understanding that if the answer is no they will trust you to either stick to it or to say “Sorry, this is not what I am looking for”.

      FYI, I am completely faithful to my wife and have no interest in cheating on her so have never needed to ask the question.

  3. I also appreciate the angle of this article. It assumes that a woman CAN still have and make choices with regards to an infidelity. I’ve been cheated on before and at different times I’ve chosen to stay or walk away based upon MY needs and desires at that time. (And I didn’t give a damn about what anyone thought – my life, not theirs)
    And, last but not least, whose to say that a woman scorned isn’t stepping out on her own? How many women are having their own dalliances while their husbands are foolishly thinking they are “masters of the game”? ;)

  4. PastorofMuppets says:

    Your first mistake was taking Christopher Ryan seriously.

    • Lori Ann Lothian says:

      Evolutionary biology is worth taking seriously. The human organism and it’s hormonal machinery did not just happen–these were adaptations we still live with even though we live in a terrain and time far different than our hunter-gatherer pre-agrarian ancestors. To ignore this, is simply ill-informed.

      • PastorofMuppets says:

        Yes, evolutionary biology is worth taking seriously. Not as seriously as some seem to think, given that the science has numerous inherent flaws (not many hunter-gatherer societies around to study these days, you know) but not completely worthless either.
        Christopher Ryan – who is not an evolutionary biologist, but rather a psychologist – is not worth taking seriously. To ignore this is simply ill-informed.

        Here’s a review of Ryan’s work from the journal Evolutionary Psychology:
        http://www.epjournal.net/wp-content/uploads/EP09325335.pdf

        And here’s what David Barash, who authored “The Myth of Monogamy,” has to say about Ryan’s work:
        http://chronicle.com/blogs/brainstorm/sex-at-dusk-2/50099

        I’m not here to argue whether people should or shouldn’t be monogamous. To each their own. I just think it’s simply “ill-informed” to cite a piece of pop psychology as the scientific backing for your individual choices.

        • Lori Ann Lothian says:

          Touche!

          I was looking for a good quote, perhaps at the expense of a better credentialed source. Your point is taken.

          cheers

  5. I’ve always thought the “scorn” of cheating comes from the lying used to cover it up. There should be some agreement at the beginning of the relationship if somebody would rather not know and doesn’t really care. That way the lying would be unnecessary.

  6. This is a compelling article about the author’s experience, and about the archetypes of the cheating man and the woman who forgives it. But it isn’t really about evolutionary biology as far as I can see. The title implies it’s about the “evolutionary biology of why men cheat”, but the book it quotes from seems to make the point that humans are biologically nonmonogamous, period.

    I guess I just don’t buy the idea that evolutionary biology is behind men being cheaters and women being monogamous. I could be wrong. I certainly know men who fit the Uncontrollable Boner description to a T. But I’ve also known men who were in the forgiver’s position, and plenty of women who couldn’t keep it in their pants either – Uncontrollable Cliteri??

    • Lori Ann Lothian says:

      Well, someone wrote me privately to say it’s not a gender issue, it’s a testosterone issue. And there is ample research on testosterone levels in both men and woman, contributing to sex-focused agendas, from sex addiction, to promiscuity, to simply levels of horny-ness.

  7. If the males’ sperm were competing within the female to fertilize the egg first….doesn’t that mean the female was also being non-monogamous as well? So…women have evolved away from cheating but men haven’t? Sounds like a pretty shaky theory to me. As far as i can tell, we’re all evolved enough to have a conversation about a relationship but in general, people who cheat have no respect for their partner and are terribly selfish. Just saiyan…

  8. Women turning a blind eye due to economic reasons and support is just another symptom of oppression of females passed down from generations. So I wouldn’t argue for the onus on this one. And the biology argument has never grown legs to stand on (pun intended), and if those who argue for biology-driven bad behavior are correct, I would rebut: then why enter into a monogamous relationship? You can’t have it both ways…do you think monogamy is possible for you or not? If not, get out of the relationship and tell the number of people you’re sleeping with that you are sleeping with others…Oh and don’t forget to leave the double standards behind…because if men get to use the biology excuse, then so do the rest of us in whatever ways it (supposedly) applies.

    I really liked Hugo’s article, it made a lot of sense to me, because I am for evolving the species, not resting on the laurels of old paradigms and what seems to be bad and paternalistic science. You don’t hear women using biology to justify their needs and wants (that are hurting their male counterparts). It is a double standard. Not to mention, it’s really hard to speak of biology when so much of it is affected and influenced by our environment and behaviors, they go hand in hand. One example of physiology changing is that dads who spend time with there babies secrete the same brain chemicals responsible for bonding and empathy. So just changing one’s actions/interactions and environment can change the brain and subsequent actions even in a short time. There are numerous examples of this.

    The biology argument doesn’t help gender relations or our species as far as I’m concerned…it might help to dismiss/avoid a much more complex psychological and sociological discussion, but that’s it. Shouldn’t we be focused on what we can change behaviorally (no all men have to cheat). I think we’re all shooting for harmony here, not a bunch of single moms of fatherless children with no support because the fathers’ biology led them elsewhere, that doesn’t feel natural either and actually is fucking up society…so which is correct? What happened to the protector and the provider? Isn’t that in the biology argument too? We can’t splice it out and pick and choose. It is counter-intuitive to me that nature would make the two genders opposed to one another on this…if one gender wants to be with multiple partners and the other wants to have her partner be only with her – who gets to use the biology argument? Hmmm, seems like once again women take the back seat, and well, that model hasn’t been working so well.

    • Lori Ann Lothian says:

      You try to make some good points.

      Fact is, however, that if you really look at etiology of human behavioral nodes, you can’t help but look beyond current cultural influence and into the adaptive evolutionary.

      When you say “It’s really hard to speak of biology when so much of it is affected and influenced by our environment and behaviors, they go hand in hand. One example of physiology changing is that dads who spend time with there babies secrete the same brain chemicals responsible for bonding and empathy. So just changing one’s actions/interactions and environment can change the brain and subsequent actions even in a short time.”

      You are pointing at a proximate adaptive response (at a neuro chemical/endocrine level) , which can happen apparently within a lifetime. That is a far different thing than talking about the actual formation of those neuro chemicals/hormones in the human organsim—it’s not like we create new neuro chemicals/hormones overnight. Those existing chemicals were forged in the human biologic ecosystem over pre-historic time, in response to environments that no longer apply. This is one reason we are so sick–our hunter gather ancestors did not eat pounds of refined sugar and carbs!

      That said, we are not slaves to our primal nature. But we can’t discount it’s influence either.

      Read more at http://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/the-good-life-evidence-for-the-reality-of-the-uncontrollable-boner-the-abominable-snowman/#u1EXfrMXmbRF2JPz.99

  9. If we lived in a matriarchy instead of a patriarchy, women wouldn’t be hanging sticking around for their cheaters. What a joke that would be. We have to look at the societal structures in place and the “needs” they create. It’s sociology. And yes women cheat too…cheating is symptom of many things, not the least of which is emotional immaturity. What we should be talking about is evolving emotionally (we are terribly atrophied in that area thanks to the over emphasis/valuing of the left brain and paternalism and hyper masculinity), since we are so repressed in that area.

  10. And what about the many men who are stuck in sexless or nearly sexless marriages? Marriages where the wife simply does not want to participate in sex. Marital sex is no longer an obligation, and I suppose men are simply supposed to grin and bear it? I firmly believe that a great deal of cheating comes from a lack of marital sex. Certainly not all of it, but how many wives are having sex with their husband a few times a year and then find their husbands cheating. I don’t think anyone can really be surprised. How many husbands are cheating on wives that are blowing his mind 4 times a week?

    • Allene Sienckowski says:

      Collin,
      I am so glad that you added this very real aspect to the discussion – married women who stop have sex. Even though there is a historical, genetic reason for men having more than one sex partner, it is also clear that men, even waaaay back in the cave man days chose the future mother’s of their offspring for survival of their seed. So, genetic history aside, we are all supposed to be sexually alive, both males and females. No one has even voiced the very real changes that occur during relationships: many women experience severe sex related pain while engaging in sex (the issue is more pervasive than many would suspect and far too many women never broach the subject with their primary care physicians or their GYN/OB professionals; accidents – back injuries that occurred years before a person became sexually active; changes in hormonal levels (can happen and does to both men and women); a dynamic change to the relationship because of illness (not always catastrophic); a radical change in unspoken verbal contracts; a loss of desire for a partner because of eight gain/loss; and finally (this list is far too short to address many of the problems that can and arise between in many monogamous relationships) “He/she just ain’t into you!” Sex and how often and the quality of that sex is such a personal issue it is difficult to read so-called enlightened/academic literature about the subject because the essence of the individual is sorely missing. If the author of the piece had addressed the real issues underlying her failing marriage, will be the issues that will surely haunt any new relationship she pursues. We are complex chemistry laboratories and our thoughts along with inherited DNA and the dynamics of our current physical environment, all combined, have tremendous affects on with whom and how often we copulate. Fear, stress, negative childhood experiences, our inability to accept the beauty of the naturalness of the sex act because of our so-called religiousness erect barriers against a natural phenomenon that should in fact be life-affirming. A small question to the professionals: exactly whom is on the other side of all those unregulated boners?

    • not grinning says:

      That’s why I cheated. That’s why the woman I cheated with was in bed with me. Lack of sex, lack of good sex, and being unwilling to either leave or put up with it. I don’t need biology to justify my actions. In fact, I don’t need to justify them to anyone else at all. I’ve got a few years on this planet and would like to have my children in my life. I would also like to have a stimulating sex life.

  11. FlyingKal says:

    Are women really that inclined to forgive their cheating men?
    And are men really that much more inclined to cheat than women?

  12. @Lori Ann

    Very good piece. I love the realism and balance of the article.

    I was once married and in a sexless marriage for over 10 years. However, I elected not to cheat. I can honestly say the whole damn thing was just pure torment and hell. There is nothing worse than having all this testosterone driving you insane with daily boners. Yet, unable to find satisfaction.

    I divorced over the sex (lack of) in my marriage. Now, I get the satisfaction I need. I use the word “need” because I really do need sex 3-4 times a week. So, I have two FWB partners. I get what I need without all the drama and negotiation. Also, the sex is very enthusiastic between us.

    In retrospect, I think the best alternative might be polygamy. Poly would not set well with me as fidelity and loyalty are paramount. Also, poly just smacks of loads of sex partners, which I have no interest. I just need lots of sex with a few partners.

    I really do believe many men are driven to cheat due to the Uncontrollable Boner, indeed.

  13. Nick, mostly says:

    Maybe men cheat because of their uncontrollable boners. Perhaps that’s a myth, as Hugo Schwyzer asserts. But women cheat too, and at nearly the same rate as men, which leads me to suspect that whether the boners are uncontrollable or not is largely irrelevant.

    What strikes me as ironic is that the framing of the original question – as one of why men cheat – only serves to reenforce the more pervasive myth that it’s mostly men who are doing the cheating. Why aren’t we asking about those uncontrollable lady boners?

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