(Notice: Frank emotional and sexual content.)
Reading the subject, did you think of your 401(k), your turntable, or your marriage?
I know many people who have cheated on their spouses. The number surprises and saddens me. If you’d asked me ten years ago to guess the number of people I’d know at 36 years old who had been unfaithful, I’d literally have underestimated it by an order of magnitude. But good people make mistakes, and occasionally one of those mistakes is infidelity.
(By the way, I do think it’s possible to be unfaithful to your spouse without having sex, but such is a subtlety we won’t get into here. The usual definition of infidelity includes mattress polo, and we’ll stay with that.)
I appreciate that a big reason it seems so foreign to me is that I’m happy. I’ve never been inclined to cheat on anyone I’ve spent that kind of time with, but given how common infidelity is, I thought I’d at least understand it more as I spent more time married. Actually, I understand it less now than I ever have. I married an incredible woman, and apparently I continue to pass muster with her, and for that I thank God daily. I have no illusions that my experience is typical. I know we’re blessed.
I have what I have learned is a somewhat controversial view on infidelity. I hold men more responsible for it than women.
“What the hell are you, some kind of sexist pig?” No, not at all. Odds are decent I’m the least sexist man you know. But I do recognize that differences between the sexes exist (beyond the obvious), and one of those differences is in general attitude toward sex. Acknowledging those differences is not sexism.
Women, here’s the deal on men and sex: we really do think about it all the time. I mean, you may be the horniest chick in the Western Hemisphere, and yet I promise you the average man has thought about screwing more by 9 am than you will all day. The thought is as basic as breathing or eating; the orgasm, a mere sensory experience like a steak or a fine Scotch, albeit greatly magnified.
Moreover, we can separate the sexual experience from the person a woman is just as easily as we can that steak or Scotch from the server who brought it. I don’t have to know you to fantasize about you; I just have to know what you look like. Sometimes what you sound like is enough.
In my experience, and in my observation, and however else I can disclaim this in a likely fruitless effort to minimize my chances of being accused of painting more than half the world’s people with a broad brush of sexist ignorance: most women don’t do that nearly as easily. I’ve met an occasional woman who seems to be every bit the nonchalant sexual consumer (would-be or actual) the average man is, a la Linda Fiorentino’s Bridget Gregory/Wendy Kroy in The Last Seduction. But by and large, a woman is much more likely to want it to mean something beyond the physical. Men don’t care. Gimme gimme gimme. Hopefully, in the case of a married man, the sentiment remains mental.
And here is the proverbial rub, grasshopper. A primary reason I think unfaithful men are more on the hook than unfaithful women is that there exists an extremely efficacious relief valve called masturbation. It’s quick, it’s free, and it’s 100% effective in quelling men’s urges that, if carried out, would fuck up peoples’ lives.
“So what are you, some kind of dumbass? You’re saying women don’t masturbate?” Of course not. I am saying, though, that considering the feelings likely to immediately precede an opportunity for infidelity, masturbation is likely to solve the man’s problem more easily. Orgasm generates an immediate and reliable removal of libido in a man, and chances for lucid and considered thought (like “why the hell would I cheat on my wife of 15 years?”) are greatly increased. Given the likely difference in a woman’s motivations at such a moment, masturbation is less likely to afford her similar relief.
Mind, not everyone’s marriage is a month in the Bahamas. If a couple has real problems, they should certainly discuss them. But on the emotional way to that discussion, if a man should have a genuine, actionable urge to sink it into someone else, he is being irresponsible and selfish if he chooses not to “relieve the pressure” himself. Presumably there was a ceremony at which he promised to remain faithful; isn’t that promise worth purchasing some time with a little autoeroticism?
Men, we’re pigs. And we should have everybody. From Beyoncé to the hot new woman in accounting, we should do them all. In our heads.
Please don’t cheat on your wife.
Please read this followup post as well.