Male Marital Fidelity: Culture Versus Nature
by Frank Zahn
Women need a reason for sex. Men just need a place. - Billy Crystal
Men’s brains are smaller than those of women so they can fit into their penises. - Bette Midler
Marriage is a man's feeble attempt to ensure he gets laid regularly. - Zhang Fu Lai
I can’t imagine anything more stressful than monogamy. - Errol Flynn
Constancy in a man is rare. - Catherine Cookson
God gave each of us guys a penis and a brain but only enough blood
to run one of them at a time. - Robin Williams
Nature dictates that the prime directive in men—those with heterosexual inclinations—is to engage in sexual activity with women for the purpose of procreation. To that end, nature provides self-interest motivation for men to carry out the objective, namely the intense pleasure of ejaculation, which any man will tell you is a pleasure unmatched by any other. Anyone who believes the way to a man’s heart is his stomach is aiming about nine to ten inches too high. That said, however, heterosexual men are driven more often than not to engage in sexual activity with women simply because it is the preferred means of realizing of the intense pleasure of ejaculation.
In contrast, nature has determined that women do not experience ejaculation. Nature dictates that men have the sperm to ejaculate in semen, and women have the eggs. So the man ejaculates, and potentially, the woman gets her egg, or eggs, fertilized. Of course, that does not mean women do not enjoy sex. Nature dictates they desire, are capable of, and may reach a high or climax to sexual activity with men, and the intention may be to fertilize eggs or simply to feel great.
Women, however, experience a mostly emotional and internalized climax rather than the mostly physical and externalized climax experienced by men. As a result, women are far less inclined to engage in sexual activity outside the marriage than are men, and much to the frustration of married men, they are also far less inclined to engage in it inside of marriage, especially after their childbearing years. It is this difference in the intensity of the male and female sexuality that leaves men more vulnerable than women to all manner of sexual indiscretions.
The supply of male sperm relative to that of female eggs is a related biological factor that helps explain the difference between the sexual inclinations and experiences of heterosexual men and women. Michael Shermer points out in his book The Mind of the Market that male and female sexuality in evolution is largely determined by the efficient use of available resources, including male sperm and female eggs. Sperm, which are tiny and plentiful, are virtually unlimited, whereas eggs, which are large and scarce, are exceedingly limited. Thus, women far more than men innately need to be concerned about making efficient use of their eggs. The result is that men compete among themselves for access to women, while women do the selective choosing. Charles Darwin called this sexual selection and observed that it is powerful force in the evolution of male and female sexuality.
By implication, Shermer’s analysis supports the argument that men are more inclined to engage in sexual activity inside and outside of marriage than women. That is, women with scare supplies of eggs tend to be monogamous with less sexual drive relative to men, the advent and greater availability of birth control devices notwithstanding. On the other hand, men with plentiful supplies of sperm for ejaculation tend to be polygamous, which has probably been enhanced by the advent and increased availability of birth control devices as well as erection-enhancing drugs such as Viagra. Nature dictates that men can and are driven to supply much more sperm than demanded by their spouses. So it is natural for heterosexual men to seek opportunities to ejaculate and deposit their sperm into women outside their marriages.
A third factor also lends support to the argument that men are more inclined to engage in extramarital sexual activity. It is argued—mostly by men—that men separate sex from the other benefits of marital commitment, including love, devotion, companionship, friendship, and respect. If true, and the sexual behavior of men indicates that it is, extramarital sex need not compromise the nonsexual commitments of men to their spouses.
In general, women reject the separability argument as well as all other arguments that rationalize the infidelity of their spouses. In modern cultures more so than traditional ones, women have gained the cultural power to insist on vows of fidelity when they marry their spouses. They want to be the only source of their spouses’ sexual gratification—save perhaps for that of self-sexual gratification via masturbation in their absence or if they are either not in the mood or have a headache.
Vanity is one reason women insist on the marital fidelity of their spouses, regardless of whether women are products of a traditional culture or a modern one. There is always concern—perhaps fear—that men may find sex with women outside the marriage more gratifying.
But it can be argued that dependency is a more substantive reason why women want marital fidelity from their spouses. In traditional cultures, they depend on their spouses for their livelihood and that of their offsprings, so they want—but may not get—pledges of fidelity from their men as a means of control. If a woman can ensure that she is the only source of her man’s sexual gratification, then she is in a better position to ensure her livelihood and that of her offsprings.
In modern cultures, the economic dependency of women on men is less of a reason for women to want fidelity from their spouses. Nevertheless, they insist on it—again primarily for reasons of vanity and control. But regardless of the reason, or reasons, the fact is that in modern cultures, women continue to demand marital fidelity from their spouses, and when their men fail to adhere to their demands, they milk as much livelihood out of them as divorce laws permit.
As a result, some men learn to live with the conflict between their nature and their culture. They may fantasize—sin in their thoughts—but remain physically faithful. Others men, however, give into their nature and variously engage in extramarital sexual activity. Some of those men are discreet enough to get away with it. Others get caught and suffer the consequences.
It must be acknowledged that the adverse effects on men who get caught are not the only consequences of nature’s triumph over culture. Their spouses and children suffer as well. Some marriages can survive male infidelity, but not without emotional turmoil. Marriages that break up more often than not leave the women in economic as well as emotional turmoil. Women may not gain sufficient income and wealth from divorce to maintain the standard of living they enjoyed while married, and they may lack the skills, education, and experience necessary to find work that makes up the difference.
The children of a marriage suffer physically because they are more often than not denied the standard of living they enjoyed before their parents separated and divorced. And more importantly, the children suffer emotionally because the two parents that have made them whole are split apart. Splitting parents into two separates parts tends to split the child into two separate parts psychologically.
Some feminists, namely those bent more on revenge rather than liberation, blame men for the turmoil and suffering—all of it. Camile Paglia has argued that in their recently acquired stronghold of higher education, these radical feminists preach with all the anger and hated of religious fanatics that men are obsolete, wicked, untrustworthy, corrupt, and beyond redemption. As if competing with men for the attention, if not the favor of women, these zealots demonize men and urge women to demand the removal of all cultural constraints they perceive men impose on women. And if that means the imposition of additional cultural constraints on men, so be it.
Radical feminists view the nature of the male “beast” as the cause of the conflict rather than the cultural control of male fidelity in marriage. But be that as it may, the outcome of the conflict between the dictates of nature and those of culture persists. And the conflict begs the question: Can it be resolved?
The answer to the question is YES, but it would require elimination of the cultural control of male fidelity in marriage. That would entail acceptance by women of three primary factors. First, that would entail acceptance of the fact that unlike the cultural control, the nature of their spouses is not a variable. Evolution, or if you prefer, God, determines the nature of men, not women. Second, it would entail women understanding and appreciating the ability of their spouse to separate sex from the other commitments of marriage. And third, it would entail women sharing in the responsibility for the adverse effects of their imposition of marital fidelity on their spouses when nature triumphs over culture and the extramarital sexual activity of their spouses is exposed.
But don’t hold your breath! Vanity will remain a critical factor in preventing women from accepting the marital infidelity of their spouses. More importantly, women are not about to buy into the argument that men can separate sex from the other commitments of marriage, and they are certainly not going to share responsibility for any of the adverse affect of their spouses’ infidelity.
And so, the conflict will continue. Women will continue in their attempts to limit the sexual activity of their spouses. But in spite of such attempts, nature will likely triumph in a significant number, if not a majority, of marriages, which, of course, means continued marital frustration, discontent, and suffering for married men and women as well as their offsprings. In general, cultural constraints may curb natural inclinations, but more often than not, nature triumphs.
Of course, that does not justify men breaking their vows of marital fidelity. Breaking any vow or promise must be condemned in civilized society, especially when caught up in the often complicated, frustrating, and fragile relationship of marriage.
Divorce is always an option for men, of course, but when divorce is not feasible for whatever reason, extramarital sex with other women—preferably discreet—may become an understandable and not surprising means whereby married men pursue their natural sexual inclinations, regardless of whether their spouses tacitly or openly agree to it.
Another option is for men to not get married in the first place—remain single. In modern cultures especially, men can get all the sex they want without marital constraints. If fact, they are likely to get more sex by remaining single than by getting married. Or course, they would be denied the other benefits of marriage, which mean a cost-benefit analysis is in order.
But if men choose marriage, it means they accept the cultural constraint of marital fidelity that is imposed by their spouses. In addition, if nature triumphs over culture, they accept the consequences that invariably follow if and when they are found out.
So who is at fault? It is, of course, the men who accept the cultural constraint of marital fidelity and fail to adhere to it. That said, however, women who impose the unnatural constraint in light of the high probability that nature will triumph over culture must also share in the responsibility for the consequences that follow, their ignorance of male sexuality notwithstanding. After all, if it were not for the constraint, imposed at their behest, the conflict between the nature of men and their culture would not exist, and marital infidelity would be a nonissue.
It must be noted that women also share in the responsibility for the consequences in another important way. When women use their husbands’ vows of marital fidelity as a license to neglect or fail to accommodate their husbands’ natural sexual inclinations or use it as a control device for bending their husband’s behavior to their will, it is no less morally justified. And persistent headaches and moods swings, which can be treated with medication, are excuses, not reasons. A man’s vow of marital fidelity is not a vow of celibacy, partial or otherwise.
In a final note, there may come a time in the evolutionary process when women no longer perceive their self-interest served by the marital fidelity of their spouses. That is, they may no longer derive a net benefit from the imposition of the fidelity constraint on their spouses—private or social. As women’s liberation continues, including equal opportunity in the workplace, the day may come when women become completely free of their dependency on men for their livelihood—the principal reason other than vanity women have historically insisted on the marital fidelity of their spouses. In a variety of ways, culture constrains nature for what is considered culturally beneficial, but adverse consequences cannot be denied when nature triumphs. And there is always the possibility that the costs associated with the adverse consequences exceed the benefits derived from the constraints.
Copyright © December 2014 Frank Zahn. Published in The Writings of a Curious Mind: A Collection of Essays, Memoirs, and Short Stories, Vancouver Books (Kindle Edition) 2017.
Back to Top of Page
Back to Other Writings