Why is it that stories of cheating, infidelity, and affairs get us feeling giddier than a kid in a room full of puppies? What is it about these stories that fascinate/disgust/arouse us so much? We can’t ignore our reaction to it. There’s a very good reason why Jerry Springer had so much success and it wasn’t just because he’d bring out the occasional midget.
Cheating, infidelity, or whatever you want to call it has always been an obsession of sorts, both in today’s culture and throughout history. Go all the way back to Greek mythology and you’ll get philandering cheats like Zeus, whose track record of infidelity would shock even Jerry Springer.
Fast forward 2,000 years and we still have things link Brangelina, which ended recently in divorce, but for a time was its own cottage industry of sorts, having been built on a foundation of alleged infidelity. Whether we’re in ancient Athens or Newark, New Jersey, we as a society are fascinated by cheating.
That leaves us with an uncomfortable, but sexually suggestive question. Why? This is actually one of those things that can’t be explained solely within the context of caveman logic. The concept of infidelity, as well as the very concept of marriage, takes on a very different context in the caveman mind. The vastly different courtship practices of hunter/gatherer societies are proof enough of that.
As with so many other complex human traits, our caveman brains can’t be precise, accurate, or even logical. They can only do what they must to help us survive and reproduce. It is, as I’ve said before, a blunt instrument that’s prone to error. That error is compounded with infidelity, which is why there are so many theories as to why people cheat.
Our brains still don’t know that we’re not cavemen living in hunter/gatherer societies anymore. Humans, like every other species, are at the mercy of the slow pace of evolution. To be fair to evolution though, humans have been subject to some major upheavals in recent times.
According to most estimates not made by update Texas pastors, the human species has been on this planet for about 200,000 years. It’s only in the last 10,000 years or so that the agricultural revolution laid the foundation for our civilization.
It’s this major shift that laid the foundation for our current concept infidelity. It’s this system of society that helped establish the marriage, child-rearing, and gender roles of civilization that have persisted for most of human history. It’s also this system that made infidelity such a big freakin’ deal to begin with.
I bring this up because last month, I talked about a new book I had been reading called “Sex At Dawn” by Christopher Ryan, Cacilda Jetha, Allyson Johnson, and Jonathan Davis. This book attempts to break down the standard model of romance and expose the flaws within.
I touched on some of those flaws before I even read the book, but it has been very insightful (and very sexy) in fleshing out those flaws in ways I never could. Recently, I got to the part of the book where cheating is discussed and it put the whole concept into a new context, one that can really inspire an aspiring erotica/romance writer.
First, the book lays out the standard model of romance. Anyone who ever watched a sitcom in the 1950s knows what that model looks like. It’s basically one man, one woman, one house with a white picket fence, and exceedingly rigid roles for everyone involved.
The man works to provide money for the family. The woman stays home to raise the kids. The kids get into trouble every now and then, requiring a lecture from their wise father to fix everything. Everybody goes to bed having learned a lesson. It’s basically the exact opposite of the Simpsons.
The Rick Santorums of the world praise this model. At times, they deify it the same way the entire state of Massachusetts deifies Tom Brady. They see it as the perfect ideal that must be pursued, protected, and championed, even if it means bashing homosexuals and screwing over single parents.
There are many problems with this model and even more with the uptight people who champion it, but “Sex At Dawn” singles one in particular out when it comes to infidelity. Don’t worry though. It’s the sexy kind of problem.
The book sets up a fairly standard scenario not much different from the 50s sitcom model. Picture a man and a woman together. They’re married. They’re fairly normal. They’re as typical as typical can be in a country that makes bacon-flavored lube.
The man provides a stable, comfortable home for the woman. He works a job that pays the bills, allowing the woman to stay at home to keep it in one piece. He’s not an overly exciting man. She’s not an overly exciting woman. Their sex life is the antithesis of an old Motley Crue music video. It may as well be as routine as doing the laundry.
So why is this a problem? Well, “Sex At Dawn” makes it a point to note that evolution creates numerous incentives that we don’t already recognize, let alone understand. Remember, our brains and bodies are built for survival and reproduction. The standard model does provide some of that, but it’s not entirely a safe bet.
In that model, the man and the woman are gambling with their evolutionary imperatives. The man is only impregnating one woman in this model. What if that woman has health issues that render her infertile? What if the children she has suffer birth defects? What if she’s only able to have one or two kids at the most?
The are just as many risks for the woman. What if the man’s genes aren’t that good? What if the man’s fertility is limited at best? What if the children she bears aren’t particularly talented or advantaged in any way?
That’s a lot of gambling in the game of evolution. Like immature children who try to cheat at monopoly, we humans will try to bend the rules when we can. This leads to the kind of sexy scenarios that makes “Sex At Dawn” one of the most colorful and insightful books an erotica/romance writer can reference.
For the man, evolution provides an incentive not to hedge his bets. That means the inclination to spend some extra time with their hot young secretary is pretty strong. Unlike a woman, a man can hump multiple women and has a chance at impregnating them all. Sure, those kids will be at a disadvantage if their father is not involved, but the law of averages said at least one of those kids will survive to carry on his genes.
Like I said, evolution has the maturity of a 13-year-old watching Game of Thrones. It’s basically a recipe for extra-marital humping.
For the woman, there are other incentives, but they’re just as powerful and just as sexy. A woman with a boring, but faithful husband will likely have children who share that trait. The boys she bears will be boring and faithful, still having to rely on one woman to propagate their lineage.
Enter the bad boy rebel who will hump anything with legs and a pulse. He’s James Dean. He’s Wolverine. He’s Johnny Cash. This man, for perverse reasons that evolution fuels, gets the woman horny enough to do some extra humping on the side. Sure, it requires that she go behind her hubby’s back, but as women and men alike know all too well, we do crazy things when we’re really horny.
On top of the toe-curling pleasure that comes with exciting, bad-boy sex, she may now bear a child who can hump more women and make more stud babies. Those stud babies have a much better chance at passing on the woman’s genes so she has a powerful evolutionary incentive to make sure all her sons are Wilt Chamberlin and all her daughters are Kardashians.
In light of these evolutionary incentives, coupled with the rigid social order imposed by the “Leave It To Beaver” crowd, it makes perfect evolutionary sense. Evolution forged our basic drives and imperatives. Evolution, being the imperfect process it is, doesn’t give a two whiffs of a skunks ass what laws, taboos, and Jerry Springer says. If it propagates a species, then that’s all it needs.
It’s because of these evolutionary forces and powerful incentives that infidelity makes a perverse kind of sense. For years, I struggled to understand why women wanted to sleep with the bad boys, knowing they weren’t going to stick around or be faithful. Now, when I think about it from the “stud baby” perspective, it does make sense.
It also reveals how imperfect our current assumptions about relationships and romance are, even in the 21st century. Granted, there have been improvements since the Victorian Era, but I think we, as a society, can do better. I don’t claim to have a solution, but I will definitely explore a few sexy possibilities on this blog and in my novels.