May 27, 2008

It's boring to ask why men have affairs, so let's just talk about why women have affairs.

Emily Bazelon wants to talk about infidelity:
Like everything else about male sexuality, the male desire to lie with another woman is boringly uncomplicated. But why do women have affairs? The judgment of literature (Anna Karenina, Madam Bovary) is that they feel trapped and oppressed, or, less sympathetically, that they're easily gulled by preying males one or two notches up the social ladder. Two centuries later, I would imagine that life is a bit different. The answer we heard from writers like Erica Jong and Gael Greene back in the swingin' Plato's Retreat 1970s was that women crave sexual variety in precisely the same way men do. Three decades later, though, feminism no longer insists that women's desires and inclinations be identical to those of men. It may even be permitted to recognize that, at least superficially, the female sex drive seems, in the aggregate, less pronounced (or at least less conspicuous) than the male sex drive. You don't hear stories about men telling their wives they no longer want to have sex. You do hear stories about women telling their husbands they no longer want to have sex.
So, if sex, especially variety in sex, is less important to women, we must have more complex and fascinating reasons for committing adultery.

73 comments:

Simon said...

Emily says...
"You don't hear stories about men telling their wives they no longer want to have sex."

IIRC, Althouse posted a story a few months back that claimed some men were telling their wives they no longer want to have sex.

rhhardin said...

Like everything else about male sexuality, the male desire to lie with another woman is boringly uncomplicated.

Not getting any at home.

rhhardin said...

So, if sex, especially variety in sex, is less important to women, we must have more complex and fascinating reasons for committing adultery.

The prince at home can't be nagged into eternal rescue.

rhhardin said...

Complex or fascinating reasons. DeMorgan's law.

Tibore said...

"Not getting any at home."

Is that an accusation? Or a confession?

;)

Pogo said...

It may even be permitted to recognize that, at least superficially, the female sex drive seems, in the aggregate, less pronounced (or at least less conspicuous) than the male sex drive.

What a laborious and wimpy style! Rather than state directly that women desire sex less than do men, the writer suggests and intones and maybes and perhaps and qualifies her way to that conclusion (possibly, but don't hold her to it).

For if correct, the answer is almost mathematical: if x males desire sex, but only 0.5x females desire sex, then 0.5x may be seeking sexual liaisons elswhere ...with the very 0.5x females still libidinous.

Whioch reminds me of another word problem:
Michele: Hey Romy, remember Mrs. Divitz's class, there was like always a word problem. Like, there's a guy in a rowboat going X miles, and the current is going like, you know, some other miles, and how long does it take him to get to town? It's like, 'Who cares? Who wants to go to town with a guy who drives a rowboat?

Joe said...

Slate women. *yawn*

former law student said...

The guy appeals to her and she's ovulating.

Kirby Olson said...

But there has to be different kinds of women, they can't all be one thing, in spite of the feminist thing that there are two genders and one of them is oppressed.

Jong's character in Fear of Flying wanted what she called "the zipless F***" -- I can't bring myself to spell out the word because relative youth like the Montana Urban Legend might be reading.

The Zipless F. was defined by Jong as relatively anonymous sex with a total stranger -- it was best if she never even got to know his name and knew next to nothing about him, and couldn't even remember the details of his face. She didn't want him to even have a face.

That's fairly reckless sex, and not many people would have ever wanted that. But Jong's character did, and presumably Jong could relate.

However, Anna Karenina had sex with a nobleman, and wanted him to marry her when he got her pregnant. When he didn't, she went and threw herself under a train.

Those Anna Karenina and Jong's character are at opposite ends of the spectrum. One wants marriage, and one wants anything but -- Jong's character didn't even want to know the name of the men she did in zipless f. encounters.

Jong's character could partially be explained by the pill, and by women's increasing economic opportunities in America after WWII, but there is still a basic character difference.

Jong's character lived for cheap thrills and zest and would never think of suicide over a male (althoguh she does think of suicide by car on the Autobahn as a real kick).

Karenina was a masochist of sorts, who courted sorrow, and her affairs created that, and she revelled in the morose feelings that Count V. caused in her.

Psychiatrists must have names for the different types of women who have dangerous affairs, but I don't know what they are.

Ann Althouse said...

Let's not forget that Jong's character, when finally presented with the "zipless" situation, found it completely unappealing and rejected it.

SteveR said...

Its not sex, but passion for women. IMO.

Maguro said...

I always assumed it was for the free meals.

sandyshoes said...

"You don't hear stories about men telling their wives they no longer want to have sex."

This is such crap. First of all, who's going to tell the stories, in this culture? Second, even despite that, it isn't exactly unheard of.

Gah. This kind of thing diminishes both men and women.

Pogo said...

Actaully, you do hear "stories about men telling their wives they no longer want to have sex" ...with them.

montana urban legend said...

Oh, I am young, and I am reading, and I think Pogo's reasoning on this makes sense.

M. Simon said...

I once did a back of the envelope study on sexual differences between men and women based on the following (I assumed correct) information.

About 3% of men and 1% of women are into fetishistic sex.

Given a Gaussian distribution (with equal variation), that means the difference in sex drives between men and women is about 1/2 standard deviation. Not a lot.

Michael_H said...

When demand exceeds supply, secondary markets come into play.

(The above statement is gender neutral).

Brian O'Connell said...

The explanation for female adultery that we get from evolutionary psychology is that women tend to want one man- typically the predictable, reliable, good provider- to marry and help raise and support the children, and another man- this one would be the super-fit, possibly dangerous alpha male- to father the children.

This would seem to make sense, as one man is providing the environment and the other is providing the genes, and it's probably unlikely to find the best of each in one person.

The story of a woman cheating on boring hubby with dashing and exciting stranger is familiar both in literature and real life. I'm sure there's something to it.

William said...

When a woman has an affair, it brings a great deal more emotional chaos into her life than it does for a man. And perhaps that is the real payoff: they are not sex addicts so much as drama queens.

Ann Althouse said...

We're not looking for an orgasm. We're looking for a narrative arc.

XWL said...

Everything is sooo much more interesting when done by women.

Especially peeing standing up.

Steven said...

"Like everything else about male sexuality, the male desire to lie with another woman is boringly uncomplicated."

Oh, yes, male sexuality is so uncomplicated, which is why paraphilias are so rare among men compared to women.

Seven Machos said...

Women. Can't live with 'em.

World Politics said...

Ann,

What a story? afterall what do men know about women? I take it what Ann said it is about the narrative.

Michael_H said...

“Women, Can't live with 'em, Pass the beer nuts.”

Norm Petersen, Cheers.

John Stodder said...

The key to extramarital sex is flattery. This applies to men and to women. If

a) the spouse isn't appreciating them as sexual beings; or

b) is appreciating them, but not enough to satisfy their insatiable egos

then a flattering proposition from someone of the opposite sex will get consideration and will sometimes work.

The solution is: Chaste wife-swapping parties. You should bring your spouse to a party where women will take the husband aside and men will take the wife aside, and both of you will be told, in Penthouse-like detail, how hot you both are. (And you have to do the same for them.) Then you go home with your spouse. You'll both be so aroused, you'll have your clothes half-off before you pay the sitter.

The urge to have an orgasm is strong, especially when you're young, but over time you learn there are a lot of ways to deal with it, including and especially with your spouse. And, face it, the urge fades somewhat with age.

But the urge to be found sexually desirable by others lasts much longer, and leads more of us astray.

Brian O'Connell said...

The genes impose behavior. The voices in our heads supply (often wrong) narrative arcs to explain that behavior.

There are many species that pair bond for life- we're not one of them. So when a woman (or man for that matter) cheats, you can ask about what was going through that person's head that led to that, and as an answer you'll get a narrative arc.

The taboo against adultery may be stronger in some societies than others, and stronger or weaker in different people relative to their sex drives. I think the real answer lies somewhere in there, not in whatever narrative a person has spun to explain their behavior.

Pogo said...

I would be more interested to learn how people who do not stray avoid or reject temptation.

Seems to me that cheating is easier; fidelity is the more arduous path. Staying is harder than leaving, especially when things get tough, as they must do.

Why do men stay?
Why do women stay?
Doubtless, the answer to the latter will be more interesting than the former.

former law student said...

cheating is easier; fidelity is the more arduous path

Cheating is much harder. Fidelity requires remembering only one story, and it enables you to account for every moment of your time and every dollar of the household expenditure. Plus because you must treat your beloved with lovingkindness all the time -- she is the only game in town for you -- she will treat you similarly in return. Thus your home will be filled with harmony and satisfaction. Having an outside outlet will lead to neglecting and disrespecting one's spouse, producing snippiness, faultfinding, and hollering.

Trooper York said...

former law student...that is one post of yours that I 100% agree with..you hit the nail on the head..good job.

Trooper York said...

“producing snippiness, faultfinding, and hollering."

Don't forget massive head trauma

Pogo said...

Cheating is much harder. Fidelity requires remembering only one story

I dunno. Fidelity is mentally the more healthy path in the long run. And the logistics of cheating are certainly tough.

Day to day, it's a struggle to continue to love someone even in darker days when you may not even like your spouse. And day to day is where we live. Under stress, and in one of marriage's unavoidable storms, the temptation that happiness eludes you and can be found in the swell of hip or bud of bosom or in a certain smile can be great.

You are quite right to note that the habit of treating your beloved with kindness is self-reinforcing. It becomes easier over time. But reaching that spot takes alot of time and effort. Practice, practice, practice.

If fidelity was so simple and cheating so hard, the numbers would look quite different than they are.

Michael_H said...

"Men are borne of women and spend the rest of their lives yearning for a woman's acceptance and approval...men admittedly are putty in the hands of a woman they love. Give him direct communication, respect, appreciation, food and good lovin', and he'll do just about anything you wish...Your basic male is a decent creature with simple desires: to be his wife's hero, to be his wife's dream lover, to be the protector and provider for his family, to be respected, admired and appreciated. Men live to make their women happy."

-Dr. Laura Schlesinger, The Care and Feeding of Husbands

Not bad advice.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

Ann said

We're not looking for an orgasm...

Well then, I'm your man!

Ann Althouse said...

Pogo: "Seems to me that cheating is easier; fidelity is the more arduous path. Staying is harder than leaving, especially when things get tough, as they must do. Why do men stay? Why do women stay?"

1. So they can flatter themselves that they are better than the people who don't.

2. No decent options.

3. Fear of the unknown.

4. Don't want to expose their second rate sexual technique to new critics.

5. Can't afford it.

6. Cowed into submission.

7. Worried about what neighbors, friends, family will think and say.

8. Fear of God's punishment.

9. Comfortable with the house, the cooking, the shared errands and responsibilities.

10. Fear of lawyers and judges.

11. Need someone to grow old with and die with.

Come on, there are a ton of reasons.

Trooper York said...

A friend of ours just told us last night that she was getting a divorce. He husband was a stiff but I put up with him for the sake of my wife's friend. They blamed it on his unemotional nature and his different religion and upbringing.

I blame it on the fact that he was a Red Sox fan.

Never trust a Red Sox fan. Especially a Christian Scientist Red Sox fan. He doesn’t believe in doctors but he believes in Manny Ramirez. What a douche

Trooper York said...

Plus she has to get away for a week and we have to pick up her mail and feed her fish. She gets to go to Vegas and I get custody of a fuckin’ goldfish. Where’s the justice in that I ask you?

Kirby Olson said...

I want a narrative arc, too, but I am not a woman.

And am not gay.

So at least one straight man wants a narrative arc.

Geez.

Ann, in the zipless f. situation, doesn't she have a crazy boyfriend in the story? It's been thirty years. Refresh my memory. With one of them she has no responsibilities, and then with her husband, she does. She therefore prefers sex with the man with whom she has no responsibilities. I remember she called him an ass-grabber.

He was a psychiatrist named Adran, or something along those lines, and was constantly drunk with him. Didn't Isadora have convulsive sex with this character?

ricpic said...

It's not sex, but passion for women.

Agreed. A woman enters an affair to be revivified by passion, the passion of love, not for a roll in the hay.

dbp said...

Ann,

I like the list of 11 reasons, I am sure they are all valid to one degree or another. But all the reasons you gave are based on weakness, aren't there any noble reasons for staying toghether?

Pogo said...

"Come on, there are a ton of reasons."
But none that seem to recommend marriage per se, only inertia. How depressing. Seriously.

Althouse's law of marital motion: a body at rest tends to stay at rest, unless acted upon by some outside force - such as a better option just hired at work, especially one that cleans toilets.

Second law of marriage thermodynamics: unlike energy, marital entropy decreases over time because the alternatives are too ugly, difficult, or risky.

Pogo's female uncertainty principle: the more you think you understand women, the smaller is your actual knowledge about them.

ricpic said...

Need someone to grow old with and die with.

Don't we all?

And is that someone just a someone, irredeemably flawed, after the two of you have weathered many a storm (including the storm of each other) together?

Michael_H said...

Trooper said: "Never trust a Red Sox fan. Especially a Christian Scientist Red Sox fan. He doesn’t believe in doctors but he believes in Manny Ramirez. What a douche."

I believe the calculus is
Red Sox Fan + Christian Scientist = Scientologist.

He probably jumps on the couch every time Ramirez whiffs.

Ann Althouse said...

"But all the reasons you gave are based on weakness, aren't there any noble reasons for staying toghether?"

Yes, but the point of my list was to provide an antidote to smugness and pro-marriage propaganda.

"But none that seem to recommend marriage per se, only inertia. How depressing. Seriously."

That wasn't the point of my list. It was to contradict the assertion that it's harder to stay together than to leave. It's hard to leave too. Both can be easy or hard. Don't assume. You assumed, Pogo.


ricpic said..."Need someone to grow old with and die with. Don't we all?"

You will probably die alone, though, especially if you are a woman and will probably outlive your mate if you have one. Frankly, the idea of dying with other people isn't very appealing if you think about the ways that can happen, such as a plane crash.

Laura Reynolds said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pogo said...

Pro-marriage propaganda?
Aside from polygamists and gays, the news seems to be rather relentlessly negative on marriage of late, as in this article.

I haven't run across any straight marriage cheerleaders in a long time. The case for marriage has been a rather slim effort at best. I would have a difficult time articulating any serious reason why marriage should be undertaken at all, given its modification from cradle of civilization to a simple contract permitting a few meager concessions from the state.

Hence its decline in Europe. Aside from women's magazines, is there really much pro-marriage effort in the US?

While there may be less of the "like a fish needs a bicycle" aspect anymore, there's a considerable "whatever" sense about it, I think.

Trooper York said...

I don't care what you say Pogo, I ain't buying that freakin' goldfish a bicylce no matter what.
It's bad enough I have to feed the damn thing. Sheeeesh!

Ann Althouse said...

It seems to me, Pogo, that people who are married are continually representing themselves as superior to singles. Singles almost never give them a taste of their own medicine. We keep quiet, even as we are told we are inferior characters, viewed with pity, etc.

Trooper York said...

The dignity of truth is lost
With much protesting.
(Ben Jonson, Catiline His Conspiracy (1611), Act III, sc. ii

rhhardin said...

We're not looking for an orgasm. We're looking for a narrative arc.

Men aren't after an orgasm either. The orgasm is just the end of what's been tormenting him.

Pogo said...

Trooper,
Goldfish are stupid enough that you can drop a cutout bicycle picture in their tank, and they don't know the difference.

Piranhas can tell, though. Don't screw with that crowd. And only Giant brand bikes. No Schwinns or (*gasp*) used ones. [But lacking opposable thumbs, they have a helluva time changing the chain, you know, if a guy were to loosen it a little, say, before he gave it them. Just what I heard, is all.]

Trooper York said...

Listen my only goal is to keep the little fucker alive for a week. But if not, I will just tell her that he committed suicide because he couldn't stand the breakup. That should cheer her up!

Trooper York said...

Cause you see, her ex and the goldfish basicly have the same personality. So maybe she could mail to him and he might get some ideas.

Plus I set her up with best divorce lawyer in New York City. Nothing is to much to stick it to a Red Sox fan. Hee hee.

Kirby Olson said...

I think that if your partner dies when you're still in love you remain in love with them, even if they have passed on, and you live in the hope of meeting them again in heaven.

Perhaps all true red-blooded Americans don't think like this, but 99% of them do.

So it's not as if you die alone if your spouse dies. It's probably a little loopy, but I think if you're in love with somebody, and it's mutual, you're not alone. Which is why orgasms seem somewht separate from the issue of a certain feeling generated by love: they add to love, no doubt, but they aren't either sufficient in and of themselves, or necessary, esp. to people like nonagenarians (can nonagenarians still have orgasms?).

Love is what's important: the feeling of being cherished.

Trooper York said...

Very nice Kirby. Very nice indeed.

John Stodder said...

I would add a #12 to Ann's list.

12. Fear that no one else will "get" me.

and a provisional #13, which might be covered by #4:

13. Fear that new partners won't know how to get me off like spouse does and/or will think my particular arousal requirements are dumb or icky.

John Stodder said...

I think that if your partner dies when you're still in love you remain in love with them, even if they have passed on, and you live in the hope of meeting them again in heaven.

I lost a wife I loved very much to cancer when I was 43. Now I am married again, to a woman I love very much in a completely different way.

Heaven is going to be complicated.

Pogo said...

Dunno, Trooper, but my Dad used to tell me the dog "ran away" when he couldn't stand the yelping anymore.

It could happen. Struck out on his own,to seek life's piscatorial fortunes.

Or tell it his daughter's getting married in July. Hell, that kept my grandma alive for another year.

"Heaven is going to be complicated."
But not in an awkward way. Fun, like cosmic Twister, with the Beatles blaring in the background.

Maguro said...

It seems to me, Pogo, that people who are married are continually representing themselves as superior to singles.

Interesting observation...can you give an example? Forgive me if you covered this in a previous post.

Revenant said...

Interesting observation...can you give an example?

Well, one obvious one is that while single people are frequently urged to get married, we very seldom recommend to married people that they get divorced. The cultural assumption is that any single person is either unhappy or has something wrong with him (or her).

John Stodder said...

Seems to me that the dominant cultural medium of our lifetimes, TV, portrays marriage in a mostly unflattering light when compared with the life of singles. Singles have a lot of fun and never appear the least bit lonely or out of sorts, except for the occasional "man-hungry" woman. Most marriages are depicted as arrangement that cause one or both spouses to go completely to seed, physically and in some cases mentally. Sometimes the women are depicted as attractive, but only to make the audience why such a hot woman is sticking with that fat boob. Other than the Dick Van Dyke show and Everybody Loves Raymond, I can't think of a sustained happy marriage on TV. Weddings are a big deal on TV, but that's usually near the end of a show's run.

The numbers would suggest the popularity of marriage has been in decline for decades, and the culture is populated much more with depictions of how single life can be great than with positive depictions of marriage.

I'm not judging this trend, I'm just saying I don't see all the pro-marriage slant others see.

vbspurs said...

Plato's Retreat 1970s

WTF. Only frustrated middle-class wannabe swingers went there in the 70s.

Surely Erica Jong had other fish to fry, like say at...Regine's? Remember that "Salon" at the back, in her discos, Miss Bazelon?

Yeah me neither, but dammit, I am still waiting for Liza Minelli's memoirs to spill the beans.

Cheers,
Victoria

Pogo said...

Both marriage and child-rearing are pretty much negatives in TV and movies. Single? Hey, it's all Sex in the City. Married? Dad's a moron, Mom's harried. The kids are brats. Then you get divorced. Families, it seems, make people miserable.

In real life, people do ask about relationships in order to connect. I don't think you can seriously argue that there is anything like the kind of pressure to marry as had existed prior to the 1950s.

Single moms aren't exactly rare for a reason. What social opprobrium is there for them?

George said...

A narrative ark?

Wasn't that what Indiana Jones was after, too?

Ann Althouse said...

Roseanne had a good marriage.

I haven't really watched sitcoms since the 1960s, so I couldn't tell you, but aren't singles usually portrayed as inept, incomplete, undesirable, or something?

I watched Seinfeld. Seems like Seinfeld mocked himself for not being able to get into a relationship. It wasn't presented as a good thing, but something really wrong with him (and his friends were worse).

Revenant said...

Singles have a lot of fun and never appear the least bit lonely or out of sorts, except for the occasional "man-hungry" woman.

The TV "singles" are, with rare exceptions, either in a relationship or desperately looking to be in one. Admittedly I don't watch much TV, but offhand I can't think of even one TV character who is single by choice and portrayed as better off for being so.

vbspurs said...

The TV "singles" are, with rare exceptions, either in a relationship or desperately looking to be in one. Admittedly I don't watch much TV, but offhand I can't think of even one TV character who is single by choice and portrayed as better off for being so.

Mary Tyler Moore came closest.

Ironically, though Sex and the City (hey Titus!) sought to portray independent women without need of men to fulfill them...that's all they ever spoke about. Men. How to get them, how to keep them, how to find them.

What a crock.

I never watched Roseanne, or know much about TV shows, but singles are usually single and leading far more funny or fabulous lives than anyone else -- even if they are klutzy or inept.

Cheers,
Vicoria

Revenant said...

Roseanne had a good marriage.

There are also Turk and Carla on "Scrubs", and Lily and Marshall on "How I Met Your Mother".

Chad said...

Note that the author of the piece cited by Ann is not Emily Bazelon. It appears that Timothy Noah wrote the essay, and Bazelon posted it to Slate's "XX Factor" blog on his behalf.

former law student said...

It seems to me that people who are married are continually representing themselves as superior to singles. Singles almost never give them a taste of their own medicine. We keep quiet, even as we are told we are inferior characters, viewed with pity, etc.

If you prefer being single so be it. Women I think are better at assembling a network of friends to provide mutual support. Guys are more apt to become more and more isolated. Old single (never married) guys are the weirdest, in my experience.

johngalt47 said...

I think Ann is close to the target when she said it's the narrative.

I've been married, monogamously (should I say "As far as I know" pace Hillary), for 41 years. About 15 years ago my wife's sister divorced and started dating. All of a sudden, my wife was talking about what it must be like to fall in love at our age and how things are different than the 60's.

For the only time in our marriage, I started paying attention to where she said she was going and how long she would be gone. If she went shopping in the evening, I was interested in what she bought when she came in.

After my sister-in-law went through a couple of boyfirends, things settled down and there were fewer comments about falling in love. But I had seen the wanderlust in her eyes. Perhaps it woke me up also.

Ann Althouse said...

Chad said..."Note that the author of the piece cited by Ann is not Emily Bazelon. It appears that Timothy Noah wrote the essay, and Bazelon posted it to Slate's "XX Factor" blog on his behalf."

Wow! Her name is at the bottom, the author's signature. The whole thing is written by someone else? That's a completely unacceptable format. I'm incredibly pissed about it. I thought there was just something of Noah's quoted at the top. The whole thing is Noah? Ugh! I feel completely misled. So if a correction is needed, the correction is right here in this comment. Let's see if people can find it. Damn.

knoxwhirled said...

The cultural assumption is that any single person is either unhappy or has something wrong with him (or her).

Well, I could be totally wrong... but isn't it pretty unusual to find women who are happy being single... at least, once they hit 30-ish? I was specifically going to bring up "Sex and the City" and then I saw V. already did. That show was supposed to totally glorify the single life: career, dating, casual sex, independence... and still ended up having the classic fairy tale ending, with all 4 characters "settling down" with her dream man in one way or another.

The reality is--it seems to me-- it's what the vast majority of women want, and probably as a result, single women are assumed to be lonely and unfulfilled.

As for men, I don't think it's nearly as common for "single" to be used in the perjorative sense, but I could be wrong.