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Marriage

Sexual vs. Emotional Infidelity: How Men & Women Differ

In the largest study to date on infidelity, Chapman University in Orange, California has learned that men and women are different when it comes to feeling jealous. A release from the university reports that with a survey of 63,894 participants ages 18 to 65 years provided the first large-scale examination of gender and sexual orientation differences in response to potential sexual versus emotional infidelity in U.S. adults. The paper was published in January 2015 in the journal, Archives of Sexual Behavior.

According to the findings, heterosexual men were more likely than heterosexual women to be most upset by sexual infidelity (54 percent of men vs. 35 percent of women) and less likely than heterosexual women to be most upset by emotional infidelity (46 percent of men vs. 65 percent of women).

Participants imagined what would upset them more: their partners having sex with someone else (but not falling in love with them) or their partners falling in love with someone else (but not having sex with them). Consistent with the evolutionary perspective, heterosexual men were more likely than heterosexual women to be upset by sexual infidelity and less likely than heterosexual women to be upset by emotional infidelity. Bisexual men and women did not differ significantly. Gay men and lesbian women also did not differ.

The release quotes lead author David Frederick, Ph.D. as saying, “Heterosexual men really stand out from all other groups: they were the only ones who were much more likely to be most upset by sexual infidelity rather than emotional infidelity. The attitudes of gay, lesbian, and bisexual men and women have been historically understudied and under theorized in psychology, particularly in regards to tests of evolutionary perspectives.”

Sexual and emotional infidelity can cause harm to both men and women, including leading to broken hearts and relationships coming to an abrupt and painful end as well as abandonment, partner violence, and loss of resources when these resources are invested into affair partners.

“The responses of men and women to the threat of infidelity range from intense pangs of jealousy to elaborate displays of attention to woo their partner back. Jealousy can also trigger harmful and violent behavior, so it is important to understand what are the most potent triggers of jealousy,” said Dr. Frederick.

The evolutionary perspective notes that men face a problem that women never face: paternal uncertainty. They never know if their child is genetically related to them. There is always a chance the child could have been fathered by another man. In contrast, women never face the problem of maternal uncertainty. Thus, while it is expected that both men and women experience sexual jealousy, men may exhibit particularly heightened responses compared with women. Further, while women do not face maternal uncertainty, they risk the potential loss of resources and commitment from partners if they channel their investment to another mate.

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