Individual and Societal Response to Sexual Betrayal: A View from around the World

By Jankowiak, William; Hardgrave, M. Diane | Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality, Annual 2007 | Go to article overview

Individual and Societal Response to Sexual Betrayal: A View from around the World


Jankowiak, William, Hardgrave, M. Diane, Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality


Introduction (1)

A prevalent assumption among social scientists is that extramarital affairs are tolerated more for men than they are for women. This research asserts that men are the beneficiaries of a set of social practices that ensure and validate men's perception of women as their sexual property (Bourdieu 2001; Collins 1975; Freeman 1990; Harris 1993; MacKinnon 1988; Leacock 1993; Ressner 1986; Rosaldo and Lamphere 1974). To strengthen this perception, men have developed numerous institutions to control women's behavior (Goldberg 1976, Smuts 1992).

Concurring with the patriarchal explanation, Pierre Bourdieu (2001) argues that sexual jealousy and the corresponding "mate guarding" impulses are learned responses and, hence, differences in women's reactions to infidelity reflect differences in intensity to which a patriarchal ethos is internalized within a culture. From this perspective, it follows that men, especially in patriarchal societies, should be vigilant in mate guarding efforts; whereas women, due, in large part, to the internalization of the culturally sanctioned double standard ideal, would be relatively indifferent to a spouse's infidelity.

In contrast, the male sexual jealousy hypothesis is rooted in evolutionary theory and posits a bio-psychological explanation for the origins of the male's sense of ownership and the woman's greater flexibility in her response to infidelity (Betzig 1989; Broude 1980). From this perspective, men and women have different reproductive interests and, therefore, different motives for not only entering into an affair but also how they respond to sexual betrayal. Men, presumably due to concerns with paternal certainty (Daly and Wilson 1983), tend to react to real and imagined acts of infidelity more quickly, and with violence. On the other hand, it is asserted that women will assess the relative impact that an affair may have on the stability of their marriage and the family (Buss 1999; Buunk et al 1996; Daly and Wilson 1983; Pietrzak 2002; Symons 1979). In this analysis, men and women should be equally vigilant, albeit often using different criteria to determine the severity of the threat, in monitoring their mate's extra-marital sexual inclinations and actions. Like the patriarchal model, the sex linked sexual jealousy hypothesis assumes that sexual propriety, at least as it is manifested in the interpersonal domain, is more of a male concern or impulse. What separates the sexes, therefore, is not the presumption of ownership but instead the sex differences in "the emotional weighing of the aspects of infidelity" (Buss et al 1999:126). Women are more troubled by issues of emotional/financial betrayal; whereas men are more troubled by sexual betrayal (Buss 1992; Daly and Wilson 1983; Symons 1979). Both the patriarchal and evolutionary models concur that social and personal contexts should influence a woman's response to infidelity, whereas a man's response should remain more or less the same. From this, it follows that women, in some societies, should be relatively indifferent to their mate having sexual intercourse outside of the marriage or relationship.

In contrast, the pair bond hypothesis emphasizes the centrality of the dyadic or couple bond. It does not assume that sexual propriety is an exclusive male concern. Rather the hypothesis asserts that mate guarding is a proclivity common to both sexes, who are often intensely involved in efforts to regulate and/or undermine their mate's sexual behavior. Spousal exchange arrangements are not the exception as they are organized around the belief that each spouse can exercise unstated "control" of the other's sexual actions. A spouse's ability to enter into an extramarital sexual encounter(s) is often contingent upon accepting this tacit political fact.

A pair bond may be based on a straightforward exchange of the sexual division of labor, or anchored in an implicit, albeit often unspoken, idealization that promotes responsibility, intimacy, and a sense of mutual belonging (de Munk and Korotoyev 2000; Jankowiak and Fisher 1992; Jankowiak 1995; Schelgel, n. …

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