Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Infidelity in Relation to Sex and Gender: The Perspective of Sociobiology Versus the Perspective of Sociology of Emotions

Infidelity in Relation to Sex and Gender: The Perspective of Sociobiology Versus the Perspective of Sociology of Emotions. Joanna Wróblewska-Skrzek. Sexuality & Culture, Apr 7 2021.

Abstract: It is not the main intention of this paper to prove that people are unfaithful, neither does it present the scale of the phenomenon, as it is hard, for objective reasons, to obtain reliable data on the subject. The text analyses the motives for, and consequences of infidelity from two different perspectives: sociobiology and the sociology of emotions, while gender constitutes the axis of analysis. Regardless of whether we will explain infidelity as motivated by human nature, drives, desires and genes, or treat it as a social construct, the argumentation for infidelity remains different for men and for women. What is more, both subdisciplines bring into light different consequences of infidelity for representatives of either sex.

Cultural Correlates of Infidelity

Ulrick Beck and Elisabeth Beck-Gernsheim, having analyzed different types of sexual behaviors among men and women, propose a solution which centers around the cultural differences regarding sexuality and love. In their opinion, the development of a relationship between two sexes, starting with the first meeting and finishing with the sexual intercourse, proceeds according to an invisible protocol, socially pre-defined, of which the individual is usually completely unaware (Beck & Beck-Gernsheim, 2013, p. 87). Not biology, but culture and the process of socialization, especially socialization towards gender roles, plays a decisive role in this process.

Biological explanations of human sexual drives are discarded with the concept of social scripting developed by Edwarda Otto Laumanna and Johna Henry Gagnona. The idea is based on the assumptions that: (1) patterns of sexual behaviors are shaped culturally and locally, which means that the designates of the word “sex” [i.e. sexual intercourse] can vary extremely across cultures; (2) throughout their lives individuals accumulate social scripts of sexual behavior, including those considered deviant in their culture, by means of primary and secondary socialization, e.g. through media; (3) individuals are only “mirrors reflecting social patterns of sexual behaviors, although they can modify them, adapting social patterns individually” (Szlendak, 2011a, p. 219).

It seems justified to analyze the motives behind infidelity, as well as the social functioning of men and women in the context of infidelity, from the perspective of gender. The concept of socio-cultural gender, as noted by Anna Titkow, reveals the meaning and spectrum of differences between women and men, which constitute their status and the rules defining the relationships among them in a given culture. It allows for a closer look at their “struggle” and the cognitive dissonances which they have to deal with (Titkow, 2011, p. 32). From this point of view, if one wants to address the question of the motives behind infidelity in a given society, they should trace the cultural determinants of femininity and masculinity, the social attitudes towards sexuality, as well as the entire set of relationships between the private life and the social structure (Szlendak, 2002, p. 140).

Why are we unfaithful? Of course, we can agree with the common stereotype stating that “men want only sex, while women want love.” Still, one might ask if it is actually true and whether it entails that women do not want sex. Nowadays, both women and men seek sexual pleasure to the same extent, as they perceive it as a basic component of their lives and relationships (Giddens, 2007, p. 85). When a relationship does not provide satisfaction in this regard, sexual needs will be fulfilled outside of it. The need for sexual fulfillment and pleasure is becoming increasingly important in the context of building a reflexive project of self. Sex bears, for men and women alike, a great promise of intimacy, something which—as Anthony Giddens puts it—touches upon the crucial aspect of the “self”. Nevertheless, considering their different starting points, implications of that fact are different for either sex (Giddens, 2007, p. 98–99). That is why in the case of adultery men and women will act—to quote Arlie Hochschils—in accordance with “gender strategies” (Turner & Stes, 2009, p. 57), so as to alleviate negative emotions triggered by the former. All of that for the sake of exciting experiences.

In consequence, engagement in any kind of sexual activity nowadays is related to the individual pursuit of pleasure. The fact that women and men in the modern world engage in “family oriented” activities originates from their egocentric and hedonistic impulses. According to Tomasz Szlendak, the contemporary times are governed by “the logic of individual autonomy” (Szlendak, 2011a, p. 226). As a result, if we are not able to fulfill our erotic and emotional needs within the family, we get involved in affairs. Men betray more often because they are licensed to do so by the pervasive male supremacy. Male infidelity is socially acceptable. Women betray their partners equally often, although they do not admit it—this results from the social expectations.

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