Upset Over Sexual versus Emotional Infidelity Among Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Heterosexual Adults

Abstract

One hypothesis derived from evolutionary perspectives is that men are more upset than women by sexual infidelity and women are more upset than men by emotional infidelity. The proposed explanation is that men, in contrast to women, face the risk of unwittingly investing in genetically unrelated offspring. Most studies, however, have relied on small college or community samples of heterosexual participants. We examined upset over sexual versus emotional jealousy among 63,894 gay, lesbian, bisexual, and heterosexual participants. Participants imagined which 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 this evolutionary perspective, heterosexual men were more likely than heterosexual women to be upset by sexual infidelity (54 vs. 35 %) and less likely than heterosexual women to be upset by emotional infidelity (46 vs. 65 %). This gender difference emerged across age groups, income levels, history of being cheated on, history of being unfaithful, relationship type, and length. The gender difference, however, was limited to heterosexual participants. Bisexual men and women did not differ significantly from each other in upset over sexual infidelity (30 vs. 27 %), regardless of whether they were currently dating a man (35 vs. 29 %) or woman (28 vs. 20 %). Gay men and lesbian women also did not differ (32 vs. 34 %). The findings present strong evidence that a gender difference exists in a broad sample of U.S. adults, but only among heterosexuals.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5

References

  1. Anderson, K. G. (2006). How well does paternity confidence match actual paternity? Current Anthropology, 47, 513–520.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Andersson, M. (1994). Sexual selection. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Barrett, H. C., Frederick, D. A., Haselton, M. G., & Kurzban, R. (2006). Can manipulations of cognitive load be used to test evolutionary hypotheses? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 91, 513–518.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Betzig, L. (1989). Causes of conjugal dissolution: A cross cultural study. Current Anthropology, 30, 654–676.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Bevan, J. L., & Lannutti, P. J. (2002). The experience and expression of romantic jealousy in same-sex and opposite-sex romantic relationships. Communication Research Reports, 19, 258–268.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Boyd, R. T., & Richerson, P. (2005). The origin and evolution of cultures. New York: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Buller, D. J. (2005). Evolutionary psychology: The emperor’s new paradigm. Trends in Cognitive Science, 9, 277–283.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Buss, D. M., & Haselton, M. (2005). The evolution of jealousy. Trends in Cognitive Science, 9, 506–507.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Buss, D. M., Larsen, R. J., & Westen, D. (1996). Sex differences in jealousy: Not gone, not forgotten, and not explained by alternative hypotheses. Psychological Science, 7, 373–375.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Buss, D. M., Larsen, R. J., Westen, D., & Semmelroth, J. (1992). Sex differences in jealousy: Evolution, physiology, and psychology. Psychological Science, 3, 251–255.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Buss, D. M., Shackelford, T. K., Kirkpatrick, L. A., Choe, J. C., Lim, H. K., Hasegawa, M., et al. (1999). Jealousy and the nature of beliefs about infidelity: Tests of competing hypotheses about sex differences in the United States, Korea, and Japan. Personal Relationships, 6, 125–150.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Carpenter, C. J. (2012). Meta-analyses of sex differences in responses to sexual versus emotional infidelity: Men and women are more similar than different. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 36, 25–37.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. DeSteno, D. (2010). Mismeasuring jealousy: A cautionary comment on Levy and Kelley. Psychological Science, 21, 1355–1356.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  14. DeSteno, D., Bartlett, M. Y., Braverman, J., & Salovey, P. (2002). Sex differences in jealousy: Evolutionary mechanism or artifact of measurement? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83, 1103–1116.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  15. DeSteno, D., Bartlett, M. Y., Salovey, P., et al. (2006). Constraining accommodative homunculi in evolutionary explorations of jealousy: A reply to Barrett et al. (2006). Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 91, 519–523.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  16. DeSteno, D. A., & Salovey, P. (1996). Evolutionary origins of sex differences in jealousy? Questioning the “fitness” of the model. Psychological Science, 7, 367–372.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Dijkstra, P., Groothof, H. A. K., Poel, G. A., Laverman, T. T. G., Schrier, M., & Buunk, B. P. (2001). Sex differences in the events that elicit jealousy among homosexuals. Personal Relationships, 8, 41–54.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Dufour, D. L., & Sauther, M. L. (2002). Comparative and evolutionary dimensions of the energetics of human pregnancy and lactation. American Journal of Human Biology, 14, 584–602.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Edlund, J. E. (2011). Jealousy reconsidered: A reply to DeSteno (2010). Evolutionary Psychology, 9, 116–117.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Frederick, D. A., Forbes, G. B., Grigorian, K. E., & Jarcho, J. M. (2007a). The UCLA Body Project I: Gender and ethnic differences in self-objectification and body satisfaction among 2,206 undergraduates. Sex Roles, 57, 317–327.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Frederick, D. A., & Haselton, M. G. (2007). Why is muscularity sexy? Tests of the fitness indicator hypothesis. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 33, 1167–1183.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Frederick, D. A., Lever, J., & Peplau, L. A. (2007b). Interest in cosmetic surgery and body image: Views of men and women across the lifespan. Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, 120, 1407–1415.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Frederick, D. A., Peplau, L. A., & Lever, J. (2006). The swimsuit issue: Correlates of body image in a sample of 52,677 heterosexual adults. Body Image, 4, 413–419.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Frederick, D. A., Peplau, L. A., & Lever, J. (2008). The Barbie mystique: Satisfaction with breast size and shape across the lifespan. International Journal of Sexual Health, 20, 200–211.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Frederick, D. A., Reynolds, T. A., & Fisher, M. L. (2013). The importance of female choice: Evolutionary perspectives on constraints, expressions, and variations in female mating strategies. In R. Chang, M. Fisher, & J. Garcia (Eds.), Evolution’s empress: Darwinian perspectives on the nature of women (pp. 304–329). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  26. Gallup, G. G., & Frederick, D. A. (2010). The science of sex appeal: An evolutionary perspective. Review of General Psychology, 14, 240–250.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Galperin, A., Haselton, M. G., Frederick, D. A., Poore, J., von Hippel, W., Buss, D. M., et al. (2013). Sexual regret: Evidence for evolved sex differences. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 42, 1145–1161.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Gangestad, S. W., & Simpson, J. A. (2000). The evolution of human mating: Trade-offs and strategic pluralism. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 23, 573–644.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Gillespie, B. J., Lever, J., Frederick, D. A., & Royce, T. (2014). Close adult friendships, gender, and the life cycle. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. doi:10.1177/0265407514546977.

    Google Scholar 

  30. Gosling, S. D., Vazire, S., Srivastava, S., & John, O. P. (2004). Should we trust web based studies? A comparative analysis of sex preconceptions about internet questionnaires. American Psychologist, 59, 93–104.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Gray, P. B., & Frederick, D. A. (2012). Body image and body type preferences in St. Kitts, Caribbean: A cross-cultural comparison with U.S. samples regarding attitudes towards muscularity, body fat, and breast size. Evolutionary Psychology, 10, 631–655.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  32. Green, M. C., & Sabini, J. (2006). Gender, socioeconomic status, age, and jealousy: Emotional responses to infidelity in a national sample. Emotion, 6, 330–334.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Hanson Sobraske, K. N., Gaulin, S. J. C., & Boster, J. S. (2014). Functional variation in sensitivity to cues that a partner is cheating with a rival. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 43, 1267–1279.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Harris, C. R. (2002). Sexual and romantic jealousy in heterosexual and homonsexual adults. Psychological Science, 13, 7–12.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Harris, C. R. (2003). Sex differences in sexual jealousy, including self-report data, psychophysiological data, interpersonal violence, and morbid jealousy. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 7, 102–128.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Harris, C. R., & Darby, R. S. (2010). Jealousy in adulthood. In S. Hart & M. Legerstee (Eds.), Handbook of jealousy: Theory, research, and multidisciplinary approaches (pp. 547–571). West Sussex, UK: Wiley.

    Google Scholar 

  37. Hrdy, S. B. (2008). Cooperative breeding and the paradox of facultative fathering. In R. Bridges (Ed.), The neurobiology of the parental brain (pp. 407–416). New York: Academic Press.

    Google Scholar 

  38. Hurtado, A. M., Hill, K., Kaplan, H., & Hurtado, I. (1992). Tradeoffs between female food acquisition and child care among Hiwi and Ache forages. Human Nature, 3, 185–216.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Kaplan, H. S., & Gangestad, S. W. (2005). Life history theory and evolutionary psychology. In D. M. Buss (Ed.), The handbook of evolutionary psychology (pp. 68–95). New York: Wiley.

    Google Scholar 

  40. Kaplan, H. S., Hill, K. R., Hurtado, A. M., & Lancaster, J. B. (2001). The embodied capital theory of human evolution. In P. T. Ellison (Ed.), Reproductive ecology and human evolution (pp. 293–318). Hawthorne, NY: Aldine de Gruyter.

    Google Scholar 

  41. Lancaster, J. B., Kaplan, H., Hill, K., & Hurtado, A. M. (2000). The evolution of life history, intelligence and diet among chimpanzees and human foragers. In F. Tonneau & N. S. Thompson (Eds.), Perspective in ethology: Evolution, culture, and behavior (pp. 47–72). New York: Plenum Press.

    Google Scholar 

  42. LaSala, M. C. (2004). Monogamy of the heart: Extradyadic sex and gay male couples. Journal of Gay & Lesbian Social Services, 17, 1–24.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Lever, J., Frederick, D. A., Laird, K., & Sadeghi-Azar, L. (2007). Tall women’s satisfaction with their height: General population data challenge assumptions behind medical interventions to stunt girls’ growth. Journal of Adolescent Health, 40, 192–194.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Lever, J., Frederick, D. A., & Peplau, L. A. (2006). Does size matter? Men’s and women’s views on penis size across the lifespan. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 7, 129–143.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. Mace, R. (2000). Evolutionary ecology of human life history. Animal Behaviour, 59, 1–10.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  46. Marlowe, F. (2003). A critical period for provisioning by Hadza men: Implications for pair bonding. Evolution and Human Behavior, 24, 217–229.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  47. McAnulty, R. D., & Brineman, J. M. (2007). Infidelity in dating relationships. Annual Review of Sex Research, 18, 94–114.

    Google Scholar 

  48. NBC News. (2012). Media Kit. NBCNews.com. Retrieved from http://www.nbcnews.com/id/31066137/. Accessed 24 March 2013.

  49. Neel, J. V., & Weiss, K. M. (1975). The genetic structure of a tribal population, the Yanomama Indians. XII. Biodemographic studies. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 42, 25–51.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  50. Peplau, L. A., Frederick, D. A., Yee, C., Maisel, N., Lever, J., & Ghavami, N. (2009). Body image satisfaction in heterosexual, gay, and lesbian adults. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 38, 713–725.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  51. Sagarin, B. J., Becker, D. V., Guadagno, R. E., Nicastle, L. D., & Millevoi, A. (2003). Sex differences (and similarities) in jealousy: The moderating influence of infidelity experience and sexual orientation of the infidelity. Evolution and Human Behavior, 24, 17–23.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  52. Sagarin, B. J., Martin, A. L., Coutinho, S. A., Edlund, J. E., Patel, L., Skowronski, J. J., et al. (2012). Sex differences in jealousy: A meta-analytic examination. Evolution and Human Behavior, 33, 595–614.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  53. Scelza, B. A. (2011). Female choice and extra-pair paternity in a traditional human population. Biology Letters, 7, 889–891.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  54. Scelza, B. A. (2014). Jealousy in a small-scale, natural fertility populations: The roles of paternity, investment and love in jealous response. Evolution and Human Behavior, 35, 103–108.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  55. Sear, R., & Mace, R. (2008). Who keeps children alive? A review of the effects of kin on child survival. Evolution and Human Behavior, 29, 1–18.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  56. Shackelford, T. K., Voracek, M., Schmitt, D. P., Buss, D. M., Weekes-Shackelford, V. A., & Michalski, R. L. (2004). Romantic jealousy in early adulthood and in later life. Human Nature, 15, 283–300.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  57. Shenk, M. K., & Scelza, B. A. (2012). Paternal investment and status-related child outcomes: Timing of a father’s death affects offspring success. Journal of Biosocial Science, 44, 549–569.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  58. Smith, E. A., Mulder, M. B., & Hill, K. (2001). Controversies in the evolutionary social sciences: A guide for the perplexed. Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 16, 128–135.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  59. Snyder, J. K., Fessler, D. M. T., Tiokhin, L., Frederick, D. A., Lee, S. W., & Navarette, C. D. (2011). Trade-offs in a dangerous world: Women’s fear of crime predicts preferences for aggressive and formidable mates. Evolution and Human Behavior, 32, 127–137.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  60. Swami, V., Frederick, D. A., Aavik, T., Alcalay, L., Allik, J., Anderson, D., et al. (2010). The attractive female body weight and female body dissatisfaction in 26 countries across 10 world regions: Results of the International Body Project I. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 36, 309–325.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  61. Tafoya, M. A., & Spitzberg, B. H. (2007). The dark side of infidelity: Its nature, prevalence, and communicative functions. In B. H. Spitzberg & W. R. Cupach (Eds.), The dark side of interpersonal communication (2nd ed., pp. 201–242). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

    Google Scholar 

  62. Tagler, M. J. (2010). Sex differences in jealousy: Comparing the influence of previous infidelity among college students and adults. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 1, 353–360.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  63. Treger, S., & Sprecher, S. (2010). The influences of sociosexuality and attachment style on reactions to emotional versus sexual infidelity. Journal of Sex Research, 48, 413–422.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  64. Voracek, M., Fisher, M., & Shackelford, T. K. (2009). Sex differences in subjective estimates of non-paternity rates in Austria. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 38, 652–656.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  65. Walker, R. S., Flinn, M. V., & Hill, K. (2010). Evolutionary history of partible paternity in lowland South America. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 107, 19195–19200.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  66. Winterhalder, B., & Smith, E. A. (2000). Analyzing adaptive strategies: Human behavioral ecology at twenty-five. Evolutionary Anthropology Issues News and Reviews, 9, 51–72.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  67. Zengel, B., Edlund, J. E., & Sagarin, B. J. (2012). Sex differences in jealousy in response to infidelity: Evaluation of demographic moderators in a national random sample. Personality and Individual Differences, 54, 47–51.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgments

We would like to thank MSNBC.com and iVillage.com for access to the dataset for the Love, Lust, and Loyalty Survey. Both authors contributed equally to the preparation of this article. The order of authorship was determined by a flip of the coin.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to David A. Frederick.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Frederick, D.A., Fales, M.R. Upset Over Sexual versus Emotional Infidelity Among Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Heterosexual Adults. Arch Sex Behav 45, 175–191 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-014-0409-9

Download citation

Keywords

  • Jealousy
  • Infidelity
  • Gender differences
  • Evolutionary psychology
  • Sexual orientation