Infidelity brings about serious consequences for both sexes. Men risk contracting diseases, and gaining a reputation of a philanderer, not to mention bodily harm if the lover’s permanent partner discovers the affair. Moreover, casual sexual contacts consume time, energy, and financial resources. They also carry the risk of ending the current relationship if disloyalty is revealed. The men, therefore, risk a great deal—although women risk much more. A woman involved in an affair, apart from the possible threats to her health, is labeled a “slut”, Even in modern, liberal society such a labelling is much more unfavorable to a woman than to a man. Furthermore, a woman deprived of physical protection by a long-term partner is subject to aggression and attacks by other men. Casual sexual contacts may also result in the breakdown of the current relationship as well as an unwanted pregnancy (Buss, 2000a, 2000b, pp. 111–14). In general, from the gender perspective, the status of men and women in the context of infidelity is different, women being in a decidedly less advantageous position.
Regardless of whether infidelity is analyzed from the standpoint of biology or culture, in the eyes of the society the party guilty of unfaithfulness will always be the woman who cannot remain faithful and seduces married men. As Richard Dawkins points out, much depends on the behavior adopted by the majority of females: “If there are loose females in the population, prepared to welcome males who have deserted their wives, then it could pay a male to desert his wife, no matter how much he has already invested in her children (Dawkins, 1989, p. 191). Margaret Mead’s anthropological research on love and sexual needs among the tribes of New Guinea, in turn, indicates that casual sexual intercourse among the Arapesh is termed as “seduction”, thus as men wander around the country, crossing paths with strange women, they are the ones who tend to be seduced (Mead, 1986, p. 113).
In case of infidelity, the man is therefore only the side who has accepted an offer put forward by the woman. What is more, men enjoy greater freedom in terms of satisfying their sexual needs outside of marriage, which is undoubtedly connected with the higher social status they have held over the centuries. Double social standards go back as far as biblical times. As reported by Frances Cohen Praver, “King Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines. In sharp contrast, if a woman strayed, she was stoned to death” (Praver, 2007, pp. 46–47). The depiction of a woman as a loose being, unable to control her own passions has been both perpetuated and condemned over centuries. “In ancient Assyria, adulterous wives had their noses cut off or were killed at the behest of their husbands” (Praver, 2007, pp. 46–47). A portrayal of women as “sexually voracious temptresses of righteous men” (Praver, 2007, pp. 46–47), has been strengthened by the church of first Christians: just as Eve tempted Adam, so does the woman tempt the man. The Victorian era, which pushed women’s sexual needs into the sphere of mental illness, wreaked even greater havoc on male–female sexual relations. Such attitude led to a situation when women became apathetic and passive, their sexual activities restricted to the procreative function. Yet again, these limitations applied only to women. Indeed, sex in the Victorian era was considered a repugnant act. It is worth noting, however, that the abhorrence applied only to marital sex. While women’s sexual needs were marginalized, the society gave men the license to yield to their instincts without restraint (Fisher, 1994; Praver, 2007; Szlendak, 2011b; Foucault, 2010).
The twentieth century liberated women from the tight corsets of sexual restrictions, although patriarchal social structures have always put men in a privileged position. In Western societies, culture—especially double standards and false ideals—have had a great influence on individual sexuality, labeling men as active and women as passive. In the circle of Euro-American culture, women are considered emotional, affectionate and caring, while carnal passion tends to be attributed to men (Seidman, 2012, p. 160).
According to sociobiologists, the justification for double moral standards lies in the “fear of not being a father” A woman who gives birth to a child is always its mother, while her partner is never sure of his paternity. “[T]he male cannot always be completely sure that his mate’s eggs have been fertilized by his own sperm” (Wilson, 2000, p. 182)—which is meant to explain the husband’s obligation to see to his wife’s marital faithfulness. The fear of not being the father is so strong that the male reacts with “brutal forms of aggression” (Wilson, 2000, p. 184) to the actual or potential unfaithfulness of the wife/partner. As reported by David Buss (2014, p. 114), a large share of murders in all cultures is committed by jealous husbands.
In the context of “still” persisting double moral standards, it is not surprising that women tend to hide their acts of infidelity while men are boastful about the matter (CBOS, 2011a). Women, like their prehistoric grandmothers, do not flaunt their romances for practical reasons. First of all, infidelity performs for them an adaptive function: “As long as prehistoric females were secretive about their extramarital affairs, they could garner extra resources, life insurance, better genes, and more varied DNA” (Fisher 1994, p. 101). Secondly, female infidelity is culturally and socially considered a negative phenomenon. Moving on to a more modern ground: “When an office affair comes to light in the atmosphere of a scandal, it is the woman’s reputation which suffers the most.” (Guiliano, 2014, p. 202).
The assumption that it is in the woman’s monogamous nature to have children while the man’s nature strives for new sensations and experiences forms the basis of belief s regarding dissimilar nature of female and male sexuality (Duch-Krzysztoszek, 1998, pp. 134–135). Richard Dawkins argues that “males should tend to be more promiscuous than females. Since a female produces a limited number of eggs at a relatively slow rate, she has little to gain from having a large number of copulations with different males. A male on the other hand, who can produce millions of sperms every day, has everything to gain from as many promiscuous matings as he can snatch” (Dawkins, 1989, p. 203) For that reason, men are inclined to more licentious sexual behavior than women, who in turn attach greater importance to survival strategies and childrearing—and this tendency is further boosted by cultural factors.