Wise Guys: Are Men Hardwired to Cheat?

cheating_adultery_legosphoto by pasukaru76

Advice from three of our guy friends. This week we ask, “Are men hardwired to cheat? More than women?

Straight Married Guy (Ben): When it comes to sex, sexuality and attraction, men ARE hardwired for many things. We are hardwired to notice — men, women, whatever your sexual preference. We are hardwired to assess — breasts, ass, legs, face. We notice and then assess. Attractive? How so? What about these breasts is hot? What about those legs? How does the whole package work together? Men are also hardwired for sex — sex with a partner(s), sex with strangers, sex alone — and often times these three hardwires get crossed and that’s where fantasies can come from. Or random pick-ups. Men are NOT, however, hardwired to cheat. Cheating = lying and deceit and no one is hardwired for that. Except for maybe pathological liars, but that’s a mental illness.

Gay Committed Guy (Mark): I don’t think we’re hardwired for the kind of monogamy the question implies. There are too many places to look for answers — seahorses? Mormons? — but jokes are useful places:

Q: What does a lesbian bring on a second date?
A: A U-Haul.

Q: What does a gay guy bring on a second date?
A: Second date?

Straight Single Guy (Max): Hardwired? Certainly not. Why, there have been at least a couple of priests that made it through their entire lives without sex and I would say that that’s being faithful. As for the rest of us, I’d say that there’s a fairly good chance that at some point, in one relationship or another, we guys will cheat on a significant other. But I must wonder: do women understand what it’s like to have this many hormones? Men have occasionally been mistaken for rational beings — but I assure you, we are not. Instead, we should be regarded as slick animals. We know a lot of tricks and we can sing such pretty songs… but monogamy? Don’t get your hopes up. Not for this beast, at least. This is not to say that all men will cheat, and this is certainly not to say that all men are more likely to cheat than all women (because there are some scary female egos out there too). But again, men are animals. We will sometimes give in to our most basic (and baser) instincts. Sad but true.

Our “wise guys” are a rotating group of contributors, some of whom wish to remain anonymous and some of whom like the attention. This week’s Straight Married Guy is Ben, a writer and artist living in Los Angeles who runs AdultParlorGames.com. Our Committed Gay Guy, Mark, is a writer and teacher in NYC and our Single Straight Guy, Max, is a recent college grad in New England — both asked us to file them under “shy.” To ask the guys your own question, click here.


  1. Wow. Some comments are quite sensible, while others appear to come from needing to put concepts in neat boxes so they are easier to deal with.

    Thank you, Dannie (and Frank and figleaf), for bringing historical context into this. Some pop-scientists forget that evolution is something that happens over time! I was watching sex specials on both Discovery and History. The former had some interesting studies, but drew ridiculous conclusions from them which weren’t borne out by the data–usually drawn from unexamined notions held by the scientists. The History channel’s show was fascinating, showing how attitudes about sexuality and attraction, etc. have changed remarkably over the years. We can blame the Victorian era for all the sexual repression in the West, and let the Puritans off the hook, for now. (I have yet to ready “Wordy Shipmates”! 🙂 )

    And none of those who point to other animals’ dynamics and look to make connections between them and humans have addressed the fact that there are people who do not want kids.

    Both genes and human social patterns are dynamic and heavily influence each other. After understanding this, we’ll have much more fruitful conversations about such things.

    I swear I’m much kinder in person! 😉

  2. I enjoyed the comment from the single guy: “Do women understand what it’s like to have this many hormones?” — HA HA HA HA HA HA!!!

    I agree with Iris above. Men are not more genetically inclined to misbehave or perform any other activity more than women (or vice versa), but can always use social beliefs or cliches as an excuse to do so.

  3. Are men and women hard-wired to lie? Throughout the ages, some humans have lied. We are often tempted to lie. A human who has never lied is even rarer than one who has never cheated. Yet we would not say that humans are hard-wired to lie.

    I’m not sure why you asked guys if they’re hard-wired to misbehave. Why would they know? I think the myth that guys are made to be less faithful is used as an excuse for bad behavior. From a survival of the fittest point of view, individual females often benefit from cheating.

    Humans are hard-wired to use their brains. It is our nature to make moral judgments and control our behavior. Lust is also part of our nature, but so is love and a desire for a faithful partner who doesn’t leave us. You’re not hard-wired to cheat any more than you’re hard-wired to murder, lie, and steal.

  4. No one has as yet defined what is meant by “cheat”. If it means to have sex with someone other than your current partner, then most men are tempted to cheat. That’s the truth ladies. Why? Men are socially and genetically conditioned to be “hunters.” There is thrill in the hunt. Now given enough time, ALL men WILL cheat. Why? You’re not going hunt something and not eat it if you catch it … unless you’re just playing with it!

    But if you define cheating as having an emotional connection to the kill. Far from it. It’s just food. So then, the “good” news is that while most men are very likely to physically cheat, it doesn’t mean that they emotionally cheat.

    Do a survey. Ask 1000 men, “if your current partner permits you to have sex with other women without any repercussions whatsoever provided you had no emotional connection to the other women, she did not know them and you could screw each woman only once (she won’t leave you, she won’t get mad or jealous, and won’t hold it against you in any way), would you do it?” Or ask it this way, “if you knew for absolute certain that you would not be caught by your current partner and your current partner would never find out, and a woman you considered sexually attarctive invited you to have hot sex with her, would you so it?”

    The results would be unsurprising and would prove my point. The only real deterrents would be fear of disease (so use a condom) or just being chicken. And the only condition that most men would break is the part about screwing each one only once.

    Any man who says they’ve never cheated is either lying, or wants to but just hasn’t a chance to do so, or hasn’t had enough time to devise a plan to do so without getting caught.

  5. Jaime,
    Your whole previous post was about lions and chimps and comparing them to humans. It doesn’t make sense to start a post by saying we are not like animals, but then continue describing animal behavior to explain human behavior.
    Our basic instinct is to survive. Early humans did not fight each other to near death to get a mate. Men are no where near as strong as chimps and men are no where near as strong as they are without muscle building machines and high protein diets. Killing someone with your hands is difficult without muscle or weapons. Men who tried to kill other men would only be risking death themselves from other men who feared they would be next or they would never have a chance to mate.

  6. No one is hardwired to do any one behavior. We are given choices. We are given free will. Unfortunetly, people can easily justify bad behaviors to themselves under the guies of “nature” or other silliness.

    If men think they are the only ones that ever want variety, they are kidding themselves. And actually, it seems like many of the answers here seem like men think pretty lowly of themselves! Which makes me sad for these men that seem to have such a low opinion of men in general.

    There is temptation all around for both genders. I think there are enough good men out there that are more loyal to their woman and won’t “at some point” cheat. The ones that say otherwise are not worth of being in relationships or are more eager to justify their own agenda. I however think there are good men out there that can be quite happy with what they have and dare I even say, feel lucky with it.

  7. Humans as a whole are capable of this…the issue comes in how we handle it when we are faced with this situation. What lead to this action? I see it more and more as time progresses. Just look at the alarming amount of divorces. I think we have forgotten what a relationship is about. So many people do not like conflict and do not like the stress added to their already stressful lives. So as soon as a relationship turns bad or something very difficult occurs…instead of trying to solve the problem together as it’s supposed to be, people turn to other options….which in a lot of cases happens to be cheating. Some people just ignore their spouses…some beat their spouses and abuse them, some just abruptly leave them, some cheat, the list goes on. I think this also plays a very large part in why there are so many gay and lesbian couples. It’s a known fact that women get along with other women as far as knowing how to treat one another..same with men. I think this thought process gets twisted and obscured into what is thought of as love…which translates into same sex couples. Deep down we all look for acceptance and some people will do anything to obtain it, reguardless of how they achieve it. Bottom line is…if you find yourself thinking about cheating or anything close to it…then there’s obviously a problem with the relationship..it’s up to you how you handle it. Unfortunately in these cases..someone is bound to get hurt. So many people are scared of being hurt that they shut off the possibility of finding love.

  8. Cami.

    I am not comparing humans to chimps and lions. I said it clearly from the beginning post. Our inteligence sets us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom.

    That is why I say that although we have been wired to preserve the species through rpocreation like all other animals have been wired, our inteligence sets us apart.

    Yet, you have to realize that what we are now is not what we were 20, 30, 50 and 100 thousand years ago….( our ancestry goes back millions of years, and human like ancestors have been around for 2 or 3 million years. Human like, not human.

    Cro-magnon men ( direct ancestors, pre homo sapiens sapiens ) were indeed archaic homo sapiens. Neanderthals were not homo sapiens but a paralel branch, a “cousin” of ours that coexisted next to cro-magnon men side by side in Europe. These men, and older more ancestral forms, when fighting for the right to mate, were indeed very violent. It is easy to imagine 2 cave men in battle, it must not have been nice.
    In fact, human beings are amongst the most violent species in existence ( together with our closest cousins, “chimps )
    Biologically and instinct wise we are very similar to other mammals, and indeed extremely similar to primates like chimps.

  9. You can not compare humans to chimps and lions. We may be similar but we are not the same. Humans are hardwired for survival in small groups. Human males elevate themselves in the tribe by being brave and wise. We are not hardwired to kill or maim each other to find a mate.

  10. Cami.

    Just to add, what you say about choosing a mate is not part of our hardwiring, that is part of the other side of the equation, our cognitive-inteligence processes.

    Natural selection does not work ion the sense you are implying, a female selecting the best male as mate.

    Females have no saying in that process in the wild. The way natural selection works is by dropping out from the mating couples list sick and deseased animals, those with congenital defects that renders them easy prey to their natural predators. Those individuals that are not strong enough ( in case of males ) to survive and overcome a male rival , favoring the phisically strongest male. In case of females, those that can copulate and successfuly give birth can pass on their genes, as well as those stronger females that survive while the sickly perish.

    When it comes to procreation and getting pregnant, in the wild, that is a call of nature ( estrous ) for the female to get pregnant and assure the survival of the species.
    In the case of the male, the call is a call to impregnate a female for the same reasons, procreation and survival of the species.
    Only our inteligence breaks that cycle of “call of duty to procreate” and allows us to weight in the factors material to procreation, which are a mate with whom to share our life, the raising of children, a successful life as we know it as inteligent beings.

  11. Cami.

    You would like to think females have been hardwired to find and select the best available candidate / mate, but in 90% of species ( that includes primates like chimps and gorillas, our closests relatives, as well as other “inteligent beings” like dolphins.) the determining factor in deciding which males copulates is not a female selection process, but infighting amongst males to take that prerrogative.
    In a chimp tribe ( or a gorilla ) the dominant male is not a male the female selected for herself and took with her to live for ever after in happiness in the woods, that male that has the rights is the male that defeated the competition and is exercising his sexual rights as the leader of the pack.
    With chips it is a similar process, with more promiscuity. Whereas in gorilla tribes no other male can copulate, in chimps’ several males do it behind the back of the leader of said pack.
    With wolves,( canines )and Lions ( the only social cat ) a dominant male defeats all competitors and the females in the group can only copulate with him.
    With non social cats, like Jaguars, Leopards, Cougars, the female goes out looking for a male, and once she finds one, they copulate. If there is another male in the area, they will fight for the right to mount the female.
    Females have little saying in regards to who becomes her partner.

  12. Hey E&L, this is *so* not a knock on the current question — which has generated some reflex comments but also some thoughtful ones — but at some point it would be good to ask whether women are “hard wired” not to promiscuous.

    My strong bias (backed up in data if not analysis by Steven Levitt & co) says that in fact a) men *can* get “enough” sex with partners (thus prostitution is down 80% from 19th- and 20th-Century levels) while b) at the same time everyday women have recently started feeling safe and comfortable enough to (in Levitt & Co’s charming phrase) “give it away for free.”

    In neither case does it seem the “hard-wiring” is either all that hard or all that wired.

    Cool question, cool responses, cool comments.


  13. Pretty off topic the idea of monogamy, but we’re actually evolutionarily evolved to be “picky” omnivores, not vegatarians (although I am one) – fruit-focused omnivory until we moved out into the savannah, when we added scavenging and, eventually, hunting. We added more meat to our diet because it’s a huge amount of protein and energy, plus it’s a relatively “safe” choice (some plants might kill you or cause very adverse effects, but most meat is pretty much the same).
    Sorry, I’m taking a Nutritional Anthropology course so I’m very into our ancestor’s diets : )

  14. It’s like this people. Humans are hardwired to live in small closeknit groups. We are social animals, we are vegetarians and we are egalitarians. Men and women gathered nuts and plants for everyone to eat. Women get pregnant and do the majority of childrearing because children could not live on anything other than breast milk for the first few years. Men are not all created equally. Women select the best mates. Men provide for the whole tribe and do most of the hard labor whether they like it or not. In order for their to be a diverse genetic pool, men should have sex with many different women and women should have sex with many different men.
    Now we are forced to live in large antisocial groups, limit our diets to what we can grow and eat a little meat to sustain us, spend most of our days and lives working for money to pay taxes and buy things that used to be free and seek out mates for social interaction and financial security. Our world now revolves around money, not procreation. Men created marriage so that every man could get a wife if he wanted one. Women had to chose marriage because the culture dictated that they could not work or get an education to support children on their own.
    If you remove all the religious and cultural barriers, you will find that most people do like having sex with several people, people form temporary relationships based upon their connection to each other and desire to have children. Once the temporary attraction wains and the children are a few years old people want to have other relationships. The only reason this is a problem is because our current culture dictates that marriage is a holy union that needs to be preserved until death. We would all be better off if we didn’t have marriage and didn’t think divorce was a sign of failure. Serial monogamy should be the norm.

  15. It is incorrect that women are hardwired to have sex with anyone to get pregnant. It is quite the opposite. Women are hardwired to select the best mate and have several biological advantages that allow them to evaluate men’s behaviors and feelings. Natural selection is the basis for our reproduction and that means that women do not have sex with anyone who wants to have sex with them

  16. Strictly from an evolutionary sense (I’ll leave psychological to those more knowledge than I), the real problem is not that we’re hardwired to “cheat” (implying deceit of your partner) – I don’t think they are – but that men AND women are hardwired to be polygynous. The majority of cultures are not monogamous, and our ancestors weren’t either.
    Polygyny benefits the male because it allows him more chances to copulate with other females and thus spread his genes far and wide.
    It benefits the female because it means a more diverse gene pool to dip into, giving her a better chance of getting good genes for her offspring.
    Yes, the pair bond evolved (giving the male a better chance the offspring he was raising was his and giving the female a more consistent provider), but both still strayed – this has been observed even in primate species we called monogamous.

    None of this is to say that it’s impossible, your partner (whether male or female) is destined to cheat on you. We’re also evolved to eat meat and vegetarianism exists, we’re meant to be moving around quite often and we do all right sedentary, etc. Cultural evolution happens a lot quicker than physical evolution, so monogamy is by no means an insurmountable object.

  17. I really think both genders, the female gender as well as the male gender are highwired to cheat. Not really to “cheat”, but to procreate and assure survival of the species.

    See, in nature, except for a few species like some Albatrosses , Ducks and Penguins, in most species the genders have specific roles.

    The male has to impregnate as many females as posible to perpetuate the survival of the species. So the male is compelled to find a partner after another, once the current is over her mating time. Some species have an estrous period, when the female is receptive and the male is excited. Outside of this period of time there is no activity. Other species like dogs have lost that cycle, due to domestication. HUmans as well have lost that cycle, due to our inteligence that has changed the way we see things. We do not act on instincts alone. Yes, instincs compell us to do things, but our inteligence is what decides our behavior.

    Females are hardwired to get pregnant. Females will go to great extents to find a mate. She wants to copulate with as many males as posible. She is not exclusive to one male. She does not care which male it is.

    It is up to males to decide which male is the suitor ( through male infighting.)

    So I can see an argument that would explain why men are seen as cheaters. Men are highwired to go after sexual partners, and as in the case of domestic dogs, males are on the perenial / constant look out for that receptive female.

    I can see the argument for females as cheaters, because when a female wants to have sexual intercourse, females are driven to copulate with any available and ready male.

    Of course our condition of inteligent species precludes us from acting like dogs and bitches. We do understand that acting like that would be contrary to a life as required by an inteligent species. Females would not want to have lots of children from different and perhaps unknown fathers. Males can not go around looking for females to mount in an irresponsable manner. There are financial/economic concerns, there are social/ relationship concerns like the need for a person of the opposite sex to share more than sexual acts, but a mental connection based on trust and mutual understanding.

    What keeps us away from acting like dogs is out inteligence, so yes, the human species is hardwired to “preserve the species and assure successful survival of said species”, but our inteligence is a material ingredient that sets us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom, so while we are hardwired to have multiple partners, at the same time we have been hardwired to use inteligence as the determining factor.

    Now, the kind of education and morals , as well as the concept about the kind of life and relationship to the opposite sex we want ( learnt from our parents and immediate family ) will be the determining factors. That is because this issues and concepts will determine the way we evaluate and ultimately behave towards the opposite sex and subsequent offspring.

  18. This does not speak for all men, but I think a big part of why men cheat after years of marriage or a long term relationship is the thrill of being pursued. Men are often the ones tasked with pursuing the woman and I would say, entirely unscientifically, that eighty percent of the guys out there in these relationships spend most of their time initiating things: things like initiating the relationship, initiating the marriage, initiating sex, and likewise pursuing a whole lot of things. they are unfamiliar to being in the position of being pursued. Men get much more practice with rejection than with rejecting. It’s a good feeling to be hit on, for anybody but especially for men. Throw in alcohol and a perceived slight or current distance between them and their partner (or lack thereof) and add that to the complete lack of a conditioned mechanism to reject suitors and a lack of self esteem that many men carry but cannot express and you have a lethal concoction of temptation.

  19. As someone with an English degree, I can attest that Danny is absolutely right on everything but when the Elizabethan era was (more like 400 years, but hell, who’s counting?). It was presumed that women were the far-more promiscuous gender. Of course, another big controversy about Shakespeare were questions of who *he* might have been sleeping with besides his much-older wife. And let’s not even mention how unfairly our society, and every society since long before the Elizabethans, views sexually active women. While views may have changed, it may be also true that men haven’t changed much at all.

    Hormones, combined with the ability to have sex more readily makes the option of staying monogamous for men quite difficult at times . It’s also a hard decision not to eat all the chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream, and to not daydream all the time about how awesome it would be to own a T-Rex and a motorcycle. Ooh, a motorcycle-driving T-Rex! But how big a motorcycle would you need–

    As I was saying, making the choice to stay monogamous is difficult at times, but any guy who says he can’t handle it is making excuses for a lack of self-control.

  20. Do you realize that 500 years ago, during the Elizabethan era, the stereotype was just the opposite? It was assumed that -women- were the ones who were ‘hardwired’ for cheating. Men were the ones who demanded monogamy. To me, this says we’re about equal. Men -and- women crave variety; men -and- women have strong sexual urges. These two factors together essentially say that men -and- women are hardwired for cheating. As mentioned above, it’s up to us to use our brains to decide what’s the best course of action.

  21. Short answer: yes.

    To elaborate though, like Ben said, we are hard-wired for variety, which isn’t necessarily the same thing as cheating.

    Every guy wants to bang women besides the one their with (yes, even yours, even though he swears he doesn’t). Some guys can’t pull that off, because they don’t know how to consistently attract women. Unfortunately, those are the same guys who can’t keep a girlfriend around either, so they’re shit out of luck.

    Some guys can, because they know how to consistently attract women. Then it’s a matter of choice: exercise that ability, or keep it in the pants? Most guys, if they’re so inclined, can keep it in the pants for a good long time, but not forever.

    Open relationships might be an answer, but while the majority of men are wired for promiscuity, only a minority of women are willing to go with the open relationship. There just aren’t enough such chicks to go around. That’s bad news for all the women out there who demand monogamy.

    That’s not to say women AREN’T wired for variety – I just can’t speak for them. I think women are every bit as cheatey as men, personally.

  22. All people are “wired” to do lots of cruddy things – cheat, lie to protect themselves, hit people in the face. But I’d like to believe that because we also have brains, we’re able to make choices that unplug our wiring when it’s not in our best interests.

    Have you heard beautiful women are more apt to cheat? Yep, it’s in their “wiring.”

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