The Biology of Affairs
“We always deceive ourselves twice about the people we love – first to their advantage, then to their disadvantage.” -Albert Camus
Most people who have affairs will say they don’t know how it happened. Extramarital affairs are rarely consciously planned; they happen as life often does, with one thing leading to another.
The percentage of people impacted by infidelity is between 30 to 60 percent of all married couples, depending on the study cited. Evolutionary psychologists, in attempts to understand human behavior with regard to infidelity, have found some interesting patterns suggesting that biology directly influences the choice to cheat.
Infidelity patterns are particularly interesting when sex is taken into consideration. Cheating men are more likely than cheating women to have an affair with someone younger than their spouse. On the other hand, cheating women are more likely than cheating men to have an affair with someone better educated than their current spouse.
Additionally, age patterns of infidelity are affected by sex. Women are far more likely to commit infidelity in their twenties and early in their relationship, where as men are more likely to cheat later in their relationship and predominately after the age of forty. Evolutionists believe this pattern reflects a long- term mating strategy; just like other mammals, our biological clock and often unconscious drive to reproduce may be playing a large role in infidelity.
The biological changes that impact sexuality with aging and menopause may also affect fidelity. I have watched many of my closest friends both leave and be left during this intense life transition. Needless to say, it causes some problems when fully fifty percent of women lose their interest in sex and struggle with arousal and orgasm right when a man’s need for sexual satisfaction and validation is at its most vulnerable peak.
Yet our sexually driven biology is only one part of the human story. While sex and love are inextricably linked, the processing of those experiences happen in different regions of the brain. While there is some overlap, it is the experience of love which matures the mind. The constellation of neural systems and activity involved in the experience of love strengthens with the length of the attachment. When a small study issued in the Journal of Neurophysiology examined how love and sex differed, the outcome revealed love as the more dominant emotion. “Romantic love is one of the most powerful human experiences,” said study member Helen Fisher, “more powerful than the sex drive.”
Although some might question the veracity of the claims, try to remember how potent the experience of falling in love was for you, extending far beyond the sexual, to the very core of what it is to be alive. Loving over time does change your brain, and although it doesn’t often have the intensity and ecstasy associated with the initial “falling in love,” it carries even more benefits in terms of long term happiness and health. Only 10 percent of people who have affairs end up staying together, so when you are feeling your biology influence your choices make sure you are consulting with what makes us truly human, our drive to love.
Wendy Strgar is a loveologist who writes and lectures on Making Love Sustainable, a green philosophy of relationships, which teaches the importance of valuing the renewable resources of love and family. Wendy helps couples tackle the questions and concerns of intimacy and relationships, providing honest answers and innovative advice.