Are men hardwired to cheat?
"You don't want a guy like that," warned a male friend at the weekend, pointing to a hot Lothario standing at the corner of the bar.
"Why not?" I asked incredulously, noting that he was surrounded by a bunch of women who appeared to be hanging off his every word.
"Well, he's a great guy," my friend replied. "But here's the thing. When it comes to women, he comes across as super charming and like a great catch. But he's always going to cheat on his girlfriends. He does it because he can. Girls are always swarming all over him."
I groaned, wondering how many women would have been fooled by his charms, made heartbroken by his infidelity and left a jaded mess for all eternity ... just because the man in question felt he was somehow entitled (or addicted) to doing it while not giving a damn about the consequences.
Of course he's not alone in his behaviour. In fact, lately, it seems cheating is no longer something to be sniffed at, with infidelity, cheating and affairs running more rampant than one of Shane Warne's text messages.
But now scientists are saying that the ability to cheat really does lie in one's DNA. Yep, a study released in December last year finally claimed what many have thought all along: those who cheat are actually hardwired to do so.
But not because they are male (as it's long been thought). Nor because they are wealthy, famous or having a midlife crisis. Instead, according to a study carried out by New York sexual science researcher Justin Garcia in 2010, cheaters have an actual "infidelity gene" - a variant of the DRD4 gene (the gene that drives pleasure and thrill-seeking behaviour) - which in turn is what makes some people predisposed to "repetitive, intense sexual sensation-seeking one-night stands and infidelity".
Some are calling it the "slut gene" or the "love rat gene" but, either way, perhaps acknowledging this biological fact makes it all the more comforting for the likes of Courtney Cox, Eva Longoria, Elizabeth Hurley or my friend Harriet (she discovered her boyfriend was cheating after she was found to have an STD, even though she had slept only with him) to know that their partners' infidelity has nothing to do with their looks, brains or sexual prowess. That it's not about these men finding someone better ...
But is there really (finally!) a viable scientific excuse for cheaters? Not so, says Garcia, who claims that, despite our genes, we can still control our behaviour.
In order to find out more about why cheaters do it (the eternal question which I still so often get asked), I picked up a book titled Men Who Can't Be Faithful written by Carol Botwin. The book outlines the types of men who can't keep it in their pants. Intrigued, I turned to the chapter titled "The Pedestal/Gutter Syndrome", which stated the following:
"When a man is single, he may take a woman out for a long time but never try to sleep with her. But he has an active sex life on the side with women he thinks of as sluts."
She says it's difficult for a man who suffers from this to remain faithful in a marriage and he often looks elsewhere for gratification.
The male friend who had alerted me to the charming cheater by the bar the other night, concurred with her description, telling me that it's definitely more likely for men to "cheat with trashy women" because they're "more obtainable". Plus the upside, he said, was that "these men don't have to worry about the post-shag cuddle". Charming.
Yet, said Botwin, there are plenty of cheating types. After reading the entire book (and feeling sick to my stomach at the realisation of just how many men out there have so many of these characteristics), I've decided to enlighten you about a few which I think are the more common. See what you think ...
"They are using women for emotional gratification that has little to do with erotic pleasure," writes Botwin, "although that may be one of the by-products of their lifestyle." She claims these men compulsively look for a boost to their self-esteem in order to make themselves feel better, and do so by shagging as many women as possible. They get off on the lies, the sneaking around and their ability to get away with their infidelity for as long as possible. They always have an excuse for everything too, and they're often masterminds at hiding it all.
Described by Botwin as "dynamic and winning", these men hide behind their seemingly perfect relationships. "Since narcissistic men regard the women in their lives as extensions of themselves, many of them like to be seen with beauties or women of status who will reflect glory upon them." But, deep down, Botwin notes that their relationships are based purely on self-interest. She says this sort of man never listens, has no empathy with anyone's feelings and has a deep-down feeling of insecurity, low self-esteem and inner emptiness. "He judges himself by how he appears to others ... And has an inordinate need to be admired." Which makes infidelity a given.
"Men like this often use their penises as weapons," writes Botwin. "They conquer women as a form of aggression, and their aim is to hurt women emotionally." Enough said.
The mummy syndrome
These sorts of men - who constantly need a woman on their arm - will always find fault with their partners. And so the allure of an affair is being with a woman with whom "the affair seems like a relief from the repetition of old frustrations and conflicts that occur when a man projects qualities from a person in his childhood on to his adult partner".
So what's the solution? Can these men change, or is once a cheater always a cheater?
Of course you can never make someone change. There has to be a yearning deep inside them to want to shift their ways, become a better person and turn to honesty, openness and monogamy instead of the current path they're on. And, despite popular opinion that these men can't change, I have seen it happen: cheaters suddenly realising the amount of pain they've caused someone they love and care deeply about, and they finally do surmise that it is not worth their one night of sexual ecstasy with a hot stranger.
Of course, there are those compulsives who, despite promising to stop, do it again and again and again. For whom the consequences don't matter as much as satiating their urge - no matter if it stems from a biological, emotional or physical place. And those are the types from whom you should always just walk away, no matter how hard it may be, no matter how much you might love them.
What do you think? Do you believe there's a cheating gene? Is it a viable excuse? Have you dated any of these above types?
Sydney Morning Herald