Friday, June 7, 2013

Who is better at separating sex and emotion?

I take it no one is going to accuse me of being sexist for suggesting that women lie about sex. Why am I so confident? Because I remember that all the good, politically correct people insisted that everyone lies about sex during the Lewinsky scandal and the class that is "everyone" necessarily includes women.

In any case, men and women sometimes lie about sex. Perhaps they do it for the same reasons and perhaps they do it for different reasons. Here is one explanation that suggests that they do it for different reasons. Don't read it to agree or disagree but rather to understand the logic. Get inside it. Think the way someone like Dr. Frank Pittman thinks
While there is a common assumption that men and women fall in love at different rates, or that men cheat primarily for sex while women are more likely to be looking for an emotional connection, this may not always be the case. Dr. Frank Pittman suggests that men are typically more honest about the sex than women, perhaps because men are better able to separate the issue of sex from that of emotional attachment. He believes that this is due in large part to the fact that men have their genitals on the outside rather than inside and so men seem to separate sexual response from a lasting and committed relationship more easily than do women.
The line that should jump out at you, because it is so unusual to see men praised for anything these days is, "men are typically more honest about sex than women." That is in direct violation of the Althouse rule that says that it is politically correct to talk about differences between men and women only so long as you do so in a way that is flattering to women.

There is a reason why Dr. Pittman is being critical of women here. It's because he more or less has to be because of the next step in the argument. Admitting that men might be more honest about sex than women allows him to dodge another, even more troubling admission.
In his practice, he says that he has seen many cases where men admit to the sex and deny any emotional connection to the affair partner, while women tend to talk of strong emotions and feelings of love while denying that sex took place. He believes that if a man denies the sexual context of the affair and dwells on the emotional connection above all else, he is probably lying. He finds that women, on the other hand, more easily talk of an emotional connection and the feelings induced by an affair while denying any sexual context to the entire episode.
I've added the emphasis on the words "lying" and "denying" to highlight the dilemma poor Dr. Pittman finds himself on the horns of. Notice that when a man "denies" he is "lying". A woman, on the other hand, is only "denying". So the Althouse rule is allowed to slip in a minor way in the first paragraph I cite in order to save it in the second. Or, to put it another way, Dr. Pittman allows that men are typically more honest about sex than women in order to avoid its obvious corollary, which is that women typically lie about sex.

Before getting to that, let's talk about men. Why would a man be forthright about the emotional connection while lying about the sex? This is not a trick question: he lies about the emotions because he wants to reduce the harm the affair might do to his marriage. In a sense this is crazy because if anything is going to threaten your relationship or marriage it is your wife finding out that you are having sex with another woman. And while that is true, having an affair that involves both sex and an emotional connection is a much more serious risk; it is, in fact, almost certainly fatal to your marriage. Restricting the affair to just sex is safer; you can have a meaningless affair without any risk to your marriage. No, your wife isn't going to see it that way but she doesn't have to find out does she? No, I'm not advocating that. The point is that that is the way the guy thinks and he isn't crazy to do so. An affair that was purely about sex would be the easiest to maintain and the easiest to break off. He avoids building an emotional connect or, if he can't do that, lies to himself about the emotional connection he is building with his lover in order to pretend that this can all be easy.

Remember Sheila, whom we were discussing just the other day? Her affair is like that:
'I love Peter dearly,' Sheila says. 'He's a good husband, and father. I like cooking with him and gossiping about the neighbours. He's my pal and I'd never want to lose that. Sex with Michael is a purely separate thing; it's about erotic abandonment, being seen as just a woman rather than as Peter's wife, or "the doctor" or a mum. Any working mother will know what I mean. Every woman needs something that is hers alone. Some of my friends ride, some sing in choirs, I have Michael.'
And it's important to recognize the deep truth here, as hard as you may find it to associate truth with something a cheating spouse said. For the blunt reality is that if Sheila allowed herself to fall in love with Michael she'd put her marriage at immediate risk whereas an affair that is "just about sex" is only threat if she gets caught.

But that is supposed to be the way that only men think, which is what the good Dr. Pittman meant when he said men are typically more honest about sex. But, you know, I don't entirely believe that. Yes, there are some men who are very good at separating sex and emotion. Notoriously so. But most men aren't like that. Most men tend to fall in love with the women who have sex with them. I know I do. In fact, I have tended to be deeply in love with women long before any sex happened.

And the man who can separate sex and emotion could also be described as the man who is unable to connect the two. In fact, he usually is loudly denigrated for this. The only time men are praised for being able to separate sex and emotion and, therefore, to be more honest about sex is when it is necessary to provide cover for women.

Now there are good evolutionary reasons that I won't go into in any depth here why women, all the talk to the contrary, might actually be very good at separating sex and emotion. To give just one example: women typically live longer than men. Being s strong widow who can care for and raise children without a man is a good trait to have in evolutionary terms. Not all women will have this trait but most certainly will.

Men, on the other hand, have considerable reason to bond emotionally with women they have sex with. Your children will have a much better chance of surviving and passing on your genes if you stay with her and help her raise the children. That's one approach. The alternative is the shotgun approach where a man tries to impregnate as many women as possible thereby increasing the chance that some will survive to pass on his genes. And, yes, there is a small subset of men who become notoriously good at having lots of partners while avoiding emotional ties with any or most of them. Less often discussed, there are women who are good at tying one man down emotionally while having lots of affairs. But most men and women will bond with the partner they have sex with and will see continued good sex as part of that love.

There is, however, no reason at all to believe that women are less likely to be good at separating sex and emotion. Again, don't take my word for it: who is it that typically insists that love in a relationship doesn't have to be connected to sex? It isn't usually the man.

There will be more ...


  1. "In fact, I have tended to be deeply in love with women long before any sex happened."

    That's how its supposed to be. However, in our hookup culture people put the cart before the horse rationalizing that its "just sex," and I agree that women are probably more guilty of this than men.

    "And the man who can separate sex and emotion could also be described as the man who is unable to connect the two."

    I agree, and isn't Don Draper a good example of this?

    1. People keep saying things like that about Draper just as they keep saying things like his supposedly being only interested in the outward trappings of success. But the actual evidence we see in his character doesn't back up either point. Draper has lots of affairs to be sure but he has romantic affairs and not ones where emotion is separated from the thing.

      Certainly, he has done it. In the first episode of season 3, for example, when he picks up the stewardess. But that particular affair stands out because it is very different from what he usually does.

    2. That's right, Draper isn't a one-night stand type of guy. His affairs are romantic and they do last for a time, and I think sometimes he tries to make them last longer. But he picks women who, like him because he's married, aren't in a position to offer any kind of committment (the Drs wife), or are philosophically opposed to committment (like Midge in the first season). Its like he wants to have his cake and eat it too.

  2. Well, I think you're forgetting maybe the obvious here. When you say "there are women who are good at tying one man down emotionally while having lots of affairs" that is absolutely true. But keeping the man tied down emotionally secures the woman's financial future and material well-being, and her children's as well. The earliest biblical proscriptions against sex outside of marriage were out of concern about who would take care of the woman and children that might ensue, because in those days they had no legal standing or rights to anything. Divorce is still devastating, especially for women and children, but men too. So its not so much different now than in biblical times, all parties have certain rights and obligations, and we don't stone divorcees anymore. But there is an economic issue at play here too, maybe women are more easily able to separate sex from emotions if their financial well-being is at stake, maybe that's an evolutionary adaptation.

    1. I don't see how a woman getting material well-being and, I might add, her own emotional and social stability, contradicts anything I said.

      I think you are too generous to the earliest biblical proscriptions against adultery in arguing that they were for the good of the woman and children. That was certainly a big part of the point Jesus makes in the Gospel of Matthew but the old testament culture (indeed the entire culture of antiquity) was heavily biased in men's interest. The real purpose of most proscriptions against adultery was to protect a man's interest in ensuring that his children were really his biological children while allowing him a free hand to do pretty much whatever he wanted.

    2. No, I didn't mean to imply that it contradicted anything you said, of course preserving her social stability is one of the reasons why she keeps the man on the hook emotionally.

      And yes, you are correct, a man needed to be sure the children were actually his especially for inheritance purposes. But there was also concern for the woman the married man might play around with, she had no legal or social standing, and neither she nor her children were entitled to anything in the way of financial support.

  3. Perhaps it's because my children are very young (and I want a few more babies in the next few years, God willing), but I want to know where these dames find all this energy to have affairs. The idea of setting up another relationship outside my marriage when I don't even drive regularly from the sleep dep is just so alien. Heck, I'm getting tired just posting this drive-by comment, so I'll end here.

    1. You're right: having an extra-marital affair must be an immense amount of work. I've never done it myself. And I am pretty certain that any woman or man who put as much effort into their existing marriage would get much more for their trouble and be a better and happier person too. But human nature is what it is and so things like this keep happening.

      Thank you for commenting.

    2. Its true, I think you have to be young and have boundless energy to carry it off. I'm single now, and just the thought of starting a new relationship tires me out. Unless.........