Are women ‘programmed’ to cheat?

Be careful of the news that skews information around women’s sexuality, says Dorothy Black.
I am always wary of sweeping statements about women’s sexuality in the media because, usually, the connotations are negative.

Just the other day ‘women programmed to cheat’ made headlines all over the place. I don’t recall ever feeling a programmed need to cheat, so I wondered about this generalisation and took the click-bait.

Turns out a group of evolutionary psychologists in Texas put together a review paper of several studies about something called ‘mate switching’. Basically, in normal-people language, moving from one partner to another.

Here’s a nub of it: They believe that humans aren’t made for lifelong monogamy (welcome to the 21st century) and have adapted to switch partners over the course of their lifetime. It’s a lot of academic speak for: we meet someone and break up when it doesn’t work out, and then we couple up with someone else.

Hardly newsworthy, right?

Well, except that the paper attempted to use mate-switching as a hypothesis for why women cheat. Not men. Women. We know why men cheat, you see: boys will be boys and need to sow their wild oats nudge nudge, wink wink.

If it all goes wrong, they ‘mate switch’ to a back-up ‘high value’ male for money, status and safety.

Women, on the other hand, have a checklist of emotional and security needs they ostensibly scan to scrutinise the value proposition of their mates. If it all goes wrong, they ‘mate switch’ to a back-up ‘high value’ male for money, status and safety. And that bounce can happen even while the woman is with her ‘low value’ mate. Women are such conniving Cheater McCheatersons.

So, basically: men have no emotional needs or agency and cheat because they need to bone to spread their seed, and women are just mindlessly following an internal script for security and cuddles, and sniff out the best man for the job.

No probs there then; just some run-of-the-mill heteronormative stereotyping.

To be fair, nowhere in the paper is there talk of the women being ‘programmed’. That little bit of casual sexism comes courtesy of ignorance and click-baiting reporters.

Between this kind of gender typecasting in research and press coverage that continues to promote these sorts of stereotypes, it makes me despair for the sex-positive messaging needed to overhaul centuries of bias against women. In particular, the sexual woman.

Where are we if, in the 21st century, we’re still demonising women when it comes to sex and believe men are invulnerable to feelings
Frankly, it makes me despair for the feelings-positive messaging need to overhaul centuries of bias against men as humans with emotional needs.

Where are we if we’re still looking at the actions of the hunter-gatherers to justify society’s gender conditioning today. Where are we if, in the 21st century, we’re still demonising women when it comes to sex and believe men are invulnerable to feelings.

If headlines like ‘women programmed to cheat’ didn’t add to the sexist stereotypes still so rife in pop-culture – stereotypes we’re trying so hard to overturn – I wouldn’t care. But it does. Next time you click through on a ‘women are X’ headline, go in wearing boots heavy with scepticism.


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