I can’t see the word “jealous” without associating it immediately with Nick Jonas — for two reasons. First, his hit single “Jealous” has been stuck in my head since its release in September. It’s a song based on the fact that guys are constantly hitting on his girlfriend, so he gets jealous. Pretty straightforward. Second, I am jealous of his girlfriend. I’ll readily admit that I’d like to be his girlfriend.
However, I realize that the type of jealousy Nick is experiencing is different from my own (aside from the fact that he has no idea who I am). Research has shown that men are more upset by the prospect of sexual infidelity, even when there’s no emotional connection, which very much aligns with a lyric in the song: “‘Cause you’re too sexy, beautiful. And everybody wants a taste.” On the other hand, women are more upset by the prospect of emotional infidelity, even when there’s no sex taking place, which aligns with the fact that I want him to stare deep into my eyes, not hers.
A recent study in Archives of Sexual Behavior seeks to better understand this kind of gender difference in jealousy. David Frederick of Chapman University and Melissa Fales of UCLA wanted to see whether a big data set would, in fact, support this common finding in heterosexual relationships.
The study involved 63,894 male and female respondents aged 18 to 65. In addition to basic biographical information such as income, marital history and sexual orientation, the participants were asked to choose (whether from imagination or painful experience) if they’d be hurt more by the sexual or emotional part of being cheated on.
There was only one group of people for which the concept of a partner having sex with someone but not falling in love was more upsetting than the reverse: straight men. 54% percent of them said they’d be more upset by that, which is much more than heterosexual women (35%), gay men (32%), lesbian women (34%), bisexual men (30%), and bisexual women (27%).
But why does this distinction exist? Evolution, researchers say.
Back in the day, a man was more concerned about his wife staying sexually committed to him, because there was no way for sure to tell if the child she bore was his. He saw raising a child as a whole lot of time, energy, and resources — so it had better not be some random guy’s kid. In other words, if he’s going to give that child everything he has, he had better be sure that he was ensuring the survival of his DNA in the process. Emotional infidelity, in this case, seems a lot less threatening.
Women, on the other hand, are faced with the possibility that the man helping them raise a child will abandon them, reducing the odds that the child (and the mother’s genes) will survive. In this instance, emotional infidelity is everything. If the man is not emotionally attached to her — his heart is elsewhere — he will have less incentive to stick around.
Keep in mind, however, that it’s almost impossible to figure out exactly how psychology has evolved throughout the years due to so many different cultural and technological innovations. I mean, evolution would tell us to eat as much sustenance as we can get our hands on — no matter how caloric — but we don’t do that anymore, because we’re aware of what’s good and bad for us.
Because times have changed, women no longer need to depend on men. It’s becoming increasingly common for women to raise children on their own — even while they work. An interesting study would address how gender differences in jealousy has transformed over time. While the number of straight men who are more upset by sexual infidelity is significantly higher than that of straight females, that gap could have been a lot wider a few years back.
There are obviously so many more questions on the table. Are these influences as important when a couple has no plans to have children? How does evolutionary theory apply to everyone who doesn’t identify as heterosexual? Clearly, more research needs to be done.
The researchers note that, while men seem to be more worried about sexual infidelity in most places, the numbers vary quite a bit from country to country, if you look more closely. This suggests that there are cultural, economical, and contextual factors that influenced how men and women react to sexual infidelity versus emotional infidelity.
Regardless, the findings are definitely compelling. They help us better understand our evolutionary history — which includes the ways in which we’re straying from the path evolution has lead us on. And now that I really think about it, since I don’t know Nick Jonas at all aside from his beautiful voice, the feelings of jealousy I’m experiencing could really be more sexual than anything else.
(h/t New York Magazine)
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