Fertile feelings Lead to Wandering Eyes

(I thought this an interesting paper on WHY we women do what we do and WHEN we do it)

Fertile Feelings Lead to Wandering Eyes

By: Eric Sabo

While scientists have not discovered an excuse for infidelity, they can at least offer an explanation why some women are inclined to cheat at certain times: their fertility cycle.

In a recent study, researchers found that women were more likely to flirt with men when their chance for getting pregnant was at its highest. The handsomest of the bunch, as always, have little to worry about. The urge to be unfaithful was particularly documented by women who rated their partners low in "sexual attractiveness relative to investment attractiveness." The average boyfriend or husband is nice to have at home, but the guy across the bar looks better, especially at certain times.

Dr. Martie Haselton, the lead author of the study, says that such desires may seem shallow and intellectually insulting, yet they are well intended and crafted through thousands of generations to foster the continuation of a strong genetic lineage. "Women can't “see” a man's genetic make up", says Haselton. "So, we are conditioned to take our hints from the physical attributes which are evident to us." We are all programmed to asses hundreds of subtle physical hints instantly and make a decision about the suitability of a potential reproductive mate.

Women are even more complex in their assessment of men. Men eternally claim they cannot understand women. They may be well founded in their confusion, since it would appear that women do not themselves recognize the fact that they see men as a candidate for one of two very distinct categories, and treat them differently based on this subconscious classification.

The first is as a potential long-term mate. This individual demonstrates those characteristics often touted for a good husband, i.e., emotionally supportive, empathic, sensitive, protective and a good provider. This is the man that a woman would be inclined to marry or partner with on a long-term basis.

The second category is men that a woman would consider mating with. Contrary to every culturally engineered tradition, rule or law, this is often NOT the same man, or even type of man, that a woman has partnered with.

Indeed, the characteristics of these two subclasses of men often are in conflict with one another. The man who is a stable provider, husband and father is usually not the physically perfect specimen. Similarly, the strong, physically fit, ruggedly handsome man often has his pick of willing short-term partners. Based partly on his continual availability of women to tempt him, this type of man can be predisposed to a more wandering lifestyle and thus not a reliable protector or provider of a woman and her offspring.

Therefore, a woman may fall in love with the first type, but her reproductive urges favor the masculine and attractive second type, regardless of whom she may partner with. "Women have a biology that can lead them to stray, especially at certain times more than others." says Haselton. These urges served a purpose in ancient times, when a man's scruffy good looks and fit physique conferred an evolutionary advantage to a woman, who of course wants the easiest pregnancy and a strong, healthy baby.

For the study, which was published in the journal ‘Hormones and Behavior‘, Haselton had college-aged women fill out a daily diary of their sexual interests and feelings. The majority of them had a boyfriend or husband. When the women neared their time of ovulation, they reported feeling more attractive and more interested in going out to social functions that they knew included available men, even if they were already in a committed relationship.

Flirting increased noticeably, much to the dismay of their partners. As a result, men were more likely to become jealous and possessive during their wife or girlfriend's peak reproductive days. The more unattractive guys were on guard all the time, especially if the women they were dating were perceived to be better looking than them.

Haselton says that some women are clearly managing to slip away from their uber-protective mates. Depending on the source and nationality, it is estimated that four to eleven percent of all pregnancies are the result of couplings between a female and a partner other than her husband.

Men also cheat, but don't start grabbing your crotch and spitting just yet; apparently between the two classes of men, the “nerdy” types (husband material) are not nearly as likely to cheat as that rugged, good-looking guy in the jeans commercial. Like those guys, women also have a biological urge to cheat. During ovulation, it is instinctive for them to shift into the huntress mode, seeking out the best males to mate with.

Biologically speaking, when women ovulate, their bodies respond to their evolutionary conditioning, resulting in behavioral patterns intended to improve their odd of becoming impregnated by the best men available, namely those that are attractive, physically fit, strong and healthy. This is often the dominant, or “Alpha” male of her given social circle, and is subject to the individual’s interpretation of what is attractive. There is sufficiently ample latitude for personal preference in the selection process, but availability can largely alter personal preferences during certain times in a woman fertility cycle. In other words, just being around during ovulation can greatly increase the chances for a reasonably attractive man to mate with any given woman. This is why seemingly fraternal, long-term friendships can suddenly slip into a sexual bonding between a man and woman who never previously viewed one another as potential sex partners.

Evolutionary psychologists tell us that a married woman is most likely to cheat on her husband during that portion of her cycle when she's approaching ovulation. There is increasing risk of her cheating during the three or four days prior to ovulation, with the greatest risk being on the day of ovulation. This relatively short window of a few days minimizes her chances of being caught by her husband (the risk), and maximizing her chances of conceiving a child with another man (the reward).

While her husband may be a good provider and create a stable home environment for raising her children, a woman is instinctively compelled to conceive with the most physically appealing male.  Ironically, the extended lengths of monogamous relationships in today's society may reinforce this compulsion, as monotony can erode her perceived value of the husband in direct proportion to the increase in the appeal she perceives in the more attractive males she has access to.   Over time her husband’s value may decline, while the value of other potential mates, or short-term mates, may increase.

The onset of ovulation also has an interesting backlash effect; that being the greater risk of conception from mating with inferior males. Pregnancy and child-rearing requires an investment of decades. Once pregnant, a female cannot be reproductively available for at least a year, perhaps many more. Women appear to be programmed to pass up mating opportunities with men they perceive to be inferior.

Immediately prior to and during ovulation, women demonstrated a definite lack of tolerance for unattractive men. Surprisingly, this can include their current, long-term partner or husband. Some data revealed that women may actively shun sexual advances from her husband during ovulation, or fake orgasms to shorten the sexual experience. It has been theorized that this could be a natural design to reduce her likelihood of becoming pregnant from her husband, and therefore remaining reproductively available to other males.

Certain studies have revealed that as much as eighty percent (80%) of the entire female population, if given the choice based on physical preferences alone and without any consequences, would choose to conceive with only a select seven percent (7%) of the entire male population.  Furthermore, paternity test results, while varying from nation to nation, have indicated that somewhere between five percent (5%) and eleven percent (11%) of all husbands or men in otherwise committed relationships are not the true biological fathers of the children they are raising. 

Multiple lovers have other benefits too. The anthropologist Sarah Blaffer Hardy has theorized that women copulate with more than one man to give several men the impression that they might be the father of a particular offspring. They may also want to deliberately keep several men sexually interested, in order to keep their mating options open. There is also some data to suggest that the semen of more than one male inside the female reproductive tract may trigger a number of changes within the competing sperm, perhaps enhancing the possibility of conception.

In "Why Women Have Affairs" the author discusses many possible reasons regarding female infidelity.  Buss presents the hypothesis of mate insurance by our ancestral mothers.  He questions whether it was possible for a women to have relied solely on a single man to provide for her and her children in an era when life was a daily struggle for survival. 

Abandonment or death of their male mate was a true risk for a women eons ago.  One possible solution would be to cultivate alternate partners as backup mates using sexual rewards as one means of maintaining several relationships simultaneously.  The backup mate(s) can serve many functions when the regular mate is not around.  By consenting to sexual 'favors' with another man, a woman greatly increases the possibility of a future return in material resources in the event that her regular mate was killed, or could otherwise not provide for her.  Under such circumstances, women would choose backup partners based on their ability to provide resources and protection. 

Another potential theory of female infidelity is "trading up".  In this case, affairs could be used to evaluate potential husbands that may have 'better' qualities than her current mate.  There are several ancestral conditions that set foundation for this behavior.  For example, a woman's partner may decline in value as he ages. Also, a woman's own value may have increased due to certain acquired skills or gained alliances. 

Lastly, due to nomadic lifestyles, contact with a new group may have exposed her to more desirable partners, as well as genetic diversity.  One critical quality for 'trading up' is a woman's own perception of her personal 'value' in the mating market.  In other words, having an affair can boost a woman's self-esteem.  If she gains confidence through an affair, than the chances of her leaving her current mate for a better one, if necessary, are improved.  Moreover, in recent studies it was found that this increased confidence and self-esteem were rated by women who have affairs, as one of the most direct, beneficial results of having an extramarital relationship.

The importance of a woman's sexual gratification with an affair partner was further explored due in part to a theory called "sperm retention".  Proposed by two British biologists, this theory is better understood when the broader theory of sperm competition is introduced.  Sperm competition occurs when sperm from different men occupy a woman's reproductive tract simultaneously.  Although a female's egg is viable for only 12 to 24 hours after ovulation, sperm can remain viable for up to four (4) days.  Therefore, if a woman has sex with two different men within days of each other, she activates a competitive race between the two different sperm, enjoying conception from the more successful (superior) of the two. This is in her own best interest, as it enhances the likelihood of bearing a healthy child.

Women have developed adaptive strategies to take advantage of their evolved physiology.  Human females are one of the few mammals that do not signal ovulation. According to Baker, women's concealed ovulation is a tool that allows them to 'shop around' for superior genes without being watched too closely by their male partner.  With concealed ovulation women make it difficult for their male partner to guard them from other men during ovulation.  With no outward sign to indicate the onset of ovulation he is forced to guard her 100% of the time, which is highly impractical.

Consequently, concealed ovulation sets the stage for sperm competition by giving women the opportunity to be fertilized by men they choose, but without their regular mate being aware.  In fact, the Calahonda study found that 37% of female participants who spent two weeks or more away from their partners participated in affairs.  Although this percentage is considered statistically high, the low risk of discovery due to the great distance apart was documented to contribute significantly to this high rate of infidelity.  While this may or not be causative, the data do suggest that if the risk of being caught is removed, more than 1 out 3 women appear willing to cheat on their significant other.

One of the most startling findings from these studies of sperm competition focused on a woman's sexual orgasm.  Obviously an orgasm, or lack of, is closely linked with a woman's sexual satisfaction.  However, it has also now been closely linked with her chances for eventual conception and can play a contributive role in the reproductive process.

Research on female orgasm and the reproductive system reveals that the timing of a female’s orgasm is closely linked to the cervical uptake of sperm. Female orgasms which occur prior to the deposit of sperm into the vaginal canal will result in a slight decrease in the chances for conception. Conversely, female orgasms which occur simultaneously with, or at any time after male ejaculation, result in higher chances of conception. This is due to the cervical action during the female orgasm. The muscular contractions resulting from an orgasm cause the cervix to dip forward into the site of the seminal pool (if present), with the cervical vacuum pulling sperm into the uterus, where it is retained.

Remarkably, women have more 'high sperm retention' orgasms with their affair partners than they do with their regular partner!  (As noted by the amount of sperm collected after intercourse).  This supports the theory suggesting that, whether consciously or not, women really do appear to time their affairs to coincide with their peak ovulation, actions which appear to be largely motivated by expectations for heightened sexual pleasure.

The question remains, why do some women engage in a monogamous strategy while others opt for multiple partners?  One possibility is that women who stray have the luxury of possessing more abundant sexual assets. Or perhaps they may have a lifestyle or partnering arrangement that allows them the opportunity to seek out other males without risk. Even with motivation, unless there is opportunity, there can be no act. Accordingly, a woman with less sexual appeal, or a woman in a more restrictive relationship may have limited ability to seek out or arrange extramarital affairs. 
Infidelity does have potential costs. If the woman is caught she risks losing her primary partner. Accordingly, the benefits of a woman's affair must offset the risk of losing her regular mate.  Each woman's decision to stay or stray hinges on cost-benefit calculations based on the consequences of being discovered. But clearly every woman has some natural inclination to stray, if the circumstances become favorable. With the right male, at the right time of her fertility cycle, and with a low enough risk of detection, it appears that most women can be a candidate for an extramarital affair.