In our highly sexualized culture, being tempted to cheat is as likely to affect women as it it is men. It’s an established fact that, as a rule, men’s sexual impulses are stronger than women’s, however. Or is it that women have better self-control?
Both theories were considered in research published recently in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. The study consisted of two separate experiments. The first determined how men and women reacted to real-life sexual temptations in their past. The second was a rapid-fire reaction time test designed to pick apart sexual impulses and self-control. The verdict?
“Overall, these studies suggest that men are more likely to give in to sexual temptations because they tend to have stronger sexual impulse strength than women do,” says Natasha Tidwell, a doctoral student in the Department of Psychology at Texas A&M University, who authored the study.
The study showed that when men reflected on past sexual behavior, they had stronger impulses and were more likely to act on them. But they said that when they actually did exert self-control in sexual situations, it was enough to overcome the stronger impulse.
A study a few years back by researchers at Canada’s McGill University came to similar findings. And it offered insight into the difference between men’s and women’s temptation, as well as how they process it.
McGill researchers looked at men and women in ongoing relationships. To no surprise, they found that men approached by an available female were more likely to be tempted to cheat. Women, though, were more likely to protect their existing relationship from the outside threat when approached by an attractive man.
Like researchers in Texas, Canadian researchers didn’t buy that men had less self-control than women to handle the temptation. As lead researcher John Lydon says:
“Women have been socialized to be wary of the advances of attractive men. These findings show that even if a man is committed to his relationship, he may still need to formulate strategies to protect his relationship by avoiding that available, attractive woman. The success rate of such strategies may not be 100 percent but it is likely to be significantly higher than if the man was not made aware of the specific consequences of his actions.”
As I read about the research, I couldn’t help but think of countless admonitions in the Bible, mostly involving men, that encouraged a plan of action to avoid temptation. Genesis has a narrative of how Joseph avoided the sexual approaches of an aggressive woman by running away. Job speaks of how he made a pact with his eyes not to look lustfully at a woman (Job 31:1-12). Proverbs is loaded with counsel, including wisdom from a father to a son about proactively guarding himself from flirtatious women. (Proverbs 6:20-7:27). Jesus said that a man who entertains impure thoughts about a woman has already committed adultery in his heart, and encouraged him to take drastic precautions to avoid the temptation (Matthew 5:27-30).
Realistically speaking, both men and women face strong temptation in today’s culture to sacrifice a marriage for the hope of something more exciting or fulfilling. The temptation to compromise — sexually or emotionally — can happen almost anywhere today: in the workplace, on Facebook, and sadly to say, even at church. We would all be wise to do as Job did and weigh the consequences of such indiscretions, and to guard our moral and spiritual purity by proactively thinking of how we can avoid compromising situations, and to escape them if or when they happen.
What do you do to resist temptation? What guidelines do you set to avoid getting into compromising situations? If you have any suggestions, share them so other men can benefit.