The Need for Sociology of Sex and not Just Science to Explain (Female) Infidelity

Earlier this month TIME Magazine came out with an article about “cougar sex” and why women in their “middle years” age 27 – 45 reported having more sex than any other age group.  The story started out addressing one of my pet-frustrations justifying infidelity among men.

Men who cheat on their spouses have always enjoyed an expedient explanation: Evolution made me do it. Many articles (here is one, and here is another), especially in recent years, have explored the theory that men sleep around because evolution has programmed them to seek fertile (and, conveniently, younger) wombs.

The article then segues into a study about female sexuality using evolution to explain higher sexual gusto among women in between the ages of 27 through 45.  The article was interesting but like other “science of sex” type explanations for sexual behaviors, I was disappointed in its lack of social contextualization.

I’m sure the author only had limited word space but starting the article in the context of infidelity increased my expectation that the story would drive home the argument that women cheat too and here are the scientific reasons why.

The article’s analysis of the study is still interesting but I’m not sure what to make of how the author presented the study’s theory.

Our female ancestors would have grown accustomed to watching many of their children — perhaps as many as half — die of various diseases, starvation, warfare and so on before being able to have kids of their own. This trauma left a psychological imprint to bear as many children as possible. Becoming pregnant is much easier for women and girls in their teens and early 20s — so much easier that they need not spend much time having sex. (Read about cougar cruises.)

However, after the mid-20s, the lizard-brain impulse to have more kids faces a stark reality: it’s harder and harder to get pregnant as a woman’s remaining eggs age. And so women in their middle years respond by seeking more and more sex.

I’m probably disappointed because I wanted more discussion on the sociology of sex and infidelity within this article.  Here are some pressing questions and discussion points on my mind about the topic.  Please chime in on your thoughts.

  • Men who cheat don’t always cheat with young women.
  • Today’s woman has more autonomy, power, and travel opportunities.  How does that affect the cheating trend?
  • Unfortunately, women cheat too but there’s still more stigma attached to a woman cheating than a man.
  • In the monkey world, the alpha male goes around spreading his seed. This theory is sometimes used to explain male infidelity. But little is discussed about the female monkeys getting cozy with all the available beta monkeys.  Also, monkeys pick bugs out of each others’ hair and eat them.  I’ll leave it at that.
  • Depending on who you talk to, isn’t infidelity about more than sex?  Isn’t sex just the end product of cheating or a symptom of some larger personal issue?

Society’s Aversion to Public Displays of Breastfeeding

Two dear friends of mine are new moms.  Their babies are beautiful, precious, and hungry.  Hungry for momma’s milk and lots of it so they can grow big, healthy, and strong.

Both of my friends told me that they felt shy about feeding their infants in front of friends or in public, even with a nursing cover.  I wondered if I would feel the same way when I have children.

Both moms are educated, beautiful, and confident women who support healthy and natural baby-rearing practices such as delivering with a midwife or doula, using cloth diapers, and breastfeeding.

A few day’s ago, I was reading a global health article in TIME Magazine (June 21, 2010 edition) and came across a photo of a malaria-stricken Ugandan woman nuring her child. I felt conflicted about this image for two reasons:

  1. Had that woman been white or looked like a relatable middle-class American woman, I would imagine, TIME would receive an uproar of complaints for indecent exposure.
  2. Reason #1 reinforces our society’s aversion to public displays of breastfeeding.

The conflict stemmed from my initial reaction to this photo thinking it was provocative.  I was disappointed with my degree of sensitivity to an image of a woman naturally feeding her child despite my support for the benefits and act of breastfeeding.  Our cultural practices of censoring the boob had penetrated my health education and values, just for a split moment.

Clearly, many women feel similarly to my two mommy friends about public breastfeeding.  Some go further down the spectrum where, for varying reason, do not or cannot naturally feed their babies.  Some women use a combination of breastfeeding (at home) and formula or pumped breast milk for going out.  If breasts were seen less as sexual objects and more for their important functionality, we’d see more women feeding their babies at the bus stop, in the mall, at work, or with friends at a restaurant, while the moms eat themselves.

My (not-yet-a-mom) maternal and public health instincts feel an injustice about how we’ve grown accustom to the lack of public ownership we (women) have over our bodies, particularly our boobs!  Our society highlights this injustice for every time a woman gets a stare for publicly nursing their child, or worse scolded for indecency, or worse yet banned from permitting the act to not offend or distract others.

Despite popular belief, public breastfeeding is NOT a controversial issue, it’s a public health one.  Not enough women naturally feed their babies either exclusively or for a long enough period to maximize its health benefits for mother and child. According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) survey among US infants born in 2006:

  • 73.9% were ever breastfed
  • 43.4% were still breastfeeding at 6 months of age
  • 22.7% were breastfeeding at 1 year of age
  • 33.1% were exclusively breastfed through 3 months of age
  • 13.6% were exclusively breastfed through 6 months of age

The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding,

…up to 6 months of age, with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond.

For a practice so important to the growth and development of our future generation, any societal barriers to breastfeeding are troubling.  Especially when we censor such images from public consumption as Facebook (FB) did when they deemed breastfeeding photos a violation of their decency policy.  In response, many women added more pictures of themselves nursing and a non-profit organization started a FB fan page called “If breastfeeding offends you put a blanket over YOUR head.” You should check out some of the discussion, it’s really interesting.

As natural as it is, initiating and maintaining breastfeeding can be challenging or uncomfortable.  There’s no place for additional barriers or judgment whether it’s from your partner, a stranger, employer, or a social networking site run by a twenty-something year old, multi-millionaire guy.

Although most states have laws protecting a woman’s rights to breastfeed in public, women brave enough to bare their breast still face scrutiny and harassment.  The image of baby-sucking-on teat still makes people feel uncomfortable.  Could it be because for every picture of a breast in our society , a small fraction of them represent its primary function, to provide nutrients?

Don’t get me wrong, breasts are beautiful and sexy. But the breast’s attractiveness and function don’t need to be mutually exclusive.

I joked with one of my friends and said, “imagine women had the guts to whip out their breast whenever they needed to nurse and said to their onlooking nay-sayers ‘Watchu lookin’ at? Never seen a tit before?'”  Some women are that brave.  But the vast majority of us who may (or will) find it challenging to publicly breastfeed, shouldn’t have to compromise their child’s health (even in the slightest) because of societal pressure to keep nursing behind closed doors.

Many workplaces now have policies promoting nursing and the CDC has a guide to promote breastfeeding at work.  You can also support local or national breastfeeding campaigns.  Joining or starting a support group is also an option.  If you’re committed to building your public breastfeeding confidence, start small.  Try nursing in front of trusted family and friends, use a cover if need be, then go from there.

Remember, there’s no justification in anyone judging a woman for nursing.  It’s a beautiful and natural way of keeping mom and baby healthy.  For nursing mom’s out there, please share your tips.