Why What We Know About Male Sexual Jealousy May Be Wrong

Wednesday, November 01, 2017 by Meg   •   Filed under Sexuality/Relationships


According to psychologist and researcher Dr. David Buss, jealousy looks different across the sexes1.

Of course, we already knew that.

We've all seen The Bachlorette. We've watched the Housewives of Atlanta scream and fight because their partner paid too much attention to another woman at a party.

We've also heard the news stories about some guy opening fire on his best friend for sleeping with his wife. We may also be aware that, until its repeal in 1974, Texas law allowed men to shoot their wives if they were found in bed with another man (True story).

Fucking Texas. 

Of course such laws in Texas, and in other states, were enacted because of the nature of men's jealousy. Men don't need to be legally protected from the consequences of emotional jealousy, only from that which involves banging. After all, sexual jealousy is the all-time biggest trigger for the fellas, right? 

Maybe not. The tendency towards emotionally-jealous hair-pulling extravaganzas might not be as clear cut as we think. 

Sexual Versus Emotional Jealousy

Buss' research, detailed in his book The Evolution of Desire1, supports the notion that men and women approach jealousy differently and are triggered by different things due to natural selection contributions. 

His theory goes like this:

Women should respond more dramatically to emotional jealousy because it represents the potential for resources to be squandered on someone else, resources that should be devoted to her offspring.

Men should respond to sexual jealousy to avoid providing resources to another man's offspring accidentally. 

So women should get pissed off when their mate starts to care about someone else because it may mark the end of financial support; men should be more concerned with their partner boinking the mailman, regardless of her feelings about said postal worker. 

Fair enough. 

But men may be more sensitive to emotional jealousy than we give them credit for.

Despite common social beliefs that men are primed for sexual jealousy, recent studies on the topic disagree with Buss' line of reasoning.

University of California research published in "Personality and Social Psychology Review" examined self-report responses, psychophysiological information, domestic violence, homicide rates and morbid jealousy for evidence that sexual-based envy played a more significant role than the emotional. They were unable to find any data that males responded more strongly to sexual jealousy than emotion-based jealousy. 

Looks like you don't have to boink the mailman to get your mate seeing red. Men might be primed for an emotional-jealousy hair-pulling extravaganza, the likes of which is often seen on Housewives of New Jersey. 

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1. http://www.amazon.com/The-Evolution-Of-Desire-Revised/dp/046500802X
2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12676643

Topic-Relevant Resources

The Evolution of Desire
Evolutionary psychology and the history of human mating