While concrete evidence is hard to come by, the general consensus is that men -- especially powerful men -- cheat more than women, researchers said. And now a new study attempts to explain why: men have stronger sexual impulses than women, but not weaker self-control.
Previous research has shown that men are more likely than women to pursue romantic partners who are "off limits," the researchers said, but the motivations behind that have been largely unexplored.
"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 study author Natasha Tidwell, a doctoral psychology student at Texas A&M University.
"But when people exercise self-control in a given situation, this sex difference in behavior is greatly reduced," she said. "It makes sense that self-control, which has relatively recent evolutionary origins compared to sexual impulses, would work similarly -- and as effectively -- for both men and women."
Tidwell and coauthor Paul Eastwick, an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin, recruited more than 800 undergraduate students. In one of the two experiments, participants were first asked to recall and describe an attraction to an unavailable or incompatible member of the opposite sex, and then they answered survey questions designed to measure sexual impulses.
"When men reflected on their past sexual behavior, they reported experiencing relatively stronger impulses and acting on those impulses more than women did," says Tidwell.
However, men and women did not differ in the extent to which they exerted self-control.
"Men have plenty of self-control -- just as much as women," added Eastwick. "However, if men fail to use self-control, their sexual impulses can be quite strong. This is often the situation when cheating occurs."