Why Can't Men Refrain from Looking at Photos of Sexy Women and Fantasizing?

Posted by Evan, 24 May

One of our female readers dropped this email the other day... It read...

"I read your article about why men look at other women and tried to get my head around it. I understand the whole cavemen instinct, but what I don’t understand is the adult choice to refrain or give in to temptation. I find it impossible to get my head around the concept that it is okay for men to be mentally unfaithful while in a loving relationship when it is so hurtful for women to do the same. I have asked my boyfriend of 3 and a half years: if I got off on another man while having sex with him would it bother him. I’ve also asked him whether looking at sexy photos of other men and fantasizing about those other men, would bother him and he said yes it would to both questions. I wonder why it bothers men when women do it but they feel quite justified to do it themselves with little or no conscience? Being devoted to a person is a choice. The level of that devotion is variable and sometimes unacceptable.

I am completely devoted to my boyfriend, but he occasionally looks at pictures of other women and of course, I know that he gets off on those other women. Yet he proclaims to be 100% devoted to me and tells me often how much he loves me and holds me tight like he really does love me. When I know that he’s been looking at pictures of other women I just feel like I’ve been betrayed and his “love” is just a lie – how can he love me if he is being mentally unfaithful? When I know he’s been getting off on other women I feel like I’m not worth his interest like I’m not good enough. There is no way in the world I can compete physically with those women in the pictures he gets off on. I am quite desperate to get my head around exactly what it is the drives a man to give into the same desires that I myself deliberately avoid for the sake of devotion. Why do men (generally) make the conscious choice NOT to focus on one woman??

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There are times my libido is so high and my partner does not feel like being intimate. I do not turn to pictures of other sexier men and fantasize I’m having sex with them nor do I go out and find a man who will satisfy me. Every time men go ‘window shopping’ then look at their real-life partner – gee what an absolute letdown that must be. I can’t Photoshop myself to match what my partner looks at. I am not ugly, I have a reasonable body yet each time I know he’s been doing it, I do feel incredibly ugly and it is a massive blow to my self-esteem. If I let myself do what he occasionally does, I know damn well I will start wanting to be with other men and I will start thinking of other men when I’m having sex with my partner. So, to avoid that I choose not to look if I notice someone sexy when I’m out. I look away and I think of my boyfriend deliberately after, to bring my focus back into the man I love. What is so hard about doing that? It simply comes down to a choice. From a man’s point of view, how unrealistic is it of me to expect the same level of fidelity and devotion?

Thank you,

Bel"

Here is my take:

Dear Bel,

I appreciate your long, thoughtful email outlining your feelings. Since it’s clear that you and I are working off two completely different definitions of infidelity, I hope you can appreciate my attempt to engage with your question. Unless I can bridge our gap, I’m afraid my reply will remain unsatisfying, since it challenges rather than validates your original assertion. Let’s start with a quote from you:

“I find it impossible to get my head around the concept that it is okay for men to be mentally unfaithful while in a loving relationship when it is so hurtful for women to do the same.”

There are two premises in here that I’d like to challenge:

a) That it is okay for men to look at women but hurtful for women to look at men.

Maybe that’s what your boyfriend thinks, but I’ve never said that, nor have I implied that. Thus, your question essentially asks me to defend something I don’t believe – that there should be double standards for men and women. There should not.

Last month, I went to the Father/Daughter dance at my daughter’s elementary school. I couldn’t help but to objectively observe that there were a LOT of REALLY cute, well-dressed men at the event. My wife – who was selling tickets up front – wholeheartedly agreed.

If she had brought the same thing up first, should I have been upset? I don’t think so. My wife has eyes. It was notable how many hot guys were in attendance. We have been happily married for 10 years and we were going home together. Why would I get bent out of shape at that?

Now, you may think this isn’t a very telling example, but it is.

In a healthy relationship with two secure adults, instances like this don’t register. When my wife tells me a story of sleeping with some guy in France in her 30’s, it doesn’t register. When she tells me she got hit on by a younger man at a bachelorette party, it doesn’t register. I know there have been other men in the past. I know there are other men who are more visually appealing (taller, younger, fitter, etc) wherever we go.

But I’m the guy she married. I already won.

So why would I spend any time driving myself crazy because my wife still finds other men attractive and is flattered when they find her attractive?

b) You call looking at someone else of the opposite sex “mentally unfaithful.”

Well, if that’s your working definition, it’s going to be next to impossible for me to convince you that looking at attractive people is both normal and benign.

It also seems you’ve conflated a lot of things, which have to all be dealt with separately. Here’s a short list of different forms of behaviors that may trigger you and my brief reaction to each:

  • Glancing at another person – no big deal
  • Staring at another person – crude and insensitive, but not cheating
  • Hitting on another person – never
  • Imagining another person else while having sex – no big deal
  • Getting off to the image of another person while having sex – no big deal
  • Looking at sexy photos of another person – no big deal
  • Masturbating at sexy videos of another person – no big deal, in moderation
  • Taking action to meet another person in real life – never

I know I’m not the final arbiter of such things, but since this is my blog and at the top of the page it says “Understand Men. Find Love,” I’m going to suggest that many men see things like I do.

And if you bristle because your definitions are different than mine, that’s okay; my fear is that you’re going to undermine a great relationship with your boyfriend if you don’t come a little closer to my way of thinking.

He DOES love you. He IS devoted to you. He is not running off with a Kardashian or a porn star or a cute girl at the grocery store.

All of your feelings around this, Bel, are just that: feelings. They’re not facts. Nor do they outweigh your boyfriend’s opinions. If anything, they indicate a highly fearful worldview that is not based on most men’s realities – we can look at EVERYTHING, and it still means NOTHING. That doesn’t mean he couldn’t be more subtle or respectful, but based on your tone, it sounds like any minor transgression is somehow an attack on you and your partnership.

In your opinion, your boyfriend looking at photos is a “betrayal,” which means he thinks his own girlfriend is “not good enough,” which makes his love for you a “lie.”

In reality, NONE of this is true.

So when you ask “Why do men (generally) make the conscious choice NOT to focus on one woman?” you are imputing some serious value judgment on men.

First of all, he IS focused on you. You’re his girlfriend and the most important person in his life.

Next, you’re falsely assuming that if a man’s dating you, he should find no other woman attractive, nor should he acknowledge the objective truth that other women are attractive.

In other words, you’re asking him to lie to you.

You said it yourself. You admitted you find other men sexy, which means it should be normal for him to find other women sexy.

The only difference is that you’ve taken the extraordinary step of looking away from sexy men to bring your focus back to the man you love and you expect that if he loved you, he’d do the same.

That’s wonderful and thoughtful, but don’t you think that’s a bit…extreme?

“If I let myself do what he occasionally does, I know damn well I will start wanting to be with other men.”

Really? Do you lack such self-control that you can’t admire a cute guy on the street and not want to throw your entire relationship away to pursue sex with a stranger?

Funny, I see attractive women every day and it never occurs to me that I’d be happier with anyone other than my wife. Hmm…maybe there’s more to a relationship than just attraction.

Anyway, my dear Bel, I know you feel very deeply about this issue, but all I can do is point out that you can only change your behavior. You can’t change the behavior of your partner, nor an entire gender.

Which is why the most effective thing you can do is to believe your boyfriend when he says he loves you and try to get over your belief that “looks at women = infidelity.”

Right now, your insecurity is running the show. Here’s Exhibit A:

I can’t Photoshop myself to match what my partner looks at. I am not ugly, I have a reasonable body yet each time I know he’s been doing it, I do feel incredibly ugly and it is a massive blow to my self-esteem.”

No one said you were ugly. No one is asking you to Photoshop yourself. No one is intentionally hurting your self-esteem. You’re throwing this at your boyfriend’s feet, but it’s ultimately YOU who decides how to feel about yourself.

If you’re insecure, every single perceived slight will cause a crippling blow to your ego and a crisis of confidence in your relationship.

If you’re secure, his glancing at women and looking at porn occasionally is a non-issue. Not an insult. Not an attack. Not a sign he’s not attracted to you. And certainly not cheating.

So what’s it gonna be, Bel?

Are you going to double down on making your devoted boyfriend of 3 years “wrong”?

Are you going to continue to doubt his character and make him feel guilty for being normal?

Are you going to continue to associate benign behavior with infidelity and a lack of devotion?

If so, that’s your prerogative, but you’re basically policing his thoughts and punishing him for a crime (infidelity) that he didn’t actually commit.

Believe me when I tell you that good men can be devoted and find other women pretty.

Believe me when I tell you that looking (not leering, not acting out with a real-life person) is not the equivalent of cheating.

Believe me when I tell you that this insecurity of yours will sabotage your relationship.

Once you let go of these damaging beliefs, you can finally relax and be happy with your boyfriend. Hold onto these beliefs and you know exactly how things are going to end.

Evan Marc Katz is a dating coach who specializes in helping smart, strong, successful women understand and connect with men since 2003. Thousands of his clients have fallen in love, gotten married, started families, and found happiness – after only a few months of coaching. His latest dating book, “Why You’re Still Single – Things Your Friends Would Tell You If You Promised Not to Get Mad”, was a critical success. He also operates a popular blog, EvanMarcKatz.com, which serves as a one-stop shop for anyone trying to understand relationship dynamics. Combining the insight of Dr. Drew and the wit of Adam Carolla, Katz has answered hundreds of challenging and controversial questions with a unique combination of logic, experience, and empathy. Take Evan's dating quiz.

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