Is dating "up" always better?
A study recently published in the Journal of Sex Research indicates that you might want to be wary of that CEO, politician or media mogul — people who are in positions of power are more prone to infidelity.
The researchers looked at correlational data from 610 Dutch men and women and found that people who are in positions of power in their careers tend to cheat much more than people in subordinate roles. Why? People in power are attracted to "counternormative" expressions of their sexuality.
When people get power, they tend to act outside of social norms. When it comes to sex, that means evading the attendant expectations of relationships, like fidelity. In other words, powerful people's sexual desires seem to stray from the typical monogamous relationships and white picket fences.
The study's link between power and infidelity was just as strong for men and women, suggesting that it's the power and novelty itself and not someone's gender which accounts for the cheating impulse.
A special thrill to cheating: The study found that "power's relationship with infidelity was statistically mediated by increased attraction to the secrecy associated with infidelity." The secretive aspect is part of the power trip and also part of the thrill.
Interestingly, while positions of power were linked to cheating, the study found powerful single people weren't more likely to, say, engage in casual sex than mid- to entry-level types. That may be because one-night stands aren't that outside of the norm for singles anymore, or casual sex doesn't come with the same transgressive thrill.
Confidence in the boardroom and the bedroom: It's not just the urge to break the rules. Powerful people actually have an edge in the form of sexual confidence. A 2011 study conducted by the same team of researchers found that the leading link between power and infidelity is the amount of confidence an individual has.
"Power makes people focus their attention on physically attractive others, it increases romantic approach behavior, and it makes people optimistic in their perception of sexual interest in potential mates," professor Joris Lammer wrote. "As a result, participants who hold a high power role in a mixed-sex interaction with strangers are more confident and self-assured than participants who are given a low-power role."
That confidence expresses itself quite literally in the bedroom. Past surveys have found that people with incomes of over $77,000 tend to be more adventurous in bed (though, often, they suffer from low libidos due to long hours at the office). The study found that 45% of people in high-earning positions have had a threesome, while 83% have tried having sex outside of the bedroom.
Society's rules need not apply: In the romantic realm (and elsewhere), power is a kind of currency. Given the latitude, people in positions of power may act outside of the accepted sexual-romantic mores. Think of the personal affairs of Anthony Weiner, Bill Clinton and even the fictitious Christian Grey; people in careers that have enormous influence like politicians, pop stars and actors have a long track record of public infidelities. Science suggests that the expansiveness and formidability of their careers lends itself to an overall lack of accountability in their love lives.
This might be why attractive, wealthy and formidable people are likely to be less generous than individuals who don't meet mainstream beauty standards, as other studies have shown. When people assume positions of power, either through their careers or perceived level of attractiveness, there's less of an incentive to consider others, even if they're your romantic partners.
As Carrie says in Sex and the City, "Men who are too good looking are never good in bed because they never had to be." That's not to say these general findings mean all CEOs, doctors and lawyers can't make great lovers or long-term partners. We just have to keep their confidence in check.