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Sexual jealousy is a type of jealousy that often occurs in romantic relationships, when one partner fears that the other partner has shared inappropriate physical or emotional intimacies with a person or persons outside of the relationship. Sexual jealousy can occur when one partner in a romantic relationship commits sexual infidelity, but it can also occur, and be just as powerful, when one partner suspects the other is guilty of emotional infidelity. Sexual jealousy is considered universal to all humans, but it can also occur in certain animal populations, particularly some species of primates. Experts believe that sexual jealousy can serve both evolutionary and sociological purposes.
Many consider jealousy one of the most powerful human emotions, and sexual jealousy is often considered the most powerful form of jealousy. Sexual jealousy most often occurs when a person believes that his exclusive rights to a particular sexual or romantic partner have been threatened. Persons experiencing this type of jealousy may live in denial, unable to face the truth about an unfaithful partner. Extreme emotional pain, feelings of betrayal, outrage, fear, and inadequacy often occur along with sexual jealousy. Violent outbursts and obsessive thoughts and behaviors are considered common effects of sexual jealousy.
Experts on evolution and biology often believe that sexual jealousy is, in fact, a biological imperative. According to this theory, jealousy in romantic relationships is part of the mechanism by which humans, and some animals, ensure access to the best reproductive partners. Since males and females typically fill different roles in the reproductive process, men and women may experience or react to sexual jealousy in very different ways. Men may often be most upset by sexual infidelity in the female partner, since the male biological imperative involves reserving exclusive reproductive rights to a chosen mate. Women are often more focused on preserving the right to retain a male partner as a protector and caregiver, so they may often be more upset by emotional infidelity on the part of a male partner.
Others believe that sexual jealousy can have sociological roots as well. Some have advanced the theory that sexual jealousy can be used to control female members of society. Some species of primates, such as baboons or gorillas, are believed to use sexual jealousy in this way.
Factors of socialization can influence how partners react to jealousy in romantic relationships. Women may experience less severe jealousy when a male partner is unfaithful, because many women have been socialized to believe that men don't attach emotional importance to sexual intercourse. Many men have been socialized to believe that women always attach emotional significance to sexual intercourse, and may therefore react more strongly to romantic jealousy for this reason.