"Men!" huffed a friend, more annoyed than angry. "Can't they keep it zipped?"

"Puts a whole other meaning on the term embedded," said another.

They were referring, of course, to the tangled sex story du jour, the extramarital affair that toppled CIA Director David Petraeus and now threatens the marriage and careers of several other idiots. Even as I write this, the scandal changes by the hour, each new detail more sordid and sophomoric than the last.

One would be hard pressed to make this stuff up. Lavish parties. Flirtatious emails. A secret Gmail account. A rogue FBI agent. Cuckolded husbands. This is a prime-time, real-life soap opera with all the props, and then some. Who wants to worry about the fiscal cliff, when we as a country can be riveted by all the twists and subplots of this cautionary tale?

If not for the use of technology, these antics could've taken place in the courts of the Egyptian pharaohs or in the castles of Henry VIII -- and they probably did. Infidelity is hardly a new invention.

Reminds me of something my mother used to say: El hombre es fuego, la mujer estopa. Llega el diablo y sopla. Loosely translated: Man is fire, woman wick. Here comes the devil and blows.

My friend's comment about unzipped sexuality was the tamest in the many I've heard in the past few weeks. Me, I just want to know how these high-achieving, well-educated people found the time to write tens of thousands of emails and arrange romantic rendezvous while waging war and running a spy agency. Surely there's a lesson here about efficiency and time management. A lesson, too, about keeping away from temptation.

Many of my girlfriends, however, aren't as charitable. They view Petraeus' abysmal judgment as further proof of men's penchant for sexual misconduct. The male of the species, however smart and successful he might be, is controlled by insatiable urges, impulses so strong that, gee whiz, he can't help himself.

When all is said and done, one woman told me, sex is always on guys' minds. It is driving force, motivation and escape.

If so, this reasoning gives men -- my husband and sons, my nephews, uncles and father -- license to cheat, and I reject that. Men shouldn't get a pass when it comes to infidelity, no more so than women. Would we afford them the same excuse?

There's a long, inglorious history of leaders dabbling with secretaries, socialites and movie stars. In the not-so-distant past, the press and the public turned a collective blind eye. Now we rubberneck. I'm embarrassed to admit that I regularly check online for the latest update, even as I "tsk, tsk" over the titillating revelations.

Infidelity is difficult to overcome, a thorn that pricks long after the rose has wilted. My friends who have had their trust betrayed have lived with the pain for years. They describe it as a seismic event that divided their lives between innocence and cynicism. No matter how quickly they rebound, the experience colors the way they look at relationships. But as private people, they at least endured in obscurity, far from the glare of TV lights and the sharp words of late-night comedians.

In the case of the philandering general, the whole world watches -- and judges.

(Ana Veciana-Suarez is a family columnist for The Miami Herald. Write to her at The Miami Herald, One Herald Plaza, Miami, FL 33132, or send e-mail to aveciana(at)herald.com.)