WE'VE BEEN hearing it since we were old enough to be held responsible for our behavior but weren't:

"Boys will be boys," they say. Then they shake their heads slowly side to side.

We heard it the first time we ate a bug or picked a scab or brought a lizard to the table. Someone said it when we dismantled the toaster or smeared mud on our church clothes.

There is no equivalent phrase for girls. At the earliest age, girls are expected to be little ladies.

But after 100,000 years of evolution, the male of the species still has not been socialized enough for people to expect us to have as much impulse control as women and domesticated animals.

That may explain why 54 percent of the respondents in a recent poll felt that Rep. Anthony Weiner should not be forced to resign in the roiling wake of Tweetgate. He is, after all, just a man.

And quite a man to hear him tell it. His, ah, stature seemed to grow with every tweet in the seamy show-and-tell he shared with anyone who wanted to catch his act on the Internet.

I haven't seen the pictures yet. But unless they are reminiscent of the flag-raising on Iwo Jima, I can't imagine why he felt proud enough to share them.

I did peruse some of the mash notes he sent to the women who corresponded with him. They read like an anthology of phrases etched into the walls of a middle-school boys' bathroom.

Despite this, more than half the people in a recent poll seemed to say that he is man enough to represent them in the salons of power. That's not an expression of compassion or forgiveness; that is an example of lowered expectations.

Truth be told, men have turned these lowered expectations to our advantage. The advice I share with young married men is that they should strive to attain what I call heathen status.

Heathen status is conferred when your wife abandons all hope of reform. One day, she sees you stretched out on the couch with the remote in one hand balancing a beer on your belly and tells herself that this is as good as it's ever going to get.

So, boys will be boys because we get a pass on a lot of stuff. But I'm about ready to relinquish my pass after this recent spate of boys behaving badly.

Arnold Schwarzenegger and Dominique Strauss-Kahn have redefined the term "maid service."

Tiger Woods delayed his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus' record to take a crack at Wilt Chamberlain's lofty mark, former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford overshot the Appalachian Trail by 1,000 miles on an international booty call, former Sen. Larry Craig interrupted a cross-country flight for a stopover in a men's room, Eliot Spitzer, who never seemed to catch a sale, paid up to $2,000 per session for sex.

Newt Gingrich and John Edwards had affairs while their wives were dying of cancer, and former New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey had a coming-out party fit for a queen.

Then there was Bill Clinton, Wilbur Mills and, well, you get it.

But the thing about Weiner is that he risked ruin for what amounts to nothing more than phone sex with pictures. He was a flasher in the Internet age, a man who got off by manipulating his mouse.

Not to be too judgmental. Most of us have at least one dimly lit corner in our psyche. But the idea of talking dirty to women who can't even hear you breathe heavy doesn't sound all that titillating to me.

I have benefited from lowered expectations as much as the next guy. I'm not trying to be held to a higher standard than my bros.

But I'm not willing to suffer

real consequences for virtual sex.

Send email to smithel@phillynews.com or call 215-854-2512. For recent columns: www.philly.com/ElmerSmith