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A New Look at Rates of Infidelity in Women and Men

Recent research into the area of infidelity reveals some interesting data: women appear to be closing the gap. Until recently, it was believed that women cheated on their mates less frequently and for very different reasons than did men. Women were believed to cheat much less often, and only when they were no longer in love or very unhappy as compared to men who cheated more easily-almost casually-and even if they were happy in their relationships, both emotionally and sexually. But the new research appears to show that not only are women cheating on their husbands and committed partners at nearly the same rate as men, but for the same reasons. Researchers are uncertain whether the gap in infidelity rates among men and women are actually closing or only appear to be closing. In the “post-feminist” era of female independence and egalitarian couplings, women are nearly as likely to be out of the house and traveling for work as their partners. (Work is one of the primary locations one is likely to become embroiled in an affair.) The reason the gap may only appear to be closing is that in the past, women may have been less likely to answer researcher’s questions about infidelity honestly. Social stigmas for women surrounding promiscuity and relationship configurations which necessitated a woman’s reliance on a man, rather than the reverse, meant women had a much greater need to keep silent in such matters.

Technological Advancements in Everything and in Cheating

The workplace is understood to be a hotbed for possible infidelity because of a principle understanding in social psychology: anticipation builds liking. Whenever we run into someone who piques our interest, and we think we stand a chance of running into them again, excitement builds. Interest. We anticipate running into this person again. And it’s that excitement and anticipation that keeps us interested, likely even more than the individual themselves. Work offers the perfect opportunity for these elements of excitement and anticipation-I wonder if I’ll see that cute new project manager today?-all against the backdrop of boredom and stress, and completely out of the awareness of our spouse, someone who likely offers little or no excitement.

But there is a new landscape for hitting this button of excited anticipation, sometimes over and over again in the same afternoon, and that is the world of social media. Who hasn’t opened a Facebook message from an old high school flame, a questionably flirtatious direct message from a stranger on Twitter, a text (or “sext”) message from someone who isn’t one’s committed partner, or any of the other dozens of formats for communication in the virtual world? Who hasn’t sent such a communication and then wondered whether it wasn’t murky territory?

The New Statistics

Today, 57% of men admit to committing infidelity in any relationship, while 54% of women now admit to the same. Infidelity statistics for women before the 1990s were between 10-15%. It is unlikely, although possible, that rates of infidelity in women have increased this much a 20 year period. What is more likely is that women are becoming more honest about their infidelity as societal stigmas loosen, and that infidelity is a greater possibility for women (as well as for men) with social media, cell phones, and the world of texting.

Reasons for Cheating

It was once believed that men cheated whether or not they were happy in their relationships and whether or not they were sexually satisfied with their wives, but that women only cheated if they were miserable in their marriages and if they had fallen desperately or dispassionately out of love. The new research into infidelity has determined that differences between infidelity in men and women are not so black and white, however. Women also cheat in happy relationships and on partners whom they love.

The reasons why may be answered by evolutionary psychologists who explain that it isn’t only men who have been wired by nature to ensure the biological diversity of the species. Research into species that mate monogamously for life, like the swan or wolf, reveal that although pair bonds are formed and the young raised together, those young are not always the result of the bonded pair. Likely to ensure diversity and the health of the species, the female might mate with another male at some point during the pair’s union. Even so, the pair remains together.

Of course, there are other reasons-psychological, emotional, and sexual-why both women and men cheat, though men report cheating more frequently for reasons which are sexual in nature, while women report cheating more frequently for reasons which are emotional in nature. This should not lead one to the conclusion that women do not cheat for sexual reasons or that men do not cheat for emotional ones. Such thinking is as old as the previous statistics which we recognize now to fall drastically short of the evidence. Whatever one’s reasons for cheating, opportunities are more ample for both committing and for hiding affairs. What this will mean for already high divorce rates is yet to be seen. While we continue to place a high social value on marriage in America-spending billions annually on the industry created around it and upholding or erecting laws to “protect it”-paradoxically, we continue to pay into many other mechanisms meant to erode it. Marriage may not be at question, but the centrality of monogamy may be. That’s another question for the experts.

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