Ever wondered if you or your partner is the “type” to have an affair?
A study by a University of Guelph professor published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behaviour uncovered some of the most common reasons men and women stray. After surveying 506 men and 412 women in monogamous sexual relationships, the researchers identified the following risk factors for infidelity:
• Anxiety about sexual performance
• Being easily sexually aroused
• Relationship issues (particularly among women)
Interestingly, religion, gender, education, and marital status mattered less than personality and interpersonal factors. In fact, women were almost as likely to cheat as men (19 percent compared to 23 percent), but for very different reasons. Women who were unhappy in their relationship were more than twice as likely to cheat, while those who cited “sexual incompatibility” with their partner were almost three times more likely to cheat.
Of course, people engage in extramarital affairs for a wide variety of reasons that can’t be easily explained by a study. Experts have cited other factors, including boredom, a biological drive to mate with many partners, differing levels of sex drive between partners, and one partner holding a powerful position or career, among others.
The Scope of Infidelity in the U.S.
Experts say it is impossible to get an accurate picture of the scope of infidelity in this country. Studies over the past two decades have produced mixed estimates, ranging from as low as 11 percent to as high as 70 percent of Americans admitting to cheating. The unknown variable is always how many people are underreporting their extramarital escapades for fear of getting caught.
According to some studies, affair statistics hover around 13 percent among people in their 20s, are highest among people in their 40s (the so-called “mid-life crisis years”) at 20 percent, and drop off from there. Men are more likely to admit to having affairs than women.
The Relationship Standard or Unrealistic Expectation?
Polls by the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center show that Americans have little tolerance for infidelity. When asked whether extramarital affairs are not wrong, only sometimes wrong, almost always wrong, or always wrong, more than 80 percent of Americans responded with “always wrong.” A whopping 99 percent say they expect their partner to remain faithful.
Statistically speaking, fidelity is the ideal we hold for our relationships. But some therapists question whether this sets an unrealistic expectation that contributes to divorce. In her book Mating in Captivity, author and family therapist Esther Perel notes that “despite the fact that monogamy is a ship sinking faster than anyone can bail it out, we continue to cling to the wreckage with absolute faith in its structural soundness.”
Getting Help in the Wake of an Affair
Whatever your beliefs about monogamy, it is clear that cheating hurts everyone involved. Rather than making assumptions or responding out of fear or anger, experts recommend counseling to determine whether underlying issues, such as sex, love, and relationship addiction, may be contributing to the problem. Whether you decide to mend betrayed trust or go your separate ways, you will have closure on a very difficult chapter in your life.