Cultural stereotypes tell us that it’s usually men who step out on their wives or girlfriends, but in reality, almost as many women cheat as men. In fact, studies on modern Western culture suggest that somewhere between 10 and 20 percent of men and women in marriages and other committed relationships engage in sexual or romantic infidelity – meaning they keep secrets from their primary partner about their sexual and/or their romantic behavior outside the relationship.
Interestingly, the reasons men and women cheat often differ by gender, and these reasons tend to parallel our general understanding of male versus female sexuality. For example, when actively viewing pornography, males are typically more aroused by a rapid-fire succession of objectified body parts and concrete sexual acts, whereas females tend to be more responsive to sexual imagery that includes some kind of emotional connection. In simple terms, most men feel comfortable engaging in a “purely sexual” experience that is void of emotional attachment or relationship, whereas women tend to enjoy sexuality that is inclusive of some kind of emotional connection.
Women who cheat do so for a variety of underlying interpersonal and psychological reasons, the most common of which are listed below:
- She feels neglected, ignored, or underappreciated. A woman who feels more like a housekeeper, financial provider, or nanny than a wife or girlfriend is more vulnerable to finding an external situation that brings attention and appreciation for who she is rather than the functions she performs.
- She is a sex or relationship addict. Some emotionally troubled women engage in a constant, never-ending stream of sex and romance as a means of escaping life and meeting their psychological needs.
- She expects too much from a long-term, primary partnership. Some women have unreasonable expectations about what a spouse should offer, expecting their significant other to meet their every single need, while also being mind-readers in terms of knowing what those needs are. And when their partner inevitably fails them, they feel justified in seeking attention elsewhere.
- She has low self-esteem. Being pursued sexually is a way to feel worthwhile, desirable, wanted, needed, and loved.
- She is lonely. Women who find themselves with a lot of time alone at home may use affairs and sexual liaisons to fill the void.
- She is not having enough sex to suit her specific needs. Women are not martyrs; a sexless relationship may not be acceptable for some, even when the lack of sexual interaction is due to the male spouse’s medical issues.
- She has enough sex, but craves more intimacy. More so than men, women feel valued and connected to their partner through meaningful communication and non-sexual emotional interaction. Women who aren’t getting this kind of intimacy with a primary partner may seek it out elsewhere.
- She wants out. Rather than proactively breaking up, some women find a new partner, thereby giving their significant other a reason to end it (after learning about the affair).
- She is moving on, but doesn’t want to be alone. If a woman views her current relationship as over, she may begin one or several new relationships, thereby ensuring that there is someone waiting in the wings as her committed partner exits.
- She wants revenge. For the woman whose partner has broken her trust in any number of ways – cheating, lying, spending a large amount of money foolishly, etc. – retaliation via outside sex/romance is sometimes an option.
- She is bored to tears. Sometimes women miss the excitement of the early, “honeymoon” stage of a relationship. A healthy, stable relationship, in which intimacy is built slowly over time, lacks excitement, so they seek the “high” of new romance by engaging in affairs.
- She lacks women friends. Some women, especially those who have experienced early maternal abuse or neglect, will dismiss and undervalue their need for solid, supportive female friendships/community. Instead, these women will seek to meet their emotional needs through attention from males, often by having sex and affairs.
Sadly, some women may not realize how profoundly their secretive sexual or romantic behavior can affect the long-term emotional life of a trusting spouse. Betrayal hurts men, too. And, as always, more than any sexual act itself, it’s the keeping of secrets from an intimate partner and the resulting breakdown of relationship trust that causes the most damage. As is true in most emotionally charged events, there are likely multiple meanings/issues/reasons behind the choice to engage extra-relational sexual behavior. It often takes the involvement of a skilled professional to help peel back the layers of a woman’s decision-making to find the root causes. If the woman in question turns out to have a problem with sex or love addiction, as many women who cheat do, she will require specialized treatment to address both past trauma and her adult sexual behavior patterns. Gender separate inpatient treatment for women sex and love addicts is available at The Ranch in Tennessee, with outpatient treatment for women available at The Sexual Recovery Institute in Los Angeles.