Do women cheat? or my girlfriend was on Ashley Madison and I didn’t know it…

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Do women cheat?

or my girlfriend was on Ashley Madison and I didn’t know it…

By Allison Lewin, LMSW, KIP Fellow

Within days of each other I heard about two cheating scandals involving close female friends of mine. I guess this isn’t shocking considering the divorce rate in our country is between 40-50% and studies suggest that 17% of divorces are due to extra-marital affairs; however, even knowing the statistics, hearing about these two scenarios of infidelity left me sad and perplexed. In both cases, the male culprits were in their mid-late twenties, lived with their girlfriends, and had been dating these women for over three years. From an outside perspective, these seemed like two happy couples on the path to marriage. So why then did these “good” guys betray the women they claim to love? Were they unhappy in the relationship? Were they bored? Or was it something else, perhaps feeling trapped in a relationship moving in the direction of no return? Why as a female in my late twenties do I really only hear about men cheating on their girlfriends or wives? Do women cheat? With my mind overrun by these questions, I dug into the research to hopefully find some answers.

There’s been a lot of hype recently in the media about the Ashley Madison website since hackers exposed the personal information of millions of its users. The fact that Ashley Madison entertains roughly 37 million customers is a topic for another conversation, but the good news is, this scandal once again put the topic of infidelity on the table for discussion. Maybe we should be thanking Ashley Madison users for bringing this topic out of the closet.

So what has Ashley Madison taught us? According to Noel Biderman, founder and former CEO of the Ashley Madison site, female users of the website want to feel desired in ways they no longer feel with their partners, to be seen and feel heard. On the other hand, according to Biderman, men who use the website seem to be searching to fill some sort of sexual void. Biderman’s observations support some research suggesting gender differences in motivations for cheating. Women tend to cheat to fill an emotional void while men tend to cheat to fill a physical one. For men, dissatisfaction or general unhappiness is not correlated with marriage infidelity while sexual dissatisfaction is. Put simply, most men who cheat aren’t in fact unhappy; they are just horny. (Or maybe that’s why they think they’re doing it).

So, does biology really play a role? Perhaps. Some studies do show that men who are unfaithful often have low resting heart rates and high testosterone levels. Male infidelity has also been linked to a lower IQ, risk taking, and an impulsive personality. Does that mean we should avoid dating hairier guys who drive fast cars? If only it were that easy! To reduce the complexities of human behavior to biology and gender would be far too simple. We all know when it comes to human behavior, there’s always more to the story.

So, back to my original question…Do women cheat? Well, of course. In fact, there is evidence that the percentage of women cheating on their husbands has dramatically increased over the past twenty years. When polled for The Normal Bar, an extensive survey of more than 100,000 people in romantic relationships, 33% of men and 19% of women admitted to being unfaithful. Another study, from 2010, concluded that the percentage of wives having affairs rose almost 40% during the last two decades to 14.7%, while the number of men admitting to extramarital affairs remained constant at 21 percent. It seems that women are more inclined to cheat today because they have more power, more disposable income, and more options; the economic implications for divorced women are much less catastrophic then in decades past. The rise in the number of women cheating could also be a reflection of changing gender norms. While in the past sex for sex sake has only been in the province of male sexuality, more and more women could be taking pride in their sexuality and adopting and owning a more “male” approach to sex. From an egalitarian perspective, maybe this rise in female infidelity is actually a good thing.

If women are cheating now more than ever before, why does it still seem that we only hear about male infidelity? Maybe this phenomenon is just a pure reflection of the higher rates of infidelity that seem to still exist for men than for women. However, gender norms may come into play once again. Women may feel more shame and secrecy than men when it comes to their extramarital dalliances, and therefore may talk about it or report it less. Furthermore, fearing judgment by others or embarrassment that a cheating spouse may be a reflection of their own inadequacy, men may happen to report being the victim of cheating less. On the societal level maybe it is just harder for us to grasp that, at times, women may be just as sexual men. Shocking.

Struggling with infidelity, sex, or other relationship issues? Schedule an appointment with one of our relationship experts at KIP!






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