It is suggested by some that for the past 30 years, men have been cheating more often than women and continue to have extramarital sex and relationships more often than women.1 It is important to know the signs and general statistics of affairs happening in your relationship so you can avoid the turmoil of an unwanted breakdown.
How Common is Cheating, Really?
Cheating in dating relationships is statistically more likely than cheating in marriages 2 and is connected to attachment avoidance 3 as opposed to just sexual fantasy or relationship avoidance. In hetro-sexual marriages, “23% of men and 20% of women report engaging in extra-partner sexual intercourse at some point during relationship.”2 There are many types of infidelity.3
It is important to remember that when exploring the nature of affairs, researchers gather data by asking people to self-report or disclose the details of their affairs. Self-report data can be inaccurate in some ways because people can under-report their affairs or flat out lie about what has or has not happened. The data referenced in this article include self-report measures and can be trusted as valid.
Who Cheats More: Men or Women?
Men have historically cheated more often than women, but cheating by women is increasing today and following similar trends at ratio to men.4 Women having higher employment rates, income equality, and spending more time in the workplace have all been linked to possibly explaining the equality in affairs across gender divides. One study reviewed that modern hookup culture has made it more acceptable for couples in their 20’s to have casual sex than those who were in their 20’s during the 1980’s.5
Have Men Always Cheated More?
According to the Institute for Family Studies, “men are more likely than women to cheat: 20% of men and 13% of women reported that they’ve had sex with someone other than their spouse while married, according to data from the recent General Social Survey.”6
The statistics show us that men cheat more than women in relationships, not necessarily that they cheat more today than they have in the past. Placing focus on the research showing that men statistically cheat somewhere between 20% of the time, when women cheat about 13% of the time is likely the best way to consider men cheating more often than women.6, 7 Other studies reference that percentage difference being 23% of men and 20% of women.2 The bottom line being that cheating happens for both men and women, and for women less often than men.
A continued look at the commonality of cheating in committed relationships shows that as definitions of cheating is broadened to include “emotional involvement and nonintercourse sexual activities, the rates surge to approximately 69%” of marriages.2
Which Gender Cheats More Based on Age & Marital Status
Generally male and female partners’ tendency to cheat increases until about age 60 for women and 70 for men, then falls at similar rates as each group ages.6 This could also be explained by looking at the percentages of people in marriages across the age spectrum as we see the lower percentages of marriage at early and late phases of life, and higher marriage rates towards mid-life.
Just because you are older or younger does not necessarily mean that your relationship will be free from affair(s). Cheating can happen at any time in a relationship and age does play some role in the chances of cheating but does not make cheating more common for one sex over the other based on age because both sexes rise and fall in cheating rates together throughout a person’s life.5, 6, 7
Couples Who Reported Having Extramarital Sex 1991-2018:1
|Age Range||Both M/F 1991||Both M/F 2018|
Couples Who Reported Having Extramarital Sex Based on Marital Status:
|Marital Status||Both M/F 1991||Both M/F 2018|
Couples Who Reported Having Extramarital Sex Based on Religious Service Attendance:
|Attends Religious Services||Both M/F 1991||Both M/F 2018|
What Do These Numbers Mean About Gender and Cheating?
It is difficult to completely identify the chances of your partner cheating. According to the numbers, there are varying reports on exact numbers of men cheating, but it is generally accepted that men cheat more often than women. Reports show that men cheat between 3% and 7% more often than women do.2, 6 Men are not the only ones to cheat in relationships as opportunities for affairs and societal shifts for women to express, experience, and enjoy their sexuality is becoming more accepted. It is important to consider the needs that are present during an affair that can be avoided. Many affairs happen out of decisions to close off from a partner and seek emotional, sexual, and relational connection in others as opposed to working to get these things from one single person.
Age does play some role in the chances of cheating as noted in reports of men and women cheating more in mid-life and after divorce or separation, but less often earlier in life and with more religious services attended.1, 3, 6
There is not something morally wrong with those who cheat, but could be better explained by anxiety tolerance 10 and interpersonal relationship norms. Couples who have difficulty handling relationship conflict could facilitate a relationship atmosphere where someone seeks other comfort rather than connecting with their partner. There is not an exact reason why people cheat, as it is always specific to the person, relationship, and impulses of the moment.
Why Do Men Cheat More?
Men could be more likely to cheat because of the desire to have sexual exploration. Each individual person who has an affair has a reason for why and when they sought out other ways to have sexual, relational, emotional needs met as core human experiences. Ester Perel in her book, Mating in Captivity (2006) proposes that affairs keep a sense of mystery in relationships and are not all bad.9
Interestingly, the ways in which married couples seek out extra relational candidates is different. Research shows that women will reveal to their extrarelational candidate that they are already in a committed relationship whereas men tend to hide these details.10 The research speculated that women tend to share their committed relationship status because it communicates to the man that the woman could be seeking opportunity for sex and not the long-term connectedness that commitment or offspring would necessitate.10
The opportunity to cheat presents itself to dating and married/committed relationships is similar, but the chances of actualizing the affair could have less to do with gender, relationship satisfaction, or length of relationship. Research on an individual’s psychological capacity for self-regulation could be more closely linked to infidelity than we think.2, 8, 10
People in happy relationships cheat, too.12, 4The belief that your relationship is bad or that you are not enough, is surprisingly not the reason for some affairs. Keeping your mind open to accept understanding as your partner offers it, will give you the most clarity. The good news about this is that your relationship could be at a point of healing and growing in understanding without completely deconstructing its problems.
Additional Cheating Statistics to Consider
Political views, income, and sexual preferences are also related to cheating. For example, conservatives in 1991 reported 14.43% of extramarital sex, and in 2018 reported 13.43% of extramarital sex. Liberals in 1991 reported 18.99% and in 2018 reported 22.36%.1 These cross sections in reporting shows that sex among different political parties could be significant, showing that liberal political views could facilitate cheating more often than conservative ones.
Research from The Kinsey Institute (studies sex, relationships and closeness) shows that when couples are misaligned with their sexual preferences, for both men and women cheating is more likely.13 This means that when couples or relationships cannot agree to the hopes and expectations for sexual closeness or preferences, cheating is more likely. This does not mean that a partner who feels uncomfortable with the other’s sexual preferences or appetite needs to allow the preferences to dominate their comfort. But while couples can have differences, the ways that the relationship perpetuates conflict can set relationships up to seek their needs, desires, and impulses outside the relationship.
Why Does Cheating Matter?
As mentioned above, cheating can happen in any relationship regardless of commitment level or age. Some recent research 10 proposes that self-regulation with impulses could give reason to why some cheat and others have ideas to and never follow through.
If you are trying to understand why or if your partner cheated on you, this can be very difficult content to sit with. Opportunities for infidelity present themselves when you or your partner asks for them and also when they don’t. Internal pessimism, anger, rage, and sadness are all normal reactions to learning about an unwanted affair.
There are other long term effects of cheating, so it is common to want resources or action steps to take to understand and heal from cheating in your relationship.
Cheating can impact you in a number of ways, including:
- Infidelity PTSD: the intrusion and overwhelm of learning that harm to your relationship has happened. It is possible to experience traumatic healing after cheating.
- Divorce: Cheating can lead to divorce. Infidelity accounts for 20-40% of divorces. 11
- Depression: Depression causes isolation and avoidance of positive relationships or experiences in your life. You may experience relationship anxiety.
- Need to adjust to new norms: Considering that your relationship has changed regardless if you choose to stay with your partner after an affair, you will need time to learn the new norms of your relationship.
- Confusion for children: If children are involved, sharing the news with them can cause mixed feelings for the person who cheated. This is normal, but should be expected since the kids want their parents to be happy and it is confusing that happiness also can bring pain. Be understanding of their difficulty and the difficulty it brings up in your relationship to them as you work it out.
- Decreased sex with your partner: Most therapy approaches endorse sex resuming if both partners feel safe enough to engage in a meaningful way, so sex can be meaningful once again. If sex is decreased or paused completely, it is important to know that this can happen and is for the goal of reintroducing it later as the relationship heals.
5 Steps to Take if You’ve Been Cheated On
Dont stop taking steps towards healing but take them as you are ready. You cannot rush the healing process, but avoiding it can make problems worse.
Here are five steps to take if you experience cheating:
1. Talk About What’s Happening in Your Relationship
Stigmas of silence about relationship’s failures and mishaps keep shame dominant over open dialogue.
2. Eliminate Blame
Do not blame your partner (or take blame from your partner) for making an affair happen. The affair in any relationship is not caused by another person, but a choice someone makes on behalf of their relationship for their relationship.
3. Don’t Feel Pressured to Forgive
Forgiveness is not required. Many things in life can be difficult to forgive but forgiving too soon or because you feel pressure to forgive can perpetuate relationship problems and disconnect.
4. Consider Couples or Marriage Therapy
Marriage counseling is a solutions-focused type of therapy. Getting marriage counseling help after infidelity problems in your relationship can help heal areas of pain and trauma.
5. Consider Individual Therapy
Individual therapy can also be helpful for the person who had the affair as well as the person who was faithful to the relationship. Couples who already have high levels of conflict could find a therapist to provide extra support individually to make it through the difficulties of repairing affairs in an online therapist directory.
Affairs happen out of choices made in and for a relationship. Statistically speaking, men cheat more often than women. The reason for this could be societal expectations for men to put more notches in their bedposts than women and underreporting in the research. Most relationships will be tempted to have affairs, this is perfectly normal in the human experience, but differences in how people respond to the impulses to have affairs can be the differentiating factor between an affair and ideas of having an affair.
Additional resources aside from therapy can include reading materials or simply talking about what it is like to be you and what you have done, needed, and wanted with a friend or your partner if you feel ready. Of course, therapists can help but focus on yourself and not blaming your partner for not enough sex/intimacy/fun and taking responsibility will set the conversation in the right direction.