The reasons that men and women cheat often differ. For the most part, their motivations mirror what we know about male and female sexual arousal and desire, with men often seeking a purely sexual experience that is devoid of emotional attachment, and women typically seeking forms of sexuality that include a degree of emotional connection.
For instance, Undercover Lovers, a UK-based extramarital dating site (similar to Ashley Madison in the US) surveyed 4000 members, split equally by gender. Among women, 57% said they felt love for their affair partner, with only 27% of men saying the same. A more scientific study conducted by Helen Fisher, a well-known biological anthropologist, found that 34% of the women who have affairs consider themselves to be happily married, whereas 56% of males feel that way. From these surveys, it is clear that women are more likely to have an affair if they don’t feel adequately connected in their marriage and are seeking that bond elsewhere, while men are more likely to have an affair purely for the sexual excitement.
Given the above, it is clear that many women engage in extramarital sex because they seek emotional connection. But what causes them to seek that connection outside of rather than within their primary relationship? In general, the culprit is one or more of the following:
- The woman feels neglected, ignored, and/or underappreciated by her primary partner. She feels more like a housekeeper, cook, nanny, or financial provider than a wife or girlfriend. In such cases, she may seek an external situation where she feels appreciated for who she is rather than the services she provides.
- The woman does not feel a sufficient emotional connection with her primary partner. Perhaps she is not getting enough nonsexual contact and interaction at home—touching, hugging, cuddling, talking, gift-giving, shared activities, etc. If so, she may look for this connection and validation elsewhere.
- The woman is lonely and/or bored. Perhaps she is stuck at home caring for young kids and the house, and she does not find this work to be intellectually or emotionally stimulating. Or maybe the kids are in school now (or they’re adults who’ve moved out of the house) and she misses the constant emotional connection they once provided. Or maybe her spouse has a new job that requires traveling for long stretches of time. Etc. If so, she may try to fill the void with an affair.
- The woman is a sex or love addict. It is not uncommon for women with unresolved early-life trauma, depression, anxiety, and other emotional and/or psychological issues to self-soothe with pleasurable substances and/or behaviors. Some women turn to alcohol, drugs, or food. Others find escapist stimulation through gambling, spending, or video gaming. Still others use the dopamine rush of sexual and romantic activity. In these cases, the woman is having affairs because she is hooked on the dissociative rush of new romance and sexual excitement.
- The woman expects way too much from her primary partner. In other words, she expects her long-term partner to fulfill her every wish and desire, even when she’s not clear about what those wishes and desires might be. And when her primary partner inevitably fails in this “duty,” she seeks that fulfillment elsewhere.
- The woman is not getting enough sex at home. The simple truth is women generally enjoy the physical act of sex as much as men do, so a sexless relationship might not be acceptable. Maybe her partner is no longer interested in sex, or maybe there is a physical issue that prevents sex. In such cases, the woman may feel justified in seeking sexual attention and connection outside her primary relationship.
Sadly, most women who cheat have little to no idea how deeply their secretive sexual and romantic activities can wound their primary partner. The simple truth is that sexual infidelity hurts betrayed men just as much as it hurts betrayed women. Relationship trust is badly damaged regardless of gender, and a woman’s reasons for breaking her vow of monogamy and violating the trust of her partner don’t ease the pain.