Women are having nearly as many extramarital affairs as men, one study finds. What leads women to stray and what should you do if you’re tempted to cheat? X-Factor judge Simon Cowell, who is 55 and single, is a father as the result of an extramarital affair. That’s not a surprise, but this is: It was the woman – not the man – who cheated on her husband. Say goodbye to the stereotype that women aren’t wired for cheating.
Men still hold the lead as cheaters, but women are quickly closing the gap. The percentage of cheating wives rose 40% from 1990 to 2010, according to a July 2013 National Opinion Research Center (NORC) survey. About 15% of married women admitted to extramarital affairs; the percentage of philandering men remained at 21%. Some experts aren’t surprised that more women are cheating. “Women today are more vocal about having their sexual and other needs met – even outside of marriage,” says criminal investigator Danine Manette, an infidelity expert and author of Ultimate Betrayal: Recognizing, Uncovering and Dealing With Infidelity (Square One Publishers).
Why are there so many more cheating women? Here the top 6 reasons why women cheat.
1. They can afford to.
The No. 1 reason more women are cheating: They’re more financially independent. Higher-paying jobs allow them to forget about potential financial consequences if an extramarital affair leads to divorce. Women today are less likely to see incomes fall after divorce. In fact, one-fifth of divorced women saw their incomes rise more than 25%, because of their better earning power, according to a 2012 Pew Charitable Trust survey.
“Most women are paid salaries and don’t fear divorce, as women did in the 1950s, ’60s, ’70s and ’80s,” says sociologist Julie Albright, Ph.D., a marriage and family therapist and lecturer at University of Southern California in Los Angeles. “They’re looking for personal and sexual fulfillment – a friend, lover and partner” – and there are many places to find that, she adds.
2. Cheating at the click of a button.
Technology has made it easier to have extramarital affairs. Cheating women once had to sneak off to public phone booths to make plans with a lover. Now they can call or text on personal cell phones or connect on dating and social media websites, Manette says.
The pool of available men, in the office or online, is now huge and offers many more opportunities to cheat. “If you had an old high school flame, you can reconnect with him on Facebook,” Manette says. “Emails turn to conversations, which turn into emotional affairs, [and] next is the physical affair.” Online dating sites, like AshleyMadison.com, also have made it easy for women’s eyes to wander. “It’s all done with the click of a button,” Manette says.
3. The definition of cheating is looser.
Technology has also made it easier to have “emotional affairs,” with no physical contact. These affairs have sexual chemistry and emotional intimacy, and are kept secret from the spouse, according to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT). Even if you’re “just friends,” these are still affairs under the AAMFT definition. “Cheating is anything you’re doing of a romantic or sexual nature with a person outside of your marriage that you wouldn’t do in the presence of your spouse,” Manette says. “It’s the violation of the set parameters for each individual relationship.”
One example is “sexting” – sending sexually explicit messages or photos via cell phones or e-mail. Most people – 85% of women and 74% of men – believe that sexting is cheating even if there’s no physical sex, according to a July 2013 YouGov poll of 1,000 U.S. adults. Yet women are likelier to have “emotional affairs” now than in the past. Two-thirds of women had cheated online while they were in a serious relationship; half of the men had done so, the Internet infidelity study found. Women are also more likely than men to “sext.”
4. Women want – and like – sex.
For centuries, Western culture has held that women’s sex drives were less intense than men’s and that it was easier for them to stay in a monogamous relationship. Not true, according to Albright: “Women have a strong sex drive, but they’re taught to mask it to be marriageable in society.” It’s also a myth that women are less able than men to separate sex from an emotional connection.
“In reality, [women] want sex,” Albright says. “It’s wishful thinking to assume that women use sex only for intimacy.” That’s backed by a 2012 study published in the journal Sex & Marital Therapy. Partnered women whose sex drive was higher than their partners’ were less satisfied than men in the same situation, according to the researchers.
5. Cheating is more culturally acceptable.
Before the ’70s, women were supposed to think that sex was their wifely duty, says Albright, whose studies focus on the history and myths of women’s sexuality and society. “Popular culture, especially movies, reinforced the stereotype that women who had sex outside of marriage became suicidal or crazy,” she says. Between 1970 and 2006, women’s sexual behavior shifted to include more sexual relationships. The number of women’s sexual partners increased from 1.8 in 1970 to 3.3 in 2006; for men, the figure remained about the same – 11.8 versus 11.6, according to a 2010 French study published in the journal AIDS.
Among the reasons: more women in the work force, greater freedom in society and oral contraception. When the birth control pill became available in the 1960s, women became less worried about unwanted pregnancies and more free to explore their sexuality – including having extramarital affairs, Albright says.
TV also influenced morals. By 1998, when the TV show Sex and the City began airing, women were much more willing to talk about their sexual desires, Manette adds. “Women had ‘Sex and the City’ parties and talked about affairs and having their sexual needs met,” she says. “Guys always had that freedom, but this was the first show that had women talking about being sexually satisfied … without the social repercussions earlier generations faced.”
6. Women just want to have fun.
For women and men, familiarity can breed boredom, especially if you and your spouse focus more on work, kids and other household responsibilities, and less on sexual intimacy. Affairs are attractive because they’re fantasy – no one’s picking up dirty socks or doing other unglamorous marital activities, Albright says. “During the fun stage of courting, you don’t deal with lifestyle issues that marriage brings to the table,” Albright says.
How to Stop an Affair Before It Starts
If you’re tempted to cheat, consider these suggestions from Marriage Advocates, a nonprofit organization that promotes healthy marriages:
1. Imagine that your partner is your audience. Would he feel OK about your behavior at the office, such as sending emails and making personal phone calls to another man? If not, avoid it.
2. Avoid going for drinks with co-workers, acquaintances or strangers of the opposite sex. It lowers inhibitions and raises the risk of cheating.
3. Keep business relationships businesslike. Avoid out-of-the-office meetings with someone you’re attracted to. Instead, arrange group meetings. Also steer clear of meetings in bars and restaurants.
4. Assume you’ll get caught. Is the pain and suffering that an affair will cause your family worth the ego boost and pleasure? The truth almost always comes out; the road to recovery afterward often is difficult.