When it comes to infidelity, we all know that it isn’t just men who stray. But what drives a woman to cheat, and is it for the same reasons as men? David Ley, author of ‘Insatiable Wives: Women Who Stray and the Men WhoLove Them,’ explains.
Q: Is female infidelity as common as male infidelity?
A: Comparing rates of male and female infidelity is hard, because it is such a taboo topic that is rarely admitted, even in anonymous surveys. Over the past few decades, we have clearly seen a rise in the number of women admitting to infidelity, and these numbers may be approaching the rates of male infidelity.
One thing we know clearly is that rates of female infidelity are very clearly tied to the economic status of women in society, and the economic independence of an individual woman.
As women’s salaries and income goes up, rates of infidelity do as well. So, in developed countries where women have greater access to education and high-paying jobs, there are higher rates of infidelity. But it seems unlikely that rates of female infidelity will ever really reach equivalency with male infidelity, as there are just too many basic core differences between male and female sexuality that are driving the differences in sexual behavior, including infidelity.
Q: What are the differences in the ways men and women cheat?
A: Some of the really interesting differences in male and female infidelity have to do with female biology and evolution. Women are most tempted to have sex with another man when they are ovulating and are fertile. At those times, women tend to wear more revealing clothes and act more provocatively. They are also attracted to men different from their husbands at those times. When they are ovulating, women are more attracted to men with high testosterone levels — macho, dominant types who are not the type to settle down, marry and raise kids.
Also, we have found that genetics and the immune system plays a complex role in predicting whether women in couples are at risk for infidelity. There is a cluster of genes that governs the development of the human immune system. When there is too much similarity between this gene cluster in a husband and a wife, the wife is at much higher risk for infidelity, and is especially attracted to men whose gene cluster and immune system is different from her own.
What we think this is about is the wife being unconsciously driven to give her children a more robust immune system. By having sex with, and possibly children with, a man with a different immune system, she is potentially granting her children a stronger immune system that is able to handle a greater variety of illnesses. We don’t see any such biological variability in male infidelity, which tends to be more consistent and predictable. Men universally seem to be attracted to variety and opportunity.
Q: Do you think women face more social deterrents to cheating? Why?
A: Women clearly face far more significant social repercussions to infidelity. Throughout history, the punishments of unfaithful wives have been horrific, involving rape, disfigurement, banishment, and even death. Males caught being unfaithful have rarely received any punishment at all. Even in today’s world, women have far more to lose from infidelity compared to men.
Infidelity is a major reason for divorce, and in divorce, women almost always come out on the bottom, with their income and resources going down. Unfaithful women in society receive tremendous scorn and stigma, called sluts and worse. In contrast, male infidelity seems to be largely forgiven, treated as “boys will be boys.”
A frightening percentage of domestic violence cases, and especially cases of marital murder/suicides, involve infidelity, where enraged husbands beat and sometimes kill their wives for real or imagined infidelity. The prices that an unfaithful woman potentially has to pay are simply appalling.
Q: Where does this come from?
A: The easy answer is to point to evolution, and to the potential genetic price a man pays for raising the child of another man. If the husband invests his resources in this child, raising a child not genetically related to him, the man might lose out and might not pass on his genes. However, in today’s world, there are lots of examples of men raising stepchildren, etc., where this fear doesn’t seem to play out.
More complex answers involve looking at the role of society, government and gender equality. One of the first laws passed in human history outlawed women being married to more than one man, and sentenced those women to death. For many complex reasons, society has worked very hard to constrain female sexuality and prevent female infidelity.
Quick Review by our Editor:
This article is somewhat disturbing or confusing. It seems to imply that infidelity is tolerated by society in general for men, but not women, even currently. What is that supposed to mean? Should we encourage infidelity in both sexes, because we are “au courrent”? Are there then, as in the good old days, only, good women versus bad women, and nothing in between? What about men. Are they all bad for being unfaithful without consequences. Why do men want to have sex with women, who are considered “sluts” as noted in the article? Is this not black and white thinking? It seems to me, that kind of behavior is one criteria for unbalanced thinking. My point is the article is much too general. When infidelity occurs in any marriage there are a plethora of reasons, and outcomes are different for all participants. Reducing it to simple biology is simplistic at best. Some men, not all would like to promote the thinking in this article, because it sustains and promotes infidelity by those men so inclined, with little or no negative consequences. We do not have the statistics, but I venture to guess that damage occurs to at least three people and several others when infidelity occurs and there is backlash. The big question is: Can it be stopped? No, but I believe continuing to talk about it in sane individuals promotes understanding. We can attempt to understand it, talk about it, (honestly, if possible), and reduce its counter, productive impact. But, it is incredibly tough to peel all those layers of onion skin; and get at the root for the reason to want to deliberately ruin another person or family, as so often happens.
One last point: Both men and women who engage in infidelity want to keep it hidden from the other spouse.This speaks to character flaws, which comes from the brain. It can be argued that this is biology. However, if we were to tell the other spouse, that my biology is urging me to have sex with X,Y or Z, the infidelity would most likely not happen.There might be a separation or divorce. History has proven, however that illicit, and hidden sex seems to come out in the open, no matter how it is first hidden. This is known to have caused equal, if not worse damage. Also, damage control often becomes much more onerous and costly. Maybe, the article was intended to raise discussion? A few thoughts at least to ponder.