The common perception, when we’re talking about sexual infidelity, is that men are always stepping out on the women in their lives. Needless to say, this idea is antiquated at best. In reality, women are just as likely to cheat as men. That said, men and women tend to think about their infidelity in very different ways and to have very distinct reasons for doing it.
For starters, men are much more likely to seek a purely objectified experience—sex with no strings attached. Meanwhile, women are much more likely to be interested in sex that includes (or at least hints at) some sort of emotional connection. In one study, biological anthropologist Helen Fisher looked at married men and women who were actively cheating on their spouses. She found that 34 percent of the women were happily married, as compared to 56 percent of the men.
Another study of men and women who were actively cheating found that 57 percent of women felt an emotional connection to their affair partner, compared to 27 percent of men. Taken together, these findings (and the results of many other studies) strongly suggest that women, much more so than men, are looking for emotional connection when they cheat.
Of course, the need for emotional connection is only one among many reasons that women cheat—though it is often paramount. Other motivations include:
1. They are combating low self-esteem.
In such cases, they seek external validation through romantic and sexual intrigue. If they are wanted romantically and sexually, they feel worthwhile, desirable, needed, etc.
2. They have unrealistic expectations about what their primary partner should provide.
They think their significant other should fulfill their every whim and desire, 24/7/365. When this expectation is not met, they seek external satisfaction.
3. They want some extra sizzle in their life.
They miss the neurochemical rush of meeting someone new, flirting with that person, and being sexual for the first time. They find their ongoing relationship predictable and maybe a tiny bit boring, so they grab some excitement elsewhere.
4. They’re unhappy in their current relationship.
There may be a lack of intimacy (a lack of emotional connection, as discussed above), there may be a lack of sex (for any number of reasons), their mate might not be around enough to satisfy their physical and emotional needs, or things might just be falling apart as relationships sometimes do. In such cases, they might cheat to see if there is something better out there or to line up someone new before they end their current relationship.
5. They feel neglected and lonely at home.
Typically, such women feel more like a nanny, a maid, a mother, or a financial provider than an equal and valued life partner. As such, they use romance and sex outside their primary relationship to fill the emotional void.
6. They’re angry and want revenge.
Usually, these women act out in response to a betrayal by their partner. Their partners may have cheated, or spent money without asking for their opinion, or made an important life decision without including them in the process. Out of anger, these women might seek extracurricular sex—and they usually don’t try to hide it.
7. They lack female social support.
Much more than men, women need same-gender social support. Sometimes women, especially those who experienced maternal abuse or neglect, undervalue this need. And they simultaneously overvalue the attention of men. This may lead to cheating.
8. They’re addicted.
Sometimes women have an issue with alcohol or drugs, and these substances affect their decision making, leading to impulsive sexual decisions. Other times they are sexually and/or romantically addicted, using sex and romance compulsively as ways to escape unwanted feelings. (This desire for distraction and escape also drives substance addictions.)
As with men who cheat, there is typically no single driving force for infidelity. That said, there is always another option. Women don’t lose the ability to make decisions for themselves simply because they’re bored, or their mother neglected them, or their husband bought a new car without asking.
Alternative choices include: talking about feelings with close female friends, sharing in therapy, going to couples counseling as a way to improve the relationship, and, most importantly, simply being honest with a significant other about what's going on.