There are many clichés about cheating. It’s often assumed that a man will cheat when he isn’t being sexually satisfied, while a woman will stray if her emotional needs aren’t being met.
But this could all be wrong, according to new research by Alicia Walker, a sociologist at Missouri State University.
For her new book “The Secret Life of the Cheating Wife: Power, Pragmatism, and Pleasure in Women’s Infidelity,” Walker spoke to 46 women using Ashley Madison — the dating website for people who are married or in a relationship and are looking for a “discreet encounter.”
Going in, Walker had preconceptions about what she would find, based mostly on the conversations we tend to have about cheating. Instead, she was surprised to find out a lot of what we assume isn’t actually true.
These are the five biggest myths Walker debunked about female infidelity:
MYTH 1: Women cheat because they want to get out of their marriage
Nearly every woman Walker spoke to was cheating because they loved their husband and wanted to stay married. She said that as they weren’t getting what they needed from their husbands, they had to look elsewhere. This didn’t mean they wanted out of the marriage, they simply wanted to “outsource” their sexual needs.
“Unlike what we think about women, the reality is that the women I spoke to are cheating to stay married,” Walker told Business Insider. “They’re not cheating for revenge, or to get out of a marriage, or get the husband to notice them through bad behaviour — they were cheating primarily for sexual pleasure and to remain married.”
MYTH 2: Cheating is a rash, impulsive decision
Walker found that the women were very pragmatic about what they were doing. After all, they signed up to a website specifically designed to help married people cheat on their partners.
“They were very practical and methodical, in their decision making and then their vetting of who they were going to get involved with,” Walker said. “Something I noticed was they used a lot of market language when they talked about it, and they were very logical in their decision making.”
It also wasn’t a decision the women took lightly. Most of them had tried therapy but their husbands were unresponsive, or refused to go.
MYTH 3: Women cheat because they fall in love with someone else
Only two women reported feeling love for the men they cheated with — and they weren’t as happy as the rest, Walker said.
“The women purposefully avoided couplings where there was going to be this love thing happening,” she said. “They wanted to find someone who was compatible and all that, but they very much avoided being in love…. We tend to think that about men, but not so much for women.”
MYTH 4: Women only cheat with one man
Most of the women in the study had multiple partners they were cheating with. They didn’t feel that one extra man was going to fulfil all their needs. They relied on one man to keep them happy for life, and that didn’t work, so they needed a new strategy.
“They talked about having a roster, and keeping the bench full, and adding to the herd,” Walker said. “One woman — I think this was my favourite — said she had to keep the candy jar full.”
MYTH 5: Cheaters get caught
Walker said talking to all these women did challenge her preconceptions about infidelity. Of course, it’s still true that nobody likes to find out they have been cheated on, but if nobody finds out, do they really get hurt?
“Obviously the discovery of it is just horrible,” Walker said. “But these women went to such great lengths to not be discovered, to keep it a secret and keep their families together, so I would say that my perceptions about infidelity absolutely have changed a lot.”