For years, studies have told us that infidelity is more common than not amongst men and more common than some may wish to believe amongst women. Salon’s Tracy Clark Flory cites an endless stream of surveys that provide similar numbers…
Most contemporary surveys estimate the number of people who cheat during a marriage at anywhere from 20 to 50 percent of women and 30 to 60 percent of men. Note, though, that in 2002 the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago found that 15 percent of married women admitted to an affair, compared to 22 percent of men. The best educated guess, according to researchers at the University of Texas at Austin, is that an affair takes place within 40 to 76 percent of marriages: “A conservative interpretation of these figures suggests that although perhaps half of all married couples remain monogamous, the other half will experience an infidelity over the course of a marriage.”
…but then reminds us how fallible these statistics are:
Infidelity rates are notoriously difficult to pin down because who wants to admit to being a cheater? Then there is the fact that people — and the scientific surveys we’re relying on here — employ very different definitions of infidelity. As the anthropologist Helen Fisher explains, a meta-analysis of a dozen American infidelity studies found that “31% of men and 16% of women had had a sexual affair that entailed no emotional involvement; 13% of men and 21% of women had been romantically but not sexually involved with someone other than their spouse; and 20% of men and women had engaged in an affair that included both a sexual and emotional connection.” Things get even more thorny when you consider the variety of ways that people stray these days, which from some perspectives can include sexual encounters à la Rep. Anthony Weiner. It’s difficult enough to define these terms within a particular relationship, let alone across a culture.
So if x number of men and x number of women are admitting to infidelity, we can estimate that the numbers are actually a bit higher. The majority of you reading this would probably agree that the percentage of people engaging in extramarital affairs is significant, even if it isn’t more common than not. Many of us know people who have been cheated on in marriages or serious relationships and/or persons who have cheated. Perhaps you’ve been the victim or the culprit or both at one point or another. And with the ever-changing definition of infidelity (and the new ways in which one can participate), there’s no universal agreement about what is or isn’t cheat anymore anyway.
I’ve personally never been able to buy stories about the “natural” inclination of men to spread their seeds and be fruitful, nor have I been so naive as to pretend that women don’t have it in them to cheat. Men and women are socialized very differently and the stakes for an unfaithful woman are much higher than for a man. There’s also the belief that women cheaters are a bit more discreet, which could certainly skew our perception of who’s really zoomin’ who.
That said, is infidelity simply one of those things that happens or is it possible to avoid it? There are 99 million reasons as to “why” people step out, from unhappiness in other areas of one’s life to lack of fulfillment in the relationship, but should we simply resign ourselves to the possibility that it can happen? Do you think it’s possible to safeguard a romance against cheating? Or is it more important to be prepared for what happens if and when it occurs?