Who cheats more, men or women? It’s a question frequently asked. As it stands, men tend to cheat more than women. According to information collected by the 2018 General Social Survey, 20 percent of married men and 13 percent of married women have slept with someone other than their partner. But there’s evidence that the infidelity gap, or the discrepancy between men and women’s infidelity, is closing. This isn’t due to the fact that men are having fewer affairs than they once did. Rather, it has to do with the fact that women are cheating more often now. Or so some data reveals.
Before you react, there are some questions about this largely self-reported data. Such as: Do the numbers regarding who gets caught cheating align with the numbers of people actually cheating? Do respondents to the surveys used by social scientists lie? According to Tammy Nelson, Ph.D., a couples therapist and author of When You’re The One Who Cheats, there’s reason to suspect that women may be not only cheating more, but also getting away with it more frequently.
“We don’t know if more men or more women are caught cheating, on average. But it would make sense that women are better at hiding their affairs,” Nelson says. “Traditionally, women have faced harsher punishment for cheating. They have lost their financial support, risked the loss of their children, and in some countries even risked the loss of their lives.”
Men are more prone to casual and opportunistic cheating, which plays a big part in why they get caught. Infidelity, for some men, is evidence of recklessness, but it’s also proof that they desire For women, however, cheating may be evidence of a more thought-out plan to address perceived needs. The potential costs of being sexually reckless is otherwise too high. Intimate partner violence, which one out of three women experiences at some point in their lives, is often triggered by infidelity.
“A lot of women in my practice have shared that cheating was something that you take to the grave with you because men can’t handle cheating in the way that women do, or are expected to,” she says.
It’s important to note that emerging data suggests this dynamic might change. One online survey conducted by the academic blog Truth About Deception currently includes 62,773 women and 32,170 men (results are ongoing and updated daily). Nearly 67 percent of men reported cheating on their spouses more than once, compared to about 53 percent of women. About 22 percent of men thought their partner had suspected them of cheating, compared to 40 percent of women. Finally, 39 percent of male cheaters said they eventually got caught, compared to almost 48 percent of women.
But that’s survey data that hasn’t been subjected to scientific controls. It’s enough that Nelson acknowledges men may be getting better at sneaking around. But it’s a grudging acknowledgment.
“What we know is that men are better at compartmentalizing their affairs than women. They seem to be better at keeping their extramarital relationships separate from their primary partnerships than women. They can hide their outside behaviors and seem to be less disturbed by maintaining multiple lives,” she says. “How long they can keep the compartmentalization going is not clear.”
It’s also possible that more women are getting caught cheating for the reasons that more women are admitting to infidelity and committing it in the first place — because it’s not as dangerous as it used to be. Since intimate partner violence remains a problem, a less idealistic conclusion to draw may be that gender is not a good lens through which to look at the issue of infidelity.
Nelson and Cooper-Lovett both say that the one thing most people who get caught cheating have in common is that they want to get caught — either on a conscious or subconscious level.
“Those who don’t want to be caught take actions to ensure their affair goes undiscovered,” Nelson says. “It seems to be working.”
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