Infidelity (synonyms include: cheating, adultery (when married),
netorare (NTR), being unfaithful, or having an affair) is a violation
of a couple's assumed or stated contract regarding emotional and/or
sexual exclusivity. Other scholars define infidelity as a violation
according to the subjective feeling that one's partner has violated a
set of rules or relationship norms; this violation results in feelings
of sexual jealousy and rivalry.
What constitutes an act of infidelity depends upon the exclusivity
expectations within the relationship. In marital relationships,
exclusivity expectations are commonly assumed, although they are not
always met. When they are not met, research has found that
psychological damage can occur, including feelings of rage and
betrayal, lowering of sexual and personal confidence, and damage to
self-image. Depending on the context, men and women can experience
social consequences if their act of infidelity becomes public. The
form and extent of these consequences are often dependent on the
gender of the unfaithful person.
One measure of infidelity among couples is the frequency of children
secretly conceived with a different partner, leading to
"non-paternities". Such covertly illegitimate children amount to about
1–2% of newborns in studied populations.
1.1 Strategic pluralism theory
1.2 Sex-ratio theory
1.3.1 Gender differences
3 Relationship transformations
3.1 Anthropological viewpoint
3.2 Cultural variation
4 Other contributing factors
4.1 Evolutionary factors
4.2 Defense mechanisms
5 The Internet
5.1 Chat rooms
6 Legal implications
7 Research issues
8 Workplace issues
10 Alternative views (swinging and polyamory)
11 Sexual orientation
12 See also
15 Further reading
After the Kinsey Reports came out in the early 1950s, findings
suggested that historically and cross-culturally, extramarital sex has
been a matter of regulation more than sex before marriage. The
Kinsey Reports found that around half of men and a quarter of women
studied had committed adultery. The Janus Report on Sexual Behavior
in America also reported that one third of married men and a quarter
of women have had an extramarital affair.
According to The New York Times, the most consistent data on
infidelity comes from the University of Chicago's General Social
Survey (GSS). Interviews with people in non-monogamous relationships
since 1972 by the GSS have shown that approximately 12% of men and 7%
of women admit to having had an extramarital relationship. Results,
however, vary year by year, and also by age-group surveyed. For
example, one study conducted by the University of Washington, Seattle
found slightly, or significantly higher rates of infidelity for
populations under 35, or older than 60. In that study which involved
19,065 people during a 15-year period, rates of infidelity among men
were found to have risen from 20 to 28%, and rates for women, 5% to
15%. In more recent nationwide surveys, several researchers found
that about twice as many men as women reported having an extramarital
affair. A survey conducted in 1990 found 2.2% of married
participants reported having more than one partner during the past
year. In general, national surveys conducted in the early 1990s
reported that between 15–25% of married Americans reported having
extramarital affairs. People who had stronger sexual interests,
more permissive sexual values, lower subjective satisfaction with
their partner, weaker network ties to their partner, and greater
sexual opportunities were more likely to be unfaithful. Studies
suggest around 30–40% of unmarried relationships and 18–20% of
marriages see at least one incident of sexual infidelity.
Rates of infidelity among women are thought to increase with age. In
one study, rates were higher in more recent marriages, compared with
previous generations; men were found to be only "somewhat" more likely
than women to engage in infidelity, with rates for both sexes becoming
increasingly similar. Another study found that the likelihood for
women to be involved in infidelity reached a peak in the seventh year
of their marriage and then declined afterwards; whereas for married
men, the longer they were in relationships, the less likely they were
to engage in infidelity, except for the eighteenth year of marriage,
at which point the chance that men will engage in infidelity
One measure of infidelity is covert illegitimacy, a situation which
arises when someone who is presumed to be a child's father (or mother)
is in fact not the biological parent. Frequencies as high as 30% are
sometimes assumed in the media, but research by sociologist
Michael Gilding traced these overestimates back to an informal remark
at a 1972 conference. The detection of unsuspected illegitimacy
can occur in the context of medical genetic screening, in genetic
family name research, and in immigration testing. Such
studies show that covert illegitimacy is in fact less than 10% among
the sampled African populations, less than 5% among the sampled Native
American and Polynesian populations, less than 2% of the sampled
Middle Eastern population, and generally 1–2% among European
Strategic pluralism theory
Strategic pluralism is a theory that focuses on how environmental
factors influence mating strategies. According to this theory, when
people live within environments that are demanding and stressful, the
need for bi-parental care is greater for increasing the survival of
offspring. Correspondingly, monogamy and commitment are more
commonplace. On the other hand, when people live within environments
that encompass little stress and threats to the viability of
offspring, the need for serious and committed relations is lowered,
and therefore promiscuity and infidelity are more common.
Sex-ratio theory is a theory that explains the relationship and sexual
dynamics within different areas of the world based on the ratio of the
number of marriage-aged men to marriage-aged women. According to this
theory, an area has a high sex ratio when there is a higher number of
marriage-aged women to marriage-aged men and an area has a low sex
ratio when there are more marriage-aged men. In terms of
infidelity, the theory states that when sex-ratios are high, men are
more likely to be promiscuous and engage in sex outside of a committed
relationship because the demand for men is higher and this type of
behaviour, desired by men, is more accepted. On the other hand, when
sex ratios are low, promiscuity is less common because women are in
demand and since they desire monogamy and commitment, in order for men
to remain competitive in the pool of mates, they must respond to these
desires. Support for this theory comes from evidence showing higher
divorce rates in countries with lower sex ratios and higher monogamy
rates in countries with higher sex ratios.
Differences in sexual infidelity as a function of gender have been
commonly reported. It is more common for men compared to women to
engage in extradyadic relationships. The National Health and Social
Life Survey found that 4% of married men, 16% of cohabiting men, and
37% of dating men engaged in acts of sexual infidelity compared to 1%
of married women, 8% of cohabiting women, and 17% of women in dating
relationships. These differences have been generally thought due
to evolutionary pressures that motivate men towards sexual opportunity
and women towards commitment to one partner. In addition, recent
research finds that differences in gender may possibly be explained by
other mechanisms including power and sensations seeking. For example,
one study found that some women in more financially independent and
higher positions of power, were also more likely to be more unfaithful
to their partners. In another study, when the tendency to
sensation seek (i.e., engage in risky behaviours) was controlled for,
there were no gender differences in the likelihood to being
unfaithful. These findings suggest there may be various factors
that might influence the likelihood of some individuals to engage in
extradyadic relationships, and that such factors may account for
observed gender differences beyond actual gender and evolutionary
pressures associated with each.
There is currently debate in the field of evolutionary psychology
whether an innate, evolved sex difference exists between men and women
in response to an act of infidelity; this is often called a "sex
difference". Studies show that 90% of cheaters are men, with the
remaining 10% women.  Those that posit a sex difference exists
state that men are 60% more likely to be disturbed by an act of sexual
infidelity (having one's partner engage in sexual relations with
another), whereas women are 83% more likely to be disturbed by an act
of emotional infidelity (having one's partner fall in love with
another). Those against this model argue that there is no
difference between men and women in their response to an act of
infidelity. From an evolutionary perspective, men are
theorized to maximize their fitness by investing as little as possible
in their offspring and producing as many offspring as possible, due to
the risk of males investing in children that are not theirs. Women,
who do not face the risk of cuckoldry, are theorized to maximize their
fitness by investing as much as possible in their offspring because
they invest at least nine months of resources towards their offspring
in pregnancy. Maximizing female fitness is theorized to require
males in the relationship to invest all their resources in the
offspring. These conflicting strategies are theorized to have resulted
in selection of different jealousy mechanisms that are designed to
enhance the fitness of the respective gender.
A common way to test whether an innate jealousy response exists
between sexes is to use a forced-choice questionnaire. This style of
questionnaire asks participants "yes or no" and "response A or
response B" style questions about certain scenarios. For example, a
question might ask, "If you found your partner cheating on you would
you be more upset by (A) the sexual involvement or (B) the emotional
involvement". Many studies using forced choice questionnaires have
found statistically significant results supporting an innate sex
difference between men and women. Furthermore, studies have shown
that this observation holds across many cultures, although the
magnitudes of the sex difference vary within sexes across
Although forced-choice questionnaires show a statistically significant
sex-difference, critics of the theory of evolved sex differences in
jealousy question these findings. In consideration of the entire body
of work on sex differences, C. F. Harris asserted that when methods
other than forced-choice questionnaires are used to identify an innate
sex difference, inconsistencies between studies begin to arise.
For example, researchers found that women sometimes report feeling
more intense jealousy in response to both sexual and emotional
infidelity. The results of these studies also depended on the context
in which the participants were made to describe what type of jealousy
they felt, as well as the intensity of their jealousy.
In her meta-analysis, Harris raises the question of whether forced
choice questionnaires actually measure what they purport: jealousy
itself and evidence that differences in jealousy arise from innate
mechanisms. Her meta-analysis reveals that sex-differences are
almost exclusively found in forced-choice studies. According to
Harris, a meta-analysis of multiple types of studies should indicate a
convergence of evidence and multiple operationalizations. This is not
the case, which raises the question as to the validity of
forced-choice studies. DeSteno and Bartlett (2002) further support
this argument by providing evidence which indicates that significant
results of forced-choice studies may actually be an artifact of
measurement; this finding would invalidate many of the claims made by
those "in favor" of an "innate" sex difference. Even those "in
favor" of sex-differences admit that certain lines of research, such
as homicide studies, suggest against the possibility of
These inconsistent results have led researchers to propose novel
theories that attempt to explain the sex differences observed in
certain studies. One theory that has been hypothesized to explain why
men and women both report more distress to emotional infidelity than
sexual infidelity is borrowed from childhood attachment theories.
Studies have found that attachment styles of adults are consistent
with their self-reported relationship histories. For example, more
men are reported to have an insecure, dismissing avoidant attachment
style; where these "individuals often attempt to minimize or constrict
emotional experience, deny needs for intimacy, are highly invested in
autonomy, and are more sexually promiscuous than individuals who have
other attachment styles". Levy and Kelly (2010) tested this theory
and found that adult attachment styles strongly correlate to which
type of infidelity elicited more jealousy. Individuals who have
secure attachment styles often report that emotional infidelity is
more upsetting whereas dismissing attachment styles were more likely
to find sexual infidelity more upsetting. Their study did report
that men in general were more likely than women to report sexual
infidelity as more distressing, however this could be related to more
men having a dismissing attachment style.The authors propose that a
social mechanism may be responsible for the observed results. In other
words, replicable sex differences in emotion and sexual jealousy could
be a function of a social function. Similar studies focusing on the
masculinization and feminization by society also argue for a social
explanation, while discounting an evolutionary explanation.
A 2015 study found a correlation between AVPR1A expression and
predisposition to extrapair mating in women but not in men.
Studies have found that men are more likely to engage in extramarital
sex if they are unsatisfied sexually, while women are more likely to
engage in extramarital sex if they are unsatisfied emotionally.
Kimmel and Van Der Veen found that sexual satisfaction may be more
important to husbands and that wives are more concerned with
compatibility with their partners. Studies suggest that
individuals who can separate concepts of sex and love are more likely
to accept situations where infidelity occurs. One study done by
Roscoe, Cavanaugh, & Kennedy found that women indicated
relationship dissatisfaction as the number one reason for infidelity,
whereas men reported a lack of communication, understanding, and
sexual incompatibility. Glass & Wright also found that men and
women who are involved in both sexual and emotional infidelities
reported being the most dissatisfied in their relationships than those
who engaged in either sexual or emotional infidelity alone. In
general, marital dissatisfaction overall is the number one reason
often reported for infidelity for both sexes. It is important to
note that there are many other factors that increase the likelihood of
anyone engaging in infidelity. Individuals exhibiting sexually
permissive attitudes and those who have had a high number of past
sexual relationships are also more likely to engage in infidelity.
Other factors such as being well educated, living in an urban centre,
being less religious, having a liberal ideology and values, having
more opportunities to meet potential partners, and being older
affected the likelihood of one being involved in an extramarital
Anthropologists tend to believe humans are neither completely
monogamous nor completely polygamous. Anthropologist Bobbi Low says we
are "slightly polygamous"; while Deborah Blum believes we are
"ambiguously monogamous," and slowly moving away from the polygamous
habits of our evolutionary ancestors.
According to anthropologist Helen Fisher, there are numerous
psychological reasons for adultery. Some people may want to supplement
a marriage, solve a sex problem, gather more attention, seek revenge,
or have more excitement in the marriage. But based on Fisher's
research, there also is a biological side to adultery. "We have two
brain systems: one of them is linked to attachment and romantic love,
and then there is the other brain system, which is purely sex drive."
Sometimes these two brain systems are not well-connected, which
enables people to become adulterers and satisfy their libido without
any regards to their attachment side.
Often, gender differences in both jealousy and infidelity are
attributable to cultural factors. This variation stems from the fact
that societies differ in how they view extramarital affairs and
jealousy. An examination of jealousy across seven nations revealed
that each partner in a relationship serves as each other's primary and
exclusive source of satisfaction and attention in all cultures.
Therefore, when an individual feels jealousy towards another, it is
usually because they are now sharing their primary source of attention
and satisfaction. However, variation can be seen when identifying the
behaviors and actions that betray the role of primary attention
(satisfaction) giver. For instance, in certain cultures if an
individual goes out with another of the opposite gender, emotions of
intense jealousy can result; however, in other cultures, this behavior
is perfectly acceptable and is not given much thought.
It is important to understand where these cultural variations come
from and how they root themselves into differing perceptions of
infidelity. While many cultures report infidelity as wrong and
admonish it, some are more tolerant of such behaviour. These views are
generally linked to the overall liberal nature of the society. For
Danish society is viewed as more liberal than many other
cultures, and as such, have correlating liberal views on infidelity
and extramarital affairs. According to Christine Harris and
Nicholas Christenfeld, societies that are legally more liberal against
extramarital affairs judge less harshly upon sexual infidelity because
it is distinct from emotional infidelity. In Danish society, having
sex does not necessarily imply a deep emotional attachment. As a
result, infidelity does not carry such a severe negative
connotation. A comparison between modern-day Chinese and American
societies showed that there was greater distress with sexual
infidelity in the U.S. than in China. The cultural difference is most
likely due to the more restrictive nature of Chinese society, thus,
making infidelity a more salient concern. Sexual promiscuity is more
prominent in the United States, thus it follows that American society
is more preoccupied with infidelity than Chinese society. Often, a
single predominant religion can influence the culture of an entire
nation. Even within Christianity in the United States, there are
discrepancies as to how extramarital affairs are viewed. For instance,
Catholics do not view infidelity with equal severity.
The conception of marriage is also markedly different; while in Roman
Catholicism marriage is seen as an indissoluble sacramental bond and
does not permit divorce even in cases of infidelity, most Protestant
denominations allow for divorce and remarriage for infidelity or other
reasons. Ultimately, it was seen that adults that associated with a
religion (any denomination) were found to view infidelity as much more
distressing than those who were not affiliated with a religion. Those
that participated more heavily in their religions were even more
conservative in their views on infidelity.
Some research has also suggested that being
African American has a
positive correlation to infidelity, even when education attainment is
controlled for. Other research suggests that lifetime incidence of
infidelity does not differ between African Americans and whites, only
the likelihood of when they engage in it. Race and gender have been
found to be positively correlated with infidelity, however this is the
case more often for
African American men engaging in extramarital
Human mating strategies
Human mating strategies differ
from culture to culture. For example, Schmitt discusses how tribal
cultures with higher pathogen stress are more likely to have
polygynous marriage systems; whereas monogamous mating systems usually
have relatively lower high-pathogen environments. In addition
researchers have also proposed the idea that high mortality rates in
local cultures should be correlated with more permissive mating
strategies. On the other hand, Schmitt discusses how demanding
reproductive environments should increase the desire and pursuit of
biparental, monogamous relationships.
Other contributing factors
While infidelity is by no means exclusive to certain groups of people,
its perception can be influenced by other factors. Furthermore, within
a "homogeneous culture," like that in the United States, factors like
community size can be strong predictors of how infidelity is
perceived. Larger communities tend to care less about infidelity
whereas small towns are much more concerned with such issues.
These patterns are observed in other cultures as well. For example, a
cantina in a small, rural Mexican community is often viewed as a place
where "decent" or "married" women do not go because of its
semi-private nature. Conversely, public spaces like the market or
plaza are acceptable areas for heterosexual interaction. A smaller
population size presents the threat of being publicly recognized for
infidelity. However, within a larger community of the same Mexican
society, entering a bar or watering hole would garner a different
view. It would be deemed perfectly acceptable for both married and
unmarried individuals to drink at a bar in a large city. These
observations can be paralleled to rural and urban societies in the
United States as well. Ultimately, these variables and societal
differences dictate attitudes towards sexual infidelity which can vary
across cultures as well as within cultures.
"Mate poaching" is the phenomenon of a single person luring a person
who is in an intimate relationship to have sex outside of that
relationship. According to a survey of 16,964 individuals in 53
countries by David Schmitt (2001), mate poaching happens significantly
more frequently in Middle Eastern countries such as
Lebanon, and less frequently in East Asian countries such as
The parental investment theory is used to explain evolutionary
pressures that can account for sex differences in infidelity. This
theory states that the sex that invests less in the offspring has more
to gain from indiscriminate sexual behaviour. This means that women,
who typically invest more time and energy into raising their offspring
(9 months of carrying offspring, breast feeding etc.), should be more
choosy when it comes to mate selection and should therefore desire
long-term, monogamous relationships that would ensure the viability of
their offspring. Men on the other hand, have less parental investment
and so they are driven towards indiscriminate sexual activity with
multiple partners as such activity increases the likelihood of their
reproduction. This theory says that it is these evolutionary
pressures that act on men and women differentially and what ultimately
drives more men to seek sexual activity outside of their own
relationships. It can however, still account for the occurrence of
extradyadic sexual relationships among women. For example, a woman
whose husband has fertilization difficulties can benefit from engaging
in sexual activity outside of her relationship. She can gain access to
high-quality genes and still derive the benefit of parental investment
from her husband or partner who is unknowingly investing in their
illegitimate child. Evidence for the development of such a
short-term mating strategy in women comes from findings that women who
engage in affairs typically do so with men who are of higher status,
dominance, physical attractiveness (which is indicative of genetic
One defense mechanism that some researchers believe is effective at
preventing infidelity is jealousy.
Jealousy is an emotion that can
elicit strong responses. Cases have been commonly documented where
sexual jealousy was a direct cause of murders and morbid jealousy.
Buss (2005) states that jealousy has three main functions to help
prevent infidelity. These suggestions are:
It can alert an individual to threats with a valued relationship.
It can be activated by the presence of interested and more desirable
It can function as a motivational mechanism that creates behavioral
outputs to deter infidelity and abandonment.
Looking at jealousy's physiological mechanism offers support for this
Jealousy is a form of stress response which has been shown to
activate the sympathetic nervous system by increasing heart rate,
blood pressure, and respiration. This will activate the "fight or
flight" response to ensure action against the attempt at sexual
infidelity in their partner. Buss and his colleagues were the
first to pioneer a theory that jealousy is an evolved human emotion
that has become an innate module, hard-wired to prevent infidelity
from occurring. This idea is commonly referred to as
Jealousy as a
Specific Innate Module and has become widely debated. The basis
behind this argument is that jealousy was beneficial in our ancestor's
time when cuckoldry was more common. They suggested that those who
were equipped with this emotional response could more effectively stop
infidelity and those without the emotional response had a harder time
doing so. Because infidelity imposed such a fitness cost, those who
had the jealous emotional response, improved their fitness, and could
pass down the jealousy module to the next generation.
Another defense mechanism for preventing infidelity is by social
monitoring and acting on any violation of expectations. Researchers in
favor of this defense mechanism speculate that in our ancestor's
times, the act of sex or emotional infidelity is what triggered
jealousy and therefore the signal detection would have happened only
after infidelity had occurred, making jealousy an emotional by-product
with no selective function. In line with this reasoning, these
researchers hypothesize that as a person monitors their partner's
actions with a potential rival through primary and secondary
appraisals; if their expectations are violated at either level of
observation, they will become distressed and enact an appropriate
action to stop the chance of infidelity. Social monitoring
therefore enables them to act accordingly before infidelity occurs,
thereby having the capability to raise their fitness. Research
testing this theory has found more favor for the sexual jealousy
A more recently suggested defense mechanism of infidelity attracting
more attention is that a particular social group will punish cheaters
by damaging their reputation. The basis for this suggestion stems
from the fact that humans have an unmatched ability to monitor social
relationships and inflict punishment on cheaters, regardless of the
context. This punishment comes in many forms, one of which is
gossip. This damage will impair the future benefits that individual
can confer from the group and its individuals. A damaged
reputation is especially debilitating when related to sexual and
emotional infidelity, because it can limit future reproductive mate
choices within the group and will cause a net fitness cost that
outweighs the fitness benefit gained from the infidelity.[full
citation needed] Such limitations and costs deter an individual from
cheating in the first place. Support for this defense mechanism comes
from fieldwork by Hirsch and his colleagues (2007) that found that
gossip about extramarital affairs in a small community in Mexico was
particularly prevalent and devastating for reputation in this region.
Specifically, adultery was found to cause an individual to be disowned
by their family, decrease the marriage value of his/her family, cause
an individual to lose money or a job, and diminish future reproductive
potential. In this community, men having extramarital affairs did so
in private areas with lower prevalence of women connected to the
community, such as bars and brothels, both areas of which had a high
risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections.
The proliferation of sex chat rooms and dating apps has increased the
opportunity for people in committed relationships to engage in acts of
infidelity on and off the Internet. A cyber affair is defined as "a
romantic or sexual relationship initiated by online contact and
maintained primarily via online communication". Sexual acts online
include behaviors such as cybersex, where two or more individuals
engage in discussions about sexual fantasies over the Internet and is
usually accompanied by masturbation; hotchatting, where discussions
between two or more people move away from light-hearted flirting; and
emotional acts where people disclose intimate information to a
significant other. A new type of sexual activity online is when
two people's avatars engage in sexual activity in virtual reality
The Sims or Second Life. The majority of Americans believe
that if a partner engaged in cybersex this constitutes as an act of
A 2005 survey of 1828 participants reported one third of them reported
engaging in cybersex and of that one third, 46% said they were in a
committed relationship with someone else.
In an attempt to differentiate offline and online infidelity, Cooper,
Morahan-Martin, Mathy, and Maheu constructed a "Triple-A Engine",
which identifies the three aspects of Internet infidelity that
distinguish it, to some degree, from traditional infidelity:
Accessibility: the more access one has to the Internet, the more
likely they will engage in infidelity
Affordability: the monetary cost of being able to access the Internet
continues to drop, and for a small price, a user can visit many sites,
and meet multiple potential sexual needs
Anonymity: the Internet allows users to masquerade as someone else, or
hide their identity altogether.
In a study of 335 Dutch undergraduate students involved in serious
intimate relationships, participants were presented with four dilemmas
concerning a partner's emotional and sexual infidelity over the
Internet. They found a significant sex difference as to whether
participants chose sexual and emotional infidelity as more upsetting.
More men than women indicated that a partner's sexual involvement
would upset them more than a partner's emotional bonding with someone
else. Similarly, in the dilemma involving infidelity over the
Internet, more men indicated their partner's sexual involvement would
upset them more than a partner's emotional bonding with someone else.
Women, on the other hand, expressed more problems with emotional
infidelity over the Internet than did men.
Online infidelity can be just as damaging to a relationship as offline
physical unfaithfulness. A possible explanation is that our brain
registers virtual and physical acts the same way and responds
similarly. Several studies have concluded that online infidelity,
whether sexual or emotional in nature, often leads to off-line
A study by Beatriz Lia Avila Mileham in 2004 examined the phenomenon
of online infidelity in chat rooms. The following factors were
investigated: what elements and dynamics online infidelity involves
and how it happens; what leads individuals specifically to the
computer to search for a relationship on the side; whether individuals
consider online contacts as infidelity and why or why not; and what
dynamics chat room users experience in their marriages. The
results lead to three constructs that symbolize chat room dynamics and
serve as a foundation for Internet infidelity. They include anonymous
sexual interactionism, behavioral rationalization, and effortless
Anonymous sexual interactionism refers to these individuals'
predilection for anonymous interactions of a sexual nature in chat
rooms. The allure of anonymity gains extra importance for married
individuals, who can enjoy relative safety to express fantasies and
desires without being known or exposed.
Behavioral rationalization denotes the reasoning that chat room users
present for conceiving their online behaviors' as innocent and
harmless (despite the secrecy and highly sexual nature).
Effortless avoidance involves chat room users' avoidance of
psychological discomfort by exchanging sexual messages with strangers.
Happily-married individuals also join such rooms.
Adultery § Law
All countries in Europe, as well as most countries in Latin America
have decriminalized adultery; however, in many countries in Africa and
Asia (particularly the Middle East) this type of infidelity is
criminalized. Even where infidelity is not a criminal offense, it may
have legal implications in divorce cases; for example it may be a
factor in property settlement, the custody of children, the denial of
alimony, etc. In civil claims, not only the spouse, but also the
"other man/other woman" may be held accountable: for example, seven US
states (Hawaii, Illinois, North Carolina, Mississippi, New Mexico,
South Dakota, and Utah) allow the possibility of the tort action of
alienation of affections (brought by a deserted spouse against a third
party alleged to be responsible for the failure of the marriage).
In a highly publicized case in 2010, a woman in
North Carolina won a
$9 million suit against her husband's mistress. In the United
States, criminal laws relating to infidelity vary, and those states
that criminalize adultery rarely prosecute the offense. Penalties for
adultery range from life imprisonment in Michigan, to a $10 fine in
Maryland or class 1 felony in Wisconsin. The constitutionality of
US criminal laws on adultery is unclear due to
Supreme Court decisions
in 1965 giving privacy of sexual intimacy to consenting adults, as
well as broader implications of
Lawrence v. Texas
Lawrence v. Texas (2003).
declared to be illegal in 21 states.
In many jurisdictions, adultery may have indirect legal implications,
particularly in cases of infliction of violence, such as domestic
assaults and killings, in particular by mitigating murder to
manslaughter, or otherwise providing for partial or complete
defenses in case of violence, especially in cultures where there is a
traditional toleration of crimes of passion and honor killings. Such
provisions have been condemned by the
Council of Europe
Council of Europe and the United
Nations in recent years. The
Council of Europe
Council of Europe Recommendation
Rec(2002)5 of the Committee of Ministers to member states on the
protection of women against violence states that member states should:
(...) 57. preclude adultery as an excuse for violence within the
UN Women has also stated in regard to the defense of
provocation and other similar defenses: "Laws should clearly state
that these defenses do not include or apply to crimes of "honour",
adultery, or domestic assault or murder."
One of the biggest problems with sexuality research is that many
people will not openly admit to acts of infidelity unless they are
assured complete anonymity. Additionally, there is confusion as to
what exactly constitutes infidelity. Some consider that infidelity
requires sexual intercourse; others that physical acts other than
intercourse might constitute infidelity, and still others that
emotional infidelity is possible without any physical acts
whatsoever.[full citation needed]
A standardized definition of infidelity, used by the International
Infidelity Law Consortium, includes the following acts:
Sexual fantasy with someone outside marriage
Talking with an attractive stranger
Exchanging contact details
Meeting up without accompanying spouse(s)
One night stand
Regular sexual intercourse
Established affair with long term commitment
As the number of women in the workforce increases to match that men,
researchers expect the likelihood of infidelity will also increase
with workplace interations. Wiggins and Lederer (1984) found that
opportunities to engage in infidelity were related to the workplace
where nearly one half of their samples who engaged in infidelity were
involved with coworkers. A study done by McKinnish (2007) found
that those who work with a larger fraction of workers of the opposite
sex are more likely to be divorced due to infidelity. Kuroki found
married women were less likely to have a workplace affair, whereas
self-employed individuals are more likely. In 2000, Treas and
Giesen found similar results where sexual opportunities in the
workplace increased the likelihood of infidelity during the last 12
Adulterous office romances are widely considered to be unhelpful to
business and work relationships, and superior-subordinate
relationships are banned in 90% of companies with written policies
regarding office romance. Companies cannot ban adultery, as, in all
but a handful of states, such regulations would run afoul of laws
prohibiting discrimination on the basis of marital status. Firings
nonetheless often occur on the basis of charges of inappropriate
Academics and therapists say cheating is probably more prevalent on
the road than close to home. The protection of the road offers a
secret life of romance, far from spouses or partners. Affairs range
from one-night stands to relationships that last for years. They are
usually with a co-worker, a business associate or someone they
Another reason for the development of office romances is the amount of
time co-workers spend together. Spouses today often spend more time
with co-workers in the office than with each other. A
notes, "Nearly 60 percent of American women work outside the home, up
from about 40 percent in 1964. Quite simply, women intersect with more
people during the day than they used to. They go to more meetings,
take more business trips and, presumably, participate more in
flirtatious water-cooler chatter."
According to Debra Laino in an article for Shave, some of the reasons
women cheat at the workplace are because "women are disproportionately
exposed to men in the workplace, and, as a direct consequence, many
have more options and chances to cheat."
Some studies suggest that only a small percentage of couples that
experience infidelity actually improve their relationship, whereas
others report couples having surprisingly positive relationship
outcomes. In terms of negative responses to infidelity, Charney
and Parnass (1995) report that after hearing of a partner's
infidelity, reactions have included rage and increased aggressiveness,
loss of trust, decreased personal and sexual confidence, sadness,
depression, damaged self-esteem, fear of abandonment, and a surge of
justification to leave their partner. Another study reported
nearly 60% of the partners cheated on suffered emotional problems and
depression following disclosure of the affair. Other negative
consequences have included damage to relationships with children,
parents, and friends, as well as legal consequences. A report in
1983 reported that of a sample of 205 divorced individuals, about one
half said their marital problems were caused by their spouse's
The negative impact of infidelity on a relationship depends on how
involved partners are in their infidelity relationship, and
researchers maintain that infidelity itself does not cause divorce but
the overall level of relationship satisfaction, motives for
infidelity, level of conflict, and attitudes held about infidelity
do. In fact, Schneider, et al. (1999) reported that even though
60% of their participants initially threatened to leave their primary
relationship, a threat to leave due to infidelity did not actually
predict the eventual outcome. Atkins, Eldridge, Baucom, and
Christiansen found that couples who went through therapy as well as
openly dealt with the infidelity were able to change at a faster rate
than distressed couples who were just in therapy. Some unintended
positive outcomes that have been reported for couples experiencing
infidelity include closer marital relationships, increased
assertiveness, taking better care of oneself, placing higher value on
family, and realizing the importance of marital communication.
If divorce results from infidelity, research suggest that the
"faithful" spouse may experience feelings of low life satisfaction and
self-esteem; they may also engage in future relationships fearful of
the same incidence occurring. Sweeney and Horwitz (2001) found
that individuals who initiated a divorce after hearing about their
partner's infidelity experienced less depression; however, the
opposite was true when the offending spouse initiated divorce.
Those who are cheated on experience a great amount of anxiety, stress
and depression. People experiencing those emotions because of an
infidelity are more likely to engage in activities that are a health
risk, such as depriving themselves of food, consuming alcohol or using
drugs more often, increased sexual activity, having sex under the
influence of drugs or alcohol, or over-exercising. Those who
blamed themselves for their partners unfaithfulness were also more
like to participate in risky behavior.
Women felt more emotional distress than men and were more likely to
blame themselves than men were. “We think this is because women
typically place higher importance on the relationship as a source of
self and identity,” said Shrout (2017).
Marriage counseling is generally provided by licensed therapists or
clinical psychologists known as couple, marriage, or family therapists
(see family therapy and emotionally focused therapy). These therapists
provide the same mental health services as other therapists, but with
a specific focus – a couple's relationship.
Relationship counseling typically brings partners together for joint
sessions. The counselor or therapist helps couples pinpoint and
understand the sources of their conflicts and try to resolve them.
Partners evaluate both the good and bad parts of their relationship.
Integrative behavioral couples therapy has shown success in increasing
intimacy after an affair.
Alternative views (swinging and polyamory)
Swinging is a form of extradyadic sex where married couples exchange
partners with each other. Swinging was originally called
"wife-swapping", but due to the sexist connotations and the fact that
many wives were willing to swap partners, "mate swapping" and or
"swinging" was substituted. The
Supreme Court in Canada has ruled
swinging is legal as long as it takes place in a private place and is
consensual. Swinging can be closed or open, where couples meet and
each pair goes off to a separate room or they have sex in the same
room. The majority of swingers fall into the middle and upper
classes, with an above average education and income, and majority of
these swingers are white (90%). A study done by Jenks in 1986
found that swingers are not significantly different from non-swingers
on measures such as philosophy, authoritarianism, self-respect,
happiness, freedom, equality etc. Swingers tend to emphasize
personal values over more social ones. According to Henshel (1973),
the initiation into the world of swinging usually is done by the
Reasons for getting involved in swinging are the variety of sexual
partners and experiences, pleasure or excitement, meeting new people,
and voyeurism. In order for swinging to work, both partners need
to have a liberal sexual predisposition, and a low degree of
jealously. Gilmartin (1975) found that 85% of his sample of swingers
felt that these sexual encounters posed no real threat to their
marriage and felt it had improved. Jenks (1998) found no reason to
believe that swinging was detrimental to marriage, with over 91% of
males and 82% of females indicating they were happy with swinging.
Another form of extradyadic sex is polyamory, a "non-possessive,
honest, responsible and ethical philosophy and practice of loving
multiple people simultaneously". There are various types of
relationships in polyamory such as intentional family, group
relationship, and group marriage. One type of group relationship can
be a triad involving a married couple and an additional person who all
share sexual intimacy, however it is usually an addition of a
female. Unlike polygyny or polyandry, both men and women may have
multiple partners within the confines of polyamory. Polyamorous
relationships are distinguished from extramarital affairs by the full
disclosure and consent of all involved. Polyamorous relationships
may specify unique boundaries outside monogomous expectations of
fidelity, that if violated are still considered cheating. Because both
men and women can have multiple partners, these individuals do not
consider themselves to be either uncommitted or unfaithful.
Evolutionary researchers have suggested that men and women have innate
mechanisms that contribute to why they become sexually jealous,
especially for certain types of infidelity. It has been hypothesized
that heterosexual men have developed an innate psychological mechanism
that responds to the threat of sexual infidelity more than emotional
infidelity, and vice versa for heterosexual women. This is because
it is thought that the threat of cuckoldry is more detrimental to the
male, who could potentially invest in offspring that is another
male's, and for females, emotional infidelity would be more worrisome
because they could lose the parental investment in their offspring for
another woman's offspring, therefore affecting their chances of
survival. However the evidence for this gender difference is
debatable, as new findings are suggesting that more and more men and
women today would find emotional infidelity psychologically worse.
For one researcher, Symons (1979), sexual jealously is the major cause
that homosexual men are supposedly unsuccessful in maintaining
monogamous relationships. Symons suggests that all men are
innately disposed to want sexual variation and that the difference
between heterosexual and homosexual men is that homosexual men can
find willing partners more often for casual sex, and thus satisfy this
innate desire for sexual variety. However, according to this view,
all men are hard wired to be sexually jealous; therefore suggesting
that gay men should be more upset by sexual infidelity than by
emotional infidelity, and that lesbians should be more upset by
emotional infidelity than compared to sexual infidelity. Recent
studies suggest that in fact it may not be an innate mechanism but
that it depends on the importance placed on sexual exclusivity. Peplau
and Cochran (1983) found that sexual exclusivity was much more
important to heterosexual men and women compared to homosexual men and
women. This theory suggests that it is not sexuality that may lead to
differences but that people are prone to jealousy in domains that are
especially important to them.
A study done by Harris (2002) tested these hypotheses among 210
individuals, 48 homosexual women, 50 homosexual men, 40 heterosexual
women, and 49 heterosexual men. Results found that more
heterosexual than homosexual individuals picked sexual infidelity as
worse than emotional infidelity, with heterosexual men being the
highest, and that when forced to choose, gay men overwhelmingly
predicted emotional infidelity would be more troubling than sexual
infidelity. These findings contradict Symons (1979) suggestion
that there would be no gender difference in predicted responses to
infidelity by sexual orientation; however more research in this area
should be conducted. Blow and Bartlett (2005) suggest that even
though sex outside of a homosexual relationship might be seen as more
acceptable in some relationships, the consequences of infidelity do
not occur without pain or jealousy.
Heterosexuals rated emotional and sexual infidelity as more
emotionally distressing than lesbian and gay individuals did. Sex and
sexual orientation differences emerged regarding the degree to which
specific emotions were reported in response to sexual and emotional
infidelity. Few researchers have explored the influence of sexual
orientation on which type of infidelity is viewed as more
Summarizing the findings from these studies, heterosexual men seem to
be more distressed by sexual infidelity than heterosexual women,
lesbian women, and gay men. These latter three groups seem more
responsible for this difference by reporting similarly higher levels
of distress toward emotional infidelity than heterosexual men.
However, as previously noted, within-sex analyses reveal that
heterosexual men tend to rate emotional infidelity as more distressing
than sexual infidelity.
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