SHARE Research almost universally suggests that somewhere between 10 and 20 percent of people in committed relationships, both men and women, cheat on their partner. Some of these websites and apps, most notably Ashley Madison, are specifically designed to facilitate extramarital sexual encounters.
But why do so many men and women in committed relationships choose to cheat? The answer is fairly convoluted, with males and females engaging in infidelity for a separate but wide variety of reasons.
While this research did not deal specifically with sexual activity, it did look at unethical behavior in general, and the findings can certainly be extrapolated to sexual activity. For the study, a diverse group of researchers led by Nicole Ruedy of the University of Washington conducted a half-dozen separate experiments. In one trial, two sets of participants answered math and logic problems on computers. The first set of participants received no hints or help.
The second could click a button to see the correct answer before giving their own response; they were asked to ignore that button and solve problems without the crutch, but were also told that there was no penalty for pushing it. They found that 68 percent of people who had the option to cheat took it. So we see that given the right circumstances—the cheating is perceived as victimless and there is no punishment —approximately two-thirds of people may choose to cheat. In another experiment, researchers paired a true study participant with an actor pretending to be a participant.
In other words, getting away with a harmless bit of cheating appears to have evoked a pleasurable response. So again we see that given the right circumstances—the cheating is perceived as victimless and there is no looming punishment—people actually tend to feel good about cheating, despite their moral and ethical beliefs. All told, the results of the six trials in this study fly in the face of the long-held belief that unethical behavior triggers bad feelings in most people.
And it appears this is doubly true if and when they think their unethical behavior is not harming anyone. As a clinician who specializes in the treatment of sexual disorders, I have worked with literally hundreds of men and women who have cheated on their committed partners. And this belief that what they are doing is victimless, coupled with their ability to repeatedly get away with it, allows them to experience the cheater's high.
In reality, of course, sexual infidelity is far from victimless. Spouses and other family members are hurt by the cheater even before the infidelity is discovered, as active cheaters tend to be emotionally distant from loved ones; less sexual, physical, or loving toward their spouse; and also less available.
And then, when the cheating is finally uncovered, according to one recent study of women married to serial cheaters , many betrayed wives experience acute stress and anxiety symptoms characteristic of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder PTSD , a serious mental- health issue with chronic internal and external consequences. These windfalls are generally causation for feeling good. Cheating leads to a greater sense of autonomy.
Circumventing rules that limit others gives cheaters an increased sense of control over their own lives, making them feel better about themselves. Each of these concepts is very much in effect with sexual deceit. Third—and I see this all the time with my clients—there is a definite sense of accomplishment and enjoyment attached to simply getting away with something. That would certainly help explain the fact that people who engage in sexual infidelity rarely do so only once. That said, the reasons people act the way they do are never as cut-and-dried as most of us might like, and motivations for sexual infidelity are even more complex because innate and very complicated drives for sexual activity and emotional intimacy are thrown into the mix.
Nevertheless, it seems likely that the good feelings brought on by getting away with a perceived victimless unethical act like sexual infidelity may well be a significant contributing factor.
An author and subject expert on the relationship between digital technology and human sexuality , Mr. He has provided clinical multi- addiction training and behavioral health program development for the US military and treatment centers throughout the United States, Europe, and Asia.
For more information you can visit his website, www.