If you think the kinds of steamy images conjured up on the pages of a well-worn bodice ripper or the soft-core kinks of Fifty Shades of Grey are what motivate women to cheat, you’d be wrong.

It’s far more complicated than that. In fact, the reason or reasons behind why women cheat can be different for each individual woman.  One thing that remains the same for most, though, is that those reasons for cheating usually have little, if anything, to do with base behaviors such as lust.  That’s more or a man thing.

Theories Infidelity

Obviously, cheating isn’t exclusive.  As to who cheats more, men or women, the top honors for infidelity have historically been awarded to men, but that has gradually changed over time.

Fast forward and the gap between men and women cheating has been narrowing steadily for decades now.

While data varies drastically, statistically ladies have really stepped up their game when it comes to stepping out on their partners in recent years, with some figures running as high as 13-15 percent for the unfaithful in comparison to men’s 20 percent.  

But that wasn’t always the case.  There’s been some back and forth that has influenced those statistics throughout time. 

Religious Belief Systems

Before monotheism gained a foothold sex and commitment were approached with a much broader view by many cultures, so hanky-panky wasn’t unusual or even frowned upon by some groups. 

The end of polytheistic beliefs, however, changed all that—at least as far as women were concerned.  

You see, spousal jealousy aside, the days of more open, casual relationships seen as hedonistic were soon gone and in were the days of strict, steadfast vows and solemn commitment.

Couple fighting on couch

With narrowly defined roles that assured they had limited resources without the aid and protection of a man, females of yesteryear had fewer options, leading to fewer opportunities to cheat.  

That is one theory behind the high percentage of women who remained faithful to their significant others over time—that and their natural inclination toward a nurturing nature.  To a large extent, that age-old trait has managed to stay intact. 

But, with many of the markers of gender inequality slowly dissipating, a shrinking pay gap, greater accessibility to advanced education, and more job opportunities in the upper echelon of industry has allowed women unprecedented freedom with more choices open to them than ever before—and with this newfound freedom and power has come more opportunities to cheat.  

That’s only one part of the puzzle. Women who cheat tell their own stories as to what drove or still drives them to adultery. 

The irony is that the very thing many women cite as being the most egregious dynamic about their significant other straying is the reason they stray themselves. 

It’s crazy, but we’ll go into that later.

Why Women Cheat

So, why do women cheat? 

It depends on whom you’re asking.  Studies abound on the subject, but informal Q. and A. formats with women as to why they’ve cheated have been extremely revealing. 

The answers also highlight the differences between why men and women cheat.

To a certain extent, both boil down to flattery and attention seeking behaviors, so the sexes aren’t really that much different in their outlooks.  Here is a list of the most common reasons why women cheat:

  • Loneliness — Infidelity due to loneliness lists high on the chart for why women cheat.  They are looking to fill a void in their lives with human contact that they don’t feel they’re receiving at home.
  • Lack of Appreciation or Feeling of Neglect — Feeling underappreciated or ignored actually ranks high among both males and females when it comes to straying beyond the bounds of marriage or commitment. 
  • Need for Intimacy — Intimate emotional connections with a partner are essential to women.  It’s a feeling of sharing on a deeper level than physical displays of affection.  When it’s lacking, women will often look for a way to replace it.
  • Great Expectations — Expecting more from a relationship than is reasonable is another reason why women cheat.  The thing is you have to be happy with yourself before you can be happy with someone else, and looking to a relationship to somehow complete you is a mistake. 
  • Undersupported and Overwhelmed — Regardless of how happy a woman is in her home life or marriage, feeling adrift and buried by the weight of the needs of others can drive women to cheat as a means of escape.  Men use this as an excuse, as well.
  • Cry for Help — Some women purportedly turn to affairs as an SOS of sorts for recognition in a troubled marriage.  It’s like a “See, I told you so” card they can play to finally get their partners to take perceived problems in the union seriously.
  • Lack of Sex — A reason stated by both men and women, lack of sex, boring sex, or anything falling under the category of unfulfilling sex can lead to infidelity on the part of both partners.  Here’s where lust plays a role.
  • Revenge Sex — Probably cited the least but still an impetus for cheating, getting back at a significant other for cheating by cheating in kind is a fairly common reason for adulterous behavior.  It seldom, if ever, has the results wounded lovers are looking for and can even leave you feeling worse than before, so proceed with caution.

Sexual Infidelity vs. Emotional Infidelity

It’s interesting to understand how infidelity is viewed by the sexes.  Studies conducted throughout the world have discovered that men and women are disturbed by very different sets of standards when it comes to cheating. 

When queried as to what is more upsetting for a partner to imagine in a mate outside of their relationship, physical intimacy or emotional intimacy, women identified emotional intimacy as the greater breach in trust than out and out sex. 

Men, on the other hand, saw physical relations as the ultimate stab in the heart.

This may be traced to a time when males were more concerned with ensuring the continuation of their genetic line and women saw potential competition as threats to the safety and wellbeing of themselves and their offspring. 

Men vs. Women

The reasoning is males would not want to put their time, energy, and resources into rearing another male’s spawn—which still holds true in the animal kingdom today. 

Woman Looking Uncomfortable

Due to this concern, males would watch over their females much more closely with an eye toward jealousy. 

Likewise, women would display jealousy in an attempt to remain the top banana in the male’s world and reap the benefits he could provide her and her young. 

This makes jealousy an ingrained evolutionary emotion that’s held over ‘til today.

Why Women Cheat on Good Men

These gene-based scenarios could also possibly help explain why women cheat on men whom they admittedly have no complaints with. Here, boredom and a need for adventure or excitement may come into play as well.

According to Rutgers University biological anthropologist Helen Fisher, up to 34 percent of women admitting affairs were happy or very happy in their marriages before embarking on them. 

Another alternative is that some women tend to cheat more along the lines of men’s reasoning, which is for more sex and attention (56 percent of men who cheat claim to be happy at home).

Once a Cheat, Always a Cheat

And what about serial adulterers? 

The old saying “once a cheat, always a cheat” is true for many philanderers, married or not.  Does this behavior really boil down to nothing more than a narcissistic, it’s-all-about-me personality trait? 

According to “Laura,” a 26-year-old nurse interviewed for an article in The CUT examining the question of why women cheat, it is all about her personal gratification, and what she had to say might startle some readers.

 “As someone who has cheated in every relationship I’ve ever been involved in (in some form), it’s important for me to say I don’t cheat because I’m unhappy. I’m actually very happy in my relationship. It sometimes feels like I’m not cheating ON my boyfriend so much as I’m cheating WITH someone else.

I know this sounds like I’m deflecting blame (I know this is immoral and it is my fault, etc.), but the truth of the matter is that when I cheat, I’m solely satisfying my desires; I am not spiting him or getting back or compensating for something lacking in the relationship. I just want to do it — and so I do.

It’s a blind egotism that allows me to put my feelings above his, but my intention is never to hurt him, only to please myself. I just want to have sex.”

It’s startling because we’re just not accustomed to hearing women openly embracing a role typically assigned to men in the public consciousness.  If she were a man, people would shrug it off as part of being male.

As a woman, she’s more likely to be branded a slut for her honesty—at least to the interviewer.  Her partner, not so much. She even went on to admit that she was aware that he’d be hurt if he knew of her infidelity adding,

“Of course, if he ever found out, he’d be devastated. So it’s all a matter of weighing risk with reward.”

Clearly, she’s not worried about the shame of receiving a scarlet letter.

Hiding Infidelity

Interestingly, women are said to be able to discern a cheater far more easily than a man can.

This begs the question among researchers as to whether women are better at hiding infidelity than men, or whether men are just lousier at reading cues, or even that they’re so tuned out to female personalities that they simply don’t notice the highway signs. 

How the participants came to their insightful conclusions—or lack thereof—was unique in and of itself: scientists gathered images of 189 men and women who had admitted cheating and showed them to the study group, who drew their own conclusions based on the analyzation of each photograph.

They were asked to rank the faces on a scale of 1-10, with a 1 indicating a face that is “not at all likely to be unfaithful” and a 10 as “extremely likely” to fool around.

The Results

The results were fascinating in that it was determined both sexes were able to predict a man’s commitment failings, but neither were able to predict cheating women reliably.

Males displaying more rugged or masculine features were more likely to be perceived as cheats by both men and women, which was crazy considering a more significant number of the men pictured had cheated or “poached women already in relationships.”

Results also suggested that our propensity to believe an attractive person is more likely to cheat than one less so may be an evolutionary defense mechanism designed to encourage females to avoid flakes, and males to be on high alert for other men who might be on the make.

Conversely, a woman’s features seemed to contradict her level of faithfulness, regardless of how girly-girl or feminine she was in appearance. 

This may have something to do with the preconceived notion that women aren’t as prone as men to be unfaithful.

Call it a Madonna complex or whatever, but there are certain “crimes” that women are just not immediately connected to in the collective conscious of the public at large.

The Definition of Cheating

Another interesting point is that not everyone who cheats considers themselves to be a cheater, and their peers might not either. So, what is cheating?

As it turns out, much like beauty, that interpretation is seated somewhere in the mind of the beholder. In other words, it’s a murky grey area. 

Yes, there are the societal norms that dictate affairs are immoral and therefore wrong, but is flirting, sexting, viewing porn, going to strip clubs, or anything else that isn’t actual physical, sexual contact involving body parts that are traditionally clothed cheating? 

silhouette of couple walking away

If you’re in a committed relationship, these are the things you need to lay ground rules for early on in the romance.  This will help you both be clear on where you stand with one another and which boundaries are not to be crossed.

If you ever find yourself in questionable circumstances regarding your mate’s approval of a particular activity, an easy rule of thumb in any scenario is to ask yourself whether or not you’d be comfortable if the situation were reversed. 

If the answer is no, then you know what to do—or not to do. It’s all about respect.

Cheating Women

Among women who cheat, it has also emerged that millennials are more prone to adultery than prior generations. 

Again, this is probably a result of more freedoms and disposable income as discussed previously, but according to a report by the Institute of Family Studies, 11 percent of women aged 18-29 say they are guilty of extramarital affairs. 

This is the only generation—in America, at least—which can say that women are actually more likely to have cheated than men in the same age group.

Believe it or not, Americans born in the 1940s and ‘50s, that grew up during the sexual revolution of the ‘60s and early ’70s, have the highest rates of infidelity on record.

A New Generation

This new group of women who cheat may face far more hazards than prior “free-thinking” or “broad-minded” revolutionaries had to deal with, such as diseases with far-reaching consequences that weren’t significant factors before, but they’ve got the resources for blazing the trail.   

Another factor to consider in the rise of women who cheat is the decline in attendance of organized religion, which may be boosting the numbers of the less inhibited. 

Fewer and fewer people are going to church these days, which has led to a reprieve from speeches or sermons condemning trysts outside of the accepted norm.

Without all of the noise about your soul being in constant peril of damnation, maybe the message has gotten lost, or perhaps the citizenry of the world is just more elevated and enlightened in their views than their ancestors.

Final Word on Cheating

Regardless of your take on it, the fact that there is and has been a gradual increase in the number of women who cheat shouldn’t necessarily be seen as a cause for alarm but rather the day or climate we’re currently living in. 

You don’t have to agree with the reasons given for why women cheat, because they’re basically as lame as why men cheat.

If you’re male, though, this information may give you a greater understanding of the pitfalls to avoid in your romantic relationships and help women to understand their own behavior better while finding more constructive ways to deal with it.