Men often get painted as being the most unfaithful of the two sexes.
The stereotypical image is one of a sex-crazed guy with little else on his mind. A player who just can’t keep it in his pants.
But what do the actual statistics say? Who cheats more men or women? You might be surprised by the real truth.
In this article, we’ll explore everything you need to know about who is more loyal, male or female.
How many men and women cheat?
When figuring out how much both men and women cheat, infidelity statistics vary wildly, with the lower estimates around 13% and the highest up to an eye-watering 75%.
That’s because scientifically measuring and quantifying something as subjective as human behavior is always going to be tricky.
It’s going to depend on many things like the sample size being used and the country the data is gathered.
But arguably the biggest stumbling block to getting reliable figures is that it depends on people confessing their infidelity to researchers.
Here are some statistics gathered on cheating around the world:
Cheating statistics US: According to the General Social Survey, 20% of men and 13% of women reported that they’ve had sex with someone other than their spouse while married.
One 2020 study looked at data on infidelity in marriage from 1991 to 2018 and noted that overall 23% of men say they cheat, and 12% of women say they cheat.
Yet other sources put that figure much higher. The Journal of Marriage and Divorce suspects up to 70% of married Americans cheat at least once in their marriage. Whilst the LA Intelligence Detective Agency puts the figure somewhere between 30 to 60 percent.
Cheating statistics UK: In a YouGov survey one in five British adults admitted to having had an affair, and a third say they have thought about it.
What counts as an affair? Well, although 20% admit to an “affair”, 22% say they romantically kissed someone else, but only 17% said they slept with someone else.
Cheating statistics Australia: The Great Australian Sex Census surveyed over 17,000 people about their sex lives, and found that 44% of people admitted to cheating in a relationship.
Some other interesting stats to come from another HackSpirit article looking into cheating are:
- 74 percent of men and 68 percent of women admit they’d cheat if it was guaranteed they’d never get caught
- 60 percent of affairs start with close friends or coworkers
- An average affair lasts 2 years
- 69 percent of marriages break up as a result of an affair being discovered
- 56% of men and 34% of women who commit infidelity rate their marriages as happy or very happy.
Are men or women the biggest cheats?
To figure out which gender cheats more, let’s look closer at what percentage of men cheat versus what percentage of women cheat.
Do men cheat more than women? The short answer is that men probably do cheat more than women.
Trend data going back to the 1990s certainly implies men have always been more likely than women to cheat. But to what extent is debatable.
It’s also becoming increasingly contested as to whether this is really the case anymore. Plenty of research suggests that any differences are negligible.
Even though men have always been reported as cheating more than women, in recent years researchers have begun to notice a shift.
Cheating rates amongst men and women may not be so different
As we’ve seen, the US infidelity stats above suggest 20% of married men are unfaithful compared with 13% of women.
But in the UK, a YouGov survey actually found very little difference between the prevalence of affairs between men and women.
In fact, the number of men and women who have ever had an affair is essentially the same (20% and 19%).
Men are slightly more likely than women to be repeat offenders though. 49% of cheating men have had more than one affair compared to 41% of women. Men are also more likely to say they have thought about having an affair (37% vs. 29%).
There might also be a difference between married and unmarried people. Even though infidelity statistics suggest the percentage of married men having affairs is higher than women, in unmarried relationships the rate could be more evenly spread.
Research from 2017 says males and females are now engaging in infidelity at similar rates. The study found that 57% of males and 54% of females admitted to committing infidelity in one or more of their relationships.
Some researchers wonder if the number of women who cheat is actually higher but women are just less likely to admit to an affair than men.
Whilst for older generations men have been potentially more guilty of cheating, for younger generations that doesn’t seem to be the case. Psychology Today says that:
“16 percent of adults—about 20 percent of men and 13 percent of women—report that they’ve had sex with someone other than their spouse while married. But among adults under 30 who have ever been married, 11 percent of women report having committed infidelity, as opposed to 10 percent of men.”
If women are catching up with men in the infidelity department, Swiss journalist and author of ‘Cheating: A Handbook for Women’ Michèle Binswanger says this could be down to a shift in attitudes and the roles of women.
“Women are known to be more sensitive to social pressure than men and there has always been more pressure on proper sexual behavior on women. Also, they traditionally had fewer opportunities because they were more likely to stay at home with the kids. Today women have higher expectations about their sex life than 40 years ago, they want to experiment and are generally more independent.”
One way of looking at the changing data is that as male and female roles continue to equalize in society, so too are the statistics surrounding infidelity.
Do men and women view cheating differently?
Even the question of how you define cheating can be problematic.
For example, in one study, 5.7% of people being surveyed believed that buying food for someone of the opposite sex would qualify as an act of infidelity.
Is flirting cheating or does only intimate contact count?
But in that case, what about emotional affairs? According to iFidelity data, 70% of people do consider an emotional relationship as unfaithful behavior.
These messy boundaries are compounded by the fact that about 70% of people say they’ve not had a discussion with their partner over what counts as cheating.
Between 18% and 25% of Tinder users are in a committed relationship while using the dating app. Perhaps these people do not consider themselves as cheating.
A poll from Superdrug Online Doctor certainly uncovered some differences between the sexes over what is a betrayal.
For example, 78.4% of European women considered kissing someone else as cheating, whereas only 66.5% of European men did.
And whilst 70.8% of American women viewed becoming emotionally close with another person as cheating, significantly fewer American men did, with only 52.9% saying it counted as infidelity.
It suggests there could be a gender gap in attitudes towards faithfulness between men and women.
Who gets caught cheating more, men or women?
Another useful way of looking at who are the biggest cheats, men or women, would be who gets caught more.
The problem is that there have yet to be any scientific studies conducted on who gets caught cheating the most.
Clinicians have made some suggestions though, based on the data available.
Speaking in Fatherly, couples therapist Tammy Nelson and author of ‘When You’re The One Who Cheats’, says women could simply be more successful about hiding affairs.
“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. 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.”
Meanwhile, Dr. Catherine Mercer, head of analysis for a major study of sexual behavior, agrees any gender gap in infidelity statistics may in part be because women are less likely to own up to cheating than men. She told the BBC:
“We can’t directly observe unfaithfulness so we have to rely on what people tell us and we know there are gender differences in the way people report sexual behaviours.”
So what percentage of affairs are discovered?
One survey conducted by a dating site for extramarital affairs called Illicit Encounters, reported 63% of adulterers have been caught at some point.
But interestingly, it found that women were more likely than men to admit an affair to their partner.
Out of the top ten most common ways men and women’s affairs are exposed, a confession featured much lower on men’s lists (10th on the list) compared to women’s (3rd on the list).
Top ten ways women’s affairs are exposed:
- Calls to their lover discovered by their partner
- Stubble rash where they have been kissing lover
- They confess
- Texts to their lover uncovered
- Friend or acquaintance telling on them
- Suspicious spending exposed
- Cheating alibi exposed by a partner
- Caught out secretly seeing their lover
- Emails to lover read by partner
- Their lover tells their partner about the affair
Top ten ways men’s affairs are exposed:
- Sending sexy texts messages or pictures to their lover
- Partner smells lover’s perfume on clothes
- Partner checks emails
- Cheating alibi exposed by a partner
- Suspicious spending exposed
- Their lover tells their partner about the affair
- Caught out secretly seeing their lover
- Phone calls to a lover discovered by their partner
- Friend or acquaintance telling on them
- They confess
Men and women’s different attitudes towards cheating
We’ve already seen hints that the attitudes towards cheating might be different amongst men and women.
According to a BBC study looking into morality, men are more likely than women to think there are certain situations in which cheating on your partner is acceptable.
Even though 83% of adults agreed they felt a “significant” responsibility to be faithful to their partner, an obvious gender gap did emerge.
When asked to agree or disagree with the statement that it was “never” acceptable to cheat on their other half, 80% of women questioned agreed with the statement, compared to only 64% of men.
This seems to match up with a 2017 study, which noted men were less likely to say that extramarital sex was always wrong, and more likely to view it as almost always wrong, wrong only sometimes, or not wrong at all.
The evidence seems to indicate that men are more flexible than women in their attitude towards unfaithfulness — certainly when they are the ones perpetrating it.
The reasons men and women cheat are different
Although there are many similarities in the reasons men and women give for cheating, there are also some notable differences.
For example, one study found both men and women said the following same factors played a role in their infidelity.
- They were seeking affection, understanding, and attention from the affair.
- They were feeling insecure.
- They weren’t getting enough attention or intimacy from their partner.
- They were more likely to have an affair as a way to end the marriage if they felt trapped.
But generally speaking, the main motivations for why men and women cheat tend to be different.
Men are more opportunistic cheats. They see an opportunity and they take it. It doesn’t matter if they think of the woman in question as inferior or superior to their partner.
Women, on the other hand, are more likely to stray because they are looking for someone better. Research points to women turning to cheating more when they are feeling unappreciated, unloved, and misunderstood.
In short, men are more likely to cheat for physical reasons and women are more likely to cheat for emotional reasons.
Experts say that men are generally better able to compartmentalize sex and purely physical connections compared to women. For a lot of guys, sex is sex, and relationships are relationships.
Robert Weiss Ph.D. sums this up in a blog in Psychology Today:
“When women cheat, there is usually an element of romance, intimacy, connection, or love. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to cheat to satisfy sexual urges, with fewer thoughts of intimacy…For them, infidelity can be an opportunistic, primarily sexual action that, in their minds, does not affect their primary relationship.
“In fact, when asked, many such men will report that they’re very happy in their primary relationship, that they love their significant other, that their sex life is great, and that, despite their cheating, they have no intention of ending their primary relationship.
“Women are less likely to operate that way. For most women, a sense of relational intimacy is every bit as important as the sex; often more important. As such, women tend to not cheat unless they feel either unhappiness in their primary relationship or an intimate connection with their extracurricular partner — and either could cause a woman to move on from her primary relationship.”
These trends are also backed up by the poll from Superdrug. It noted for American and European women the number one reason for cheating was that their partner did not pay enough attention to them.
For American and European men, the reason was that the other person they had an affair with was very hot.
The motivations for cheating are likely to shape other differences between the sexes over cheating habits.
A YouGov survey in the UK found over half of women who have had an affair have cheated with a friend, compared to just a third of men.
Men who cheat, on the other hand, are more likely than women to do it with someone who is a work colleague, a stranger, or a neighbor.
This backs up the idea that men are more opportunistic whilst women are looking for an emotional connection.
Does male and female biology play a role in cheating?
If we accept that men are even marginally more likely than women to cheat according to the statistics, is there any particular reason why this might be?
It has been suggested that biological factors, as well as cultural ones, may make men more likely than women to follow their sexual impulses.
Men have sex on the brain
Rather than being an accusation that men have sex on the brain more than women do, it’s actually more a scientific observation.
In fact, the sexual pursuit area of men’s brains may be up to 2.5 times larger than women’s.
Men tend to masturbate twice as much as women, and in a compensatory way to make up for insufficient sex. And after hitting puberty, men start to produce 25 times more testosterone, which is one of the hormones that physiologically stimulates the male sex drive.
Of course, we’re talking in general terms here, but overall, guys’ brains are evolutionarily speaking, more geared towards being highly sexed.
Women need to be more choosey
It’s not to say that desire and physical attraction are not reasons that many women enter into affairs. People’s individual motivations are always going to be as unique as the person themself.
But both culturally as well as biologically, researchers Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam argue in their book ‘A Billion Wicked Thoughts’ that women have needed to be more thoughtful about who they sleep with.
“When contemplating sex with a man, a woman has to consider the long term. This consideration may not even be conscious, but rather is part of the unconscious software that has evolved to protect women over hundreds of thousands of years.
“Sex could commit a woman to a substantial, life-altering investment: pregnancy, nursing, and more than a decade of child-raising. These commitments require enormous time, resources, and energy. Sex with the wrong guy could lead to many unpleasant outcomes.”
The role of evolution in cheating
So how much of our cheating habits as both men and women are hardwired into us biologically, and how much are social constructs?
Harvard psychologist and evolutionary expert Professor David Buss thinks biological factors are at play to some extent in the differences that drive men and women to cheat.
In terms of evolution, he thinks that guys are subconsciously looking for ‘sexual variety’. On the other hand, when women cheat they are more likely to have an affair in order to ‘mate switch’.
“There’s a ton of evidence for these sex differences. There are studies where men and women report their reasons for cheating, for example. Women who cheat are far more likely to cheat with one person and to ‘fall in love’ or become emotionally involved with their affair partner.
“Men tend to report a desire to satisfy sexual desire. These are average differences, of course, and some men cheat to ‘mate switch’ and some women just want sexual satisfaction.”
In the animal kingdom, promiscuity is common. The reason why most animal species are non-monogamous is quite simple — because the aim is to spread their seed as widely as possible and ensure survival.
It’s not a way to excuse infidelity, as humans have obviously evolved very differently socially to other animals. But Fatherly suggests the same motivations could be behind cheating in people too.
“The biology of infidelity may shed light on why men and women appear to cheat differently. Since most male animals are able to reproduce with an unlimited amount of partners (and only minutes of work), it’s in their best evolutionary interests to be more or less indiscriminate about whom they impregnate.
“Female animals, on the other hand, are more limited in their reproductive capacities, and the survival of their occasional offspring depends on mating with only the healthiest males. So it makes some sense that males would cheat whenever the opportunity presented itself, while females would only cheat as a way of investing in healthier, or otherwise more eligible mate.
“Indeed, men and women cheat along those same biological lines.”
Do men and women react differently to cheating?
The research suggests that men and women take different stances on infidelity, whether they are the cheater or the one being cheated on.
One study looking at gender differences in the response to infidelity found that women are more likely to be upset by emotional cheating, and men more upset by sexual or physical infidelity.
The potential reason behind this according to the study could be primal. It hypothesizes that emotional infidelity for women “signals that a mate will either abandon the relationship or divert resources to a rival.”
Men, on the other hand, fear sexual infidelity more because of the links to reproduction and paternity — with affairs putting into question who the father of a baby could be. In essence, they are instinctively more worried about being cuckolded.
Who is more forgiving of cheating?
Plenty of couples do decide to move forward after infidelity is discovered. But the stats over how successfully they manage to rebuild the relationship aren’t great.
Speaking to Brides magazine psychologist Briony Leo said couples dealing with cheating have a challenging road ahead.
“In general, more than half the relationships (55 percent) ended immediately after one partner admits to cheating, with 30 percent deciding to stay together but breaking up eventually, and only 15 percent of couples able to successfully recover from infidelity,”
If men have historically speaking been the bigger cheats, you might expect that they would be more forgiving than women of transgressions. But this isn’t necessarily the case.
It seems that relationships damaged by a man’s cheating are more likely to survive once it’s been found out than when it’s the woman who has cheated.
Clinical psychologist Lindsay Brancato told Verywell Mind that a big difference with how infidelity is viewed by the sexes is that men, due to ego, feel more compelled to leave after they’ve been cheated on, fearful they may be seen as “weak.”
Although she also notes that women are increasingly under pressure to leave a cheating spouse.
“It used to be that women were in such a position that they had to stay in order to keep their lives intact financially and socially. It has become much more shameful now for women to stay, which I think makes it hard.
“They not only have to deal with the pain of the affair but might be worried about how they are perceived if they take back their partner and worry about protecting them.”
In summary: Who cheats more, men or women?
As we’ve seen, the picture of cheating for both men and women is far from simple.
Certainly historically speaking men have likely been the bigger cheats compared to women.
This could be down to a mix of cultural attitudes, biological factors and simply having a greater opportunity for infidelity.
But if it hasn’t completely closed already, that gap appears to be narrowing.
Although the reasons why men and women cheat may still differ, it seems that both men and women may be just as likely to cheat as each other.
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