Why men cheat: 6 reasons men and women should know about

Peter Pan syndrome

Many believe that men cheat more than women, but the reasons aren’t always clear. This article compiles multiple studies over the years to gain a better insight into why men cheat.

Why do men cheat? It’s not an easy question to answer.

Infidelity has long been part of our history as humans.

There are countless heartbreaking letters from centuries back — detailing a man’s confession to his trusting wife.

And in our digital age, we have tons of movies and TV shows portraying infidelity.

Yet as much as we all want to get angry, we have to take a deeper look into the issue.

If it happens more frequently than expected, what are the factors that lead to it? What pushes a man to make an irrational decision that has severe consequences?

In this article, we’ve gathered all the information you need to know about why men cheat. It won’t be an easy read for some. But remember: The first step in solving a problem is to learn as much about it in the first place.

6 reasons why men cheat

1) The male brain works differently compared to that of a woman

This may be a tough pill to swallow. Why?

It’s because it points to a biological cause that men don’t have much control over. What can a man do when it’s his brain affecting his decisions to stay loyal or not?

Evolution is a process that can take millions of years. Some people want to think of infidelity as a product of human society — but the male brain suggests otherwise.

According to best-selling author Adam Barsouk, evolution contributes to men’s tendency for infidelity. In his Forbes article, he states:

“…the hormones and sex drive of puberty arise in males before the full development of the decision-making portions of the brain. In other words, it is likely that males have evolved to want more sex than they often get in single partner relationships, while young men can develop their sex drive before their full powers of decision-making.”

What does this mean? Well, everyone goes through puberty during their younger years:

  • Some experience growth spurts
  • Guy’s voices suddenly become deeper
  • Teenagers complain about acne breakouts
  • Certain body parts develop and further differentiate males from females
  • Girls experience their first menstruation

The problem with puberty for boys is that it happens too fast. Their reproductive organs increase in size and they start to feel sexually attracted to the opposite sex. Yet the particular parts of the brain that help control their sexual urges have yet to develop.

This is bad for committed relationships. A 13-year-old guy may have a girlfriend he loves so much — but puberty makes him focus more on his sexual urges.

This is why guys are comfortable talking to multiple women at once.

The male brain’s decision-making segments mature in due time. But by then, the much older sections responsible for sexual desire may already have a much stronger hold.

Thus, a man may not have the same cognitive strength as woman as to resist cheating.

Brain size and testosterone are crucial as well

Dr. Louann Brizendine complemented the findings of Adam Barsouk. The clinical professor of psychiatry had this to say about puberty:

“Perhaps the biggest difference between the male and female brain is that men have a sexual pursuit area that is 2.5 times larger than the one in the female brain. Not only that, but beginning in their teens, they produce 20 to 25-fold more testosterone than they did during pre-adolescence.”

From this, we gain a better understanding of how weak the teen male is against his sexual impulses. For one, his critical-thinking abilities are having a difficult time catching up with the physical and hormonal changes.

Worse, the part of his brain that seeks sex is huge compared to that of a female brain. It’s no wonder then that we often discuss why men cheat more than women.

Likewise, there’s all this testosterone building up.

This is due to the hypothalamus determining the amount of testosterone the body needs.

This informs the pituitary gland and then the so-called master gland prompts the testicles to produce the hormones.

Dr. Brizendine says that we can think of testosterone as beer.

If a boy was just nine years old, he would get just a single cup of ‘beer’ each day.

But once he undergoes puberty, the beer he regularly consumes increases to almost two gallons — that’s about 32 cups.

Men can focus on loyalty

With these biological factors, is there no more hope for men to resist cheating? Dr. Brizendine says that the different goals of men and women are another thing worth considering.

According to the neuropsychiatrist, the female brain doesn’t focus on finding someone just because of sex.

Women do look for potential mates. But they also think of whether a person is reliable and safe to be with.

In contrast, the male brain prioritizes sex.

Economic and security concerns don’t matter as much as the opportunity to satiate one’s lust. In other words, a man will keep on searching for more and more mates.

Yet Dr. Brizendine doesn’t want people to give up on cheating men. In the aforementioned CNN article, she also states:

“…the male brain can fall in love just as hard and fast as the female brain, and maybe more so. When he meets and sets his sights on capturing ‘the one,’ mating with her becomes his prime directive. And when he succeeds, his brain makes an indelible imprint of her.”

2) Men don’t always see cheating as a bad thing

People often behave depending on their moral compass. This is true for both men and women. Thus, they have a sense of what is right and wrong — and act accordingly.

But the problem is this: There are absolutists and relativists. The former has a clear distinction between right and wrong. In contrast, the latter thinks that there is no such thing as an objectively good or bad thing.

In their study, Lindsay Labrecque and Mark Whisman uncovered that not all men see infidelity as an absolute wrong. The research was published in the Journal of Family Psychology in 2017.

Here’s what the study revealed:

“Compared with women, men were… less likely to report that extramarital sex was always wrong and more likely to view it as almost always wrong, wrong only sometimes, or not wrong at all.”

Pinning the blame on everything else

So what happens if a man’s take on infidelity is relativist?

If he ever has an affair, he won’t feel bad about it if he can justify it — and that’s alarming. He may seek more situations where cheating isn’t wrong.

This brings to mind what psychotherapist Robert Weiss had to say about why men cheat. The clinical sexologist said there were many reasons, some of which are the following:

  • He lacks experience in serious relationships and fails to realize the consequences of cheating
  • There are other problems such as alcohol or drug addiction that affects his sexual behavior
  • He’s angry and wants his partner to feel terrible
  • He’s not getting the ideal type or amount of sex from his partner

But what’s the point of identifying these causes?

It’s because a man can claim any of these reasons to defend himself. He could say he felt extremely jealous and wanted his girlfriend to feel bad.

Likewise, he could blame his vices and his relative immaturity in relationships. Whether the reasons below are true or not for one particular man isn’t the point here.

Instead, the issue is that he could just divert the blame each time. If he can’t change his moral stance on cheating, his self-restraint won’t help when he thinks of doing it again.

3) They’re more open to casual sex

These days many men and women do have sex with no strings attached.

You could say this is really dependent on the prevailing attitudes of society about sexuality.

A historically conservative individual will be less tolerant or accepting of casual sex than someone who’s more liberal.

But there are also gender-based differences. Apart from how men evaluated cheating, Labrecque and Whisman’s study also revealed that “men were… more likely to report extramarital sex with someone they knew casually.”

In particular, 24.3 percent of men who confessed to having an affair said they had casual sex. The percentage of female cheaters who did the same was just 15.5 percent.

The same applies to transactional sex

The disparity between men and women was also apparent when it came to transactional sex. This is also like casual sex in that emotions aren’t involved.

But some people who do engage in this kind of sex doesn’t necessarily view it as prostitution.

The topic of transactional sex can also be related to sugar babies and sugar daddies. This is about one person in the relationship offering gifts or money in exchange for sex.

In Labrecque and Whisman’s study, the percentage of cheating men who had transactional sex was 7.2 percent. On the female side, this was a meager 1.3 percent.

4) There’s a desire to relive a “first” experience

It seems that alcohol is a good way to describe the tendency of men to cheat. This can come down to men missing those exciting feelings from a first-time experience.

The psychotherapist Mark Epstein has talked with a lot of cheating men because of his work. According to him, men commit affairs because they feel something similar to an alcoholic relapse.

He further explains:

“People turn to strategies that gave them pleasure when they were younger, that worked to give meaning and pleasure to their lives… Except these men are frustrated with their wives who aren’t orienting their lives around them anymore.”

Epstein said that the pattern of cheating men was there. When they feel that life’s not as enjoyable as before, they resort to affairs. It allows them to go back to the first phases of a relationship: the approach, the flirting, the dates.

This makes them feel alive again. The so-called romantic, sexual chase allows them to relive their younger years — often at the cost of a long-term, committed relationship.

5) Length of the relationship

It’s common to think that time helps strengthen the foundations of a serious relationship. But what if the data indicates something else?

A study about extramarital sex was published in the Journal of Sex Research in 2018. Ziv, Lubin, and Asher interviewed a total of 423 individuals. They hoped to see how factors like religion, gender, and the length of marriage affected one’s tendency to cheat.

Here’s one of the findings:

“Results show that being female, more religious, and married for less time were associated with greater expectations of refraining from extramarital sex when presented with a hypothetical scenario.”

This was going against the notion that longer, committed relationships were more resistant to infidelity. Couples who were married for at least 11 years were the likeliest to consider cheating.

In contrast, those who were in relationships no more than 5 years in length were the least to consider cheating.

Men followed a linear trajectory

So what does the study say about why men cheat? It turns out that men and women look at cheating differently the more they got older.

The Ziv, Lubin, and Asher research revealed that men and women both experience the seven-year itch. This psychological term is used for couples who report feelings of dissatisfaction in the relationship when they enter their seventh year of marriage.

Women get rid of this so-called itch the longer they stay married. For those in the intermediate marriage group, the women were more likely to consider cheating than men. But once women were in long-term marriages, they no longer entertained the idea as much.

Here’s where it gets interesting: Men think of cheating the longer they are married. It’s a linear effect. In other words, they get the seven-year itch, but the itch becomes greater with passing time.

Actual cases of cheating tell the same story

The study of Ziv, Lubin, and Asher was about married people’s tendency to cheat. What about actual incidents of infidelity? Chien Liu’s study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family in 2004 with some interesting results.

The study used the findings of the National Health and Social Life Survey in the United States back in the 1990s. Just like what we saw in the previous study, women had the seven-year itch.

But after that, they were less likely to cheat on their respective husbands. The chances of women cheating were almost zero once the marriage length reached at least 20 years.

This is what Chien Liu found out about married men:

  • Married men also had a high percentage of cheating during their 7th year of marriage
  • The number of cheating decreased up until 18 years of marriage
  • After 18 years of marriage, the cheating rate goes up again
  • Men who were in at least 30-year marriages had more affairs than even those in seven-year marriages

Simply put, men are more likely to cheat or consider the idea once they’re in a long-term marriage.

6) Men cheat to end a marriage

You’d think that people who want to leave a relationship will just open up about it. But that’s not always the case. For some men, they have affairs to signal that they want to have a divorce.

Marriage and family therapist Louanne Cole Weston says that dissatisfaction at home can affect how a man sees another woman outside his marriage. He may have seen other women as just friends or acquaintances before. But what happens when he’s no longer happy with his wife?

Being unhappy makes some married men more susceptible to cheating. Once they realize that other women make them feel better, they begin to question why they should stay loyal.

In one feature article, Weston has this to say about how men switch from thinking of cheating to doing it:

“Each answer is a bit different. Sometimes a man will say it was a moment of conviction in which he felt that things would never get better between him and his wife, a sense of hopelessness.”

Cheating won’t always lead to divorce

Couples need to utilize and value honest communication. Otherwise, we’ll just keep wondering why men cheat. Plus, communication can save a marriage whether it’s done before or after the husband cheats.

Weston explains it further:

“I’ve seen marriages get to a really good place when an affair has been exposed because a whole lot of truth is revealed and conversation that should have happened before does happen.”

Why men cheat: A summary

In conclusion, these are the six factors linked to the prevalence of men committing infidelity:

1) Puberty and brain development – males develop the pleasure-seeking parts of the brain faster than the decision-making areas during puberty

2) Cheating as a gray area – some men don’t see infidelity as an absolute wrong and can justify it

3) Openness to casual sex – women look for security and stability first before hooking up while men just want to have as much sex as possible

4) To feel alive once again – men who are unsatisfied in life or at home want to relive the experience of flirting and dating a new woman in their life

5) Marriage length – men experience the seven-year itch and are likelier to consider cheating more as their marriage goes longer

6) To end a marriage – some men have affairs to cope with their dissatisfaction with their respective wives

All in all, it’s always worth reading about why men cheat. Men can look at these findings and allocate some time for introspection. If they realize they’re in the same situation or they might end up in one, they’ll know how to handle themselves better.

Likewise, women can use these to understand the complexity of the issue. It’s not always about jealousy. There is a myriad of factors — and they can be biological, social, or emotional. Determining which ones are affecting the relationship can help solve the issue.

What’s important is for partners to be transparent with each other no matter what. If communication isn’t enough, couples can seek professional help. Marriage counseling works wonders if done right.

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Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the founder, and editor of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 15 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. Check out my latest book on the Hidden Secrets of Buddhism and How it Saved My Life. If you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Facebook or Twitter.

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