Understanding infidelity: why do people cheat?
From pop-scientific postulates to bona fide psychological hypotheses, there’s an overwhelming smorgasbord of explanations on offer as to why both men and women consistently decide to ditch monogamy and play away from home. Yet whichever account you favour, it’s patently obvious that infidelity is never a clear-cut affair.
After a careful review of the more widely held theories, it’s perhaps timely to reconsider the way in which we perceive the ‘ultimate betrayal’.
Wandering astray – what is cheating?
As noted in the preamble, there’s no such thing as black and white infidelity. When someone cheats on their spouse or lover, there’s likely a multitude of unique and complex variables that have caused that person to seek satisfaction elsewhere.
Injecting an extra layer of complexity into the mix is the matter of definition. More to the point, exactly what is cheating and how is it classed? This is a conundrum that prompts a myriad of responses that are as varied as the reasons why someone might begin an affair.
Above all, it’s fairly agreed that any sort of sexual activity outside the boundaries of a relationship is the most blatant form of cheating. Nevertheless, infidelity doesn’t have to be consummated by carnal acts; it can also be an intimate emotional bond with a third party. In fact this latter form of cheating is quite possibly far more widespread than that of the physical ilk.
Even if some people would go as far to reason that spending too much time browsing through porn sites constitutes a (slightly dubious) variant of infidelity, the common denominator in all these deeds is deceit, a breach of trust. That being said, why you do the dirty allegedly depends very much on your sex...
Hormonal lotharios – why do men cheat?
Suffice it to say, the adulterous man is a renowned villain in our collective imagery. From the ‘staying late at the office’ routine to the mistress-only email account, men folk have done a sterling job of becoming the poster boys of infidelity, and creating an uncomfortable rep for themselves.
It’s not wholly unfounded either – you just need to look at the news for reams of evidence. From Bill Clinton to Tiger Woods (and a fair few in-between), hundreds of famous male figures have had their images muddied for engaging in high-profile and well documented flings.
And what’s more, normal blokes are at it as well. One source recently revealed that an astounding 57% of men admitted to being unfaithful in a relationship over the course of their lives. But why do men cheat so prolifically?
Testosterone is the short answer. Yes, men are biochemically predisposed to be promiscuous. As well as beards and a buff musculature, said androgen is directly responsible for a man’s appetite for risk, aggression and most importantly, sex.
Crucially, testosterone suppresses two other significant hormones called oxyctocin (aka the ‘love hormone’) and arginine vasopressin, both of which play an important role in forging attachment between mates. It would appear that man’s Darwinian urge to procreate with multiple partners obviously doesn’t juxtapose with current ideas about monogamy.
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Without discrediting the canons of science, you could be forgiven for thinking that endocrinologists are effectively printing men a free pass to philander. Also, it’s alarming that the biological reductionism that pervades this line of reasoning detracts from the fact that many men may cheat due to psychosocial and, dare we say it, emotional pressures.
Before proposing an alternative, let’s explore the leading views on what make women want to cheat.