Dating & Relationships

10 Facts About Cheating And Infidelity, According To Science

November 5, 2018 by Justin Lehmiller

Infidelity has long been a topic of interest to scientists who study sex and relationships. Over the years, they’ve uncovered a number of fascinating things about how common cheating is, who does it, and why. Here’s a look at ten interesting things scientists have discovered about cheating.

1.) In the United States, the number of married people who say they’ve ever cheated is pretty reliably between 1 in 4 and 1 in 5 (20-25%). Rates of infidelity are even higher in dating relationships. For instance, studies of college student relationships typically find that between 1 in 2 and 1 in 3 students admit to having cheated.

2.) Most studies report that men are more likely to admit infidelity than women. Interestingly, however, while rates of infidelity among men have remained pretty stable over time, they’ve increased by 40% among women in the last half century. Why that is, we can’t say for sure. It could be that women today are more comfortable admitting to infidelity than they were in the past, but it could also be that women are cheating more than they used to (or both).

3.) When people cheat, they’re disproportionately likely to do it with someone they already know well, as opposed to a stranger. Why? Perhaps because there are more opportunities for cheating to emerge with someone you see frequently. Alternatively, this could reflect the fact that when people cheat, they’re often looking for more than sex—many are also looking for intimacy and emotional connection, which may be easier to obtain when you already have an existing friendship.

4.) There are at least eight distinct reasons that people cheat: sexual desire, anger, lack of love, neglect, lack of commitment, situational factors (like alcohol or being on vacation), ego/esteem boosting, and desire for variety. To learn more about these reasons, check out this article, which also explores how these motives are similar/different for men and women.

5.) People define “infidelity” in many different ways. As a result, what counts as cheating in one relationship may be considered acceptable in another. For example, whereas the vast majority of people don’t consider watching porn to be a form of cheating, about 1 in 10 people do. Whether people count a given behavior as infidelity depends on a number of factors, including jealous tendencies, religious beliefs, self-esteem, and attitudes toward infidelity itself.

6.) More often than not, people who cheat tend to be in troubled relationships. However, people who are perfectly happy sometimes cheat, too. To learn more about why a happy person might cheat, check out this video.

7.) There’s some truth to the idea of “once a cheater, always a cheater.” Research has found that people who had sex outside of an earlier relationship were nearly three-and-a-half times as likely to do the same thing in a later relationship. To be clear, this doesn’t mean that everyone who cheats is bound to do it again—just that the odds of cheating are higher if you’ve done it before.

8.) Cheating is a high-risk sexual behavior. Studies have found that when people in monogamous relationships cheat, most of them don’t use condoms during the act. This is likely because when people cheat, it usually isn’t planned and, as a result, they may not be prepared to take precautions.

9.) The so-called “seven-year itch” is really a thing. Both men’s and women’s odds of cheating increase around this time. However, whereas women’s odds of cheating tend to decline after that, men show a different pattern: their rates of cheating decrease until they near the 20-year mark, at which point they start to increase again.

10.) While Americans’ interest in and acceptance of consensual non-monogamy has increased in recent years, they have not become more accepting of cheating and infidelity. In other words, while people seem to be growing more tolerant and accepting of sexually open relationships, they are far more comfortable with the idea of this being negotiated and out in the open rather than doing it secretly behind each other’s back.

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Written by
Dr. Justin Lehmiller
Founder & Owner of Sex and Psychology

Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He runs the Sex and Psychology blog and podcast and is author of the popular book Tell Me What You Want. Dr. Lehmiller is an award-winning educator, and a prolific researcher who has published more than 50 academic works.

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