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Why We Cheat

Infidelity is a hot topic of conversation, but being faithful does have its merits.
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"There are lots of things that they're not, and that makes it possible for them to do this thing that may be in some ways difficult," he says.

Don-David Lusterman, PhD, a marriage and family therapist and author of Infidelity: A Survival Guide, says he thinks some people who cheat are what he calls "pursuers," who are also called womanizers when they are men. "They tend to require great numbers of conquests and they perceive them as conquests," Lusterman tells WebMD. "I see that as a developmental flaw in an individual, as opposed to an affair frequently being a function of some disruption in the couplehood. They're very different things."

In clinical terms, he says, pursuers often have a narcissistic personality disorder. They crave and demand affection and attention but are not able to return it in kind.

Those who aren't pursuers may be susceptible to an affair because they are not aware that something is amiss or lacking in the relationship. Given the attention of another man or woman, "they just suddenly feel more special," says Luanne Cole Weston, PhD, a psychologist and expert moderator of WebMD's Sex Matters® message boards. "They ceased to feel as special in their own first relationship."

Others are well aware of their frustration and they actively seek what they want outside the relationship. "I do hear some variation of that quite frequently," Priya Batra, PsyD, a women's health psychologist in the Kaiser Permanente health care system, tells WebMD.

The proverbial midlife crisis can be another trigger for cheating, "And then you have the younger person who hasn't tasted enough of everything who maybe committed prematurely," Weston says.

 

A lot of the statistics on infidelity floating around are dubious. Some say that as many as 50% of women cheat on their husbands, and 70% of men step out on their wives.

More reliable and believable data come from the University of Chicago's National Opinion Research Center. About 15% of women surveyed in 2002 said they'd ever had sex with someone besides their spouse while married, and 22% of men had. Roughly 2% of women and 4% of men had done so in the past year.

It's clear that men are more prone to infidelity, and notably, the longer they live, the more likely they are to cheat. According to the 1992 National Health and Social Life Survey, 37% of men aged 50-59 had ever had an extramarital affair, compared with just 7% of men aged 18-29. The men's percentages went up steadily in each age range, whereas for women, the most perfidious were the baby boomers, born between 1943 and 1952. About 20% of them reported ever having had an affair, but in all other age ranges, infidelity hovered between 11% and 15%.

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