Who Are More Unfaithful — Men or Women?

Q: In a recent column you said that in most long-term marriages that fail, men are generally the ones who cheat on their wives. I’d like to know where you got that information. The statistics I’ve read in the past few years show a higher incidence of infidelity from women than men.

A: Fair enough — my information came from these two sources:

1. A study of 25,000 respondents that I did in collaboration with Jim Witte (a Harvard-trained demographer now at George Mason University) and Chrisanna Northrup, an author and reporter in San Diego. We reported the results in The Normal Bar: The Surprising Secrets of Happy Couples (Crown/Archetype, 2012).

2. A large series of random-sample Internet studies conducted by Michael Reece, Debbie Herberdick and other faculty members at Indiana University’s Department of Public Health.

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Here are some findings from the first study:

45 percent of the men and 26 percent of the women said they are attracted to one of their partners' friends — and tempted to act on it.

33 percent of the men and 19 percent of the women said they’d had sex outside their marriage.

46 percent of the men and 19 percent of the women who cheated said it was because “I just can’t help myself.”

The findings from the second source were similar to those from the first. And as you can gather from those imbalanced percentages, both studies found that more men than women had been unfaithful.

The statistics you’re thinking of might be those showing that the “infidelity gap” between the genders is narrower among younger men and women. This could be a testament to the latter’s growing economic power: As women gain the financial means to take care of themselves and their children, they become likelier to act upon whatever drive they have for sex outside the marriage.

The narrower gap may also be an outcome of increased premarital sex: Studies show a direct correlation between the number of partners a person had before marriage and that person’s susceptibility to extramarital sex. Today, the amount of premarital sex for women is only slightly less than for men.

Some researchers have posited a biological basis for men’s traditionally higher rates of infidelity, but the recent increase in wandering females seems to argue otherwise. For now, though, the fact remains that men, not women, stray more.

Q: It’s been approximately 12 years since my husband and I had sex. (He’s the one who doesn’t want it.) Unfortunately, I’m a very sensual and sexual person. I don’t want a divorce, but it’s frustrating — and I’ve considered finding someone who would give me the affection and intimacy I crave. What do I do?

A: What do spouses imagine will happen when they deny their partner sexual contact? Do they think they will suffer in silence, or simply masturbate?

I would never advise you simply to find a new sex partner; I think it’s more important that you go into therapy to see if this marriage can ever give you what you want and need. Try to persuade your husband to accompany you; the presence of an impartial arbiter (the counselor) may move him to reveal why he no longer wants sex. If he won’t go, and the bedroom refusals persist, consult the therapist on your own. If you can live with the prospect of having only solo sex from here on out, so be it; if you can’t, only you will be able to decide your next step.

Got a sex-related question you’d like to ask Dr. Pepper Schwartz? The AARP Love & Relationships Ambassador (also a judge on Married at First Sight) answers selected reader queries submitted via email to TheNakedTruth@aarp.org.

Photo: Nadya Lukic/iStock

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