(FATHERLY.COM) It’s not something we want to have to face, talk about, or even consider. But the truth is that, even in the happiest marriages, affairs can happen. Maybe it’s a close relationship with a coworker that goes too far during a long night at the office. Or an unexpected dalliance on a vacation with friends.
Or maybe, it’s a longer-running situation, with one or both parties turning to each other to fill a physical or emotional void left unfilled by their spouses. The fact of the matter is that infidelity is not surprising. What is surprising is, however, is who’s doing the cheating.
“We have this idea socially that men are cheaters, all men are susceptible to cheating, men are dogs, right?” says Alicia M. Walker, an associate professor of sociology at Missouri State University. “But the data tells a very different story”
Then, after reading a study that said that most women are vulnerable to infidelity in their 40s, the idea became lodged in her mind. “Those three pieces of information together kind of got me thinking,” Walker says.
“And, over the course of the next few months, it seemed like every movie I saw, every conversation I had, this topic just kept coming up. So, in looking to answer my own questions about this, I realized there was really not much research out there about infidelity. We just kind of act like it doesn’t happen.”
What she noticed from her work, is that women are cheating at at least the same rates as men. And, depending on the age group you’re looking at and the behavior that you’re looking at, sometimes they’re outpacing men.
“Way more women are cheating that we think,” she says. “We just don’t like to talk about it and we don’t like to think about it.
You don’t want to think that your neighbor, your Sunday school teacher, or your friend is doing this. But the reality is, you know a woman who’s cheating, you just don’t know that she is.”
“A lot of the time the reasons are physical, sometimes they’re emotional, and, sometimes, as much as we don’t want to admit this or know this, sometimes it’s just a matter of somebody having an opportunity,” says Walker.
“There’s a lot of data showing that a woman will have an affair with a coworker and are more likely to report that ‘My marriage is great and I’m super satisfied. I literally saw an opportunity and took advantage of it.’”
The notion of women cheating is something that tends to be swept under the rug, per Walker, mostly because it goes against everything that we as a culture have been conditioned to think about women.
However, if we want things to change, it’s time to not only start thinking about the idea of female infidelity, but also to figure out what we can do to improve things. Walker says that begins with having honest conversations about sex, preferably before marriage.
“Something that some of the women in my study brought up that I never thought about was that when they were searching for an affair partner, they were having these candid, frank discussions about sexual compatibility and sexual preferences,” says Walker.
“When I got married, I never had any of these conversations, and I started thinking, ‘You know, that’s true, we don’t have those conversations.’ We kind of wander into these romantic pairings and we fall in love and we kind of think that the sex is going to take care of itself. But, according to the data, that’s not true.”
Part of those frank discussions is being open to what your spouse is interested in. A lot of the women Walker interviewed said that, when they talked openly about their fantasies or desires to their husbands, they were met with disgust and made to feel ashamed.
“They don’t want to leave their husband, they love their husband, they’ve got a great life, but what they really want is a variety in their sexual partners,” she says. “It’s not just, ‘Oh I want my husband and I want this one affair.’ It’s, ‘I want my husband and I want to taste all the parts of the menu!’”
“They always felt like they had been chosen, rather than choosing themselves,” she says. “And then they go online to Ashley Madison, or any other site, and there’s all these men, and now they’re choosing rather than being chosen.”
In the end, attentiveness is the key. When you’re with your spouse, Walker says it’s vital to make sure you’re thinking of her needs as well as your own.
“Any man who is concerned about this,” she says, “you should really start looking at your own behavior in the bedroom and really make sure that you’re holding up your end of the table. Because, if you’re not, there’s somebody out there who’s more than willing to do that.”