Women are increasingly cheating on their partners – or we’re becoming more likely to admit it. Since 1990, the amount of married women who admit to cheating has risen by 40%, according to researcher and psychoanalyst Esther Perel, author of The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity. Meanwhile, the number of married men who report cheating is largely unchanged.
A 2015 survey by YouGov backs this up, reflecting that the cheating gap has more or less closed. It found that the number of men and women who have had an affair is almost the same (20% and 19%).
In an episode of Am I Making You Uncomfortable?, HuffPost UK’s weekly podcast on women’s health, bodies and private lives, we look at the stories behind the stats.
We wanted to find out why women are cheating – not to put women on trial, or to excuse cheating, but to investigate how our attitudes to sex and relationships may have changed over time.
We speak to therapist Miranda Christophers about what she hears from clients who’ve cheated, plus chat to Tolani Shoneye and Audrey Indome, from The Receipts Podcast, to get their take on the topic.
In the episode, Audrey shares her own experience of cheating on a former partner and we also hear from listeners about their experiences of infidelity. Here are just seven of their stories.
‘Cheating doesn’t hurt everyone’
“I used to think people who cheated were appalling human beings. Now I do it.
“My life is great and my long term partner and three children adore me and I adore them. The problem is that I am not truly happy and want other people. I feel trapped and have spoken to my partner about it all, but he doesn’t want me to leave and freaks out and gets really, really upset. It kills me.
“I spent years questioning my feelings and have been batting away attention from other men for so long. One day it dawned on me, my emotions won’t stop, so what is the point? Just do it.
“I’ve engaged in two emotional affairs recently and kissed them but never slept with anyone. I might in future. I don’t feel bad, most of the time, which is surprising as I thought I would.
“Here is my dilemma: Do I leave and utterly destroy my partner’s world and that of my children and wider family for passion and a deep connection I can’t get at home? Or do I stay like a beautiful doll trapped in a beautiful world, and at the same time hide a secret? The latter doesn’t hurt everyone.” - Anonymous
‘It was a last ditch effort to get a reaction’
“I cheated on my boyfriend of four years when I knew the relationship was headed down the drain. It was a last ditch effort to get a reaction out of him and see if he cared. He didn’t, so that gave me my answer.
“I was also in a lot of denial about the end of our relationship and terrified of the prospect of being single again, mostly because I’d been out of the game for so long and felt completely disconnected from the single life. I think I wanted to prove to myself that the dating world was still out there and it was still available to me and that there were men who would want me.
“I don’t recommend cheating as a way to find those things out, because it is messy and even if the other person acts like they don’t care, it’ll still affect them in some way, be it their ability to trust or their feelings about themselves. Just the act of doing it erases any justification you had for doing it, because you’re the bad guy by default. The cheater is always the dick in the end. But it did make me see cheating in a different way. That cheaters are not immediately evil, and it’s worth exploring someone’s motive for doing it. Even if it’s still a shit thing to do, being able to understand why someone did it is crucial to being able to forgive them and forgive yourself, and you can’t hope to move on or heal if you don’t understand that.” – Anonymous, 26, Manchester
‘It just felt so freeing’
“I think one of the reasons that I cheated is because I wanted to feel seen, I wanted to feel desirable. I’ve been married to my partner for two years, but we’ve been together for about nine. They’re really high achieving, they’re really accomplished. And so oftentimes, when we meet people or are hanging out with friends, it feels like it’s all about them and all the great things that they’re doing. It often felt like I fell into the shadows or I really assumed this role where people just saw me as, ‘Oh, that person’s wife.’
“I think over time it just took a toll and so when I went on a holiday with one of my friends, it was just really nice to be seen as just me. I know that it was really selfish, but at the time it just felt so freeing and so I didn’t really think about what the ramifications would be.
“Also, I’m in a same-sex relationship and up until that point I hadn’t really been with a man before and that was really something I was curious about, so when the opportunity came about I went for it.
“It showed me there was a lot of insecurity and self-doubt I needed to deal with on my own. It was beneficial, because it really helped me see how unhappy I was with myself and that was impacting the relationship that I had with my partner.” – Anonymous, 28, London
‘I thought we were broken up’
“Years ago, I cheated on my now ex-boyfriend. We had been having some problems for a while, and during a work party one night we had a big fight. I thought we were broken up, and heartbroken went back into the club where my colleagues cheered me up with booze. My boss and I had been flirting for months, and a lot of alcohol and the sadness of the fight with my boyfriend ended up with me in my boss’s bed.
“The day after, my boyfriend called me and apologised, and said he wanted to work on us. Because we were technically broken up – albeit for less than 24 hours – I never told him about what happened.
“We broke up about a year later, but we are still friends now. I will never tell him.” - Anonymous, 31, London
‘I love sex and he doesn’t’
“I’m turning 44 at the end of the month and a week ago today I cheated on my husband. We’ve been together 16 years.
“He’s perfect in every way apart from our sex life is non-existent. He’s never been into sex. I love sex and he doesn’t. I ignored his lack of interest because he was everything I wanted in a husband. We have two children. From the outside we look like the perfect family. He’s getting his needs met while I stay home with the kids bored, frustrated and lonely.
“I’ve always been outgoing and fun and I somehow lost my way over the years. I want the fun, sexy me back. I met someone online and agreed to meet him. The sex was amazing. I don’t regret it. Not one bit. I came back and spoke to my husband about how frustrated I am.
“We’ll stay together – for the moment, anyway. I love him, but I’m not in love with him. If I didn’t have my children I’d leave, but I know they would be devastated.” – Anonymous, 43, West Yorkshire
“I was on a wedding juggernaut.”
“I cheated aged 31. Three months before my wedding, I started an affair.
“I felt like I was on a wedding juggernaut which I couldn’t stop, and wondered if what I had with my intended husband was ‘it’. He was very nice and kind, but not exciting or challenging. There was no passion. But I didn’t want to be alone and felt the weight of expectation with all the wedding invites out.
“The wedding was in July and in the April, I went to a meeting and sat next to someone I fell for instantly. A month later the affair began. He was everything my fiance wasn’t. I still got married, but I left my husband after nine months for the other man. We’re still together with two kids.” – Anonymous, 37, London
“I didn’t actually want to be in a relationship.”
“I cheated on my boyfriends when I was younger because I didn’t actually want to be in a relationship, I actually wanted to just have sex. But this was between 2005-2010, when there was a perfect mix of society’s expectation that women can only enjoy sex within a relationship, and my own young age and inability to identify that I didn’t want a relationship, I just wanted sex.
“The happy ending is that I finally realised this, let myself enjoy having various sexual partners for a bit before I made the conscious and deliberate decision to be in a real relationship. I do feel bad that I hurt my ex-boyfriends, but I try to not be too hard on myself.” – Anonymous, 35, Greater Amsterdam