For a long time, infidelity was seen as a man’s game, a cliché story line of married business men hooking up with their secretaries. But the landscape for cheating in the last few decades has changed and experts say women are cheating just as much as men.
In her new book State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity, author and psychotherapist Esther Perel said since the 1990s, the rate of married women who have cheated has increased by 40 per cent, CNN notes. The rates among men, however, have not changed.
Ceilidhe Wynn, a matchmaker for Friend of a Friend Matchmaking and relationship expert based in Ottawa, says it’s not only that women are cheating more, but a lot more of them are talking about it as well.
“Women have the same opportunities [to cheat], but we are still told not to be sexual people and cheating is seen as a sexual act,” she tells Global News, adding at the same time, women are more open about the reasons they cheat on their spouses.
Being able to work in a larger social network with all kinds of people has also made cheating more accessible, says Dr. Jessica O’Reilly, host of the @SexWithDrJess Podcast.
An increase in income is also important — women don’t have to rely on their husbands if the relationship does go sour. “We do have some data suggesting that higher income earners are more likely to cheat,” O’Reilly says.
The pleasure in an affair
Violet (who has decided to only share her first name) of Ontario was married for 13 years before she joined Ashley Madison in 2010, a dating site for people seeking others who are married or in relationships.
The site, whose parent company settled in a data breach lawsuit earlier this year, is free for women. In Canada, the ratio of women to men is three active females for every one paid active male, the company confirmed with Global News.
“It was the secret,” she says. “It was something that was mine and I didn’t have to share it with anyone else.”
The 47-year-old stay-at-home mom says she was in a happy marriage. She was raising two young children, her husband worked towards his career and she never felt neglected at home. But after 13 years of her routine life, it became stagnant.
“I began to feel unsexy and I heard about the site and thought to take a look… I didn’t expect to meet somebody who fit my criteria.”
That year she met a married man she fell in love with and things quickly became addictive. He was an educated professional father who was in a similar situation as she was. The relationship lasted on-and-off for seven years and Violet’s current husband still has no idea.
“It was intense … for three years,” she says. “We were seeing each other multiple times a week, talking on the phone, emailing, sending texts … he was my primary go-to, he was more my husband than my husband was.”
After the three years, he ended up leaving his own wife, but Violet chose to stay with her husband and kids. While her affair has recently dissolved, she went back on the dating site three months ago. So far, she hasn’t met anyone like him.
“I think I am looking to replace what I had.”
Nobody knows Violet’s secret and she doesn’t ever plan on telling her husband.
“There’s a stigma attached to cheating,” she says. “I would hate for my children to know their mother did this. I can say my husband is a very good man, but everyone’s story is individual.
“Once you choose to step outside of your marriage, it’s very hard not to go back. There’s something you miss, over years of marriage, attention and physical as well, but in an affair, you can explore different things.”
Claire, 45, of Toronto had a similar stale marriage. Coming from a sexless one, she joined Ashley Madison in 2006 and ended up meeting her current partner.
The two are now both divorced, live together and have been in an open relationship for the last three years. “[This way] we can both experience other people … we missed out on a lot when we were married.”
Her partner is currently on the site, while she sees another man on her own time. They both have each other’s passwords (but she says they haven’t logged in) and have ongoing conversations about the people they chat with.
When she first cheated on her now ex-husband, she says it was about the sex, but it also showed her how awful her home life and marriage were.
“You have no idea what’s going on behind closed doors in another marriage,” she says. “Nobody else knew what my marriage was like when I cheated.”
Socially acceptable to cheat
But no matter how many more people are doing it or how easy it is to find single (and married) people to cheat with, O’Reilly says it’s still not socially acceptable to cheat — and never will be.
“I do think its acceptance is still gendered with women being judged more harshly,” she says, adding the younger generation, however, is a lot more open to a broader range of relationships.
“They seem to understand that monogamy is a choice and that they can custom-design their relationships according to their needs,” she says. “They’re looking for reasonable solutions that meet mutually agreed upon practical, emotional and sexual needs.
“I believe that cheating rates will decline in the upcoming decade as couples realize that monogamy is not an imperative, but one of many arrangements into which you can opt in or opt out. “
READ MORE: 9 signs your partner is a cheater
But cheating is still a dirty word, Wynn adds, and although she doesn’t condone it, she understands what drives people to do it.
“You have needs that aren’t being met and we’re all selfish creatures,” she says. “At the end, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with [cheating] if we’re looking for fulfillment. It doesn’t make us bad people.”
The fine line between being a “good” and “bad” person is always on Violet’s mind, and although she says she would feel betrayed if her husband had cheated on her (she also agrees it is hypocritical), she doesn’t necessarily think she’s a bad person.
“I don’t feel like either of the men I was involved with were bad people either,” she says. “Everybody’s situation is individual. I don’t feel bad, I don’t feel guilty … it’s this bubble and nothing from the outside can affect us. It’s just you and that person.”