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Sex

When Cheating Is Not About Sex

There are many reasons people cheat on their partner. Sex is only one reason.

Key points

  • People cheat on their partners for many reasons that do not have sexual origins.
  • People have affairs regardless of relationship or sexual satisfaction.
  • Non-sexual reasons people cheat on their partners range from self-gratification, revenge, and unmet emotional needs to the socialization process.
  • Simply claiming that “cheaters cheat” does not get to the root of the socio-psychological issues at hand.
Rodnae Productions/Pexels
Source: Rodnae Productions/Pexels

“He was having sex with his secretary.”

“She was having sex with the gardener while I was at work.”

“She was ____ing every guy she could find behind my back.”

“He couldn’t keep it in his pants.”

All too often, the narratives of infidelity are centered around sexual behaviors. Rarely does the scorned partner explain their partner’s affair with “He has self-esteem issues” or “She needed a wider variety of intimate conversation.” It’s easier to scapegoat sex to garner the empathy of an ally. “He couldn’t keep it in his pants” will more readily catch a sympathetic ear than “He has unmet emotional issues.” Of course, an affair often involves sexual behavior, but sex is not always the reason behind unfaithful behaviors.

While some affairs are the product of unmet sexual desires or lack of sexual attention, people commit acts of infidelity for a variety of reasons not directly linked to sexual desire. Furthermore, individuals who cheat may do so regardless of relationship or sexual satisfaction. In my own studies involving the sexual histories of research participants, I have been informed of several reasons for infidelity from respondents that claim to have cheated on their intimate others.

Non-sexual reasons why people cheat

Some directly non-sex based reasons people cheat on their partners include:

  1. Revenge. In a display of social power, it’s a punishment for the partner perceived to have done something wrong. Maybe they cheated, so you cheat to get them back. And it doesn’t necessarily involve sex. It can be something other than having sex with another person in response to them having sex with someone else. Perhaps, they accepted a party invitation from an ex and, to get them back, you invite your ex out to dinner. In both cases, out of jealousy, each partner may perceive the scenario as cheating. Maybe your partner ignores you and you push the envelope too far in trying to get them to notice you. Nothing will get your significant other to notice you like the suspicion or proof of infidelity. In this case, it may not be physical contact with another. Some people have conveniently left their laptop open revealing a racy online conversation with someone they have never met. It can be more difficult to solve the problems in a relationship when the perceived cheating originates in maliciousness.
  2. Ego. Some people see themselves as God’s gift to others. Their need to feed the ego through self-gratification, sexual or otherwise, overrides the trust, love, or well-being of their relationship.
  3. Fell out of love. Sometimes a person will begin a new relationship without having ended the current relationship. They may be out of love with their current partner and they may be uncertain how or when to proceed with ending the relationship. What they do know is that they want someone new and do not hesitate to begin that relationship before ending the other.
  4. Distance. One factor that people take into account when deciding on whether to embark on a relationship with someone is the propinquity factor. Does the person of interest live near them? In the same vein, propinquity has a role in the decision to cheat if the current intimate partner is located at a distance and the romantic interest is close. Feelings of loneliness are often an added factor when issues of distance are discussed.
  5. Inability to commit. There are many stories of people who take the step of getting married and still cannot commit. The inability to commit is not only reserved for couples who are casually dating. Whether dating or married, anxiety about commitment can manifest in several ways; cheating is but one manifestation.
  6. Need for variety. Variety is the spice of life. That excuse is sometimes used by those who cheat. I am not talking about sexual variety here (although that is a reason often echoed). This includes a desired variety of non-sexual interests, conversation, and shared activities that the significant other cannot or does not wish to partake in. Any of these extra activities can be viewed by a committed partner as unwelcome and an act of infidelity. The partner indulging in these activities may view it the same way.
  7. Self-esteem issues. This sets the scenario of a proving ground. People who have self-esteem issues, such as aging or body-ideal issues, may have the need to feel like they are wanted by desirable others. It doesn’t mean they have to have sex with others, but they put themselves in situations in which they get the attention they crave to the detriment of their relationship. They may flirt and lead others to believe they are available in order to get attention. Flirting itself is seen by some partners as cheating. Still, let’s face it, having someone else want you sexually provides a significant boost, if not at least momentarily, to one’s self-esteem.
  8. Boredom. They are just bored. They try to eliminate the doldrums with flirting, playing dangerous games, or getting online and make interesting connections. The age of the internet has provided many avenues for cheating and the cessation of boredom.
  9. A passive-aggressive message to their partner. As previously noted, some people are finished with a relationship and move on to someone else without ending the current romantic ties. Sometimes people don’t know how to end the relationship or are afraid to do it themselves, so they have an affair and force their partner to put an end to it.
  10. Social status. Whether in a career or among peers, sometimes one feels they must maintain a certain social status that includes cheating. Of course, in alignment with the sexual double standard, cheating as part of one’s social status is deemed more acceptable for men than women.
  11. Unmet emotional needs. It’s not always about sex. It’s often about emotions. If the current partner is not giving the emotional support necessary, someone else may. For some people, that emotional betrayal can be more hurtful to a relationship than a sexual one.
  12. Opportunity. The opportunity is there: do you take it or miss out on it? How many couples have played the argument-ensuing game “If you had a chance to sleep with (insert your desired celebrity here) would you do it behind my back?” Or, having watched the film “Indecent Proposal,” asked if the other would have sex with someone else for a million dollars. Spoiler Alert: The situation did not work out well in the film. And that question does not always work out well in conversation. Nevertheless, sometimes it’s not a game, and opportunity is taken when offered.
  13. Alcohol. Yes, it’s a common reason listed. Alcohol is often a scapegoat — “I would never have done it if I had been sober.”
  14. Adventure. Infidelity is an adventure for some people. They simply get a thrill out of cheating with the risk of getting caught. Each time they get away with their misdeeds, they get a rush akin to what some experience when the parachute opens while skydiving.
  15. Socialization. How you were raised and socialized in your immediate surroundings as a young person can have a direct social influence on whether or not you will commit acts of infidelity. If you were knowledgeable of one of your parents being unfaithful, and certainly without consequence, you may be more predisposed to follow the same patterns as an adult.

This list is not to provide suitable excuses for infidelity. It is a set of reasons provided by research participants in my work who claim to have cheated on their partners. The tagline “cheaters cheat” as a base fact without further explanation is well-worn and threadbare at this point. Immediately discounting those who commit infidelity as having a personality flaw is an evasion of the real issues at hand. Acknowledging the reasons people cheat furthers the inquiry into their psychology and sociological dynamics.

Facebook image: Dusan Petkovic/Shutterstock

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