Infidelity has long been a topic of study in psychology, with thousands of papers published on the subject. Less, however, is known about same-sex infidelity.
New research published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences attempts to change that. A team of scientists led by Amanda Denes of the University of Connecticut examined people's motivations for engaging in same-sex infidelity. They found eight, listed below.
- Jealousy — The researchers use jealousy to describe instances in which the perceived threat of losing a partner to a rival, real or imagined, leads to infidelity.
- Vengefulness — According to the researchers, vengefulness involves "retaliation, getting back at the partner for a perceived betrayal, or retribution" as the reason for infidelity.
- Sexual Depression — This, according to the researchers, has to do with disappointment or dissatisfaction with one's sex life in the relationship, which leads to infidelity.
- Sexual Preoccupation — This occurs when a preoccupation or fixation on sexual thoughts or fantasies leads to infidelity.
- Sociosexuality — According to the researchers, sociosexuality leads to infidelity when an individual possesses an "unrestricted attitude toward sex such that the individual is comfortable engaging in sex without commitment or closeness."
- Experimentation — According to the researchers, this occurs when a person "is curious about sex with a same-sex partner and this leads to infidelity."
- Not Cheating — This describes situations in which same-sex infidelity occurs because the partner engaging in infidelity does not conceive of it as cheating, at least in the traditional sense.
- Attraction — According to the researchers, this occurs when a person is attracted to a same-sex person and this leads to infidelity.
The researchers arrived at these eight motivations by surveying people who had committed same-sex infidelity or knew someone who had committed same-sex infidelity. Interestingly, five of these motives (jealousy, vengefulness, sexual depression, sexual preoccupation, and sociosexuality) corresponded to motivations found in prior research on different-sex infidelity. The motives of experimentation, not cheating, and attraction appear to be specific to same-sex infidelity.
Next, the researchers designed a follow-up study to understand how each of these motives might be perceived by the affected individual, and whether there might be any gender differences in people's responses to imagined acts of same-sex infidelity. Conducting an online survey with over 1,000 American adults, they found that women were most lenient on same-sex infidelity when the motivation for the infidelity was experimentation. They write, "The findings revealed that women were the most likely to report that they would confront the situation, continue the relationship, and show benevolence when experimentation was the underlying reason for the infidelity."
Alternatively, women reported the highest likelihood of ending a relationship after same-sex infidelity when the underlying reason was sexual depression or vengefulness.
Overall, the researchers hope that this work increases awareness around the fluidity of sexuality. The authors conclude, "Though speculative, such findings might suggest a greater awareness that sexuality exists on a continuum, perhaps allowing a space for individuals to engage in sexual exploration and pursue relationships with others to whom they are attracted, regardless of biological sex or sexual orientation labels."
Denes, A., Dillow, M. R., Lannutti, P. J., & Bevan, J. L. (2020). Acceptable experimentation?: Investigating reasons for same-sex infidelity and women's anticipated responses to a male partner's hypothetical same-sex infidelity. Personality and Individual Differences, 160, 109929.