Big survey on cheating: Who cheats the most, and why do they do it?
Some cheat more on their partners than others, according to a large Norwegian survey.
The differences run along the lines of age and gender.
Perhaps this is not a big surprise: twice as many men as women respond that they have cheated on their current partner. 8 per cent of the women have done this – compared to 17.4 per cent of the men.
This gender difference is also present when asked ‘have you ever cheated on somebody?’. 17.8 per cent of the women have done so, and 26.3 per cent of the men.
The explanations for this gender difference vary, according to professor Bente Træen, one of the researchers behind the study.
“Sociologically and culturally, the norms that regulate women’s sexual behaviour are much more restrictive than they are for men,” Træen says to newspaper VG (link in Norwegian).
Another explanation for the gender difference, according to the resarchers, is that women more often establish a psychological connection to the person they are cheating with.
The women fall in love – the men are just having sex. This also means that when a woman cheats, the ramifications for the relationship she is in are more severe.
The researchers haste to add that of course men can also fall in love with the person they are cheating with.
VG has written an extensive series of articles based on the research done by Træen and her colleagues. The study on cheating – called non-consensual non-monogamy by the researchers – is based on questionnaires answered online by just under 4200 Norwegians between the ages of 18-89 years.
Cheating was defined as sexual activity – meaning that flirting, kissing or establishing strong emotional connections to other people than your partner was not included in the study.
The longer you live
Age is also a factor. The older the participants in the survey were, the more they had cheated.
The average numbers for cheating on your current partner, for both sexes were:
18–29 years: 3.8 per cent
30–44 years: 9.7 per cent
45–59 years: 14.7 per cent
60+: 19.9 per cent
The explanation for these numbers is partly just the fact that if you have lived a little longer, then you have had more opportunities to cheat. It could also be that the people aged 60 and above cheated on their husbands/wives quite a long time ago.
Træen, however, believes that those over 60, who were young during the sexual revolution, might cheat a little more due to generational effects.
“They grew up with sexual liberation and were encouraged to experiment, so their bar against cheating is probably lower,” Træen says to VG.
One-night-stands with a colleague
Most of the cheaters – 60 per cent of the men and just over 50 per cent of the women – had a one-night-stand.
According to Træen, for most people the cheating stops here.
“A lot of people find great comfort and safety in their relationship – both emotionally, financially and socially. They don’t want to risk losing this, and so it stops after that one time,” she says.
For 33.5 per cent of the respondents, the cheating turns into an affair.
Where do the cheaters meet?
- The most common place to meet the person you cheat with is at work – this is true for 38.5 per cent of the cases.
- At 16.8 per cent - being introduced by friends or family comes in second.
- 12.5 per cent met their cheating partner at a bar or a restaurant.
- 12.1 per cent met them while on holiday or while doing a leisure activity.
- 9.2 per cent met their cheating partner via dating apps.
- 4.3 per cent met them on social media.
- 6.6 per cent responded ‘other’ – some of them probably bought sex from a sex worker according to the researchers. 3.3 per cent responded that they cheated through buying sex.
Looking for greener grass
So why do people cheat?
Professor Frode Thuen, who is also behind the study, says to VG that the reasons are complex, but the most important reasons are usually an experienced lack of closeness and intimacy in the relationship.
Thuen has divided the reasons for cheating into five main categories:
- You fall in love with somebody else. Women tend to do this, fall in love and then allow themselves to cheat.
- The opportunity to cheat occurs, typically at a conference. This is about excitement, and not necessarily about being interested in or looking for another partner.
- You lack something in your current relationship and seek to fulfill this somewhere else.
- You wish to get out of your current relationship and use cheating as a bridge into something new.
- You cheat as a means to regulate your emotions – for instance if you have an insatiable need for validation. These types of cheaters will cheat again and again.
“The best cure against cheating is to have a good and intimate relationship with your partner. It reduces the risk considerably,” says Thuen.
Træen believes that even in the instances where the cheating seemingly ‘just happened’, a longing for something different will probably manifest if you take a closer look.
“Sometimes it’s more comfortable for people to say that ‘it just happened’ rather than examine their relationship and see what’s not working there,” she says.
Træen, Bente and Frode Thuen. Non-consensual and Consensual Non-monogamy in Norway, International Journal of Sexual Health, 2021.