Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Cheating & Sex: There's more to it than you think ...

News Flash: Men and women think differently!
OK so maybe that’s not news to you. In fact, it’s probably common sense to know that a person’s biological sex and her/his gender can affect how she/he thinks.
What might be a little less well known is that men and women think differently – and act differently – when it comes to cheating.
In a nutshell, men consider physical infidelity – having sex with another person for example – as the most serious type of cheating. Women, on the other hand, consider emotional infidelity – establishing a loving bond with another person – as more serious. On top of that, men are also more likely to engage in physical/sexual infidelity whereas women are more likely to engage in emotional infidelity.
Back in 1985 researchers Shirley Glass and Thomas Wright decided to take on this comparison of sexual versus emotional infidelity since research before that had focused simply on the physical side of things. And while their study may seem dated, it serves as a great basis for evaluating these sex differences when it comes to cheating. Their study was simple but effective: They asked people which of two cheating scenarios – one physical and one emotional – was more serious. And their results corresponded with traditional sex roles in our culture – men connected physically and women connected emotionally.
These sex differences continue when it comes to cheating. Both men and women engage in relationships that include both a sexual and an emotional element. However, for those cases where only the physical cheating occurs, men are more likely to be the cheaters. And for those cases where only emotional cheating happens, women are more likely to be the cheaters. (I’m beginning to sound like a broken record here…)
Now it gets a little more complex here, but, see if you can guess what the sex differences in the next scenario might be.
For those extramarital relationships that start out as either sexual OR emotional and then progress to include BOTH elements, which do you think men will start out with and which will women start out with?
Gold star for you as I’m sure you got the correct answer! Men start off with physical cheating and then progress to both, whereas women start off with emotional cheating and then add in the sex later.
These differences don’t play too much of a role when it comes to marital dissatisfaction (how happy/unhappy the cheater is in her/his marriage). Basically, if one type of cheating, emotional OR physical, occurs, then relational happiness is higher than if both types are present. So, if you find out your partner is having sex with someone else AND they really like them, then your relationship is in trouble … go figure.
Glass and Wright’s study back in 80s still pertains to research today, even though we may think our traditional sex roles have progressed in the past few decades. In fact, further studies have gone on to build on theirs. Because their study looked at middle-class, middle-aged, white Americans, other researchers wanted to find out if these sex roles for cheating happened in other groups too. In 2006 a study looked at Spanish speaking, younger people to see how women and men view cheating. Sure enough, their results correspond almost exactly with the older study.
These sex differences can alter when we look at the role of the internet; as I’ve mentioned in a previous post, it’s harder to have physical infidelity through a computer. But there’s still sex differences when it comes to how emotionally connected the cheater is.

Of course these are generalizations. To make claims about men and women as a group based on a few studies is simply that: A generalization, and not a hard and fast rule about the sexes. So my take home for today is to be aware of these potential differences in focus when it comes to cheating and, if your partner takes issue with another relationship you have, think about the sex difference that could stop you two from seeing eye to eye.


Fernandez, A. M., Sierra, J. C., Zubeidat, I. & Vera-Vilarroel, P. (2006). Sex differences in response to sexual and emotional infidelity among Spanish and Chilean students. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 37, 359-365.
Glass, S. P. & Wright, T. L. (1985). Sex differences in type of extramarital involvement and marital dissatisfaction. Sex Roles, 12, 1101-1120.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Internet: Making cheating easier for 20 years

RQ: What motivates people to cheat?

In the early 1990s the Internet became available for the general public to use and it revolutionized communication as we knew it. Suddenly a medium was available through which people could build relationships without having to be face to face. Because of this, it makes forming relationships easier and, as one scholar puts it, “hyper-personal.” Sarah Tonkin, an Australian researcher attests that we form intense relationships online that differ in many ways to those formed in person - and this means we can also form potentially adulterous relationships too.

Not only does the Internet make connecting with others easier, it also makes those connections more private. A husband can connect with an old flame and spend time chatting and engaging with her, without his wife even knowing (Tonkin gives the great example of the Tiger Woods affair scandal here, one I’m sure you’ve all heard about).

So forming relationships online is easier because it’s more private, but also because it creates more opportunity. Add to this the fact that relationships tend to move much faster online – we’re more likely to tell our secrets and disclose information sooner online compared to in person – and you have a “hyper-personal” relationship, and potentially, infidelity. (There are various reasons why relationships progress faster online; the anonymity and compensating for a lack of physical presence are two of many reasons studied to explain this.)
But, you say, how can you cheat online? You’re not in the same room as the person, never mind the same bed! Well, cheating isn’t just restricted to having sex with another person. There are various forms that cheating can take, and while I’ll leave the in-person types of cheating for another blog post, there are various ways activity online can be considered infidelity.
For starters, cheating doesn’t have to be physical. Studies show that emotional infidelity can be just as upsetting and harmful to a relationship as physical infidelity. And, since becoming “hyper-personal” is easier and quicker online, emotional infidelity is rampant! But still there are varying degrees of emotional infidelity. For example, having a conversation online about sports, joking around or catching up on the latest happenings in your life are considered by researchers Docan–Morgan and Docan as “superficial/informal acts” and not generally cheating. But once the communication becomes more “involving/goal oriented”, when you tell the person you love them, tell them secrets your partner doesn’t know or flirting with them for example, the infraction becomes more apparent – that’s considered cheating.
So with cheating online, the intent and the level of intimacy matter. If you’re talking to someone online but don’t consider them more important than your partner and don’t have romantic feelings toward them, chances are you’re safe, that’s not cheating. But once the interaction becomes more intimate, it’s likely you’re on the path to infidelity.
(An important note here is that women tend to be more upset by emotional infidelity than men, although both sexes are bothered by online infidelity. In fact, there are many differences in ideas about cheating when it comes to gender but that will have to wait for a later blog post too.)
Here we can bring in physical infidelity online. And while you’re not physically present with a person online, some types can still be seen. Having cyber-sex with a person who is not your partner = obvious cheating.
Another interesting thing to note here is that cheating online doesn’t have to involve another specific person. As long as it’s involving and goal-oriented, it can be cheating. So watching pornography, posting a personal ad online or looking at other personal ads can all be considered cheating.
Finally, while these are generally what is considered cheating by certain scholars, it comes down the couple themselves to determine what “counts” as cheating. So my take-away for today is to think about that. What counts as cheating in your relationship? You and your partner may have unspoken ideas about this, or may have talked about it. Either way, that’s something to figure out.
And, once you know what counts as cheating for you both, then think about your activity online. Could you be cheating via the Internet?

Docan-Morgan, T & Docan, C. A. (2007). Internet infidelity: Double standards and the differing view of women and men. Communication Quarterly, 55, 317-342.
Tonkin, S. (2012). Getting hyper-personal. Global Media Journal Australian Edition, 4, 1-9.