A new study published in the Archives of Sexual Health found that when it comes to infidelity, interpersonal factors — things like sexual compatibility and relationship satisfaction — as well as behavioral traits (risk taking, promiscuity) are more important than demographics. And while that may seem obvious, this is the first study to look at how all of these factors relate to one another among those who are unfaithful.
Researchers from Indiana University, Bloomington and the University of Guelph in Ontario culled data from an online survey on the website of the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction. In total, 506 men and 412 women who were in monogamous relationships with an average 7 years duration participated. The study found that overall rates of infidelity were similar along gender lines: 23% of the men admitted cheating in their current relationship, 19% of women reported the same.
For both men and women, what researchers termed “interpersonal factors”: sexual incompatibility, poor sexual functioning and performance anxiety were strongly associated with a propensity to cheat. But on the other hand, participants who reported behavioral traits like having had more one-night stands in their lifetimes were also more likely to be unfaithful. That may seem confusing: how would someone with performance anxiety muster the bravado necessary for a one-night stand? The researchers explained:
It may be that individuals with arousal difficulties feel less pressure to perform sexually with a partner to whom they are not emotionally committed or in a relationship context which is not long- term. In addition, it may be that some individuals want to evaluate if, or believe that, their arousal difficulty is specific to their primary relationship and engage in infidelity for that reason.
Cheating was defined as having a sexual encounter with someone other than a partner in such a way that could jeopardize or hurt the relationship and there were some important gender differences too. Men who tested as sexual risk takers and who reported being more often aroused were more likely to go outside their relationships, while women cited relationship dissatisfaction as a big factor in the likelihood of cheating.
Previous research into predictors of infidelity have looked primarily at demographics, finding that cheaters are more likely to have higher incomes and more education, though less likely to be religious. This survey found a minute association between cheating and income, education and religious factors, but in the researchers’ analysis, these were not statistically significant when predicting who might cheat.
It should be noted that these rates are not representative of the population, since participants navigated to the Kinsey Institute website on their own and were willing to fill out a survey. Further, the researchers eliminated those who were not in monogamous relationships at the time. Because the surveys were done remotely, the researchers were unable to control for other contributing factors that could have affected the results. While it’s not news that couples who don’t get along in the bedroom might be more likely to cheat, it is helpful to understand to what degree that might predict infidelity.