The gender gap is closing. Women are catching up to men in everything: job opportunities, wages, heart attacks, adultery.
OK, that’s a lie about wages and heart attacks. But women really are approaching equality on the cheating front.
The recent news from Ashley Madison, the website for married people trawling for affairs, is that more women than men are signing up.
Reader, it’s true: women are cheating on their significant other more than ever before. That may help explain why divorce rates are at about 40% in Canada and closer to 50% in the U.S. And that’s just for starter marriages. Rates are actually higher for subsequent marriages.
Talk about the triumph of hope over experience…
Why are women now becoming as unfaithful as men?
Or maybe they always have been?
PROOF ALL MEN DON’T CHEAT!!!
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(And, more importantly, where the hell would they find the time?)
Obviously, changes in traditional female roles have wrought changes in lots of other areas. Gender equality covers a lot of ground.
But it’s more complicated than that. According to Dr. Ashley Thompson, director of the Sexuality and Relationship Science Lab at the University of Minnesota Duluth, there are several factors at work. Advances in technology, for example, play a role in this closing of the gender infidelity gap.
“Technology is making it easier for women — for everybody — to find extra-dyadic partners, whether it’s on Ashley Madison or Tinder,” says Dr. Thompson. “I know people use Tinder for the same purpose, to find partners, even if they’re already in a relationship.”
Women also have more opportunity now than they did in the past, she says. “If, traditionally, women were homemakers and men were going off to work, men had more opportunities to cheat. But now you’re seeing increased gender equality, and women are out in the work force, gaining more autonomy. Women are engaging as much as men because now that opportunity is there.”
Given current levels of infidelity and divorce, maybe traditional relationships need a makeover? Consensual non-monogamy may be the future.
It’s a phrase you’ll hear a lot of relationship experts use, and it means having whatever relationships you wish, but with the consent of all concerned. It’s different from “cheating” because there’s no lying or sneaking around involved. The old-fashioned term was “open marriage.”
“These are the relationships where people negotiate, where maybe you aren’t entirely exclusive in certain areas,” says Dr. Thompson.
“I call these Build-A-Bear relationships,” she jokes. “You can built and cater and structure your relationship however you wish, like a Build-A-Bear.”
OK, it’s not for everyone, but research has shown that these consensual non-monogamous relationships seem to work for those involved. (You can read more about that when the book Polyamorous, by the Toronto Sun‘s own Jenny Yuen, comes out this fall.)
“Men and women report equal interest and equal satisfaction,” says Dr. Thompson, “so depending on how you define it and structure it, it could have benefits for both genders.”
Given the current levels of infidelity, she adds, “Perhaps relationship structures resembling consensual non-monogamy are something worth exploring for couples and partners who are interested.”
Certainly, young people are interested. According to Thompson, a recent study of 18—25 year olds (them, again!) showed that half the males and a third of the females reported interest in some form of consensual non-monogamy.
“Those rates are way higher than in previous generations,” she says. “Maybe that’s a byproduct of how they view marriage, or from seeing people delay marriage, avoid marriage. Maybe it’s people thinking more about these rates of infidelity — what can they do about them? Are there options? Is partnering up with just one person realistic? All those kinds of things.”
THE WAR BETWEEN MEN AND WOMEN
It’s difficult to have hard statistics on infidelity. For one thing, men and women have very different views on what constitutes “cheating.”
For another thing, people lie.
We have the sneaking suspicion that women have always cheated as much as men do — there hasn’t been some mysterious change in female libido, right? Women are just more discreet.
They had to be, particularly in the past, when they had so much more to lose if their infidelity were found out. However, between effective birth control and work equity, women now have the money and the autonomy to direct their own fate.
The lying? There’s a name for that. Dr. Ashley Thompson says, “That’s socially desirable responding. In research, people will tell you one thing but actually not mean it, or their behaviour will tell you otherwise. And cheating is a super socially sensitive subject. If I straight-up ask someone in one of my studies, ‘Have you ever cheated?’ they may not want to tell me the truth, because they want to present themselves in socially positive ways. Do you want to admit to cheating? It doesn’t make you look that great… so in (past) research conducted, maybe women have aways said, ‘No I haven’t,’ to make themselves look better. And maybe they were cheating and we weren’t picking up on it.”
That, she says, is where Ashley Madison comes in.
“With sites like Ashley Madison, we’re not relying on people’s self reports or what people tell us. We have their actual behaviour data to look at, and see about gender difference and infidelity.”
As for definitions of infidelity, Thompson says women consider a lot of behaviours to be cheating that men just brush off.
“In some of my studies … women were much more likely to judge behaviours as indicative of infidelity than men were. I’d ask women to what extent flirting is cheating, and they would rate that higher than men do. A man might look at flirting as nothing, no big deal. A woman might think it’s something, and as a result, might be less inclined to engage in it — at least in the past,” she said.
“Now, maybe current generations aren’t looking at things in the same way.”