HOW MANY PEOPLE CHEAT On Their Partner? What Exactly IS Infidelity and Is It Really All That COMMON?

Cheating, Polygamy, Infidelity … there are lots of different words for when two people bond together, and then connect with others outside of that bond. It’s actually a pretty complicated subject, and more than just a number. Let’s dive in.


Hi, I’m Rick and this is Mastering The Second Half. And today we’re looking at couples. Cheating couples. Or are they cheating? Depends on your definition.

Now … I need to set the table. This is indeed a complicated subject. It’s far more than just “He/she cheated, we’re done!”. So stick around, because we’re going down a rabbit hole.

We need to start with monogamy. The notion that two people connect (bond, marry, insert your own word here) and stay that way for life. Did you know that only 9% of mammals mate for life? And yes, we’re mammals too.

There are two sides to this: monogamy versus polygamy. And there are adherents to both. As Americans, we’re strongly sided with the former. We believe in two people coupled for life, never to be with another. And yet, our rates of divorce and extramarital affairs contradict that.

OK, let’s start with what we’re not used to. Polygamy. Those that support this point to factors that improve the species, as well as justify it by natural means.

On the one hand, humans want to produce and spread their genes into the future. It’s technically why we mate in the first place. The idea in polygamy for women is that while they have a male presence to create and help her offspring reach their own sexual maturity, having a backup male is a good thing. Or by “moving up” to a better male, her chances of raising her children are better.

For men, the idea is to spread our seed far and wide. The law of averages, if we make enough babies, some of them are going to grow up and make more.

But believers in polygamy also expand that beyond simple continuity of the species. Some quote the bible, which shows a number of men with multiple wives. Of course there are also two commandments that prohibit adultery, so that’s a bad argument.

Every major US city … and many rural locales … boast sex and swing clubs. The former are typically open to all adults, and the latter to couples and single women. It’s popular, and it’s very open. Not hidden at all.

There are a number of people who separate love from sexual activity. They say they love their spouse and only their spouse, but understand the excitement of either being with another, or knowing their partner is. Many of these folks also say that it enhances their marital sex.

And as much as those of us who are on the monogamy bandwagon shout that infidelity is bad, we still look at the topic pretty lightly. At least when it’s not happening to us. A Rodney Dangerfield joke went … “I told my wife I was seeing a psychiatrist. She told me she was seeing a psychiatrist, two plumbers, and a bartender.”. And we laugh at that.

And yes, there is a history of imbalance here. Like the idea that it’s OK for men to have multiple wives, but not women. And yes, that’s more about control than anything else. Controlling a woman’s sexuality and thus ensuring a mans paternity. But proponents of polygamy don’t see this as a control thing, it’s a natural way of life to them. One that is easily managed, and mutually beneficial.

Meanwhile, in the other corner ….

For those that adhere to monogamy, sexual transgressions are painful. Sometimes, perhaps most times, a permanent blockade to reconciliation. As far as how many people ‘cheat’, studies are all over the map. For instance, a large study of women asked about infidelity both face-to-face, and on an anonymous questionnaire. For those who had to answer verbally, only 1% said they had. When the answer came anonymously? 6%. A lot of what a study needs is honesty from the respondents, and this is a subject where it’s hard to get honesty.

So when you look at the big picture and compare multiple studies, how many people cheat. Well …. for men, 12 to 72 percent. For women, 7 to 54 percent. There honestly is no way to give you a single number. But it is possible to say with some certainty that it’s not zero. Not really even close.

So how do we as a monogamy-loving American society justify this infidelity? Three-quarters of American adults call extramarital sex “always wrong”, yet a majority of Americans who have been unfaithful call their own infidelities justified. Ok for yourself, but not for others?

Despite tons of research, the true amount of cheating remains a mystery.
All we really know is that it occurs so frequently that when we hear about it in couples that we know, we’re always saddened … but not always surprised.

He healthy, happy, and we’ll see you next time.



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