When I was in my early twenties, fresh out of college and living in a new city, I had an affair with one of my co-workers. It was, without a doubt, a terrible decision: He was 10 years older and married with kids. Regrettably, it was not a one-time thing, and, yes, his wife found out.
After our affair ended, my co-worker and I remained friends—at work only, of course. Unsurprisingly, I wasn’t the first person he’d cheated with, and I wouldn’t be the last. He began another extramarital relationship with another woman he also knew fairly well shortly after.
Despite claims that men and women cheat on their partners at similar rates, a new study published in the Journal of Family Psychology found that men (surprise!) consistently report higher rates of extramarital sex. Researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder also discovered just who these people are cheating with, too.
Hint: If your fiancé does end up—God forbid—stepping out on your relationship, it’s probably not going to be with the adult entertainer his best man hired for the bachelor party.
Lindsay Labrecque is a psychology graduate student at UC Boulder and lead author on the study. She tells Brides that infidelity is one of the most common reasons given for relationships ending, but “very little was previously known about who people have extramarital relationships with.”
She and co-author Mark Whisman analyzed nine years worth of data, including the survey responses from 13,030 people across the country. In addition to looking at their attitudes toward extramarital sex, the survey asked participants if they had ever had sex outside of their marriage; if so, how many times; and to identify their other partners (answers included close personal friend, neighbor/co-worker/long-term acquaintance, casual date, or someone they paid for sex).
Possibly signaling the beginnings of a shift in how people view extramarital sex, there was a slight decrease in the percentage of Americans who say cheating is always wrong—although, frankly, most Americans still disapprove of having side-pieces. There were also “significant” differences in how men and women view and engage in extramarital sex. For example, the study states, “[t]he odds of a man reporting extramarital sex in his lifetime was 1.74 times greater than the odds of a woman reporting extramarital sex in her lifetime; the odds of a man reporting extramarital sex during the past year was 2.31 times greater than the odds of a woman reporting extramarital sex in the past year.”
And for the million-dollar question of just who these guys (and gals) are cheating with? “We found that about 53 percent of individuals who reported having extramarital sex in the past year did so with a close personal friend,” Labrecque says. “This finding was somewhat surprising; an affair with a close personal friend seems to carry greater risk as both spouses may know or even be close friends with the extramarital sex partner.”
“Furthermore,” she continues, “given the potential for greater fulfillment and closeness, extramarital sex with a close personal friend may denote a stronger commitment to leave a marriage than extramarital sex with a casual date or someone who is paid for sex.”
The study also found that about a third of respondents reported cheating with a neighbor, long-term acquaintance, or (as in my case) co-worker.
Overall, the results are pretty interesting, especially when coupled with the findings of another study on infidelity partners: Researchers found that most cheating partners don’t actually know initially that they’re engaging in infidelity—which makes us wonder just how well we know the people in our lives.