Move over, husbands with lipstick on your collars, and give the ladies some room. The cheating wife is the latest trend in women’s sexual evolution and the numbers are undeniable.
Globally, Ashley Madison membership numbers nearly match the number of married couples in the United States, and women make up half of the members on the (cheating) app. Think of that: there are enough unfaithful in the world to fill the third-largest continent — and half of them are wives. Ashley Madison, the world leader in married dating websites, had 60 million registered members worldwide as of 2019. In comparison, 62.34 million married couples exist in America as of January 2020.
This means that at least 30 million women across the world are looking for sex with someone other than their husbands. And Ashley Madison is just one site. Their numbers don’t include the people on dating sites like Match, Bumble, and Tinder who are lying about their “single” status in order to land lovers on the side. That estimate is one in six. With those numbers and the topic “cheating wife” netting 5,400 hits a month on search engines and divorce sites, a new picture of sexual relationships is emerging.
Not only is cheating big business, but it isn’t just for husbands anymore.
Even the infamous 2015 hack into Ashley Madison’s database didn’t deter new users for long. Ashley Madison’s net worth added up to $1 billion six years ago — right about the time the hack occurred. As breaches go, it was explosive. Hacked information doesn’t get much more sensitive than a database full of cheating spouses, and members’ desire to maintain that secrecy doesn’t get more emotionally loaded. The hack exposed an estimated 32–37 million members’ intention to cheat, but the company boldly added another 30 million members — effectively doubling their numbers. Before the breach, they were signing about 30,000 new members every day and were back to adding about 22,000 daily just four years afterward.
In essence, the numbers show that people are willing to risk a lot for sexual satisfaction and there is no current difference in cheating rates between the genders. But that equality has been a long time coming. Among Baby Boomers in the 57–75 age range, 25 percent of men and 10 percent of women have infidelity in their interpersonal portfolios. Just two generations later, among Millennials aged 25–40, females outnumber their male counterparts for infidelity with 11 percent of women cheating versus 10 percent of males.
So, while spouses may lie, the numbers don’t. An equal number of women and men are putting their marriage vows, family solidarity, financial well-being, and emotional equilibrium on the line for sexual expression that is fully joyful. In short, they’d risk upending their lives for the sake of feeling alive.
The questions women are asking ourselves and each other is: Why? If we are unfaithful, how do we live with it? And where did we get the idea that women feel less sexually motivated or “more monogamous” than men?
In the cheating wife trend, we are seeing sexual stereotypes debunked. The dusty old beliefs that women aren’t as interested in sex as men, or are motivated to have extramarital affairs because they want emotional intimacy rather than great sex, are getting exposed as a myth. Social norms made these false or only partial truths appear to be the “Truth.” Generally speaking, women didn’t want to rock that boat and men wanted to command it.
In my experience and from the woman-to-woman conversations I’ve heard, we are just as interested in sex as men are, if not more so. Our conversations about it tend to be much more explicit, as well. The current research, articles, and statistics match that impression.
Women might be more aware than men of the potential impact of sex since we bear the consequences of it in the form of pregnancy, childbirth, and most of the child-raising. We’ve also experienced sexual shaming across many world cultures. Historically, sexually free women get slapped in the face, stigmatized, or killed. (Sexually free men? A slap on the back and a high-five are much more common than recriminations). But women risk it. Women don’t go lightly into affairs, either, but they do it. When they do, it’s often because, despite therapy and many attempts at communicating their needs, they are still not reaching the intimate connection or orgasm that they seek with their husbands. While some may love their husbands and want to save the marriage, years and years of emotional or sexual flatlining is intolerable. The joy of intimacy is something they decide they want.
In my opinion, the story that women have sex to forge greater emotional connections or are more aroused when they do feel an emotional connection has truth to it. And so does the story that we love variety in our partners and great sex — both of which motivate women powerfully. The larger, more compicated “Truth” usually lies somewhere in the middle.
“One reason women cheat is that being new to someone, being seen as interesting and desirable exactly who we are at the time, is really important, and so is being with someone who delights in us,” said one friend. “We’re not the same old person to someone new and they’re new to us. We’re not being compared to who we were 20 years ago.”
And of course, there is the added titillation of doing something forbidden.
What happens when we are denied something? It becomes more desirable. Add that zest to the spice of variety and you have a strong motivator despite the risk of being caught and despite the risk of divorce. Among “ever-marrieds,” 40 percent of those who cheated are divorced, compared to only 17 percent of the faithful being divorced. Factoring in the adrenaline of danger adds even another degree of excitement.
There are also the more emotional consequences of cheating, but even those aren’t nearly as clear-cut as you’d think. One Catholic-raised friend who did cheat on her husband felt guilty about it but also knew she was unhappy in her marriage to a controlling man. Like many women, she used the affair to leverage herself out of the marriage.
The only thing that her guilty feelings really impacted was the financial fallout from her divorce.
“My mistake was that I let him make me feel guilty enough about cheating that I didn’t seek more of a settlement of what I was legitimately entitled to,” she said.
You might think that guilt would stop women from being untrue to their mates. However, a lot of us do not feel the guilt and shame that society taught us to feel or have inflicted on each other.
“For these women, the release they experienced through sex with an affair partner saved their marriages. Prior to participating in an affair, they doubted their own ability to stay in the marriage. They simply didn’t know how much longer they could live sexlessly or with a sex life absent pleasurable release. However, the thought of dissolving their marriages evoked sadness and despair. But the sexual relief of being a cheating wife made them feel capable of continuing to stay in those marriages — something they very much desired,” writes Alicia Walker, Ph.D. in her article “The Secret Lives of Cheating Wives.”
“With their sexual needs met, at least periodically, they found themselves better able to endure the daily frustrations of a shared life. They could overlook an unequal division of household labor, irritating habits, and even inattentiveness, in part because they kept such a large, stigmatized secret from their spouse. Many pointed out that when they got angry with their husbands about something small, they checked themselves with some version of the thought: ‘I’m a cheating [b-word].’ But aside from the guilt about their behavior, the sheer power of having their sexual needs met enabled them to be a more gracious version of themselves.”
What we are seeing as women become primary breadwinners, business moguls, national leaders, and power brokers in greater numbers is more than a sexual evolution. It is a resurrection of women’s original sexuality.
Look back at the Goddess-centered cultures that covered the globe for the Paleolithic period. There was no passage of property linked to children, who were only guaranteed to belong to one man by control over his wife’s sexuality. Wealth, the means of making it, and children belonged more to the cooperative group than the ruling few.
It wasn’t until the much later and much shorter epochs that cultures became more hierarchical and violence-dominated. Wealth moved upward to a chosen few male leaders and their consorts, instead of funneling down and out to the greater community. (This is kind of the “One Ring to Rule Them All” model). Those few men of means began to want a guarantee that their children were theirs before making them their heirs. So, women became property, and their sexual power came under control, scrutiny, and often, punishment in one form or another.
We have since learned to normalize that control and the resulting muffled female sexuality. It clearly isn’t natural. When we look at how much longer the Paleolithic lasted than later periods, and the sexual norms that went with it, the rising tide of “cheating wives” seems to indicate more of a return to nature rather than an aberration.
What we are seeing in the cheating wife trend may be disturbing to some and vindicating for others. Regardless, it is an indicator of women taking their power back and re-writing their story themselves.
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Jennifer Bent is a freelance writer, former print journalist, and feature writer living on the West Coast. Nicknamed Verbose at a young age, she loves wordcraft but has to keep a short leash on her fondness for the profane. Jennifer enjoys compelling content and the liberty to write about interesting contributors and innovative ideas. Connect with Jennifer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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