Why Married Women Cheat

The new reason why women cheat on their husbands by Kim Brooks writing at azfamily.com


“One of the more interesting facts in Esther Perel’s new book, State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity, comes near the beginning.

“Since 1990, notes the psychoanalyst and writer, the rate of married women who report they’ve been unfaithful has increased by 40 percent, while the rate among men has remained the same.

“More women than ever are cheating, she tells us, or are willing to admit that they are cheating — and while Perel spends much of her book examining the psychological meaning, motivation, and impact of these affairs, she offers little insight into the significance of the rise itself.”


I read Ms. Brooks article twice and I’m not sure I found the one true and new reason married women cheat on their husbands.  I’d say the new reason is that they don’t seem to need a reason, and that might be new. It also might be as old as humanity has existed.

It’s a long article and it’s well worth your time if this subject is at all of interest.  But there is an explanation for married women cheating on their husbands that might be the real reason and it’s not new at all. It comes from the discipline of evolutionary psychology.  If the whole idea of evolution as an explanation for human behavior bores you or you just don’t believe it, then the rest of what I have to say won’t interest you. But if are as fascinated as I by the possibility that much or our behavior is programmed by human evolution please read on.

I believe in the selfish gene theory of evolution. That is, much but not all of what we do is dictated by our genes and our genetic code. Our selfish genes only care about replicating themselves in as many other bodies as possible. Some types of behavior will replicate our genes into new human bodies better than other types of behavior. Those of us who produce more offspring that live to sexual maturity will not only populate future generations with our genes, those future generations will mimic the same behavior in us that produced them.

Married women who cheat gain an advantage in sending their genes into the next generation. By mating with more than one man they give their own genes greater chances by increasing the diversity of the gene pool in which they will exist.

No cheating wife thinks about this. She’s not thinking about her selfish genes when she sees a man and feels an attraction coming on. Later, when the author of the article I linked to above asks her to describe her reasons for having an affair, she will come up with all sorts of reasons that are more emotional than logical. But her genes know exactly why she had the affair, and if they had little brains and could think they’d be enormously pleased.

So would the genes of the man with whom she had the affair.

Everybody wins, except that is, the cuckold husband. He may end up using his valuable resources to raise and support a child that is not his and will not replicate his genes. His genes, if they had brains, would be mad as hell. But they don’t have brains. He does. And he’s the one who, if he discovers the affair, is mad as hell. Even though his genes don’t have brains of their own, they made his brain.

There is another factor that determines whether women will cheat on their husbands.

From the beginning of human existence on earth women knew their secret trysts could get them killed. For the first several millennia of human existence females caught in sexual liaisons with males other than the one to whom they were committed were probably going to be murdered if their mate discovered them. I said this had nothing to do with evolutionary psychology but now I realize it does. Just as the female brain is wired by evolution to cheat, the male brain is wired to try to prevent her from cheating and to take serious offense if she did. It’s a war of the sexes.

In ancient ages women took a big risk by cheating. That many did is a testament to how powerful selfish genes are at influencing the behavior of their host.

It’s easy to see that cheating wives don’t face the same risk today if they get caught. Cheating may be on the increase simply because the consequences of getting caught are no longer as dire as they once were. The social and legal structure of modern society makes cheating less dangerous to the cheater than it used to be.

Of course, that doesn’t foreclose other untoward consequences. Cheating women are more likely to be alone in their old age.  The state of mental depression that besets cuckold men can be bad enough to shorten their life expectancy. Oh well…women handle being alone much better than men do.

This female cheating can be seen in other animals as well. I’ve read of two troops of chimps that occupied separate areas of the same forest. The hostility between these two troops was great enough that if a male chimp were caught out alone by chimps from the other troop, that male would usually be killed. When scientists did DNA testing on baby chimps from both troops they found that almost half the babies of one troop had been sired by males from the other troop. From an evolutionary point of view this was a good thing because it lended diversity in the gene pool of both troops. Any female chimp caught would still have been killed by the males of her troop. It’s the quintessential battle of the sexes.

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