What can we learn from infidelity statistics? Do the numbers explain or even justify the tendency to stray from a relationship? Or are they simply an indication of a cultural emotional sickness?
Looking at Infidelity Statistics
Statistics of any kind are simply numbers collected and gathered on any particular subject and then used to prove a point. One comedian lampooned the power of statistics with the phrase "Seventy six percent of all statistics are made up on the spot!" Even the famous author Mark Twain was skeptical of the usefulness of the numbers, saying there were three kinds of untuths: "Lies, damn lies, and statistics!"
When it comes to infidelity, statistics become even more suspect, because of the inherent secrecy and guilt involved. Only someone who was guaranteed anonymity would be honest about whether or not they'd had an affair. The question of semantics also makes it difficult: what exactly is cheating? Flirting on Facebook? Having lunch with an ex-lover? What if you never actually DO anything...but are emotionally unfaithful?
In spite of these difficulties, there are many studies of varying scientific integrity that all seem to draw the same conclusion: people cheat.
Consider the Source
There are many places to find infidelity statistics online, ranging from scientific outlines of study results to colorful graphic charts. It is a favorite subject from women's magazines to bathroom reading.
Many of the them cite the same resources for their statistics, which is both reassuring and a bit suspect. After all, if everyone is simply repeating the same statistics from a study that may have been wrong, it simply means they're repeating errors. Sites such as Infidelity Facts don't list any references, which means everything should be taken with a grain of salt; Truth About Deception, however, has many citations, and can be relied on a bit more.
How Much Cheating is Going On?
While the numbers vary slightly, almost all studies come to the same conclusion: infidelity statistics show that cheating is rampant. At first, the stats seem low - 22 percent of men and 14 percent of women cheat. But other studies show 45-55 percent of married women and 50-60 percent of married men have sex outside of marriage at some point during the relationship. Peggy Vaughn, author of the Monogamy Myth, concurs, citing 60 percent for men and 40 percent for women. This means that one out of every 2.7 couples will have to deal with infidelity.Worse, since the 60 percent of men and 40 percent of women aren't necessarily married to each other, this means that upwards of 80 percent of all marriages will have to face the consequences of infidelity. The Internet has made it worse; the Fortino Group reports that one-third of all divorce litigation is caused by online affairs. While some argue that this is simply the natural result of people finding "better" partners, the infidelity statistics after the affair are even worse - 75 percent of those who go on to marry their lovers then get divorced.
This big problem has caused other experts such as Dr. Holly Hein to write books and articles on the subject, which tend to back up the above statistics. More interesting, though, are the comments after, where you read of many personal experiences with cheating, and the numbers become real.
No one seems to know the answer to bringing down the infidelity statistics. Other relationship models such as polyamory try to constructively deal with a person's need for more than one romantic attachment. Any relationship can set its own rules, after all, and if the rules allow for other lovers, it's not cheating. Many famous couples such as Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith openly espouse these kinds of successful relationships.
But for some, it's not about finding a new relationship - it's about the excitement of cheating itself. As long as that is the case, infidelity statistics will continue to fascinate our culture.