These are the facts as I know them:
- All kinds of men and women cheat. Cheaters are of every race, every nationality, every country, every religion. Men and women cheat. Rich people and poor people cheat. Overall, approximately 25-30% of men say they have cheated at some time.
- Men cheat more than women. Younger men cheat more than older ones. Black men cheat more than white men. Men from southern sections of Africa cheat the most.
- Men married to gorgeous women are equally like to cheat.
- Nigerian women are the most unfaithful. For men, the Thais hold the title. (However, there is nothing to indicate that Thai men are cheating with Nigerian women.)
(The data on Thai and Nigerian cheaters is based on research done by Durex condoms. See the report here. There is another very interesting article on which countries have the highest rates of infidelity, you can access it here.)
We also know that ninety-two percent of men said that the reason they cheated wasn’t because of a need for sex. Instead, the majority said it was because they felt an emotional disconnection from their partner (wife/girlfriend), and felt ‘under-appreciated’. Essentially, their partners weren’t making enough gestures to make them feel, well, like men. (You can read the article on the main reasons men say they cheat here.)
This is all the data I have seen in scholarly publications.
Some things I know:
I know a man, a German, a good man, who only loves the smell of hibiscus flowers. He’s an incorruptible man – doesn’t sway towards the passing scent of a young, fresh rose, nor swoon at the wild orchids as they blossom, nor drool at a wet Lily as it delicately opens and sheds its petals. His soul is engulfed by the smell of hibiscus. It consumes him, and leaves no room for anything else.
I also know a man, a Portuguese, decent chap, who goes home every night to question God and launch vitriolic attacks at the devil. (He would also curse God if it weren’t for the fact that he grew up Catholic and some of the things he heard in church have left a deep fear of God inside him.) He is a bitter man, has no wife because she left him, and has no kids because she took with her that possibility as well. She didn’t leave him because he is Portuguese or bitter. But because he cheated. He told me he did it only once, and deeply regretted it. It happened at a time when he had just started going back to the gym, was earning well, and felt good about himself. It was with a girl in the gym. (There is an interesting article you can read about the testosterone effect on cheating: The Moral Molecule: Why Men Cheat.)
What do these two things have to do with why men cheat? This:
I have been doing my own survey for over 20 years. Most of the subjects weren’t aware that they were part of a study. The interviews and focus group discussions mainly took the form of bar talk at clubs, rum bars, parties, restaurants, and on patios. Very often alcohol was involved.
Over the course of these years conducting my research I found few examples of men who were like my German friend, and who were completely committed to their partners. This does not mean that there aren’t many such men, only that in the dozens of conversations I’ve had few seemed willing to profess their devotion.
Many were like my Portuguese friend – did it once or twice, but not always with regret.
About 80% of men I have spoken with were comfortable talking about it or the possibility of it. About a third had done it. Another third seemed interested in doing it but were either fearful or uncertain – “Where would I take her?” “What if I got caught?” “Maybe it’s better to do it when you travel, so you don’t piss where you sleep.”
The most interesting conversations were with Jamaican men. I found many loved the adventure of it, the quest, the thrill, the conquest. They often joked loudly about it, spoke proudly about how many times they had done it, and how they camouflaged what they were doing. One group of friends said they pooled and rented an apartment – that way they had a discreet place to take a girl, and they didn’t have to shell out too much money from their salary which could bring questions.
Some of these men had kids their partners weren’t aware of, one or two had another entire family. (Some of these stories are told in my novel Disposable People.)
What struck me most overall from the various conversations is how my North American and European male associates often seemed more cautious, curious, and discrete while talking about cheating, while my Jamaican associates often seemed loud and proud.
People say that it was born in Africa and is in our gene pool. Some researchers say that slavery reinforced it, and poverty cemented it. Often times social commentators lament that our music celebrates it. I am not a psychologist and can offer no new insights into why men do the things they do. What I can say is that wives and girlfriends often don’t seem to know exactly what their partners have been up to, or what they are thinking.
I would love to hear your thoughts.