New research published in The Journal of Sex Research provides insights into factors associated with emotional and sexual motivations for infidelity. The findings indicate that one of the most consistent predictors is dissatisfaction with the primary partner.
Satisfaction with the secondary “cheating” partner, on the other hand, is a less consistent predictor.
“We have always been interested in the motivations to engage in infidelity,” said study authors Jana Hackathorn and Brien K. Ashdown, an associate professor at Murray State University and associate professor at Hobart & William Smith Colleges, respectively.
“However, until now we hadn’t had access to a population that was specifically using an online website for that behavior. After publishing some previous work on motivations to engage in infidelity, the opportunity to collect data from a sample of folks currently seeking an extradyadic partner presented itself, and we jumped at the chance.”
In the study, 545 members of AshleyMadison.com, a popular website for those interested in having extra-marital affairs, completed a brief anonymous online survey regarding their motivations to engage in infidelity and other factors. The majority of the participants (81%) reported they were male and the average age was 48.89 years.
Unsurprisingly, those who indicated that their primary partner did not adequately meet their needs were more likely to report seeking a secondary partner because they had “fallen out of love.”
“One of the things that we found to be most prevalent in the data was that the secondary partner (or ‘the other woman/man’) was not as big of an influence or motivation to cheat as the ‘real world’ might lead us to believe. The biggest influence/motivation to cheat was dissatisfaction in the primary relationship, especially for males. However, greater sociosexuality (i.e., more comfort with casual sex) was very influential for both males and females,” the researchers told PsyPost.
The researchers found that participants who were younger and had greater Christian identification were more likely to report seeking an affair to “get back” at their steady partner.
Women and those who reported lower relationship satisfaction were more likely to report an interest in infidelity because they felt neglected. Participants who were pursuing a secondary partner because they wanted more frequent sex tended to be male, have an unrestricted sociosexual orientation, greater Christian identification, and less satisfaction with their primary partner.
“We are both very interested in what happens next. For example, how does someone engage in infidelity and also attempt to continue the current primary relationship simultaneously? We expect to examine this behavior through cognitive dissonance theory, and are really interested in the magnitude of aversion that might be experienced, the dissonance reduction strategies that people might use, and whether they have to keep re-using those strategies over and over,” Hackathorn and Ashdown said.
The researchers initially recruited 2,030 paying members of the website. However, 1,485 participants were excluded from the study because they were not using the website to cheat.
“The AshleyMadison.com website is a dating website. Due to the hack that happened a couple of years ago, we began our study under the faulty assumption that it was a ‘cheating’ website — and of course some of that came from their slogan ‘Life is short, have an affair.’ How shocked were we to find out that a clear majority of the participants who completed our study were just in it for dating – not infidelity? Some of them were really angry about our assumption too,” Hackathorn and Ashdown said.
The study, “The Webs We Weave: Predicting Infidelity Motivations and Extradyadic Relationship Satisfaction“, was published online on April 6, 2020.