Gender Matters: Is It Worse to Cheat Physically or Emotionally?

A new study found that women and men differ on whether it's worse to cheat on a partner physically or emotionally. Men are from Mars, women are from Venus, much?

Gender Matters: Is It Worse to Cheat Physically or Emotionally?

A new study found that women and men differ on whether it’s worse to cheat on a partner physically or emotionally. Men are from Mars, women are from Venus, much?

-Lucia Peters

Cheating

Cheating on your partner is never a good idea. But setting that aside for a minute, consider this: Do you think it’s worse to cheat on your partner physically, or emotionally? Because guess what? A new study says that your answer may depend on your gender.

Barry Kuhle, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Scranton, recently conducted a study about infidelity that asked that very question– and he found that when it comes to affairs, men are more likely to ask questions about sexual details, whereas women tend to ask whether or not their partner is in love with the other woman. Telling habits, indeed!

I know what you’re thinking, though: How exactly does one study the nature of infidelity without crossing any ethical lines? In this case, Kuhle took advantage of our society’s tendency to overshare: He compiled his research by studying the reality TV show Cheaters. A hidden camera show, Cheaters follows a three segment format. In the first segment, the show’s complainant details why they suspect their partner of cheating and the investigation unfolds. Once enough evidence has been compiled, the second segment, known as “The Confrontation,” begins, during which—you guessed it—the complainant and the entire television crew confront the cheating partner. The third segment then presents a “Conclusion” that reveals everyone’s thoughts as they walk away from the confrontation.

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Kuhle was most interested in the confrontation part of the show. He had his student researchers catalogue all the different tactics that people used in 75 of these confrontation segments, 45 of which featured women as the victims and 35 of which featured men. Here’s what they found: “While 57 percent of men versus 29 percent of women were likely to ask about sex, posing questions such as ‘Did you have sex with him/her?’ and ‘Was he/she better than me in bed?,’ 71 percent of women– versus 43 percent of men– asked if the cheater was in love with the other man or woman.” So, then, according to this set of data, men concern themselves more with physical cheating, whereas women concern themselves more with emotional cheating. Iiiiiinteresting!

Of course, the flaw in the argument comes from the fact that Kuhle’s research stems from a reality show. Cheaters in particular is notorious for its phoniness; in 2002, for example, it came out that many of the couples featured on the show were hired actors. Furthermore, once you get a camera rolling, most people can’t help but “perform” for it, and the show exploits this habit to great effect. It’s worth noting, for instance, that the confrontation segments are always staged in public places, upping the ante and helping its subjects along the road to giving a good performance. And hey, let’s not forget about editing while we’re at it: If we’ve learned nothing else from the current glut of reality TV, it’s that anything can be made dramatic as long as it’s edited in the right way. In light of this, perhaps we should take the study’s findings with a grain of salt.

Interestingly, though, Kuhle’s findings do line up with other studies, like this 2009 study about infidelity and guilt: “Men feel guiltier following sexual infidelity, while women feel guiltier after emotional transgression.” So maybe there’s something in Kuhle’s study after all.

If anyone can think up a better way to study these sorts of behaviors ethically, let us know—we’d be interested to see the results!

Lucia Peters is BettyConfidential’s associate editor.


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