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The Gender Bend: Our Cheating Hearts

An infidelity battle of the sexes
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Editor's Note: DAME originally published the following article on the heels of the Eliot Spitzer prostitution scandal.  Little did we know we'd be reminded of the issue of cheating so quickly.  In (dis)honor of the news of John Edwards' admitted affair, we present the article again. 

Right now, it seems you can't drink a full cup of coffee in the morning before reading about yet another male politician who just can't seem to keep it in his pants. You've heard the argument hundreds of times by now: that men, being guided by their oh-so-insatiable biological need to spread their seed and all that bullshit, are more likely to act on impulse and betray someone they love. 
 
But all the headlines got me thinking: Do women really cheat less often then men? 
 
According to a controversial British survey that came out last year, it may well be the opposite. Said survey found that women cheat more than men. Mind you, not a lot more, but still a significant amount: Forty percent of females cheat on lovers, compared with 34 percent of males. 
 
Now, of course women cheat. We're only human, after all, and it's not exactly easy to never wander outside the confines of a relationship when there are so many appealing options out there. And obviously, polls are wildly divergent. Some say men cheat more, while others give the cheating trophy to women. (And really, if people are willing to lie to their partners, why not lie to some random statistician?) 
 
Is it that women are less likely to get caught?
 
Again, there's a standard line of thinking on this, that women, acting less out of flagrant lust and more out of a need to have unsatisfied sexual and emotional needs, um, literally stroked, are more likely to go about the business of infidelity in a an orderly, premeditated fashion. In other words, without sloppy payments as Client No. 9.
 
But yet another study debunks this claim. According to ABC News, women are genetically programmed to cheat. As one of the study's co-authors, the unsavory-sounding Elizabeth Pillsworth, explains, “Women have evolved to cheat on their mates during the most fertile part of their cycle, but only when those mates are less sexually attractive than other men." Clearly, ugly men are asking for it. 
 
Pillsworth goes on to remark, in a rather condescending tone, "I hope the message women get is that they can use this information to realize their biology is toying with their desires and to ask themselves, 'Am I going to let that run my life, my sexual decision-making?' For the men, I would say not to be too fearful of these findings. While women may notice other men during this part of their cycle, unfaithful behavior is relatively rare."
 
Anthony DeLorenzo, a New Jersey-based investigator who specializes in outing cheating spouse, would disagree. In a recent Men's Fitness article, he made the claim that the number of women having affairs is escalating. "With more women than ever in the workforce and on the Internet, the percentage is going up all the time. In our investigations, we follow about 68 percent males and 32 percent females, but the ratio will probably end up being 55 to 45," DeLorenzo says. 
 
Well gosh, boys, you should never have let us go to the workforce! See what happens!? We just can't be trusted! 
 
More recently, Dr. Cassandra George Sturges, a psychologist and advice columnist for Today's Black Woman magazine, came to another conclusion. “All research studies that I have ever read state that men cheat more than women in committed relationships. The major flaw with these studies is the assumption that men and women both define cheating in the same manner," she says. “Most of the studies are conducted by men and women educated and socialized to recognize male infidelity patterns. Every woman I know, including myself, has been sexually unfaithful while being in a committed long-term relationship, however none us defined our behavior as 'cheating.' Until recently, I too believed that men are more likely to cheat and be sexually unfaithful in a monogamous relationship, until I had an epiphany that men and women define cheating differently."
 
Now I'm not sure I totally agree with Sturges. I mean sure, men and women often have -- how shall we say this delicately --differing communication styles. But I think we can all basically agree on what it means to cheat. 
 
Personally, I think women do tend to be a bit sneakier, and more low-key about the whole thing. Not because of any biological theory or any left-field explanation but because of the more obvious: Female cheaters are stigmatized, whereas many men are socially rewarded for infidelity in some backhanded ways. I know that I've actually heard both women and men refer to Spitzer as “stud" ever since his undercover sex life got blown wide open. You can hardly imagine the same happening if it was a female politician whose prostitute habit was exposed. 
 
Even Hollywood, that ever astute mirror of American society, seems to have internalized this. There must be thousands of movies involving chuckle-worthy male dalliances (boys will be boys after all!), but remember what a scandal Unfaithful caused when it came out? 
 
Maybe that's why some of us may actually feel grateful to all the guys going around, slipping up, getting caught, while we quietly go about our own business, which may or may not include a little indiscretion here and there. Still, I think men and women can agree on one thing when it comes to cheating: Unless you're some kind of a sociopath, infidelity is rarely for sport. And conflicting statistics aside, one thing all the experts agree on is that an ounce of prevention, in the form of communication, goes a long way.
 
Author Erin Flaherty has written and edited for Jane, Allure, Elle, Marie Claire, Details, Men's Fitness, In Design, New Mexico Magazine and Ladies' Home Journal, in addition to making television and radio appearances on VH1, E!, Full Frontal Fashion, Martha Stewart Living Radio and a variety of local and national news programs. She firmly believes that women should refer to one another as "sisters" and never as "sluts," unless they insist on the latter moniker.