What Counts As Cheating? How Men & Women View Infidelity Differently

What really counts as cheating? Sexting? Kissing? Is emotional infidelity worse than sleeping with someone else? As a new study published in Sexual and Relationship Therapy found, you need to discuss that with your partner because men and women have different ideas of what cheating is.

“Knowing what your partner believes to be infidelity could potentially save a relationship if both partners understand each other’s perspective, thus making the topic of different infidelity perceptions worthy of research,” researchers wrote in the study.

The researchers took a sample of 354 undergrad students and asked them to complete an online questionnaire on infidelity. They were given a list of acts and scenarios ranging from “sexual deeds” like kissing or actual intercourse to “emotional actions” like falling in love but not acting on it and fantasizing. Participants were then asked to rank those acts on a scale of 1 (definitely not infidelity) to 4 (definitely infidelity). Overall, the study wanted to see how gender, fear of intimacy, and rejection sensitivity may play a role in predicting how one defines cheating.

Here’s what the study found:

1. Women Have A Greater Desire To Form And Maintain Supportive Interpersonal Relationships

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While researchers found no difference between men and women in regards to fear of intimacy and sensitivity to rejection, women scored much higher than men in “communion.” That means women more so than men placed higher value on relationships that were supportive and meaningful. Because of that…

2. Women Were More Likely To Say Both Sexual And Emotional Acts Count As Cheating

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Men, on the other hand, were more likely to say only sex acts counted. Fantasy-type infidelity such as watching porn had no significant differences between genders.

“This pattern of finding suggests that women are more sensitive than men to possible violations related to infidelity within the confines of a romantic relationship,” researchers wrote in the study. “Those higher on the communion scale are more sensitive to possible infidelity, possibly as a way of safeguarding their relationship with a significant other.”

As dating coach and certified matchmaker Francesca Hogi tells Bustle, “While men and women may have different definitions of cheating when you ask them objectively, on an intuitive level we understand what our partner would consider crossing a line. I don't think most men would be too happy to discover their partner is secretly sexting her office crush, even if he only considers sexual acts actual ‘infidelity.’ If your partner is keeping some type of relationship or interactions with another person secret, there's a reason why.”

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According to Hogi, these are things that DON’T count as cheating:

  • They watch porn;
  • They’re attracted to other people;
  • They have close, intimate friendships.

“These things might be problematic, and your relationship might not be able to survive if they're to an extreme degree, but they aren't inherently bad or out of the ordinary,” Hogi says. “Because people differ so much in their feelings about what constitutes infidelity, it's really important to keep the lines of communication open with your partner. And as always, focus on fostering intimacy in your own relationship — that makes these issues less likely to arise.”

Images: Andrew Zaeh for Bustle; Giphy (3)