June 21, 2011— -- Although the most recent high-profile infidelity scandals all involved cheating men, a new study finds that women cheat at about the same rate as men, though often for different reasons.
Researchers from Indiana University in Bloomington administered questionnaires to more than 900 participants in order to determine the factors that most often lead to infidelity among both sexes.
Women who reported not being happy in a relationship and feeling that their partner didn't hold similar sexual beliefs were more likely to be unfaithful. For men, one of the biggest factors that led to cheating was sexual excitability.
For both men and women, not caring about consequences of their actions and a fear of poor sexual performance also made them more likely to cheat.
"You may not have same performance concerns with somebody you don't know very well," said Kristen Mark, lead author of the study and a doctoral student at Indiana University.
She added that 19 percent of women and 23 percent of men reported cheating, statistics that seem to reflect a closing of the cheating gender gap. Research from the 1990s found that only about 10 percent to 15 percent of women reported being unfaithful. Relationship experts, however, debate the implications of these data.
"Those sorts of findings depend on how you ask the questions and who you're asking," said Scott Wetzler, vice chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, N.Y. "There are no data that I know of to speak to that."
The study authors acknowledged that one of the limitations of their research is they didn't specifically define infidelity.
"[W]e don't know what specific sexual activities our sample considered as infidelity," they wrote.
But despite this limitation, other experts say women are definitely closing in on men in the infidelity area.
"I still see more men than women who have had affairs, but I woud agree from what I see in my practice that women are catching up," said Susan Heitler, a clinical psychologist in Denver and co-founder of a couples web site called Power of Two.
"One reason the gender gap may be closing is because of more women being out in the workplace," Heitler said. Work relationships, she explained, may lead women and men into forbidden territory.
"[There's] too much time working closely together, in private spaces, taking a break and talking about personal matters, and also travel which makes too much time away from the spouse and from the restraints of normal family routines," she said.
Experts also believe the ever-expanding reach of cyberspace has led many more women to seek out relationships outside their current one.
"I think that the online world is becoming a bigger and bigger part of people's lives," said Wetzler, who is also the author of the book "Living With the Passive-Aggressive Man." "In that sense, it allows for people to act on infidelity."
"Also, the Internet makes it easier to connect with old flames," Heitler said.
Mark and her fellow researchers didn't focus on the closing gender gap in their study. Instead, she hopes the bigger message will be that traditional beliefs about why people cheat may not be true.
"Previous research has shown that marital status, income or employment play as a big role in infidelity, but we found they weren't as important as other characteristics, such as sexual excitability and unhappiness in relationships," she said.