7 Unexpected Reasons People Cheat

Once you read them, though, it's pretty obvious.

Last updated on Nov 04, 2023

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Cheating, infidelity, adultery — no matter what you call it, it’s a staple of popular culture. Articles with titles like “Why He Cheats,” “Affair-Proofing Your Marriage,” and “Secrets of Wives With Faithful Husbands” litter the self-help and lifestyle landscape.

These articles — which mostly advise readers to be as sexy as possible, and just a tiny bit mistrustful — generally treat infidelity as if it’s primarily about sex.


RELATED: 6 Different Types Of Affairs You Might Be Having Without Knowing It

But while some affairs are just that, a large percentage of affairs are not about sex. In fact, many unfaithful men and women admit that the sex at home is good, or sex in the affair is mediocre.


So if not for sex, why do people have affairs?

7 Unexpected Reasons People Have Affairs:

1. To experience touching and physical affection.

We can live without sex far easier than we can live without touching. An hour’s visit with a lover might include just 10 minutes of sex and 50 minutes of cuddling. Or no sex at all.

Some people would risk everything they value just to have someone stroke their face without being asked.

2. To have someone to talk with.

It’s sad, but many couples don’t talk much; if they do, it’s often about the kids or, um, the kids. Ask any sex worker: many clients want the opportunity to talk after sex more than they want the sex (and some will tell you that talking and listening are a lot more work).


RELATED: Why I Passed Up The Opportunity To Restart An Emotional Affair

3. To feel more manly or womanly.

Sex is about more than pleasure. At its best, people have experiences of validation — being a “real man” or “real woman,” whatever that means to them.

4. To escape.

When people feel trapped in routine, when they can’t create joy or delight, when the future looks exactly like the unsatisfactory present, an affair can be an escape, an oasis in the desert of life.

It doesn’t fix anything of course — your job is still dehumanizing, your kid still has learning disabilities, your belly hasn’t gone away — but for an hour every month or two, it all disappears.


5. To feel the excitement of anticipation.

All those things marriage counselors advise long-term couples to do to keep the relationship fresh? People do that when they’re having an affair. They make a date to get together, they look forward to it, they talk about how great it will be, they think about what they’ll wear, they eat moderately that day, and most importantly, they plan to enjoy it.

If married couples did that regularly, sex therapists would lose half our business.

RELATED: 3 Harsh Lessons I've Learned By Cheating 6 Times

6. To feel desirable, attractive, or desired.

It’s entirely possible to feel loved and not feel attractive or desired — it happens in many, many otherwise intimate relationships. And although most grownups very much appreciate intimacy, respect, and love, many people yearn to feel desired. For some of them, an affair is where they have this experience.


Sex in the affair may not be great or even frequent, but the experience of a lover lighting up when he or she watches you undress is, for some people, priceless. It’s no substitute for love or dependability, but some people will do almost anything to feel desired.

7. To experience a sense of danger?

Pop psychology says that people having affairs love the sense of danger and the possibility of getting caught. I’ve had a small handful of patients like that. What’s more common is people who are unconsciously inviting discovery, which will blow up a relationship they want to leave but somehow can’t.

Most common of all? People who dread getting caught, feel terribly guilty, and even have trouble enjoying their affair because they’re always wondering if they’ve covered their tracks successfully. Very few adults say that risking their marriage, home, and relationship with their kids is exciting.


But many do it — and not necessarily for sex.

RELATED: 4 Little Things Women Do That Men Count As Cheating

Dr. Marty Klein has just published his seventh book.