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Why women really have affairs

WebMD Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

Sex, attention, boredom – there are plenty of reasons why women cheat on their partners.

Every affair is different, and so are every woman’s reasons for having one but there are some common threads which can spark off an illicit encounter.

Emotional reasons

If a woman’s partner doesn’t listen to her anymore or connect with her on an emotional level she may be tempted to find that connection elsewhere.

"There are subtle differences in the reasons why men and women have affairs," says Richard Cole, counsellor at St Pancras Relationship Counselling Centre in London.

"Men tend to have esteem issues, and need an ego massage, they need to be admired by their partner. Women may decide to cheat because their partner has ignored her attempts to re-connect with him emotionally," adds Richard.


It may well be that some men cheat for sex and women cheat for emotional attention.

"There’s an element of truth that men get intimacy from sex and women get it from communication and emotional connection," says Relate counsellor Christine Northam.

However, that’s not always the case. Sex is a much bigger motivator for an affair now than it used to be for women.

"Thirty or so years ago there was a very clear pattern," says relationship psychologist and coach Susan Quilliam. "Men could separate sex and love but women were more likely to have an affair for emotional reasons."

She says: "Now things are shifting, women are more likely to separate sex and emotions and have an affair for fun but don’t want to leave their husband."

Women are more attuned to their sexuality and know what they want in bed. They are more likely to have an affair because of an unfulfilling sex life than they were a generation ago.


Not many women are at home all day doing cleaning, cooking and preparing for the return of hubby with a hot meal, a dab of lipstick and his slippers warming before the fire.

These days the roles of men and women aren’t as traditionally demarcated.

Plenty of men are the main child carers while their partners go out to work. Or more commonly both partners work and share the responsibility for any children.

"As women aren’t chained to the kitchen sink anymore there’s more opportunity, especially for working women to have an affair," says Christine.

For work a woman often dresses smartly, with her hair and make-up done, she may act more confidently which makes her feel more attractive and makes others find her more appealing.

Bored or curious

Some women may be a bit bored and find themselves with time on their hands, often when her children don’t need her as much.

Key ages for women to embark on affairs are, once her youngest child is two or three, or when she’s experiencing empty nest syndrome when her kids are teenagers, says Susan.

Women may have an affair when they are adapting to a changing home role. After children it may be the case of discovering herself as a woman again rather than a mother.

"If you got together at a very young age you may want to see what else is on offer," says Richard.

He says: "Some women have a fantasy about what married life will be like. If their husband is nice and unassertive they may be attracted to bad boy types."

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