What’s worse; discovering that a partner has been having sex with somebody else, or knowing that they’ve had an ‘emotional affair’?
Naturally, neither choice is great if you’re one for monogamy, but a new study has dipped its toe into the complex waters of cheating and infidelity, to try draw some conclusions about why - and how - people in relationships cheat.
Led by Dr David Frederick, a psychology professor at Chapman University, California, the research team asked over 63,000 gay, lesbian, bisexual and heterosexual people the above question, and the results may surprise you.
Here’s how the researchers put it to the participants:
Which scenario would upset you more: a partner having sex with someone else (but not falling in love with them) or a partner falling in love with someone else (but not having sex with them)?
As Frederick hypothesised, 65% of heterosexual women said they’d more upset by their partner’s emotional cheating, compared with the physical.
Bisexual men and women, plus gay men and women all agreed, with the majority of participants in all four of these categories voting in very similar ways when asked how they felt about the hypothetical infidelity.
The only group that differed was heterosexual men.
54% of straight men agreed that they’d be more upset if their partner had sex with somebody else, compared with if they’d had an emotional affair without any sexual infidelity at all.
The reason for this, surmises Frederick, is all down to evolutionary principles.
“One hypothesis derived from evolutionary perspectives is that men are more upset than women by sexual infidelity and women are more upset than men by emotional infidelity,” he writes. “The proposed explanation is that men, in contrast to women, face the risk of unwittingly investing in genetically unrelated offspring.”
That sexual jealousy is more prominent among heterosexual men compared with gay or bisexual men goes some way to backing Frederick’s theory even further.
In evolutionary terms, heterosexual men are 'programmed' to seek paternal security. Where there’s less chance of pregnancy, there’s less likely to the same level of sexual jealousy.