Why men cheat: Movies about extramarital affairs

Whether they are classified as narcissists, adrenaline junkies, or “victims of a right-wing conspiracy,” there are plenty of cheating husbands out there in the world (and on the silver screen), most of whom eventually get caught and often punished through divorce, public censure, financial losses, or physical violence. Who could forget Michael Douglas and Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction? Many movies explore the repercussions of these affairs.

Why men cheat: Movies about extramarital affairs

Tiger Woods and the World of Celebrity

The recent explosion of information on the extramarital affairs of Tiger Woods is nothing new in the world of celebrities. Politicians (including congressmen, governors, and presidents), sports figures (from basketball players to golfers), actors (from leading men to supporting character actors), and other high-profile celebrities have access, opportunity, and finances to accommodate cheating on their spouses.

Many people believe that marital infidelity has nothing to do with one’s ability to morally run a state or country, play by the rules when dunking basketballs or sinking putts, or otherwise live by a strict code of ethics. In these cases, cheating may be considered merely a reflection of the marriage itself (Unfaithful), rather than the moral character of the straying husband or wife. Not surprisingly, this concept seems to be especially popular among straying spouses, rather than the cheated-upon spouse.

Adultery Versus Infidelity

Adultery (or the more palatable “infidelity”) implies breaking a trust by purposefully engaging in sex with someone other than a spouse, when each has pledged permanent fidelity to the other. While there is often a stigma attached to women who have multiple sexual partners (The Scarlet Letter), men who play the field are envied by their peers (Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story).

Peggy Vaughan, who wrote the book The Monogamy Myth: A Personal Handbook for Recovering From Affairs (Newmarket Press, 2003) based on her husband’s multiple extramarital affairs, says her research reveals that 60 percent of men and 40 percent of women cheat on their spouses. In general, society accepts different standards of sexual behavior for women and men, because throughout history, men have been encouraged to scatter their seed as much as possible among childbearing women to keep the population going (The Ghosts of Girlfriends Past). So for men, it’s typically a seven-year itch that needs to be scratched or a simple case of infidelity; for women, it’s crossing the line into adultery (The Good Girl).

Depictions of Cinematic Infidelity

extramarital affairs

The reasons for infidelity have been argued by religious, medical, psychological, philosophical, and sociological experts for generations. Explanations including too much testosterone, boredom, a celebrity trickle-down theory, the lack of available bachelors for women over age 25, a cloak of sexual secrecy, the commercialization of sex, the secularization of society, and a direct correlation between men’s income and their sexual appetite have been used to justify the extramarital sex epidemic.

However, the actual reasons for cheating rarely get much attention in the movies. An abusive spouse (Waitress) or the risk-taking nature of the adulterer (Married Life) may be briefly introduced, but overall the silver screen emphasizes the most cinematic aspects of cheating: the actual infidelity (The Bridges of Madison County) and/or the dramatic repercussions (Fracture). Either way, it’s far safer for everybody involved to experience the adrenaline rush through vicarious thrills in the movie theater than in actual off-screen affairs.

Films Cited in This Article

Fatal Attraction (1987)
Director: Adrian Lyne
Genre: Thriller

Unfaithful (2002)

Director: Adrian Lyne
Genre: Thriller

The Scarlet Letter (1995)
Director: Roland Joffe
Genre: Romantic Drama

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (2007)
Director: Jake Kasdan
Genre: Comedy

The Ghosts of Girlfriends Past (2009)
Director: Mark Waters
Genre: Romantic Comedy

The Good Girl (2002)
Director: Miguel Arteta
Genre: Romantic Drama

Waitress (2007)
Director: Adrienne Shelly
Genre: Romantic Comedy

Married Life (2007)
Director: Ira Sachs
Genre: Crime Drama

The Bridges of Madison County (1995)
Director: Clint Eastwood
Genre: Romantic Drama

Fracture (2007)
Director: Gregory Hoblit
Genre: Thriller

Why Men Cheat

Every few months for some reason the American nation experiences a moral shock over and over again when a usual celebrity or a politician is caught cheating. The puritan background and the morality of the American society demand fidelity in a marriage. In fact according to, 90% of Americans consider infidelity unacceptable, while 35% believe it should be considered a criminal act.

Men Cheat More Often Than Women

Movies about extramarital affairs

No matter how morally wrong, cruel and self-destructive infidelity can be, it is impossible to deny that not only does it exist in the American society – it is very common. Both men and women cheat, but men are leading with a huge gap. Human males were proved not to be monogamous by nature. That means they have a tendency to cheat.

And again here are the statistics: according to therapist Peggy Vaughn the author of Monogamy Myth (Newmarket Press, 1989) about 60% of men will have an affair at some point during their marriage. Maggie Scarf, the author of Intimate Partners (Ballentine, 1987), claims that the percentage of unfaithful husbands is as high as 65%. The percentage of cheating wives according to Peggy Vaughn is only 40%.

This situation is probably impossible to change – nobody can influence the moral standards of any given human being, but the fascinating issue about infidelity is its causes. As 19th century Russian philosopher Kozma Prutkov said, “Find a cause and a beginning for everything and you will understand quite a lot”.

Why Men Cheat

It’s in their DNA. Fidelity is biologically abnormal for a male since his evolutional purpose is to impregnate as many females as possible. The male genes demand the variety of sexual partners and pursuing as young and attractive females as possible. The Polish writer Janusz Wisniewski, the author of the famous erotic novel Loneliness in the Web ( Proszynski, 2002) and a professor of biology, came up with a formula of the age of the average “younger woman” of a cheating husband. According to Wisniewski, it’s half of a man’s age plus seven years.

Challenge. Men always wanted to be courageous and daring. For many of them conquering a new woman seems like an act of bravery, creativity and strength. Many men regard an affair as their private little triumph over every day routine and the society that presses the monogamous lifestyle on them.

Improving self-image. Many man suffer from secret (or not so secret) inferiority complex and constantly seek the confirmation of their success. Some of them are energetic and goal-oriented super achievers who cannot get enough triumph in life, while others are traumatized by their professional failures and are desperately seeking to succeed elsewhere. Nothing can improve a man’s self-image and flatter their masculinity better than being able to satisfy a woman (or many women).

The “forbidden fruit” syndrome. A woman can be the most devoted mother and a faithful caring wife, but those qualities won’t necessarily make her sexually attractive in her husband’s eyes. Many cheating men are haunted by erotic fantasies that for one reason or another can’t be translated into reality with their spouses. The family atmosphere bores them while the extramarital affair seem deliciously clandestine.

It should be mentioned that the causes of male infidelity described above have one mutual origin (which is also similar for women) – boredom and routine of monogamy. They say that there are good marriages, but there are no exciting marriages. That’s probably true in most cases. Whether any given husband will sacrifice the excitement in order to protect stability in his family or try to have “the best of the both worlds” hoping not to get caught – the choice is his!