- Ashley Madison is a popular website for married people seeking extramarital affairs.
- An Ashley Madison survey found many people said they cheat to fulfill emotional needs, and not just sexual ones.
- Some people surveyed said an affair makes them feel more alive, something relationship experts have also observed.
Ashley Madison – a popular website for married people seeking affairs – recently released data on why people cheat.
Of the more than 2,000 Ashley Madison members surveyed, 76% said they like having affairs to meet their sexual needs. And 61% said they’re on the site looking for sex. Shocker, I know.
The more surprising finding here is that 37% of respondents said they liked having affairs to meet their emotional needs, and 44% said they were on the site looking for affection.
To be sure, it’s hard to generalize these findings to the overall population. For one thing, more men than women have Ashley Madison accounts. And these are presumably people who are actively looking for affairs – not people who casually fall into them.
That said, these statistics do challenge the notion that affairs are all about sex – especially for men. And they jibe with some earlier research, such as a small 2012 study published in the International Journal of Sexual Health.
That particular study found that a lack of emotional satisfaction in your primary relationship and wanting emotional connection or validation from someone else were key reasons why people entered into affairs.
Interestingly, that study also found that men and women responded similarly to questions about their experiences with infidelity (though significantly more women than men participated in the study.)
Another common reason why Ashley Madison members said they liked having affairs? More than half said it made them feel more alive. That reminded me of observations from Esther Perel, a couples therapist and the author of “The State of Affairs.”
When Perel visited Business Insider in October, she said affairs are often a “crisis of identity,” and have little or nothing to do with the primary relationship.
Alluding to that feeling of “aliveness” that may come from an affair, Perel said many people are “longing to reconnect with lost parts of themselves, longing to transcend a sense of deadness that they are feeling inside, longing to experience a sense of autonomy over their life.”
Bottom line: Infidelity is complicated, and even the person who cheats may not be able to identify one simple reason why they’re straying. Though sometimes it may be just about sex, often an affair fulfills other, less obvious personal needs.