The wounded man: Sociologist reveals the true nature of male infidelity

With permission from Ashley Madison

Dr. Alicia Walker dismisses long held notions of why men pursue affairs in her latest book

Mainstream culture has historically portrayed men as having insatiable appetites for sex and difficulty resisting sexual temptation. Women are taught that’s just who men are, while men are taught that’s who they should be. As a result, society projects the expectation that monogamy will be a struggle for men, one many will ultimately fail at, because there can only be so much sexual variety and frequency with one person. However, new research from Dr. Alicia Walker of Missouri State University reveals that a man’s decision to cheat is more heavily influenced by his need for emotional connection and intimacy – largely associated as being female needs – which, if met, makes it easier for him to remain monogamous.

In her latest book, Chasing Masculinity: Men, Validation, and Infidelity, Dr. Alicia Walker, professor and sociologist, interviews a sample of self-identified male cheaters who carry out their affairs via Ashley Madison to present the real reasons men stray. The vast majority of the men involved in her research explain that the motivations for their affairs were not rooted in an endless sexual appetite, but rather the desire for support, validation, and other emotional needs not met by their primary partner. Though a man’s outside partnership can certainly be sexual, the nature of it is much deeper and more meaningful than just a physical encounter.

“The men I spoke to explained that their wives fail to pay them enough attention, show enough interest in their feelings, and lack any enthusiasm when it comes to having sex,” Dr. Walker says. “Even though they love their spouse deeply, these men see this disinterest in them, not only as a sexual partner but as a person, and they internalize that as ‘I’m not good enough.’ So, because they want to stay married, they outsource those unmet needs by finding a more interested third party who will show that enthusiasm and give them the validation they aren’t getting at home.”

Having previously conducted research with a sample of female cheaters, Dr. Walker has found a flip in expectations for why women and men have affairs. Where males are more driven by the need to be appreciated, heard, and acknowledged, females are largely driven by sex and the lack of orgasms at home. Women report feeling very emotionally supported by their spouse, but choose to outsource their physical needs, which go unanswered within their marriage. Though several males and females do align on some of their motivations, the majority embody a narrative society would not typically assign to them.

“We’ve developed such gendered misconceptions, and we assume women cheat to find love and men cheat to have sex,” Dr. Walker says. “This flips the script a bit and shows that most women are all about sexual variety within their affairs, while men are careful to vet potential affair partners for that emotional stability they need. They’re also more likely to be monogamous with their outside partner than women are, and are generally opposed to the idea of an open marriage.”

Based on the research, men in unsatisfactory marriages didn’t choose to have an affair as a first step. Rather, the men involved in this study spent years addressing their concerns with their spouse and asking how they could regain their interest in them.

“It’s a difficult conversation to have when you feel like you’ve disappointed your spouse so much,” Dr. Walker says. “These men told me their wife would either say she didn’t know why they felt that way, or she would brush it off. At that point, men choose to find someone else who can mend their bruised ego, give them the attention they desire, and allow them the chance to prove themselves as worthy of love and affection.”

Chasing Masculinity: Men, Validation, and Infidelity is available at book retailers around the world.