So, you cheated. Maybe it was a drunken make-out, or maybe you slept with someone else. Regardless of what specifically happened, should you tell your boyfriend or girlfriend about cheating on them? Surprisingly, the answer isn't as straightforward as you might think.
Elite Daily spoke to Wednesday Martin, Ph.D., a social researcher and writer. Her most recent book, Untrue: Why Nearly Everything We Believe About Women, Lust, and Infidelity Is Wrong and How the New Science Can Set Us Free, explores female sexuality in today's complicated social landscape. Through extensive research and interviews with experts, Martin challenges commonly accepted beliefs about female infidelity, and reveals "a truth both liberating and disconcerting: women are no more 'naturally monogamous' than men," as she writes on her website.
If you cheated on your partner, it doesn't necessarily mean the end of your relationship. It just means there is a larger conversation the two of you need to have. When it comes down to it, knowing whether or not to tell your partner about an affair depends on the particulars of your situation. Here's what one expert has to say about making this very tough decision: whether you should say something — and, if so, what — as well as how to prevent infidelity from ruining your relationship.
If you decide to tell your partner that you cheated, practice kindness. According to Martin, American couples sometimes decide to disclose everything. If that sounds familiar, it might be because it's a common narrative in pop culture: the scorned woman asks her boyfriend or husband to tell her exactly what happened, and in great detail.
"I'm not a psychologist, but based on my interviews with 30 experts about female infidelity, I don't think that's a wise or compassionate move," says Martin.
Unless they ask (and maybe even then), spare your partner the graphic details. You've already broken their trust, so there's no need to hurt them further by making them picture the act.
"The emerging science and social science on this topic is fascinating, counterintuitive, and helpful," says Martin. "A few experts now believe that, while we can flourish in all kinds of relationships arrangements ... the human female may have evolved for promiscuity."
"When circumstances were right in our evolutionary prehistory, having multiple male partners meant lots of benefits for our ancestresses," says Martin. "Hedging against any one guy being infertile, upping the chances of getting high quality sperm if you sampled from a few males, lining up a support network of males who would figure, 'There's a chance that offspring is mine, so I'll help out.'"
While both women and men are taught that it's the males who are "wired" to roam and "spread their seed," Martin says that some female primatologists and anthropologists now understand that it might be women who were made to wander. "Some sex researchers are now finding that it's women who need variety and novelty of sexual experience more than men do," she says.
Many people do thrive in monogamous relationships, but even happy couples tend to feel challenged by monogamy over time. Newer research suggests that it's women, not men, who yearn to explore non-monogamous relationships. Female libidos may actually "get bored" with one partner more quickly than males, according to Martin.
If you feel the need to have more sex, different kinds of sex, or sex with other people, there are ways you can spice up your sex life both with and without your current partner. You can "open up" your relationship, "play together" with others, consider polyamory, go to a sex club together, watch porn you like, or do anything else to get those needs met with your partner. You can also agree to go out and have your own separate sexual relationships, but come back together and make your "relationship home base," Martin explains.
Martin encourages women to feel entitled to having that conversation about what they want, whether it's monogamy, polyamory, being open, or something else. "Consider whether monogamy is our choice, or a false choice foisted upon us," she adds.
There's no right or wrong way to structure your relationship — but it could be illuminating to consider what works best for you and your partner. "Sexual autonomy is a really basic freedom," Martin says. "You are ... entitled to adventure, entitled to say that monogamy is not for you. And if monogamy is your safe place and your preferred way, you are entitled to ask for that."
Finally, remember that life is constantly changing. Your priorities will shift, and your desires won't always be the same as they are now. "When it comes to women, research is showing us that we might want monogamy for a time, and then want a change," says Martin.
The decision you make now doesn't have to last forever. You can keep revisiting the topic with your partner and make future adjustments that feel right for both of you.
If you cheated on your partner, it's not the end of the world. It may be a sign that there is something missing from your relationship, either sexually or emotionally, but that's not the only explanation. As it turns out, infidelity could also be a result of your evolution as a woman.
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