Infidelity Judged Differently by Men and Women


A recent study examined the reactions of men and women to the idea of their partners indulging in heterosexual or homosexual affair. The researchers tested the theory that men would end a relationship more readily if their partner had a heterosexual affair rather than if she had a homosexual affair; women would end a relationship equally readily in either case, but more so if their partner’s affair was homosexual. The researchers also hypothesized that the frequency of disloyalty, number of external partners and actual events did not influence the above fact. These theories were proven to be true in this study. It was also found that the key cause of ending relationships was unwarranted paternity claims for men and fear of desertion for women.


The aim of this study was to understand whether women and men react differently to an imaginary situation of a homo/heterosexual affair and the reason for jealousy in each case. It was observed that questionable paternity was behind the reason for distress for men whereas a failure to commit disturbed women. Despite no reproductive repercussions, homosexual affairs also received varied responses from men and women. Measuring the resentment effect and keenness to continue in a relationship as a response to infidelity was the major objective of this study. This was validated on the parameters of how many partners, number of occurrences of unfaithfulness and true experiences of infidelity the participants had.


  • A group of 718 male and female undergraduate students were asked to imagine being in a romantic relationship.
  • Depending on their gender, they were given questionnaires tuned to check how they would react given a situation of infidelity from their partner and whether they would continue the relationship.
  • Variations were made in the type of affair—homo/heterosexual, number of partners and number of instances of unfaithfulness.


  • Women were more opposed to their imaginary male partners having homosexual affairs than they were with them having a heterosexual affair.
  • Heterosexual affairs of partners gave more anguish to men than homosexual affairs.
  • More men than women broke off relationships when partners had been unfaithful.
  • The number of imaginary incidents of infidelity by participants themselves was similar in men and women.

Shortcomings/next steps

The study employs hypothetical situations of unfaithfulness and was not based on real life data. It is worth analyzing whether actual incidents of infidelity by participants and their partners influenced the answers, along with knowing what triggered the decision to end the relationship. Numerous other circumstantial variables should be considered for accurate psychological assessment; for example, sensitivity to indications of disinterest.


The authors of this study state that, “Men demonstrated the greatest tolerance for the type of affair that can best be said to offer additional mating opportunities and the greatest objection to the type of affair that most strongly threatens paternity.” It is thought possible that men ended relationships following instances of unfaithfulness because they tend to show anger more than women. Women are “especially disease avoidant” and the stigma of AIDS and homosexuality could influence women to end relationships disrupted by a homosexual affair more so than men would. Altogether, both men and women were not so keen to continue relationships after the partner had an affair or had been unfaithful on multiple occasions. But the effect of true incidents on motivation to continue an imaginary relationship where a participant is unfaithful is yet unclear.

For More Information:

Sex Differences in Response to Imagining a Partner’s Heterosexual or Homosexual Affair

Publication Journal: Personality and Individual Differences, October 2010

By Jaime C. Confer; Mark D. Cloud; University of Texas at Austin, Texas and Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania, Lock Haven

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.
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