This story was originally published on Jan. 13, 2015.
If your partner were to “emotionally” cheat on you — that is, have feelings for someone else, but not necessarily do anything physical — how would you react? A new study suggests that your gender could play a role in how you respond.
The study, published last month in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior, looked at why people of different genders and sexual orientations became jealous in their relationships. To do so, the researchers surveyed nearly 64,000 people through (what used to be) msnbc.com about their past and present relationships. Participants were also asked whether it would be more distressing to have a partner cheat on them physically (having sex with someone else without falling in love) or emotionally (falling in love with someone else without having sex).
The results turned up a few interesting patterns: First, for heterosexuals, women were more likely to be upset by emotional infidelity than physical infidelity. Heterosexual men were more than twice as likely to be upset by physical infidelity than women were. That pattern, however, disappeared for non-heterosexual participants — people who identified as gay, lesbian, or bisexual appeared to be equally as upset by sexual and emotional cheating.
The researchers suggest that the gender difference in heterosexual couples could be influenced by evolutionary factors. Historically, the study authors posit, men may have avoided investing in offspring that wasn’t biologically related to them. However, there are plenty of cultural influences at work here (for example, men and women alike are socialized to believe that men care about sex a whole lot) and these assumptions play right into our gendered stereotypes.
Although previous studies have revealed that cheaters may have many reasons for doing what they do, they are also pretty likely to cheat again. While there are certainly ways to keep a relationship together after infidelity (emotional or physical), this new research suggests it’s pretty deeply ingrained in us to be upset about it, too. So, for those couples who decide not to work it out, here’s some advice on how to move on.