Her cheating heart: are women really less likely to cheat?
As Zoe Ball's 18-year marriage to fellow DJ Norman Cook comes to an end due to her alleged infidelity, our reporter asks why society treats female cheaters differently
Published 28/09/2016 | 02:30
The theatre of celebrity marriage splits often come with their own chorus of cries and gasps. Yet while Brangelina broke the internet, the reaction to the news that Zoe Ball and Norman Cook, aka Fatboy Slim, were to divorce, was met with a decidedly different reception last week.
It was a sad and regrettable turn of events in their 18-year marriage, yet fame-followers will be keenly aware that the writing was long on the wall for the couple.
According to reports, the TV presenter walked out on the home the couple shared because she "just wanted to drink and have sex with a new younger lover". Last December, Zoe was spotted kissing a 22-year-old boybander in public after a boozy night out. Yet it wasn't the first time that Zoe was painted as the shackled bored wife, and Cook the cuckolded, wronged husband: in 2003, Zoe, then a mum of one, had an affair with a fellow DJ, Dan Peppe. Though Zoe left her husband to be with her lover, she and Norman reconciled three months later.
Years later, Zoe admitted that the affair was in part down to a niggling fear that she and Norman married too soon.
"Norm and I met in Ibiza and lived this crazy, party life and got married within a year," she said. "Then we had Woody and suddenly I was all settled down. I thought 'Do we know each other?' Reality hit me hard when we started a family."
She may be the latest, but she's certainly not the first famous woman who has had an affair. Kristen Stewart caused a media frenzy when she cheated on Robert Pattinson; Meg Ryan famously divorced Dennis Quaid in 2001 after her affair with Russell Crowe, and the shadow of Amanda Holden's affair with Neil Morrissey (during her marriage to Les Dennis) is a long one.
Historically, there is something slightly problematic about the way we talk of women who leave their partners for another man. They've been seen as wily; their male partners often cast as the wronged, emasculated party.
And in the case of a man who cheats on his partner, they've often been seen as unable to help themselves, succumbing to their base desires. Their partners, meanwhile, are often steely and stoic in the face of ignominy.
Men who cheat have routinely been cast as being enslaved by their primitive impulses; unable to resist when a younger, thirstier model approaches them. Women, on the other hand, are supposed to be the 'reasonable' ones; the people that can resist temptation and a moment of emotional 'weakness' for the sake of their marriages and families.
Suffice to say that in either case, and in this day and age, it's rarely as simple as that.
Experts say that when it comes to the reasons behind infidelity, men and women have more in common than we think.
David Kavanagh, relationship psychologist and author of 'Love Rewired: Using Your Brain To Mend Your Heart', says: "The basic reasons for why people cheat is becoming a lot more gender-neutral. People are bored in relationships, not feeling appreciated, not feeling special.
"Background also plays a part: if you didn't receive a lot of attention as a child, you could be quite needy in relationships. If you perceive that your husband or wife is too busy for you, you're more likely to look offsite for that attention.
"In my experience with clients, there's not even something necessarily bad in the relationship," he adds. "Some marriages are really good, but a woman and man might be working in close proximity at work and things just happen. We stereotype roles and make assumptions, but it's a lot simpler than that.
"There's this idea pushed on us that women are supposed to be a certain way, but if there's a physical attraction there, and that person is moving away from married life and kids in their own mind, an affair can be appealing."
Psychologist Brendan Madden agres: "We have a traditional view of the roles of men and women in affairs and this is only now catching up with the way we really live our lives.
"In most cases, loneliness and isolation are what contribute to affairs. This means that people are more vulnerable to attention than others."
And the statistics hint that women are starting to cheat as much as men. According to a report by Bloomberg Businessweek, the most recent data from the National Opinion Research Center's General Social Survey show that women have had more affairs in the past two decades then in previous years. The percentage of men who admitted to infidelity "held constant at 21pc," while "the percentage of wives having affairs rose almost 40pc ... to 14.7pc in 2010." The gender gap is slowly closing.
One of the potential reasons for the increase in female infidelity is the changing cultural and economic climate in America, Pepper Schwartz, a University of Washington sociologist, is quoted as saying.
"[Women] can afford the potential consequences of an affair, with higher incomes and more job prospects," she said. "They have more economic independence and may meet a better class of mate."
But there are reasons that go way beyond mere economics. In today's sex-saturated world, women are not merely content to lie back and think of Ireland. We've been conditioned to 'have it all' - and in some cases this can mean the basics of long-term marital security, and the trimmings of exciting sex. There's been a massive shift in women's attitudes around affairs.
"Affairs are becoming less about filling an 'emptiness' in the marriage and more about sexploration. A case of wanting the cake and eating it too," says 'sexpert' Tracey Cox.
Yet experts say that while the reasons for straying may be similar, the nature of the affair might vary slightly between the sexes.
"Women are less likely to have brief sexual encounters," says Madden. "Most affairs for women begin with an emotional connection and develop from there, although it's not fair to say that this isn't necessarily the case for men.
"Women are traditionally seen as less impulsive and are probably less obvious when it comes to conducting affairs, but this is changing too," he adds.
Says Cox: "Women aren't just playing men at their own game of cheating, they're better at it. Women are better at keeping secrets and covering their tracks, so less likely to be discovered. The old perception about affairs was that women didn't have as many as men because they're in control of themselves sexually and men aren't. The uncomfortable truth is, given half the chance, women cheat as much as men do. The difference now is we've got just as many opportunities as he had."
So can a partnership survive a woman's infidelity? According to Tony Moore, relationship counsellor at Relationships Ireland, it's irrelevant whether a man or woman cheated; what's crucial is the next step.
"Relationships can survive but it does depend on the terms and conditions," advises Tony. "A cheating issue is like rust; if it's not addressed it will eventually wear your relationship away. You need to understand that the relationship has changed forever when someone cheats. It's not the relationship you originally signed up for. And so you need to renegotiate the terms of that 'new' relationship.
"If you simply hope that all will be fine, remember that the relationship has changed," he adds. "You need to sit down, put your cards on the table, talk things through and get used to the new order of things. It's about a guy growing up... and their partner growing up, to some extent. They need to take responsibility and realise that they're a grown-up now. Sounds boring, but hey, that's life."
Famous female cheating scandals
While married to lawyer Robert Kardashian, Kris Jenner reportedly embarked on a “wild and passionate” affair with Todd Waterman. The affair with the 23-year-old footballer is said to have started in 1989, more than 10 years into Kris’s marriage to Robert.
Country singer LeAnn found herself embroiled in a scandal when she left her husband Dean Sheremet for Eddie Cibrian. Revelations of the affair caused a public backlash against LeAnn and Eddie, who subsequently wed in 2011. The singer admitted that the negative reaction badly hit her confidence, something she’s only managed to rebuild after battling depression and anxiety. “I do not recommend it [the affair] to anyone,” she said. “My confidence got knocked down a lot and I had to find my way back.”
There may have famously been three people in her marriage to Prince Charles [the third person being Camilla Parker-Bowles] but history dictates that things were a little more crowded than that. Diana had an affair with former cavalry officer James Hewitt for five years.