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Philanderers -- both male and female -- are as old as the hills, or at the very least as old as Shakespeare who wrote: "Love is not love/which alters when it alteration finds/or bends with the remover to remove." Yet while the tabloids are filled with tales of male love-rats, women who cheat move relatively under the radar. And, as a result, when women are caught cheating, it appears to cause more of a furore.

Case in point: a current storyline in Fair City has the public gripped. Jo Fahey, played by Rachel Sarah Murphy, (who is five months pregnant in real life) is in the middle of an affair with Tommy Dillon (played by Geoff Minogue). After some initial resistance, Jo began a full-blown fling several months ago behind her husband Dermot's back.

Although the storyline has viewers hooked, it is apparent that the public is now more accepting of a woman cheating than in years past. Hollywood certainly never tires of the theme of infidelity with any number of films being made on the subject: Eyes Wide Shut, Derailed and Unfaithful have all dealt with the subject.

But rewind 20 years, when author Kate Thompson was an actress playing Terry Killeen, the nation's most infamous 'scarlet woman', on Glenroe. Nothing could have prepared her for the outpouring of ire she faced in the direct aftermath of the storyline.

Proof positive, in other words, that though women cheating might be shocking to us now, it pales in comparison to the full-blown scandal it inspired decades ago.

"The day after it aired there was such a furore on the radio," she recalls. "I rang the show's writer Wes Burrows and said, 'there's a riot going on', and he said 'that's exactly what I wanted to happen'.

"I came from a pretty bohemian background and, while my parents didn't routinely have affairs, I didn't find the idea all that shocking. I'd go into the studio and the receptionist would be like, 'oh God I hate you'. It could get pretty distressing."

More recently, US statistics hint that 68pc of women would have an affair if they knew they would never get caught, compared with 74pc of men. Meanwhile, 54pc of women have admitted to cheating in any relationship they've had, compared with 57pc of men. Yet because women are much more adept at not getting caught, that figure could well be higher.

Women are having more affairs than ever but they behave very differently from men when they cheat, according to psychologist Dr David Holmes. "The biggest difference is that women are much better at keeping their affairs secret," he says. "If you look at the studies into paternity, even conservative figures show that between eight and 15pc of children haven't been fathered by the man who thinks he's the biological parent."

While newspaper headlines seem obsessed with male philandering footballers and rappers, female celebrities cause relatively little furore.

Now that LeAnn Rimes is happily married to new husband Eddie Cibrian, there's little mention of the fact that she left her first husband Dean Sheremet for him. "I did one of the most selfish things that I possible could do, in hurting someone else," the country singer told People magazine last year. "I take responsibility for everything I've done. I hate that people got hurt," says Rimes. "But I don't regret the outcome."

In the wake of her death in 2009, it was alleged that Farrah Fawcett had managed to keep an 11-year affair with American footballer Greg Lott a secret from her long-term partner Ryan O'Neal. Lott's claims were dismissed as 'false' by a spokesman for O'Neal. However, Ryan's son Griffin cryptically said upon her death: "I have to thank Greg Lott for one thing: For loving Farrah the way she deserved to be loved."

There's a deep-seated belief that women are the more wily and psychologically sophisticated of the species, which means they are less likely to be caught while cheating. Yet far from being simply cunning, there is another, kinder motivation behind women's subterfuge.

"Women are hardwired to consider others' feelings, and want to protect their partners and families, so their cover up is better," says counsellor Lisa O'Hara of Relationships Ireland.

As to the idea that men and women cheat for different reasons, Lisa says: "What we've found is that women have affairs because they are unhappy in their relationship and seek emotional fulfillment. Men, by contrast, are largely happy in their relationship but seek more sexual fulfilment.

"Women are more likely to consider the consequences of their actions before it all happens. They worry about how an affair could impact on their partner, or whether the family could break up. Men appear to be more impulsive, which is possibly why women are better at covering their tracks," she adds.

In the event that a woman gets caught having an affair, however, their approach to finding a solution is also slightly different to that of men's.


"When clients come in to sort out this issue, there is lots of raw emotion and hurt there, and the couples want it sorted quickly. They want the anger and rage gone, and the person wants the feelings of guilt absolved," observes Lisa.

"Women who have cheated can tend to be more comfortable in the exploration of the issues that got them there. They want the emotional stuff out on the table. Men take longer to warm to that idea, but once they get going they too can be curious about the forensics of the affair.

"That said, when men get betrayed, they doubt their sexual inadequacy mostly. Meanwhile, women focus on the emotional, and their inadequacy as a partner. But ultimately, you'll find that it's all emotionally based."

For now, the future of Fair City's Jo hangs in the balance. Only time will tell whether she will get away with her secret affair in the end, or whether hers will go the way of all other soap opera affairs; with an explosive denouement.

Back in the real world, however, all is not lost for any woman who has been caught cheating . . . or even those who give themselves up.

"It's not impossible to rebuild a relationship, but in our experience it takes around nine months for a couple to get past something like this," affirms Lisa. "Trust can be re-introduced even if there is plenty of doubt and security already there.

"The couple needs to talk about why this happened, and new terms need to be negotiated for the relationship.

"After all, a successful relationship is about meeting the needs each of you has now, as opposed to the ones that were there 20 years ago."