Is Cheating OK? Opinions Are All Over the Map

Posted on September 29th, 2015

Is Cheating OK? Opinions Are All Over the MapAttitudes about cheating are far from universal. Americans tend to be extremely critical of cheating, although that certainly doesn’t mean we never do it. But many other countries not only cheat at different rates but have different perspectives on what it means to cheat, how guilty someone should feel about cheating and whether infidelity is serious enough that two people should end a relationship because of it.

Definition of Cheating Varies

Even within a single country, it can be difficult to precisely define infidelity. Emotional infidelity, online interactions and the use of pornography all muddy the waters when it comes to deciding just what it means to cheat.

Among countries and cultures, the definition of cheating can vary even more. For example, people in some countries do not consider seeing a sex worker to be cheating, although the vast majority of Americans certainly would. Other countries are more likely to differentiate between sober cheating and cheating while intoxicated. And in many countries, affairs, while not exactly sanctioned, are much less likely to be seen as a serious betrayal with the potential to break up a relationship.

Attitudes Reflected in Cheating Rates

The fact that many countries have a more relaxed definition of—and reaction to— cheating is often reflected in how frequently their citizens tend to cheat. A 2014 Pew Research study found that only 47 percent of French people considered cheating to be morally unacceptable (compared to 84 percent of U.S. citizens), and they also rank among the top five most unfaithful countries, according to data from The Richest.

Thailand’s cultural views on infidelity are also reflected in how frequently Thai people cheat on their partners. There is a longstanding tradition of Mai Nois, or “minor wives,” in Thailand, now largely continued by wealthy men. And there is also a growing tradition among young people of having intimate relationships, which may or may not be sexual, with multiple people. On the whole, the rate of infidelity in Thailand is 56 percent.

The terminology that other countries use also reflects more tolerant attitudes about infidelity. In the U.S., the term “cheating” makes it clear that the act is considered to be a very negative thing, but other terms around the world do not imply a moral judgment. In Finland, the term “parallel relationships” is preferred, France uses the rather long-winded “simultaneous multi-partnerships,” and Nigerian researchers tend to refer to “sexual networking” in their studies of cheating habits.

Some Countries’ Cheating Habits Are a Mystery

Sex is something of a touchy subject in the United States, particularly compared to many Western European countries where sex is much less taboo. But there are other countries that make the U.S.’s puritanical streak pale by comparison. In Russia, for example, research on sexual behavior is basically outlawed by the government, so data on cheating is almost impossible to gather. In other countries, the punishment for adultery is so severe that no one is willing to talk about their extramarital exploits.

Gender Discrepancies Vary

There is a widespread belief that men are much more likely to cheat than women, but the truth of this belief actually varies greatly by country. In the U.S. and other countries where men and women have similar (although not yet equal) earning power, men and women are also increasingly likely to cheat at similar rates. However, in countries where the jobs and income available to women still lag far behind men, women are indeed significantly less likely to cheat on a partner than their male counterparts, which is likely due to the risk of poverty or other serious consequences that women face if their marriages break up following infidelity.

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