The Good Wife Study: Women Still Judged More Harshly for Adultery Than Men

New data dismisses dated misconceptions on female infidelity

Ashley Madison, the world’s leading married dating website1, has released The Good Wife Study, a detailed report* revealing the true nature of female infidelity. A staggering 92% of women believe they face worse and more frequent criticism than men for stepping out of their marriage, and responded by disclosing the real reasons they cheat. The new data breaks down female infidelity and female sexuality as a whole, pushing back on societal expectations plaguing women today.

“Female infidelity is still steeped in misconception,” says Isabella Mise, Director of Member Relations for Ashley Madison. “We speak to married women on a regular basis and see the human side of their motivations, which aren’t widely known or understood. This report aims to reveal their truth – without judgement or stigma.”

The study garnered responses from more than 2,000 female Ashley Madison members and tackles a breadth of topics including domesticity, fantasy, lust, love, and more. The data supports three key findings, each of which is a telling truth with regards to female infidelity and is a stark contrast to the current perceptions pertaining to women and monogamy.

Finding #1: Women find marriage purposeful but monogamy sexually unappealing

It is not the institution of marriage that fails women, but rather the practice of monogamy within it. They derive emotional stability from their primary relationship but no longer desire sexual exclusivity with their spouse.

When asked to define their marriage, the women of Ashley Madison use words like functional, loving, and cooperative. They see the value in a lifelong partner, especially when it comes to child-rearing, which 43% of respondents cite as the reason they’re still married. What’s glaring, however, is that the majority would also describe their marriage as largely sexless, with 64% admitting to feeling sexually neglected in their primary relationship. Forty-seven percent of women rarely or never receive oral sex from their spouse and 40% rarely or never reach orgasm, seemingly a large contributor to dead bedrooms.

On average, women have their first affair seven years into their marriage. This follows a decline in both sexual frequency and quality at home, which each take place an average of about five years after saying “I do”. While 74% of women still love their spouse, they don’t necessarily feel turned on by them. In fact, 64% of women claim they are no longer attracted to their spouse at all and cite “physical change” as the primary catalyst for their affair.

Women identify sexual experimentation, more frequent sex, and novelty as the top three reasons why extramarital sex is better than marital sex. Perhaps, based on these insights, the outsourcing of their intimate needs allows them to behave in a way they can’t – or don’t desire to – at home.

Finding #2: Women see their infidelity as a supplement to their marriage, not a threat

More than 70% of women have considered divorce or separation, but the data suggests they have no real intention of exiting their marriage. It’s no surprise, then, that there’s been an 18% decline in divorce from 2008 to 2016. Women are cheating for sex, and in turn preserving their marriages, instead of putting themselves through the arduous and costly process of divorce. Their primary relationship serves as a reliable source of love and familial stability, something they covet and seek to maintain. Infidelity, then, is their pragmatic approach to having their sexual needs met while allowing them to preserve – and in many cases, enhance – their home life.

When asked how their affairs affect their marriage, “no change” was the most selected option. However, women who have seen a change experience less tension and a happier marital dynamic. Twenty-two percent say their marriage is happier and 29% report better and more frequent sex with their spouse. This would explain why 68% of women are guilt-free when it comes to their affair lives. So much so that they’re confident enough to confide in others.

Though infidelity is often shrouded in secrecy, two-thirds of respondents admitted to telling someone about their affairs. Friends and family are the go-to confidants, but 16% of the time women also tell their spouse. This isn’t to say they’re looking for an exit, because they are not looking to replace their primary partner with one outside partner. Instead, they are exploring multiple outside relationships and report an average of 5.7 affair partners throughout their marriage. Ultimately, they’re looking for sexual variety, exploration, and excitement.

Finding #3: Women are successfully compartmentalizing their sex lives and their married lives

Dated gender roles have dictated the assumption that women can’t separate emotion from sex. While sex can certainly forge an emotional connection, the women of Ashley Madison are able to draw a line between their married lives and their affair lives – between purpose and pleasure. They can embrace the duties that come with being a mother and wife and can derive emotional value from that, but they outsource their sex in order to effectively and contentedly carry those duties out.

According to the data, the best sex these women have had comes from their affairs, followed by their single years, then by their marriage. The numbers point to a sexual prime between the ages of 40 and 49, where respondents report the highest number of affair partners and the most satisfying sex. This can be particularly promising for women who have not only stopped having sex with their spouse but have fallen into caretaker roles for their ill husbands, which 13% of women report as the main reason they cheat. With understandably higher levels of stress and obligation, they need a reliable outlet for their own wellbeing. Their affair partners have proven themselves worthy and, given these men bring their own set of marital obligations, they understand the importance of keeping the two worlds separate.

“The women of Ashley Madison value marriage and the responsibility that comes along with it, but not at the expense of their erotic needs,” concludes Mise. “Where monogamy has fallen short, the pathway of infidelity has proven fruitful, all the while keeping their primary relationship intact. As the saying goes, happy wife, happy life.”

To access the full study, click HERE.

*Based on a survey of 2,066 female members of Ashley Madison between July 25, 2019 and September 12, 2019 is the original destination for married dating and the global leader for affairs. With more than 60 million member accounts worldwide since 2002, Ashley Madison is the premiere destination for married dating.


Based on the numbers of signups to Ashley Madison since 2002