12/04/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Female Infidels Catch Up... And Invade Your Home?

Don't look now, but there is someone, someone nearby, waiting to steal (or at least borrow) your spouse from right under your nose.

What is the good news? Or even just the new news? Turns out infidelity is an equal opportunity employer; women are turning to men who don't belong to them in record numbers according to a poll by Women's Health magazine in the November issue. That's right, ladies. If the stats are to be believed, your sisters don't consider that cutie with the ring-finger tan line so off-limits.

The study found that 46.3% of women admitted they'd been involved with a "taken" man. Of those, one in four said he was the boyfriend or husband of someone she knew; 40% stated it bothered them, but not enough to put on the brakes, and 27% said that commitment was his responsibility, not hers.

More interestingly, when asked the appeal of his "taken status," 21% acknowledged that it guaranteed the relationship wouldn't get more serious.

I'm most intrigued by the number of women who touted their lover's marriage as an assurance that the affair wouldn't become a serious relationship. While, yes, of course, women can have casual sex and enjoy it, consistent sex and its coincident Oxytocin infusions often inspire a connection that makes it hard not to want more. And what about the one in three women who reported the hotel room lunches and stairwell interludes blossomed into a relationship that lasted "a year or more"? Did these unions eventually end when he wouldn't jump from lover to husband? Or was it because he did want to?

In therapy, I've had patients present the quandary that comes after the affair settles into a relationship. When lover/ husband becomes boyfriend/divorcé... will he still cheat? Furthermore, if you've "snatched" a husband from some other woman, you know all too well how easy it is to accomplish such thievery. Who wants to be the paranoid wife, giving every woman at the company cocktail party the hairy eyeball?

The coda: 62% would rather be the mistress than the wife. Which leads to the psychological question of what the perception of "winning" is in these situations.

An interesting addendum to the survey might have been to ask, "Have you ever known your partner was cheating and let it happen?" I've had patients who profess relief in knowing their partners were unfaithful for all sorts of reasons. While most unhappy married couples tolerate each other for the "sake of the kids," cheating, even "bilateral" cheating, happens. Sometimes, like pro-athlete wives, women go into the relationship knowing that they are getting to live a certain lifestyle in exchange for giving their husbands great latitude when it comes to accepting fans' sexual accolades. Behind closed (therapy) doors, I've had wives tell me they have the better "deal" because the husband always has to come home to them, eventually. Or that they get to have the house, cars, stability and accoutrements of marriage. I've had mistresses tell me that in fact they are the happier ones since they don't have the responsibilities of marriage, and get all the free time and hot forbidden sex. The men are less polarized. They experience different degrees of guilt, denial, and regret, and sense of entitlement.

Bottom line: given the rates of domestic violence, we know that being married does not keep women safe (look at the rates of homicide of women by boyfriends or husbands), does not keep women from getting STDs (look at the rates of STDs in faithful married women), and does not guarantee happiness forever (2/3 of divorces are initiated by wives).

Back to the initial new news from the Women's Health study, that one in four women admitted their fling was with a man whose wife or girlfriend they knew.

I'd like to know if "know" means "seen her at the school picnic" or if it is someone who was (or is) your BFF. Have you seen her in the vegetable aisle or is she on your bowling team? And it does matter.

The notion that the ones in your Friendster circle are also the ones most apt to end up either borrowing or stealing your spouse makes sense from just a demographic point of view. "My best friend's girlfriend, and she used to be mine" resonates to many of us, and it's not just coincidence. Pop lost-love songs and day-time television tend to confirm that the other woman is seldom someone you've never laid your eyes on (and alas, depending on the show, it could be your mother or grandmother), but whether she's was your bridesmaid or bank teller makes a big difference to me.

Social networks of female friends keep many women alive, emotionally and even physically. It would sadden me to think that we've gotten so lustful, egocentric, and impulsive that we'd ditch our loyalty to our friends for a little nooky. Good friends are hard to find; nooky, even good nooky, isn't that difficult.

NB: In two weeks, on November 15th at the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies conference will detail their findings that the lifetime rate of infidelity for women over 60 has risen 15 percent, up from 5 percent in 1991. The researchers also see changes in relatively new marriages: 15 percent of women under 35 say they have ever been unfaithful, compared to 12 percent. These numbers encourage the discussion of whether the historical gap between men and women is real or if women have just been more likely to lie about it. Although making assumptions across research is a big no no, you have to wonder if women are more apt to lie about their infidelity given their choice of partner. Do men pick less familiar lovers? Maybe Men's Health will do a study...