Why Do Men Have Affairs?

An overview of what can cause infidelity, and how to avoid straying

Why do we have affairs? Relationship troubles, stress and anxiety may be triggers, but take a moment to consider the physiological processes that contribute to infidelity in both men and women.

Dopamine

The human brain produces a particularly addictive chemical called “dopamine” which is released when the brain wants to remember something new or novel: the taste of a sandwich, the smell of food, a good book or a funny movie, the sound of music, the feel of sex. Dopamine feels good when it’s released, and can be just as addictive as any drug.

Patrick Carnes states in his book, Facing the Shadow, that dopamine enables our brains to remember where and when we had experiences which left us feeling good, and next time we return to the neighborhood of a past sexual partner or smell her perfume, just a little bit of dopamine gets released to remind the brain that last time these senses were stimulated, it felt good. As a result, we want to experience it again.

The release of this chemical also smothers our prefrontal cortex, the part of our brain which plays a key part in memory, thought processing and making rational decisions, literally rendering us unable to think clearly. We begin to make decisions based off past experiences of feeling good, allowing the brain to get the high it wants, rather than rationalizing with our current situation.

Stress and anxiety

According to a study done by the American Psychosomatic Society, when volunteers were shown a suspense film and an erotic film simultaneously — among other tests and experiments — anxiety and arousal cannot coexist. Stress causes anxiety, and human beings were not designed to live in a constant state of being anxious.

To cope with this uncomfortable feeling, many of us turn to the things that make us feel good, such as sex. Marriages can often be strenuous. Trying to form a life together as one can and will be stressful. Sometimes, when marriages provoke high levels of anxiety in one or both partners, they may seek sexual satisfaction outside of the relationship. This may be due to the fact that they are physically incapable of sexual arousal when concomitantly anxious. If this is not properly recognized and dealt with, men and women will tend to stray away from the perceived source of their anxiety, their committed partner, coping with the stress and anxiety in unhealthy ways, such as an affair or the use of pornography.

Visual stimulation

Men are visual creatures by habit. They are stimulated visually, whereas women are more often stimulated emotionally. This alone may lead to affairs in men, and it ties into the release of dopamine. Just seeing someone they are attracted to releases dopamine. This is how unhealthy habits with pornography or sex are often developed. Soon, just “seeing” is no longer enough to get the high dopamine once supplied.

Sexual addictions

Sexual addictions are commonly developed because of this naturally produced chemical — dopamine — within our bodies. A copious amount of dopamine is pumped into our brain during sexual encounters, the use of pornography and arousal. If a man has had multiple sexual experiences before marriage or his current committed relationship, dopamine is more frequently released into the brain, causing him to experience the desire to “act out."

According to the Committee to Study Tools and Strategies for Protecting Kids from Pornography and Their Applicability to Other Inappropriate Internet Content, just subscription sites alone, not including free sites, containing adult content exceed 100,000 in the United States. Sex is right at everyone’s fingertips, 24 hours a day, making sexual addictions even more prevalent in today's society.

Additional reasons

The list is potentially endless as to why men and women have married affairs. While there is a physiological component to the drive to have an affair, it is not by any means an excuse for unfaithful behavior. Whatever the case may be, affairs can often be avoided by something as simple as communication. Effective communication starts from the beginning of the relationship. But don’t be afraid to ask, “What do you want?,” “What’s going on here?” or “How can we work through this together, rather than independently?”

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