People cheat. You'd be lying if you said you haven't done it, or at least thought about it. Researchers in one strand of evolutionary biology recently theorised that women were naturally programmed to line up a replacement mate, and thus to ditch monogamy for more than one sexual partner. The study found that straight women are drawn to "cultivating 'back-up mates'", switching to a new guy if their man loses his usefulness. To translate: if a woman realises her partner's sperm isn't up to scratch, or he picks up an illness that makes him a less-than-ideal mate, she bails.
For a while, the gendered idea that men cheat to give their sperm the most chances to turn into fertilised eggs has proliferated in wider society. But do women stray for similarly rigid reasons? I did the very scientific thing and asked some ladies myself.
"I saw my virtually non-existent sex life stretching out ahead of me"
Imagine being in a sexless three-year relationship. Don't bother: that was me. I didn't mind too much at first when he said he didn't believe in sex before marriage. As I'm from a pretty traditional family as well, but I thought I could persuade him. I was wrong: nothing I seemed to do did the trick.
I'm embarrassed thinking of how many nights I wasted worrying about how he didn't fancy me and how low my self-esteem was throughout the entire relationship. To make matters worse, we were also planning to get married not long after graduating so I didn't feel like I could give him the chuck when I'd invested so much into our relationship (our parents had met and we'd organised some of it already).
I felt trapped and could see my virtually non-existent sex life stretching out in front of me. So when a guy gave me the eye over a few drinks with some mates, I took the opportunity and ended up sleeping with him. It wasn't great but it felt amazing to feel wanted. I didn't even care that he was a virgin – although I only found that out after. I didn't feel guilty for too long: turned out my boyfriend was cheating on me with a girl from his course (so much for saving yourself for marriage) and I rebounded with the not-so-virgin for a few months till I got over my ex.
— Surjit*, 23
"The more weight I lost, the more other men started to notice me"
I spent most of my earlier 20s as a bigger girl. If I ever went on a night out, guys would take the piss out of the way I looked so I ended up a bit of a recluse too. When the 'eat clean' trend was in full swing, I got massively inspired and ended up hitting the gym and cutting out Two for Tuesdays.
Within a year, I'd shed about three stone and looked like a completely different person – some people still don't really recognise me if I walk past them in the street. I'd initially wanted to shed the weight so I could be healthy, but I started to notice it had another effect: the more weight I lost, the more men started to pay me attention. At first, I didn't really care – I was already in a long-term, serious relationship. I'd met Rowan* at uni and we'd been together for around two years and were considering moving in together.
But the more compliments I got, the harder I worked out. And soon, I started flirting back. I thought it was harmless. After all, I wasn't going to end things with Rowan: He'd stayed with me the entire time I was fat and I was adamant I wouldn't be one of those girls that dumped their guy as soon as they "got hot".
Then I went to a private art showing in Chelsea and met an art director, who was quite persistent. He was really charming (and loaded too) so I ended up giving him my number. We exchanged flirty messages for about two weeks and pinned down a date for dinner. When Rowan found out we'd kissed, I didn't even have to grovel much – he took me back almost instantly so I lost a bit of respect for him. I know if I did it again, I'd probably be dumped, but have I learnt my lesson? Not really. I'm exchanging messages with the art dealer right now and we'll be meeting up again for our second date next week.
— Samia*, 24
"I'd spent most of the weekend silently resenting my boyfriend"
My boyfriend paid for my Boomtown festival ticket as I'm perennially skint, so I felt obliged to hang out with him. In the end I could barely catch up with some of my own mates – and he'd semi-threatened that I couldn't stay in his tent if I pulled one of my "vanishing acts". I was really starting to doubt whether I could see a future in the relationship when, just because he paid for me, he thought he could treat me however he wanted. But I also didn't want to completely get rid of him.
I spent most of the festival resenting him so the day I got back to London, I headed straight to my favourite gay bar and proceeded to get with Xavier, a hot Spanish guy. Admittedly, he was a bit younger than me, at 21, but he certainly made up for it. I proceeded to get down and dirty on the dancefloor much to the chagrin of everyone there, who wasted no time in telling me, "this isn't a straight club".
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I could barely move my neck the next few days and it was completely covered in telltale marks. To make matters worse, there was a heatwave that next week so I couldn't even wear a rollneck. When I met my boyfriend, I ended up wearing said rollneck. It clearly didn't do its job as he saw the bites and was suspicious where I'd got it from. I lied and said it was my best friend who'd hit on me at the bar as she was 'confused' by her sexuality. Weirdly enough, he totally swallowed it and we're still together. I've got Xavier on Instagram and I'm not going to pretend that I don't slide into his DMs whenever I'm a bit horny…
— Charlie, 25
"Do I regret that I cheated? Sure – but positives came out of it"
I'd come from a pretty religious background. By the time I headed to uni, I was struggling with my sexuality and had internalised of lot of homophobia thanks to my overly Christian parents.
I lived with about 12 girls in first year and was terrified of being "caught". I got a boyfriend not long after, mostly to try and convince myself that I was straight. It didn't really help that he was homophobic either. I soon met a girl – ironically enough at church – who'd also been struggling with her sexuality. We kind of clicked and then ended up getting together.
Do I regret that I cheated? Sure, but there were loads of positives that came out of it too: for the first time in my life, I was comfortable with myself and came out to most of my friends and family not long after we got together. Although we're no longer seeing each other, I definitely owe her a lot.
— Maria, 26
*Some names have been changed to protect privacy/dignity.
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