Expert Predicts The Future Of Female Infidelity

Tragic literary heroines of the past like Madame Bovary, Hester Prynne, and Anna Karenina all found love and attraction outside the cultural construct of marriage — and they paid the price, sometimes with their lives. But in the real world (at least in some parts of the globe), women today have more freedom to seek their own identities and desires than they did hundreds of years ago. This newfound independence has shifted how women's extramarital affairs look and feel, according to researcher and author Susan Shapiro Barash, an expert in female infidelity. Barash spoke exclusively with The List about her vision for tomorrow.

"The future of infidelity, based on my ongoing research," says Barash, "will be one where women report feeling entitled to the affair and have easy access." She published these findings in "A Passion for More," the recently updated and revised release of her 1993 classic book. In it, Barash investigates the personal accounts of over 70 women ranging in age from their 20s to their 80s to uncover not just why women cheat but how it feels when they do.

In a culture of happily ever after, there will always be affairs

Susan Shapiro Barash told The List that women in the past and even still today are "raised in a culture where everlasting love is compelling and an achievement." For women today and into the future who still buy into this idea, "the affair is an option."

Women have affairs, notes Barash, as ways to explore themselves — without any accompanying guilt. In "A Passion for More," she describes four types of affairs: empowering affairs, sex-driven affairs, love affairs, and self-esteem affairs. Empowering affairs are about opportunity and options. When sex drives the affair, it is understandably passion at the core. Love affairs, on the other hand, often catch women off guard, and self-esteem affairs boost women's self-confidence, reinvigorating that spark inside of them. What the four types of female affairs all have in common is that women take agency by choosing lovers, not just leaving their romantic fates to the wind. If a relationship disappoints, adds Barash, "the 'other man' is an option."

The rewards of affairs may surprise you

In "A Passion for More," Susan Shapiro Barash explains that affairs — despite their negative connotations — can actually have quite positive outcomes for many women. The female affairs of today and tomorrow harness the power of self-exploration and ultimately help women make necessary changes to their lives. As Susan Shapiro Barash told The List, "the risk/reward is obvious." And that's because an affair can have more benefits than you'd imagine.

Affairs can help women improve their marriages, and they can also be the final straw to end long-term relationships. Affairs may also enable women to stay in unsatisfying marriages, and they may offer an opportunity for women to renegotiate the terms of their current partnerships.

Barash's decades of expertise indicate the days of the tragic heroine are over — the female affair is here to stay. Her research backs it up: At some point in their lives, 70% of women in monogamous relationships will have an affair. And that's a good thing.