A recent study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior suggests that performance anxiety might be one major affair predictor for men.
According to the study, men who suffer from performance anxiety or related insecurities are significantly more likely to go astray than men who are satisfied with their bedroom endeavors. Seems strange, right? If he’s anxious about his performance why would he seek out a new partner instead of staying with the one with whom he has less to prove?
It’s complicated: Men derive a large part of their confidence and sense of self from how they feel in the bedroom, which is no surprise because they have been socialized to believe that “real” men are always in the mood, always virile, and never have sexual issues. Obviously this is a fallacy. The irony is that performance anxiety, like a panic attack, feeds on itself. If he experiences erectile dysfunction or delayed orgasm one or two times at random, it can be difficult to avoid performance anxiety the next time. Performance anxiety itself leads to mental distraction and blood-vessel constriction that only exacerbates the sexual symptoms. It is a vicious cycle that can seem endless and impossible to stop.
He may imagine that he will actually have less to prove with a new partner, especially if it’s a one-night stand. A committed partner who is frustrated or judgmental will only enhance his anxiety, and he may seek out or respond to a new partner imagining she may be more sympathetic — or perhaps the pressure will feel less intense without as much on the line.
This is not to imply that when men cheat it is the other person’s fault. Cheating is a choice a person makes, not something he’s forced to do. Plus, my clinical experience has taught me that it usually has little to do with the partner’s behavior or sexual shortcomings, but more to do with the cheater’s perspective and what’s happening inside his own head.
So what makes a man become a cheater? In the end, it seems to be sadness, fear, and insecurity, particularly when it is dealt with in a dysfunctional way in which the man disengages himself from the relationship. However, all these feelings, while troublesome and painful, are resolvable with some solid insights, open communication, and help from a physician and/or therapist when indicated. Certainly if you find yourself in a relationship in which there’s a vicious cycle of performance anxiety or disconnection, it’s time to seek outside help.
Ultimately what separates cheaters from noncheaters is not just ethics and a commitment to fidelity, but a strong sense of self-awareness and personal responsibility. This, coupled with a willingness to tackle and discuss issues head-on in a supported and loving way, is the most important ingredient for keeping a relationship solid.