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Married Women in India are Finding Love Outside Their Marriages. Is that Bad News?

Married women are accepting extra-marital relationships as a way out | Image credit: Reuters (Representational)

Married women are accepting extra-marital relationships as a way out | Image credit: Reuters (Representational)

A recent survey by the extra-marital dating app Gleeden found that many Indian women between the ages of 30-60 years had at least once been in an extra-marital relationship.

Infidelity has always been a contested topic in India, both legally and morally. But the rules have often been different for men and women. Until recently, men in India could prosecute other men for having an affair with their wives and could also be prosecuted for conniving in the same. Over two years after the decriminalization of adultery, however, women seem to be closing the so-called “infidelity gap” with men. A recent survey has found that several more and more women in India were opting for extramarital relationships and that a majority of them were mothers.

The study was commissioned by the French extra-marital dating app ‘Gleeden’, a platform that was developed for women by women and aimed at providing women, especially ones in an existing relationship or marriage, a safe and discreet space to look for love, sex, support, or friendship. The app currently has 13 lakh users in India.

The survey, which appears to reflect the attitudes of urban, educated, and financially independent women in the age group of 30-60 across India, found that 48 percent of Indian women who had extramarital affairs were not just married but also had children.

The findings of the survey, published by The New Indian Express, suggest that 64 percent of the surveyed women who indulged in extra-marital relationships did so because of lack of sexual intimacy or fulfilling sex life with their marrier partners.

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As per the report, 76 percent of the women looking for love outside of marriage were educated while 72 percent of them were financially independent.

A similar trend of rising ‘infidelity’ among women can be seen in the West. While studies have traditionally found men to be the more adulterous in a heterosexual married relationship, new studies suggest that women are increasingly accepting of having indulged in extramarital relations. Couples therapist Tammy Nelson, author of ‘When You’re the One Who Cheats’, says that women might not only be cheating more but also getting away with it more often.

A 2020 survey by Gleeden found nearly 55 percent of the married people in India who responded to the survey accepted to having cheated on their partner. 56 percent of them were women. The study, which was conducted among 1,525 married Indians in the age of 25 and 50, found that 48 percent of them believed it was possible to be in love with more than one person at the same time.

While the numbers may suggest that infidelity among married women is on the rise, data by other studies suggest that the change in numbers might reflect a change in patriarchal attitudes toward infidelity.

Though traditionally frowned upon in men as well, infidelity was considered completely taboo for women across cultures. In India, the recently decriminalized and utterly bizarre adultery law, for instance, chastised women for having affairs by allowing husbands to prosecute and punish their wives’ paramours. No woman could level such charges against men. In September 2018, the Supreme Court decriminalized adultery, making it a civil offense instead that can serve as grounds for divorce.

With such legal changes and a shift in outlook resulting from awareness about women’s sexuality and right to their own bodies, the conversation about infidelity has been changing. Women are no longer considered ‘chattel’ of their husbands and privileged women have even started to assert their equality in marriages.

Perhaps the real question is not whether more women are cheating or not but why couples in a marriage need to cheat at all? Men continue to cheat more than women across the world and yet no questions are raised about their age group or their parental status. The US General Social Survey found that 20 percent of men cheated on their spouses as opposed to 13 percent of women.

The question that such studies as the ones conducted by Gleeden should raise is the reason why the women who choose extramarital relationships do so at all. Demanding sexual and emotional fulfillment is the equal right of both parties in a marriage. In a society that had restricted women’s rights to their own bodies, infidelity is best when treated as the symptom of an underlying problem, not the cause.

first published:March 06, 2021, 10:55 IST