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What is it called when a married man sleeps with another woman?

Quick Answer

When a married man engages in sexual relations with a woman who is not his wife, this is referred to as adultery or infidelity. Legally, it may be considered grounds for divorce in some jurisdictions. The act itself may carry social stigma and be seen as morally wrong by some groups.

What Terms Are Used?

There are several terms used to describe a married man sleeping with someone other than his wife:

  • Adultery – This is the most common legal term for a married person having sexual relations outside of their marriage.
  • Infidelity – A more general term implying a breach of trust and marital vows.
  • Cheating – An informal term implying deception and dishonesty.
  • Having an affair – Implies an ongoing secondary relationship.

Is It Considered Acceptable?

In most modern societies and religious faiths, a married man sleeping with another woman is considered morally unacceptable:

  • It breaches marital vows and trust between spouses.
  • Can emotionally hurt the man’s wife and damage the marriage.
  • Sets a poor example for any children in the marriage.
  • Increases risks of sexually transmitted infections.
  • Can lead to unintended pregnancies and parental disputes.

However, some cultures have historically accepted polygamy or extramarital relations in certain circumstances. Attitudes are gradually changing in many places.

What Are the Legal Implications?

The legal status of adultery varies significantly across countries and jurisdictions:

  • In some places it is a criminal offense punishable by fines or even imprisonment.
  • In many locations it is grounds for divorce and can affect alimony and property settlements.
  • Some areas have repealed laws against adultery, viewing them as outdated.
  • A few societies allow polygamy which may permit extramarital relations.

It’s important to check local laws and regulations as consequences can be severe in some legal systems. Many family lawyers can provide guidance.

What Are the Emotional Impacts?

Adultery often has severe emotional impacts on those involved:

  • The wife may feel shocked, betrayed, humiliated and lose trust in her husband.
  • The husband may experience guilt, regret and fears over losing his marriage.
  • The mistress may feel shame, be socially ostracized or threatened by the wife.
  • Children are harmed by the breakdown in their parents’ marriage.

Counseling is often sought to help couples and families cope with the trauma. Some relationships survive infidelity through hard work rebuilding intimacy and trust.

How Common is Adultery?

Estimates of adultery prevalence vary widely:

  • A 2005 U.S. survey found about 22% of married men and 15% of married women admitted to adultery at some point.
  • Similar rates for lifetime infidelity are found in the U.K., Australia and Canada.
  • A previous U.S. Kinsey survey found 50% of husbands and 26% of wives had engaged in extramarital sex.
  • Surveys in Asian countries tend to find lower rates around 10-15%.

Cultural attitudes, legality, definitions of adultery and honesty in responding impact statistics. But it’s clear adultery is reasonably common across many modern societies.

Adultery Prevalence by Country

Country Men Women
France 55% 32%
Germany 42% 24%
South Korea 14% 4%
UK 36% 20%
USA 22% 15%

Sources: IFOP, Durex, Journal of Sex Research, National Surveys of Sexual Attitudes.


Adultery remains fairly common, even in places where social attitudes condemn it. The legal system is evolving but it can still carry severe consequences in some areas. Emotional impacts run deep for all involved. While some marriages survive infidelity, many end in divorce. Married men considering sleeping with another woman should carefully reflect on the moral, legal and emotional implications before making decisions that can destroy families.