Sex Edition: Cheating culture at Pitt

By Marissa Meredyth & Michael Macagnone

Julian Hausman sat at a desk chair in the bedroom of a rundown Oakland apartment, directly… Julian Hausman sat at a desk chair in the bedroom of a rundown Oakland apartment, directly across from Sean DiGiulio, who lounged on the bed. In between them, a student who asked to remain anonymous tackled a football player in “Madden.” The student, who will be referred to as “John Student,” wanted to avoid the social stigma associated with cheating.

The three talked about cheating and being cheated on in their relationships. Each had been in one or the other position. The issue seems to be common in heterosexual college relationships at Pitt.

Hausman said he had been cheated on twice, but had yet to cheat on a girlfriend.

He said he thinks people cheat for three reasons: alcohol consumption, boredom with their current relationship and because they want to once again find the “butterflies in the stomach” feeling. Experts seem to agree.

“As relationships start to fade, the sex is less exciting,” Hausman explained. That might encourage someone to look elsewhere, he said.

DiGiulio, who admitted to cheating on a past girlfriend once, said it might also be a reaction to growing levels of commitment.

“It was a way of feeling freer than I was in my relationship,” DiGiulio said.

Irene Frieze, a Pitt psychology professor, said that although there might be many reasons people cheat in college, the main trigger is unhappiness with a current relationship.

“As a general rule, it is people who are dissatisfied with their current relationship who are most likely to cheat,” Frieze said in an e-mail.

She also added, “There are some people who genuinely believe that it is OK to have multiple relationships, so this would be another factor.”

“Jane Doe,” a Pitt freshman who asked for anonymity, also to avoid the social repercussions involved with cheating, said that one of her male friends had been cheated on recently. His girlfriend was “blatantly dating another kid,” she said.

Even as cheating can ruin a relationship, it can ruin a cheater’s friendships as well. One of Doe’s former friends cheated on almost every girlfriend he had. His behavior had ruined their friendship, she said.

Eric Anderson, a sociologist at the University of Winchester in England, thinks that much of cheating isn’t based on emotional attachment, but rather physical attraction. He has studied sexuality issues for most of his academic career and recently published a study called “At least with cheating there is an attempt at monogamy” that analyzed cheating behavior in college-aged men.

Anderson said via Skype that he got his idea to study cheating when he approached a freshman sociology class on the first day of the term and asked how many had cheated since arriving at college. Three male students out of 45 raised their hands.

The professor wanted to explore why, after only three days on campus, so many men were apparently cheating on their girlfriends.

For the study, Anderson defined cheating as “any sexual activity that would upset their girlfriends.” In the study, he found that many people get into monogamous relationships because society expects them to — but their biology screams for something different.

In his study, about 75 percent of participants said they had cheated in a past relationship, and Anderson found that many of the men followed a pattern. Most cheated while inebriated, and almost immediately regretted it and apologized.

Most of the cheating that Anderson documented appeared to be without emotional attachment. After cheating, he said that the boyfriends still maintained that they loved their girlfriends.

“They love their partners, but want sex with someone else,” he said.

Cheating — even without sex — can still ruin relationships. At the start of fall semester, Doe had a boyfriend at Penn State. A few weeks into school, she got a phone call from him.

“He said he was wasted, the worst he’s ever been,” she said. He told her that he had met a girl at a party the previous night and made out with her. She ended the relationship, but he didn’t stop there.

“He kept trying to make it work,” she said. He called her several times and sent flowers once. He said he still cared about her and wanted to get the relationship back together.

Doe said that the cheating had — at least for a while — destroyed her trust in him, and in his gender as a whole.

“One second doing something bad can destroy everything you’ve put into a relationship,” she said.

“Animal instincts” came into the discussion when DiGiulio said, “It’s natural instinct to want to f*ck something.”

Although that might be true, Hausman insisted the decision to act on that desire is often heavily influenced by alcohol.

One of Doe’s friends, Tiana Rodwell, said that many cases of cheating occurred under the influence of alcohol.

“People get drunk and mess up,” she said. “The stuff people do while drinking isn’t the same that they would do sober.”

Anderson differentiated cheating from having an affair, in which one partner in a couple becomes emotionally attached to a third party. He said that affairs were less common among young people than instances of cheating.

In follow-up research with one of his graduate students, Anderson has found that the reasons women cheat are similar. Although the researchers did find that more women cheated with emotional attachment than men, and that women were more accepting of the idea of an open relationship than men.

Doe and her two freshman friends, Rodwell and Brittany Felder, said they think most women cheat in different ways than men. None of the three women said they had cheated, but all said they thought most women approach infidelity deliberately.

“It’ll happen, girls cheat as much as guys do,” Rodwell said. “Girls are just like ‘I don’t want to get caught.’”

Doe said that she had seen girls cheat on their boyfriends for emotional support rather than physical comfort.

“They’re looking for that emotional comfort that they’re not getting from their current boyfriend,” Doe said.

For men, the motivation seems to be different. Anderson said that as men became accustomed to their girlfriends, the frequency and intensity of sex declines. He said that men still want sex, even though they can’t get it to their satisfaction in their relationship.

At the same time, the social expectation of monogamy ­— along with their emotional attachment to their girlfriends — pushed them to stay in the relationship, he said.

“The biological side wants to cheat with someone else, and the emotional side says ‘Hell no, I don’t want to cheat,’” Anderson said.

The fear of loneliness also seems to keep people in dissatisfying relationships.

Frieze said, “Some people don’t like to be alone and want to make sure they have another relationship before ending a bad one.”

Hausman added that a cheater probably hears the “don’t do it” voice in his or her head during the act.

“You’d just go ‘shut up, shut up, shut up,’” he said jokingly.

Both Hausman and DiGiulio believed female students might cheat for different reasons than male students.

Hausman thought girls pondered more about cheating in advance and might go out for the night with the intention of cheating.

“Girls justify cheating differently,” the anonymous male student said, adding that the feeling of neglect might play a bigger role.

“John Student” said his girlfriend cheated on him when he was studying abroad.

“When they feel unhappy or neglected, they begin to look elsewhere to find someone who can give them that reassurance,” Student said. “It doesn’t matter to them that it isn’t their boyfriend.”

Distance seemed to be a major player in decisions to commit an act considered cheating.

Not being near a significant other might increase dissatisfaction with the current relationship and increase the likelihood one might cheat.

“A partner being away can also be important,” Frieze said.

This occurs more in college when students are studying abroad or still dating someone from back home.

Another student at Pitt, James Keefer, said he hated cheaters. But he became one after his first real girlfriend cheated on him.

He said the stress of college, availability of partners and partying all could contribute to cheating.

Still, distance played the biggest role for him.

“I’ve never cheated on a girl in the same area code as me,” Keefer said.