The adulterous woman used to get marked with a scarlet letter. Today, she gets a.
Seriously, surveys show that most people still frown on cheating, but that hasn't stopped more and more married women from doing it. The Early Show correspondent Tracy Smith takes a look.
When "Desperate Housewives" paired a married woman with her young gardener, it became water cooler topic No.1. But if you think it's pure fiction, think again, says therapist Judy Kuriansky.
"Particularly now in this society, when you have TV shows that show it so often and movies that show women cheating, that lessens the social taboo and makes it more possible," she says.
Author Susan Shapiro Barash has written several books about her research into female infidelity. And what she's found is astounding.
"Based on my research," the gender studies professor says, "I believe that 60 percent of women will at some point in their marriage embark on an extramarital affair."
That's more than half.
It comes as no surprise to Elissa Gough. She says the trouble in her marriage started when her husband cheated on her.
"As a betrayed wife, I was very angry, very hurt, very bitter and was into payback," she says.
And payback came in the form of the man building her pool.
"We became very good friends. We became best friends," Gough says, pointing out that, in the beginning, she didn't think the relationship would lead to infidelity.
"But I can remember," she says, "I don't think I'll ever forget it, when this gentleman was guniting the pool, and I thought, 'Hmmmm.... Interesting!'"
The sparks were very much there.
Often, just like in the movie "Unfaithful," the other man has little in common with the husband, or the wife.
Gough notes, "I grew up in cashmere sweaters and saddle oxfords and country clubs and he grew up in beer, sex and brawls. We came from such different lifestyles and different upbringings and he tugged at my heart and I loved him."
Gough wasn't looking to cheat - infidelity found her. And it turns out there are as many reasons for cheating as there are women who cheat.
Smith remarks, "You know how when men cheat, they say, 'Boys will be boys; they just can't help it?' Well, there are now studies that show that some women are biologically predisposed to cheat. In other words, they're not wired to be happy with just one man."
In a study of 16-hundred pair of female twins, British researchers claim that genetic factors have a substantial impact on how likely women are to cheat on their partner.
Still, there's the question: Why are we here? Why are we doing this?
Kuriansky says, "The reasons that women cheat, similar to some of the reasons that men cheat, are that they are frustrated, and that ! Women are increasingly more emotionally secure, more financially secure, some of them, and they feel that they can do what they want and get their needs satisfied."
Infidelity is explained in a scene from "Desperate Housewives" as, "It's just sex! It's totally harmless."
But for women especially, "It's just sex" is just unrealistic, according to Kuriansky.
She explains, "The difference is, when women seek an affair, they may think they're looking for just sex, but as soon as the sex happens, their emotions get wrapped into it."
Gough notes, "Cheating women want the excitement of it. And many don't think their husbands will leave them."
But they do. Gough's marriage ended in divorce, and her infidelity left her so depressed that she founded Face Reality, a support group for the woman who's cheated or been cheated on.
Says Gough, "Whatever role she's in, I can identify with her. And help her realize she's not by herself."
Still, if you want to avoid joining the ever-expanding unfaithful club --there's one key: communication.
Kuriansky advises, "Sit down and have a conversation with your partner about what it is that you need emotionally, financially, socially and certainly sexually, that you can work out together. And either fix it, or forget it."
People tend to lie about infidelity, so survey results can vary widely. Some researchers say more than half of married women cheat, others say, it's closer to a quarter. Still, most agree the number of unfaithful wives is on the rise.
Copyright 2005 CBS. All rights reserved.