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Why Women Lie: 10 Reasons for Dishonesty You Need to Know

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In a world where honesty is widely considered a virtue, this article will explore why people lie, precisely why women lie. 

Men and women both lie and often for the same reasons. Men and women face different societal pressures and conditioning. And each set of gender norms might cause a man or a woman to lie for different reasons.

Keep in mind, as we go through this article, that the reasons women lie listed below are generalizations. Women can lie for any number of reasons, and so can men. 

But with that said, let’s dive in and explore how cultural conditioning might lead women to lie in different ways.

Lying is a Universal Human Experience

First, it’s essential to acknowledge that lying is a universal human behavior. 

It transcends gender and identity; men, women, and non-binary individuals partake in it. However, there are some gender differences in the frequency of fibs. Research1 seems to indicate that men lie more often than women. Some studies2 suggest that women are less likely to lie than men for small gains but equally likely when the stakes are high.

On average, a person tells 1-2 untruths daily3

Lying is as old as human communication, serving various purposes–from protection and manipulation to simple pranks. Lies range from the innocent fibs of someone saying they are “fine” when that’s not true to the complex deceptions in global politics. 

Not all lies are grand or harmful; about 90%4 are considered “white lies.” These are the minor untruths we tell, like expressing appreciation for that white elephant lamp we know we’ll never use.

Lying is Common, But That Doesn’t Make it Right.

It’s important to note that just because lying is common, it doesn’t make it a recommended practice. 

In the aptly titled and thought-provoking book Lying, neuroscientist and philosopher Sam Harris argues that lying is never an ethically correct choice. Even a little white lie! 

Harris suggests that embracing a life free of lies is among the most beneficial choices a person can make. Though pretty radical, this perspective invites reflection on whether lying is justifiable and if one should always tell the truth

And there’s something to this idea. In this study5, researchers surveyed people from across 14 countries and asked participants to state what they thought were the most important virtues. The responses were everywhere, from country to country, except for three virtues.

Honesty, respect, and kindness. 

Honesty was a top-ranking virtue across these 14 countries. Even though we all partake in fibs here and there, there is something deep that we all seem to recognize about the importance of honesty. 

With that said, let’s begin to explore why women tend to lie. It’s also important to note that these reasons are generalizations and aren’t exclusive to women.

Compassionate Lies  

Example of a lie: “Oh, this dinner you made is so good!”

Compassionate lying involves making untrue statements to spare someone’s feelings or to offer comfort. For instance, a woman might compliment a friend’s cooking that they didn’t enjoy. 

Studies suggest6 that females are likelier to lie than males for another person’s benefit.

Studies suggest7 that women tend to be more empathetic than men. A compassionate betterment lie often stems from a place of empathy and kindness, reflecting a desire to nurture and support those around them. This type of lie can also come from a fear of conflict and upsetting others.

Protective Lies for Others

Example of a lie: “Oh, no, I’m not too tired to cook dinner tonight. It’d be my pleasure.”

One study8 found that female participants are likelier than males to lie when trying to help others meet their needs (but less so when trying to meet their own).

This could stem from social conditioning that can encourage women to self-sacrifice and to become the “perfect mother and wife,” where many women are encouraged to put others’ needs above their own. 

To protect yourself from lies and deception, you might be interested in this comprehensive course on detecting when others lie.

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Self-Defense Lies

Example of a lie: “Sorry, I have a boyfriend.”

In the United States, only about one in ten men9 feel unsafe walking alone at night, compared with nearly four in ten women. That trend holds across all developed countries. In our current world, women feel less safe than men. 

Experiencing sexual abuse is unfortunately common10 for women in our society, and many opt to lie in certain situations to protect themselves from these real dangers.

This might look like lying about having a partner to avoid an unwanted sexual advance.

A woman in a male-dominated industry might hesitate to highlight her expertise out of concern that it could lead to hostile work environments, sexist remarks, or even professional sabotage.

In these cases, lying is a defense mechanism to avoid trouble.

People Pleasing Lies

Example of a lie: “Yes, I agree with you.”

56% of women11 would describe themself as a people-pleaser (compared with just 41% of men)

A people pleaser avoids conflict and molds their personality to be liked by others. 

So, a people-pleasing lie might include someone hiding their true feelings about a situation or agreeing with opinions they don’t share. 

Polite Lies

Example of lie: “Oh, sure, I’d love to know about what you watched on the History Channel last night.”

Research suggests12 that women are perceived and expected to adhere more strictly to norms of politeness compared to men.

Polite lies are typically harmless and are meant to adhere to societal expectations of avoiding rudeness. For instance, someone expressing false gratitude for a gift she doesn’t like or feigning interest in a boring conversation to avoid offending the other person.

In most cases, accepting a gift with a smile is considered graceful. Maybe there is a way to honestly share one’s feelings about a gift in a disarming and non-offensive way. Perhaps we could learn from these kids!

Lies to Maintain an Image of Excellence

Example of a lie: “Things at home are going perfectly. We all feel so happy, the kids are excelling, and our marriage feels like it’s out of a movie!”

Studies suggest13 that culturally, women experience pressure to be the “perfect” mother, and this can cause unhealthy coping behaviors. The pressure for women to be perfect can hit them personally and professionally. A woman might feel pressured to be Rachael Ray at home while simultaneously being Oprah in her career.

A woman might lie to present a more favorable view of her family life or career advancement. This could involve exaggerating her achievements at a school reunion or underplaying marital troubles to maintain an image of rosy family life. 

Hiding Personal Struggles 

Example of a lie: “I don’t struggle with anxiety. I thrive under pressure.”

One study8 found that women are likely to lie when they are afraid they will be viewed as ineffective.

Women might lie about their struggles or unhappiness because they are afraid of judgment or stigma. This might include a woman in a high-powered job hiding her mental health struggles or a mother pretending to enjoy aspects of parenthood that she finds difficult. 

Many women feel pressure to be perfect. To look perfect, dress perfectly, and have perfect lives. This tendency to hide personal challenges might express the societal conditioning that expects women to manage difficulties gracefully without outwardly showing stress and imperfection.  

Lies About Sexuality

Example of a lie: “Oh, I’ve never had a one-night stand.”

It’s no secret that women face immense cultural pressure around sexuality. Women can be shamed for being too promiscuous, and there is research14 to back this up.

Shame is an intense emotion that can cause us to do many things.

To avoid the harsh judgments of others, a single woman might lie about when she lost her virginity, her experience with one-night stands, or the number of sex partners she’s had. 

One group of researchers15 asked three groups of women how many sexual partners they had had in their lives. 

  • One group was told their answers would be put under a lie detector.
  • One group was anonymous. 
  • One group was told their answers would be known by someone else. 

The women who thought they were connected to a lie detector reported the most sexual partners, followed by the anonymous group and by the group who thought their answers would be reported.

This study suggests that women may lie to downplay their sexual activity.

Takeaways on Why Women Lie

Lying is a complex social phenomenon and something almost all of us do. Bad people lie, and so do good people. While men and women both lie, some women might be inclined to lie for different reasons. Here are a few possible explanations for the lies women tell:

  • Compassionate Lies: Women might tell compassionate lies to spare someone’s feelings, like complimenting a friend’s cooking they didn’t enjoy.
  • Protective Lies for Others: These lies, more common in women, are told to help others meet their needs.
  • Self-Defense Lies: Many women lie for self-defense in dangerous situations.
  • People-pleasing lies: To preserve peace in relationships or avoid conflict, women might hide their true feelings or agree with others.
  • Polite lies: These lies adhere to societal norms of politeness, like showing false gratitude for an unwanted gift.
  • Lies to Maintain an Image of Excellence: Women under pressure to be perfect in both personal and professional spheres might exaggerate successes or hide problems to maintain an ideal image.
  • Hiding Personal Struggles: Due to fear of judgment, women might lie about personal difficulties, like mental health issues or challenges in parenting.

And if you are curious to get better at telling if another person is lying, there are tools you can use to detect lies! Check out this article to learn more.

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