Why infidelity is so widespread

Source: Olena Yakobchuk / shutterstock

Most paired Americans assume and even encourage monogamy. For many, any violation of sexual exclusivity is a disaster. “He cheated. It’s over. “Even when infidelity doesn’t break up, it often causes severe relationship damage. Therapists see a steady stream of couples trying to pick up the pieces. Couples in couples have every right to insist on monogamy, but many people do obviously find it impossible to limit themselves to a single lover for life.

Are humans inherently monogamous?

Many insist that monogamy is “natural”. In fact, only about 9 percent of mammalian species mate for life, and among humans, the prevalence of infidelity nullifies claims that sexual exclusivity is innate:

  • Polygamy was common in the Bible – multiple wives or one official wife plus concubines. In Genesis Jacob had two wives, Leah and Rachel, and two concubines, Bilha and Silpa.
  • The Ten Commandments consider unfaithfulness such a hideous sin that not one but two commandments forbid it: You shall not commit adultery. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. Do not do it. Don’t even think about it. Had the ancients been conveniently monogamous, these commandments would have been unnecessary.
  • Mormons were publicly polygamous until 1890. Some still are.
  • There are sex and swing clubs in every metropolitan area of ​​the United States and in many rural areas – look for “sex and swing clubs” everywhere. The former are usually open to all adults, the latter to couples and single women.

Proponents of strict monogamy often claim that non-monogamy just doesn’t work. This may be true for most, but I know several happy long-term couples who have occasionally practiced non-monogamy for decades:

  • One of them, 15 years old together, is monogamous, but every year on the woman’s birthday her husband has a threesome with another man.
  • Another, married for 20 years, is basically monogamous, but every month the woman spends a weekend with her second husband.
  • A third, together 25 years old, maintains monogamy at home, but grants each other “reverb passes”, permission to play when one of the two is away on business.
  • A fourth, married for 30 years, meets with secondary lovers once every few weeks. The woman explains, “I only love my husband and he only loves me. But we both like to play on the side. It keeps our conjugal sex fresh and exciting. Occasionally we run into one of our secondaries in town. We introduce ourselves, chat a little. Everyone is smiling. It’s good.”

If monogamy is natural, then why are so many novels, plays, films, songs, and television shows revolving around its injury? Some observations:

  • “Monogamy is like having a 20 watt lightbulb to read. It works, but it’s not enough. “Playwright John Patrick Shanley (1950-).
  • “We drove back to the hotel and said goodbye. How hypocritical to leave the man you want to be with for a man you don’t want and then in great excitement have sex with who you don’t want while pretending to be that you do. That’s monogamy. ”Author Erica Jong (1942-), in fear of flying (1973).
  • “I told my wife that I was seeing a psychiatrist. She told me she was seeing a psychiatrist, two plumbers and a bartender. ”Comedian Rodney Dangerfield (1921-2004).

Monogamy critic Dan Savage points out that up until the 20th century, most cultures assumed that men were not inherently monogamous. Monogamy was only for women, enforced by men in order to control women’s sexuality and guarantee fatherhood. This is still the case in many cultures.

Savage points out that we humans are decidedly imperfect, but when it comes to sexual exclusivity, many crave perfection. “Isn’t it time to rethink monogamy?” He asks. “It’s like sobriety. You can be sober for years, then fall off the cart and sober up again. If couples have been married for 30 years and each move out only a few times, they are not reprehensible. They’re actually very good at monogamy. ”Savage coined the term“ monogamy ”to describe supposedly monogamous couples who accept the occasional mistake.

How common is infidelity?

Infidelity is difficult to research. Few like to admit it. I remember doing a survey that showed that only a tiny percentage of married people had ever lost their way. The researchers questioned the subjects in the presence of their spouses. Ah!

Admitting non-monogamy depends on how researchers ask the question. Scientists from the University of Colorado last year surveyed 4,800 married women using face-to-face interviews and an anonymous questionnaire on infidelity. Only 1 percent admitted this in the interviews and 6 percent in the anonymous questionnaire.

Meanwhile, controversy tarnishes the definition of “infidelity”. Most say it’s sex with someone other than your partner. But what about spouses who have separated but not divorced? Or couples separated by extensive military action? Or are you involved in marriages that don’t ask, don’t tell? Is Infidelity Defined as Sex Outside of Marriage? Or just secret sex? Or just sex with emotional involvement? What about sex with sex workers? Or supposedly straight people who have gay, lesbian affairs? And does cheating require intercourse? What if you just flirt? Or kiss?

A huge research literature has examined infidelity. Some highlights:

  • While partner after partner is the norm, through history 84 percent of known human societies have allowed men to have more than one ongoing sexual relationship.
  • Since Kinsey’s studies in the late 1940s, there have been credible estimates of lifelong infidelity among heterosexual Americans everywhere – 12 to 72 percent for men and 7 to 54 percent for women.
  • Three-quarters of American adults consider extramarital sex “always wrong,” but a majority of unfaithful Americans say their own is justified.
  • Infidelity is linked to: previous cheating; Relationship boredom, dissatisfaction and duration; Expectations of upcoming separations; and poor quality partner sex with low frequency. In men, the risk also increases if partners are pregnant or there are babies in the house.
  • Among the spouses who have been unfaithful, half of the men (56 percent) and a third of the women (34 percent) describe their marriage as “happy”.
  • Infidelity is linked to several personality traits: loneliness, extroversion, anxiety, depression, moodiness, narcissism, openness to new experiences, frequent alcohol consumption, a history of child sexual abuse, and knowing that one or both parents were cheating. Traits associated with strict monogamy include conscientiousness and regular religious observance.
  • In terms of formation, the curve is U-shaped. Those with the lowest and the highest education share the greatest likelihood of infidelity.
  • Working outside the home doesn’t make that big a difference. Half of cheaters, both male and female, meet their loved ones through work, the other half in other ways.

Rutgers and SUNY Stony Brook researchers reviewed 148 studies from around the world and concluded: “Despite almost universal rejection, infidelity is a global phenomenon that occurs with remarkable regularity.”

So widespread infidelity is that some researchers suggest that it may be genetic and offer an evolutionary survival benefit. The evolutionary mission of life is reproduction. The best way for men to do this is to mate with as many women as possible. Over the aeons as the early primates evolved into humans, males that mated with most females were more likely to have offspring that may have carried genes that led them to Philandians.

Is there an evolutionary reason for non-monogamy?
The best way for women to send their genes into the future is to raise children to sexual maturity. It is a challenging task that is made easier with the help of a faithful man. However, researchers speculate that women and their offspring gain a survival advantage by having “back-up” men who can provide resources when their main partners die or leave. Women can also use infidelity to “swap” partners with more resources. Infidelity women may have had more children – they inherited genes that led their offspring to continued infidelity.

The Rutgers-Stony Brook researchers concluded: “Throughout history, infidelity has paid off for both men and women, perpetuating their genetic basis and today’s predilection for infidelity.”

You shall not commit adultery. But evolution may well have prepared us to get lost. Civilization is only 10,000 years old, evolutionarily new. More than we’d like to admit, we can still be beasts driven by animal instincts.

Despite much research, the true prevalence of infidelity remains a mystery. We just know that it is so common that we are always sad, but not always surprised, when we hear about couples we know get ensnared.

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