Janet Reibstein and Martin Richards, authors of Sexual Arrangements: Marriage and the Temptation of Infidelity Scribner , estimate that 'between 50 and 75 per cent of men, and only a slightly smaller proportion of women, have had or are having affairs while married'.
Research in the United States proposed lower figures: approximately 25 per cent of married men and 15 per cent of married women. But whatever the exact numbers and since affairs are by their nature secret, we may never be sure it's clear that long-term, committed relationships are under pressure, probably as never before. Is there any point, any longer, in expecting or hoping for monogamy? Whether there is, or not, most of us do.
The National Survey on Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles found that only one person in 50 believes extramarital sex to be not at all wrong, and four out of five think it is always or mostly wrong.
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The figures are the same for the youngest adults as for the oldest. Research on monogamy in this country, by Dr Kaeren Harrison and Professor Graham Allan, reveals two views: that infidelity is morally wrong, and that the character of modern society makes affairs more likely. These two positions are bound to be difficult to reconcile. Certainly, it would have been extraordinary for an Edwardian wife to talk in similar terms to Kim. Historically, women used to look for husbands who would be kind and good providers, while men chose wives who would be socially suitable and attentive mothers.
But, throughout the past few decades, this team which shares work has turned into a couple which shares emotions. So now we face a conundrum: we expect more of love than ever before - thrilling sex, overpowering emotion, practical teamwork and a life in public as a social pairing - and rely on monogamy to prove all this commitment. Yet the more we load on to relationships, the easier it is for them to fall short, not least as we also expect them to last for ever.
Today we think of marriage - for which also read long-term, committed relationships - as the place in which we will find ourselves. As Ulrich Beck and Elisabeth Beck-Gernsheim suggest in their analysis of modern relationships, The Normal Chaos Of Love, Polity Press we look to relationships to give life meaning: 'Some powerful force has pushed its way in and filled the gap where, according to previous generations, God, country, class, politics or family were supposed to hold sway.
I am what matters: I, and You as my assistant; and if not You then some other You. There is, however, an inherent contradiction in the idea of marriage as a rolling revelation of personal destiny. Individual growth and autonomy can easily be at odds with the kind of compromises required for a long, loving relationship.
When my father died, I found I couldn't talk to her about the anxieties it induced in me - the feeling that time was running out, I suppose. So I have settled for intimacy in some areas but not others. For Tom, as for Kim and Ian in their different ways, the solution is to segment the marriage. Ian would probably say that exciting sex for him is outside the marriage but his emotional life is in it, along with the practical and social stuff. Men seem to be better at dividing up sex and emotions. There is anecdotal evidence that men find it easier to think of sex as something apart.
But it may simply be that women prefer to justify their sexual enthusiasms with a dose of love.
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That one sex is more moralistic, more conventional, more daring, more secretive, more lustful and so on. We'd like a neat division of labour, a bit of reassuring biology, some huffy, inspiring religion; even some enthralling psychology. Anything just to get it off our hands. This is not to say that all breaches of monogamy are the same.
People commonly differentiate their affairs according to whether they are casual or serious, how long they last, how much time is spent together. There are further distinctions according to whether anyone knows, whether the relationship is retaliation for a past affair, whether the spouse would mind, and whether it threatens to break up the marriage.
But even these don't offer us nice neat categories.
Sara, a mother of two in her mid-thirties, had a brief affair with her tennis instructor and, two years later, has still not recovered. Tom regularly visits masseuses for sexual favours, but since these stop short of intercourse, he doesn't consider that he's being unfaithful.
He doesn't share this Clintonian sophistry with his wife. Maggie, a year-old illustrator, had a series of brief affairs during her 'uneasy' first marriage. I ended up getting divorced and we've been together for 10 years. I don't regret those other affairs, or the break-up of my first marriage, but now I am monogamous. I make it my business to know who Richard is having lunch with and to tease him gently. I never have dinner with another man, even for work, unless Richard comes too.
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In fact, we try really hard not to go out separately in the evenings at all. I don't mind. If I did, it wouldn't work. But I like being with him and I know if we were more casual our lives would veer off in different directions. Maggie has what Reibstein and Richards call the 'marriage is for everything' model. Peggy Vaughan, by contrast, has written a book and runs a website devoted to debunking what she calls The Monogamy Myth Newmarket Press.
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Peggy's husband, James, started having affairs after 11 years of marriage, continuing for seven years before he confessed. Peggy is now convinced that secrecy is the 'most significant support for affairs in our society'. Friends rarely tell the spouse if they find out; co-workers gossip, but otherwise just watch; and if partners do discover the infidelity, they are unlikely to broadcast it. She says: 'The person having the affair comes to depend on this co-operation.
It's hard to quarrel with this, but harder still to see how Peggy's solution - complete honesty - could work. She argues that 'both partners should recognise that attractions to others are likely, indeed inevitable, no matter how much they love each other.
So they should engage in honest communication about the reality of the temptations and how to avoid the consequences of acting on those temptations. One Voice Campaign. Industry statistics and prices. Potato Fertiliser Calculator. Your use of this website and the information contained within it is subject to terms and conditions.
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