What do you mean, you’re monogamous?

by lauran on July 1, 2011

An article at Solon wondered “How common is infidelity, anyway?”

With all the famous and powerful men caught cheating lately, it seems like a valid question.

But, like most questions, the answer starts with “It depends…” Here’s what they had to say.

“Facts” are easy to come by in this arena, in the sense that there are scores of surveys on the prevalence of extramarital affairs in America. In 1948, Alfred Kinsey famously reported that seven out of 10 men and one in five women admitted to having an extramarital affair. Most contemporary surveys estimate the number of people who cheat during a marriage at anywhere from 20 to 50 percent of women and 30 to 60 percent of men.

Note, though, that in 2002 the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago found that 15 percent of married women admitted to an affair, compared to 22 percent of men. The best educated guess, according to researchers at the University of Texas at Austin, is that an affair takes place within 40 to 76 percent of marriages: “A conservative interpretation of these figures suggests that although perhaps half of all married couples remain monogamous, the other half will experience an infidelity over the course of a marriage.”

Confused? Me, too.

Before trusting the statistics of any survey a wise person looks at how the survey was done and what questions were asked. But the key phrase in all of this is “admitted to having an extramarital affair.”

To me, that means that some number of people are just not telling the truth about their sexuality. No surprise there!

One of the problems with all of this is what one person means by the word “monogamous” may not be the same as another person’s definition. I read about a minister whose premarital counseling includes lots of frank discussion about each person’s perspective on viewing porn, flirting with someone else, kissing someone else, having a non-sexual relationship with someone else and other variations on the theme.

I found her perspective refreshing.

Clergy aren’t known for being in the new wave of cultural change, to put it mildly. But for the sake of couples who mostly likely want to stay faithful to their partner (leaving out polyamory and other twists on American marriage), it’s an increasingly important subject to discuss. In a nation where many of us are still seen as ecclesiastical state agents, we have a responsibility to prepare engaged couples for the challenges they will face.

Those of us living alternative lifestyles already know how important it is to have clear, open communication about everything. Especially everything about sex. Seems this would be a good lesson for vanilla couples.

Let me know what you think…

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