/ INFIDELITY: Is Being Monogamous A Myth?

INFIDELITY: Is Being Monogamous A Myth?

Jul 29, 2013

The Art of Straying

I remember sitting on the couch, watching some mindless television when all of sudden my harmless PG screen gave way to a rather sexy video of a couple engaged in softcore sex. Apparently, the said couple was married – just not to each other. As I continued to stare at this ad, I was told, “Life is too short. Have an affair.” Slightly nauseated, I switched off the telly and paid no more attention to the ad by the Ashley Madison Agency. Shortly thereafter, by some bizarre coincidence, my editor suggested that I write an article on the science of infidelity. So I contacted the sex experts at Ashley Madison, an online site that describes itself as the “World’s #1 Married Dating service specifically for ATTACHED men and women who are looking to have an Extra-marital Affair.”

With over 4 million users since it first launched in 2001, the CEO and President of Ashley Madison, Noel Biderman says business is booming for his Toronto-based company. “I’m sure if you polled your readers at ANOKHI, they would all say cheating is immoral. But estimates say 60% of all relationships have gone through some kind of cheating. It’s just not in everyone’s nature to be monogamous.”

Bold words for a man who claims to be happily married with kids. “I spoke to my whole family about it, and they support me. They see the difference between this great business opportunity and the family man that I also am,” he continues. “As for the ad, no way will I convince a person in a 30-second ad to cheat. We are not homewreckers. At Ashley Madison, we simply offer a safe environment for people to have an affair.” Biderman notes that one should consider his site similar to the services provided to singles who go on websites such as Lavalife. “Our site gets them off those sites and onto one where everybody clearly knows what the expectations are.”

So if extramarital affairs are the expectation, do some users go to the website believing infidelity is justifiable? “Infidelity, cheating, affairs – those are all very culturally loaded terms,” says Oren Amitay, a clinical psychologist in Toronto and a lecturer in human sexuality at Toronto’s Ryerson University. “Biology suggests that polygamy is well-known behaviour from an evolutionary perspective, but any kind of research on a scientific justification basis for such behaviour is always suspect. The methodology is often a concern because the research is often done by men, and let’s face it, data can be interpreted any way you want.”

Amitay says there is research that shows that women are more likely to cheat on their partners when ovulating. “There is some evidence to suggest women trade-up when cheating, that is, they go for men with bigger testicles and prefer bigger semen.

However, very few of women who cheat are actually looking to get impregnated so we must take such research with a grain of salt.” Although many researchers claim to have found a genetic link for infidelity, biology is only one component of a far more complex reasoning for cheating. Biderman says that the absence of sex and intimacy can get difficult to bear. One male user from New York writes, "I'm currently trapped in a loveless marriage but cannot get a divorce for cultural reasons. Looking for someone to fill the void…" Another female user from Long Beach writes on her profile, “My husband is a workaholic and he's away from home over half the year. When he's home, his mind is on work. I'm looking for companionship.”

But Amitay calls such ideas rubbish. “Variations of ‘My partner doesn’t love me,’ are crap, designed to make a guilty party sleep better.” He notes that while humans generally prefer predictability, they do look for the occasional spice factor. “Sure, extramarital affairs are dangerous and sexy, but in the long run, you stick to your original partner. None of this means, however, that men or women are in some way incapable of being monogamous. It’s just that we are inclined to be polygamous.” So what does this say about relationships? Is monogamy truly a myth? It would certainly seem so. South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford admitted to cheating on his wife of 20 years with a woman in Argentina (with whom he openly declared as his soulmate) when he was supposedly on a hike.

And then there was Senator John Edwards, the former U.S. vice-presidential candidate who may or may not have fathered a child with his mistress. Meanwhile, his wife continues to battle cancer.

Who can forget the teary Silda Spitzer who stuck by husband Eliot, even after he lost his job as the Governor of New York. Call girls appeared to be his thing.

And of course, how can we forget Hillary Rodham Clinton, whose husband was discovered to have dropped his pants in the Oval Office with the intern.

The list is hardly exclusive to American politicians. There was Princess Diana and her various lovers. Then we had Prince Charles’ epic affair with Camilla Parker-Bowles. Margaret Trudeau, wife of the Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, apparently had an affair with U.S. Senator, Ted Kennedy. And of course, John F. Kennedy was a living Casanova that his wife, Jackie simply had to learn to live with, who by they way, is part of recent allegations that that she also had a thing for her brother-in-law Bobby.

Infidelity has even made its way into Bollywood popular culture. Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, starring Shah Rukh Khan and Rani Mukherjee, is about two people who fall in love, in spite of being married to other people. Where Bollywood normally stops shy of showing the sexual culmination of an affair, this was a film that was quite explicit in showing the emotional and sexual cheating that happened.

But going back to Ashley Madison. Do South Asians actually use this site?

Surprisingly (and maybe not so surprisingly), Ashley Madison actually has a notable presence of South Asian users on its site with approximately 37,999 females and 160,336 males in the UK, Canada, US and Ireland. “Normally, women are as likely to cheat as men, but in South Asians, the ratio is slightly higher for females who are seeking relief from arranged marriages,” says Biderman. Although he does not substantiate the claims that arranged marriages are the catalyst for wandering hearts with any specific statistics, Biderman says arranged marriages are a stressful factor, which make them head to his website.

"My wife is from India and culturally, we're just not compatible. We've been married for ten years and she is still uncomfortable having sex with me. I love my children and couldn't imagine living apart from them," writes one male South Asian from San Francisco. Another female from New York writes, "Life is too short not to be happy. My husband used to see as the object of his desires but now I'm just the cook, the cleaner, the nanny. I'm looking for some excitement."

Amitay believes there might be some evidence for the higher ratio that Biderman has found. “Infidelity is an escape from anxiety— anxiety perhaps caused from an unhappy marriage. All that energy that goes into cheating is often distracting you from the real issue at hand, so it’s escapism.”

He adds that lots of South Asian women find themselves torn between their heritage and their new experiences in the West. “Cheating on a spouse is perhaps an unconscious way of asserting one’s individuality—saying screw you, community,” says Amitay. He adds that the situation is not helped by the fact that it is more acceptable for men in many cultures to cheat than for women. But he cautions that unhappy arranged marriages might be for many cases, simply a good excuse. “My South Asian students tell me that arranged marriages are more like a global dating service for South Asians than an actual forced union. If that’s the case, it limits the scope of the excuse.”

Both Biderman and Amitay agree on one thing: infidelity is far more common than we like to admit, whether it is emotional or sexual, and people often want validation for their behaviour. But the actual science behind infidelity continues to remain a mystery.



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