Adultery first became allied with sin in Western history among the ancient Hebrews.
By Mosaic law a woman had to be a virgin on her wedding night, then remain permanently faithful to her husband’s bed. But prostitutes, concubibnes, widows and maidservants were permitted to men. Only intercourse with a married woman was banned.
God had spoken; “Thou shallt not commit adultery”.
In the following, Talmudic period, during the first few centuries of the Christian era, Hebrew attitudes toward sex became more explicit.
God, it was said, decreed that husband and wife engage in the marital act on the eve of the Sabbath. Lists were drawn up prescribing the minimal sexual obligations of different social classes.
Gentlemen of leisure were to copulate with their wives nightly; labourers who resided in the same city where they worked should engage in intercourse two times a week; businessmen who travelled to other cities should indulge once a week; camel drivers were obliged to have marital sex every thirty days. And scholars should perform their marital duties on Friday night.
Sex within marriage became blessed, celebrated, holy. But homosexuality, bestiality, transvestitism, masturbation, and adultery by a wife or by a man with a married woman were condemned by God.
The Hebraic attitude toward adultery would greatly influence Western mores, as would some curious customs of the ancient Greeks.
Greek men considered themselves superior to women. Concubines looked after their daily needs. Educated courtesans known as hetaerae entertained them outside of the home. And some men, particularly among the upper classes, partook regularly of homosexual rendezvous with teenage boys.
Early Christians would react violently to these appetites, but they would cherish other Greek ideals.
Because although Greeks generally celebrated sex, some of them also harboured a dee misgiving that sex was contaminating, defiling and impure.
This strain of Greco-Roman asceticism comingled with the Hebrew concept that certain forms of sexual activity, including adultery, were sinful in the eyes of God, appealed to early Christian leaders.
Heavenly celibacy. Sex begone.
And as the generations passed in early Christendom, sexual abstinence was becoming increasingly allied with God, adultery with sin – for both men and women.
This attitude that adultery is a moral transgression for both sexes has dominated Western cultures ever since, but has it deterred people from going ahead and cheating?
Despite our views that philandering is immoral, regardless of our sense of guilt when we engage in trysts, in spite of the risks to family, friends, and livelihood that adultery inevitably entails, we indulge in extramarital affairs with avid regularity.
The famous Kinsey reports in the late forties and early fifties stated that little over a third of husbands in a sample of 6,247 men were unfaithful. Because so many of these subjects were reluctant to discuss their escapades, however, Kinsey surmised that his figures were low, that probably about half of all American men were unfaithful to their wives at some point during marriage.
25% perfect of the 6,972 married, divorced and widowed American women sampled, Kinsey reported, had engaged in extramarital coitus by age forty. 41% of the female adulterers had copulated with a single partner; 40% with 2-5; 19% had engaged more than five paramours.
Almost two decades later these figures apparently had not changed significantly, despite American attitudes toward sex during the 60s and 70s.
The numbers have since been going up and up and up, but one thing to note is that it’s now an equal playing field when it comes to men and women, well, playing the field.
Women cheat just as much as men.
So one thing is for sure; we humans are adulterous.
Our society mores, our religious teachings, our friends and relatives, urge us to invest all of our sexual energy on one person, a husband or wife. But in practice, a sizeable percentage of both men and women actually spread their time, their vigor and their love among multiple partners as they sneak into other bedrooms.
Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city.George Burns