Adultery is a human thing
Adultery,’ as a concerned grandmother would frown upon, is entering a weird time in our popular culture. Welcome to 2018, where cheating on a spouse is slowly changing in perception and taboo. Thanks to charismatic intellectuals like Esther Perel, we are able to have more insight than ever before on the grey areas of this act.
On one hand, there’s the darkness behind it, or as Perel puts it in an interview with ABC news, “It is the only act that gets two commandments in the Bible. It has existed as long as marriage. It can destroy relationships and tear apart families. Infidelity, is everywhere and yet remains very poorly understood.”(1)
On the other hand, more brilliant minds like Perel are stepping in to provide more substantial nuance. Christopher Ryan is the author of the book ‘Sex at dawn,’ and the orator behind the TED talk speech ‘Are we sexual omnivores.’ Coupled with his podcasts and public appearances, Ryan is famous for intellectually laying out the evolutionary need for humans to be non-monogamous.
“No group-living nonhuman primate is monogamous, and adultery has been documented in every human culture studied- including those in which fornicators are routinely stoned to death. In light of all of this bloody retribution, it's hard to see how monogamy comes "naturally" to our species. Why would so many risk their reputations, families, careers- even presidential legacies- for something that runs against human nature?” Ryan emphatically suggests.(2)
He then begs us to consider the following idea, “Were monogamy an ancient, evolved trait characteristic of our species, as the standard narrative insists, these ubiquitous transgressions would be infrequent and such horrible enforcement unnecessary. No creature needs to be threatened with death to act in accord with its own nature.”(2)
Not too shabby on the debate front by Mr. Ryan and Ms. Perel, but what are the examples of humans actually listening? Let’s dig further into why infidelity is becoming more acceptable in modern times.
4 ways infidelity is gaining awareness
Infidelity and Ted Talks
As we brought up earlier, Adultery is making the rounds on the TED circuit. The company is famous for hosting conferences and posting the talks online for free distribution. How important is TED? Time magazine’s Tim Bajarin wrote a piece about the value of this service in our modern society as TED celebrated its 30th anniversary.
In the article Bajarin writers, “One thing that became clear to me while attending TED was that to really get the most out of the big TED conference, any attendee had to have a pretty good working knowledge of math, science, medicine, architecture, economics, geography, education, literature, law, history, technology and politics. This pretty much explains why almost all who attend the conference are highly educated.”(3)
So what prominent adultery talks can we find at TED? Of course we have Esther Perel and her famous ‘Rethinking Infidelity’ talk where she question if adultery needs to be perceived as an overwhelming betrayal or just simply an opportunity to rediscover marriage. “Today in the West, most of us are going to have two or three relationships or marriages, and some of us are going to do it with the same person," Perel says.(4)
Another amazing talk comes from author and philosopher Dall’ Aglio. He argues that love is simply a desire to be loved in return and functions based on human ego. "For a couple who is no longer sustained, supported by the constraints of tradition, I believe that self-mockery is one of the best means for the relationship to endure," he says.(5) Basically, he tells us all to lighten up on marriage and happiness will come.
Another fascinating presentation comes from Helen Fisher’s “Why we love, why we cheat.” She presents arguments in favor of gender differences in the brain and long term relationships not being the jackpot towards happiness.
"So I don't think, honestly, we're an animal that was built to be happy; we are an animal that was built to reproduce," she states. "I think the happiness we find, we make.”(6)
There are plenty more talks where that came but we don’t have enough time or attention span to deep dive on them all. However, as far as the topic of adultery goes, this isn’t a bad place to start. After all, TED runs under the slogan “Ideas Worth Spreading.”
Books on Cheating
Written word! Obviously, there’s no need to talk about the value of books, but we do have to point out that books about extramarital affairs are making the rounds at your local book store. We talked about Christopher Ryan Ph.D., and the whirlwind of controversy his 2010 book ‘Sex at Dawn’ caused.
In an interview with Thomas Rogers at Salon.com, Ryan says “Marriage in the West isn’t doing very well because it’s in direct confrontation with the evolved reality of our species. What we argue in the book is that the best way to increase marital stability, which in the modern world is an important part of social stability, is to develop a more tolerant and realistic understanding of human sexuality and how human sexuality is being distorted by our modern conception of marriage.”(7)
In other words, affairs or discreet encounters aren’t such a bad thing. Tammy Nelson, author of ‘The New Monogamy’ definitely agrees. One line from her book gives us some meaty insight into the absurdity of trying to understand a long-term marriage.
"One major impediment to the view that an affair indicates that something is profoundly wrong in the marriage, however, is that 35 to 55 percent of people having affairs report they were happy in their marriage at the time of their infidelity. They also report good sex and rewarding family lives. So how can we continue viewing affairs as symptoms of dysfunctional marriages when apparently so many of them seem to happen to otherwise "normal," even happy couples? The one-size-fits-all view of infidelity never questions the standard model of monogamy, much less helps a couple explore a new model of monogamy that might work better for them and their own particular marriage.”(8)
The internet and adultery
Enter the world of internet information. From online magazines and blogs to topics like sexless marriage and affair apps, infidelity has quite a following of readers willing to lend their eyeballs to the idea of non-monogamy. Take a reputable publication like Psychology Today, where one quick search on infidelity will easily link you to dozens of articles related to infidelity, cheating, and adultery.
The beauty of this internet source is that every article is written by someone with actual credentials in psychology and so there is a wealth of insight for the average Joe or Jane to tap into. Take for instance an article by Robert Weiss LCSW. The article titled ‘I love you and I’m cheating. Why?’ argues that there doesn’t have to be a problem in the relationship for people to cheat, it’s just a natural human urge.
“Sometimes happy people who cheat say they feel like a teenager when they’re sneaking around and having sex or an affair. It’s exciting and forbidden, and they get a kick out of breaking the rules.”(9)
Another world famous online news outlet is the Huffington Post. Again a quick search on this reputable media outlet gives you dozens of editorials from relationship experts. But also, we get to see listicle type editorial articles from contributors that show us just how much the topic is in the general public’s mind. An article by Emma Prestwich titled ‘5 fascinating facts about cheating’ is in the living section of the Huffington Post Canada.
Prestwich sums it up by saying “whether you have strong feelings against cheating or have considered straying once or twice, the phenomenon is pretty fascinating.”(10)
TV Shows open our minds
Remember how the show ‘Glee’ opened our minds and hearts to the nuances of homosexual relationships? One could argue a whole new generation of progressive thinkers came out of that show’s fan base alone. The same potential exists with shows with non-monogamy as a major theme.
Take for instance the Netflix original series ‘Explained,’ where the show dedicates an entire episode to tackling the taboo of human relationships. The show brings on a plethora of expert thinkers including psychologists and authors like Stephanie Coontz.
The writer of ‘Marriage, a history’ encapsulates the episode with an articulate thought on the state of modern marriage. “As we enter what I think of as uncharted territory. For the first time in human history we are trying to develop relationships that are not based on coercion. Coercion of women by their economic and legal dependence, coercion of women by their bodies, coercion of men by their social and economic structures; we’re trying, I think to find maybe a new balance.”(11)
Meanwhile David Barash, author of ‘The Myth of Monogamy,’ is interviewed at the end of the show and gives a nice wrap-up thought for those who are looking for a silver lining to the doom and gloom argument that marriage is completely hopeless. “Monogamy isn’t natural. It means we have to recognize that because it’s not natural, it’s something we’re going to have to work for if we want it.”(12)
Digging deeper, there are shows showing us the nuances of polyamorous dating and open marriage. Shows like ‘Unicornland’ is web series that follows a newly divorced woman who decides to date other couples in an effort to explore her sexuality. This presents a refreshing detour from the clichés of cheating housewives or closeted a gay man seeking men. Instead, some more grey areas shown in the adult dating world.
The show ‘You Me Her’ is an actual comedy about polyamorous relationships where three characters deal with the quirks of suburban life while living a less than commonly suburban lifestyle.
Vice’s Ilana Novick wrote an in-depth editorial titled ‘TV is Finally Starting to get Polyamory right,’ where she chats with the creators of these shows.
“You Me Her is committed to showing the honest frustrations and realities about this non-traditional relationship,” says Creator John Scott Shepherd. “That tension, according to Shepherd, was by design. He wanted to explore what would happen "if you dropped this pretend toad into the real garden where there are real stakes. Where people have real jobs, and real friends, and real communities...to do something that's off the beaten path, or different than what the rest of their tribe is doing. What would that look like in the real world?"
Perhaps polyamory is the next frontier of modern open-minded dating, where for instance, a married woman seeking women can have more opportunity to pursue sexual freedom.
Whether it’s public speaking, written word, visual media, or the all mighty internet, we are now living in a world where there is no need to demonize adultery as an unforgivable sin. Instead, the information that exists points to society wanting to develop an open mind towards a modern understanding of dealing with love, sex, and humanity. So perhaps married dating is right for you, too.
- Infidelity: Psychotherapist Esther Perel on why an affair doesn’t have to be the end - ABC News, Esther Perel
- Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality - Christopher Ryan
- Why Ted Matters - Time, Tim Bajarin
- Rethinking Infidelity: A talk for anyone who has ever loved - TED, Esther Perel
- Love: You’re doing it wrong - TED, Dall’ Aglio
- Why we love, why we cheat - TED, Helen Fisher
- Sex at Dawn : Why monogamy goes against our nature - Christopher Ryan, Thomas Rogers Salon.com
- The New Monogamy - Tammy Nelson
- I love you and I’m Cheating. Why? - Robert Weiss, Psychology Today
- 5 interesting facts about cheating - Emma Prestwich, Huffington Post
- Monogamym Explained - Netflix
- TV is finally starting to get Polyamory right - Vice, Ilana Novick