By: Pamela Druckerman Author of Lust in Translation
The morning after FranÃ§ois Mitterrand’s funeral, a photo showed the late president’s mistress and illegitimate daughter standing by his grave alongside his wife and sons. That tableau has become famous internationally as proof that the French are uniquely tolerant of extramarital affairs.
In fact, although French presidents seem to have an infidelity record approaching 100 per cent, ordinary Frenchmen claim to be quite faithful. In a 2004 national survey, just 3.8 per cent of married men and 2 per cent of women said they had had more than one sex partner in the past year (the best approximation of infidelity) — fewer than in similar surveys in the U.S. and the U.K.
I quickly discovered that global sex research is patchy and incomplete. Even serious researchers can’t even agree on what to call infidelity. Nigerians prefer the term “sexual networking.” The Finns use the morally neutral term “parallel relationships.” A French team uses an expression perhaps better suited for an accounting course: Â“simultaneous multi-partnerships.Â”
Then thereÂ’s the tricky matter of what constitutes cheating. A poll in one South African magazine had separate categories for men who cheat, and men who cheat Â“while drunk.Â” One American survey defined sex as “either vaginal or anal intercourse,” while another decided that sex is a “mutually voluntary activity with another person that involves genital contact and sexual excitement or arousal, that is, feeling really turned on, even if intercourse or orgasm did not occur.” Americans havenÂ’t yet tried to count their so-called Â“emotional affairs,Â” in which the Â“cheatersÂ” might never meet.
Many countries simply have no reliable sex statistics. National surveys are expensive, and many governments are either too prudish or too poor to help pay for them (private funding is seldom sufficient). AmericaÂ’s first representative national survey only got off the ground in the 1990s, after conservative members of Congress spent years trying to block it. Hints of JapanÂ’s infidelity levels come only from the enormous size of the countryÂ’s paid-sex industry, which is famously frequented by married businessmen. A legal loophole permits a man and a woman to strike a private agreement for sex. Understandably, the state would rather not be confronted with the details.
Â“There were never and will not be in the foreseeable future national surveys,Â” said Igor Kon, a septuagenarian whoÂ’s RussiaÂ’s most prominent sexologist. When I visited him in
Despite the lack of hard data, in
And it was clear that Russian men flaunted this demographic advantage. With the exception of a pastor (who was sitting with his wife at the time), I didnÂ’t meet a single married man in
Muslim countries tend to be even stricter about sex research. ItÂ’s impossible to know how much cheating goes on in places like
I didnÂ’t find evidence anywhere in the world that religious people are particularly faithful. Within the social circles I studied in
I did find that, all over, money shapes the rules of infidelity. Men in rich countries are generally much more faithful than their counterparts in poor ones. ThatÂ’s in part because first-world cheaters tend to be punished more severely. In
Among women, itÂ’s just the opposite. Women in poor countries say they cheat infrequently, perhaps because they have less financial and social clout than their husbands. But in wealthier countries, where the status of men and women is more equal, levels of male and female infidelity — while still quite low — are fairly equal too.
While itÂ’s impossible to get an exact measure of infidelity, there are some clues about where the most cheating goes on. Beginning in the 1990s, researchers tracking the spread of HIV began extensively mapping sexual behavior in sub-Saharan
And so the dubious title of world infidelity capital goes to a region: sub-Saharan
Copyright (c) Pamela Druckerman
About the Author:
Pamela Druckerman is a former staff reporter for the Wall Street Journal. She has a masterÂ’s degree in international affairs from