Surveys conducted in person are likely to underestimate the real rate of adultery, because people are reluctant to admit such behavior not just to their spouses but to anyone. New studies suggest surprising changes in the marital landscape.
Infidelity appears to be on the rise, particularly among older men and young couples. Notably, women appear to be closing the adultery gap: younger women appear to be cheating on their spouses nearly as often as men. If you just ask whether infidelity is going up, you don't see really impressive changes, said David C Atkins, professor, University of Washington Center for the Study of Health and Risk Behaviors. But if you magnify the picture and you start looking at specific gender and age cohorts, we do start to see some pretty significant changes.
The most consistent data on infidelity come from the General Social Survey, sponsored by the National Science Foundation and based at the University of Chicago, which has used a national representative sample to track the opinions and social behaviors of Americans since 1972.
The survey data show that in any given year, about 10% of married people - 12% of men and 7 % of women - say they have had sex outside their marriage. Theories vary about why more people appear to be cheating. Among older people, a host of newer drugs and treatments are making it easier to be sexual, and in some cases unfaithful; Viagra and other remedies for erectile dysfunction, estrogen and testosterone supplements to maintain women's sex drive and vaginal health, even advances like better hip replacements.
They've got the physical health to express their sexuality into old age, said Helen E Fisher, professor and author.
In younger couples, the increasing availability of pornography on the Internet, which has been shown to affect sexual attitudes and perceptions of normal behaviour, may be playing a role in rising infidelity. But it is the apparent change in women's fidelity that has sparked the most interest among relationship researchers. It is not entirely clear if the historical gap between men and women is real or if women have just been more likely to lie about it.
Is it that men are bragging about it and women are lying to everybody including themselves Dr. Fisher asked. Men want to think women don't cheat, and women want men to think they don't cheat, and therefore the sexes have been playing a little psychological game with each other.