We live in a day where faithfulness to marriage is unusual. A 1993 survey on sexual behavior estimates that “More than one-third of men and one-quarter of women admit having had at least one extramarital sexual experience.” Another survey conducted by the National Opinion Research Center (University of Chicago) found lower percentages: 25 percent of men had been unfaithful and 17 percent of women. When you consider the adult population this means that around 19 million husbands and 12 million wives have had an affair at one point in their lives. Regardless of the percentage, the number is unbelievably high.
It would be easy for us to conclude that this is mainly a problem for non-Christians but unfortunately it’s not. Current research shows that adultery is nearly as common within the Church as it is outside the Church. All in all, very disturbing stuff.
Adultery in America is a mixed bag of contradictions. While adultery is common, most Americans still think it is wrong. In a CNN/Gallup survey people were asked, “What is your opinion about a married person having sexual relations with someone other than his or her spouse?” 79% answered that it is “always wrong” and another 11% answered that it was “almost always wrong.”
While it seems that a majority of Americans believe that adultery is wrong, our society still propagates a large number of myths about adultery. Kerby Anderson president of Probe Ministries International listed five myths in an article he wrote called Adultery. Look at a few of these myths.
Myth #1: Adultery is about sex. Often just the opposite seems the case. When a sexual affair is uncovered, observers often say, “What did he see in her?” or “What did she see in him?” Being pretty, handsome, or sensual is usually not the major issue. Partners in affairs are not usually chosen because they are prettier, more handsome, or sexier. They are chosen for various sorts of strange and nonsexual reasons.
More than anything else, adultery is a character issue. Those who cheat would cheat no matter who their spouse was or what they looked like. We see this among the rich and famous all the time. There is a never ending supply of stories of the rich and famous cheating on their leading man husbands or leading lady wives. Adultery tells us nothing about the spouse who was cheated on but it reveals a great deal about the character of the spouse doing the cheating.
Myth #2: Adultery is therapeutic. Some of the psychology books and women’s magazines circulating through our culture promote extra-marital affairs as positive. This myth that an affair can revive a dull marriage is a devastating lie. Depending on which source you are reading, an affair will: make you a better lover, help you with your mid-life crisis, bring joy into your life, or even bring excitement back into your marriage. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Myth #3: Adultery is harmless. Movies are just one venue in which adultery has been promoted positively. The English Patient received twelve Oscar nominations including best picture of the year for its depiction of an adulterous relationship between a handsome count and the English-born wife of his colleague. The Bridges of Madison County relates the story of an Iowa farmer’s wife who has a brief extra-marital affair with a National Geographic photographer that supposedly helped re-energize her marriage. The Prince of Tides received seven Oscar nominations and shows a married therapist affair with her also-married patient.
Also think about the euphemisms society has developed over the years to excuse or soften the perception of adultery. Many are not repeatable, but ones that are include: fooling around, sleeping around, flings, affairs, and dalliances.
These and many other phrases perpetuate the notion the adultery is guilt-free and hurts no one. Some have even suggested that it’s just a recreational activity like playing softball or going to the movies.
Myth #4: Adultery has to end in divorce. Only about 35 percent of couples remain together after the discovery of an adulterous affair; the other 65 percent divorce. Perhaps nothing can destroy a marriage faster than marital infidelity.
The good news is that it doesn’t have to be that way. One counselor claims that 98 percent of the couples she treats remain together after counseling. Granted this success rate is not easy to achieve and requires immediate moral choices and forgiveness, but it does demonstrate that adultery does not have to end in divorce.
Since adultery is so common and faithfulness is so uncommon, how can we stay faithful in an unfaithful world? That will be the focus of the blog this week.
For further study read Proverbs 5:1-14.
What is Solomon warning his son about?
How is the adulterous person described?
How should we respond to this temptation?
What are potential consequences for adultery?
 The Janus Report on Sexual Behavior (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1993), 169
 Cited in “Attitudes on Adultery,” USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll, 1997