Faithfully yours; Infidelity? Most readers wouldn’t dream of it

Article by Jennifer Howze /
The Times, London /
October 29, 2006 /
Click here to view original /

Has infidelity lost its sex appeal? Forget the titillating headlines and popular culture “norms”, marital affairs remain strictly off-limits – at least for most Times readers. Of the 1,640 people – 748 women and 892 men – who responded to our annual parenting and sex survey, 54 per cent, or 889 respondents, said that they hadn’t even considered an affair.

“I made a commitment to be with my husband in good times and in bad,” said a mother of two, married for 14 years. “Once the vase is broken, it can never be mended.” A father of two, married for 20 years, wrote: “Don’t bother, it would be more hassle than it could ever be worth.”

The survey, which ran for two weeks on the Times website, asked respondents about the number of children they had, the length of their relationship, and the frequency and quality of sex. This is the second year that The Times ran the survey; this year we also asked about infidelity and affairs. Almost 450 people, or 28 per cent, admitted that they had fantasised about an affair, while another 130, or 8.2 per cent had considered having one; 57 people, or 3.6 per cent, said that they had begun an affair, while 38, or 2.4 per cent, had ended one. Is it unusual that most readers would not even consider having an affair?

“People don’t sit around thinking: ‘Hmm, infidelity is something I’d like to try,’ ” says Dr Lauren Rosewarne, author of Cheating on the Sisterhood: Infidelity and Feminism.

“The thought is more likely to enter someone’s head after they have met the person they would like to cheat with. Perhaps your group are people who fall into that category: it hasn’t crossed their mind simply because circumstances haven’t challenged their fidelity,” she says. “People cheat to feel younger, different or challenged.”

Maybe we are getting better at sticking together. In his book Changing Relationships, Malcolm Brynin, of the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex, claims that the proverbial seven-year itch does not start until couples have been married for at least 11 years. He suggests that we should view relationships “as more fluid than in the past”. Some respondents adopt a philosophical approach to sex outside marriage. “I enjoy the frisson of an affair and think that it improves sex life within the marriage – but there is the danger of becoming too emotionally attached to the other person,” said a father of two, married for 35 years, who described sex with his wife as “great”.

“I believe we are too hung up on sexual fidelity and if my partner cheated on me, it wouldn’t automatically be the end of our relationship,” said a wife of 12 years, with three children. “There are other issues that can be far more damaging: my partner has had a gambling problem and I would have preferred he had had a one-night stand than lost tens of thousands of pounds.”

Perhaps one reason behind most respondents’ fidelity is that they are having reasonably frequent sex within existing relationships: 44 per cent said that they had sex about once a week or more, with 2 per cent, or 34 high-stamina individuals, saying they had sex every day. Their secret? “Kids are now at college,” wrote one man, married for 32 years. One woman went “from reluctant once or twice a month to at least every day – wonderful, tender, emotional and satisfying love-making with my female lover”. A father of two, married for four years, said: “It’s wild; we have recently started involving other people.”

Thirty-two per cent of respondents reported having sex two to four times a month, 10.5 per cent several times a year, and almost 7 per cent less frequently than that. Only 2 per cent said they never had sex.

Ultimately, the survey revealed a diverse picture of the sex lives of parents, occasionally with a very British attitude.

As one woman, married for two and a half years with a 12-month-old baby (and perhaps a regular commute), commented on the subject of affairs: “It’s a very bad idea and only to be contemplated during a long train journey.” To read more from the survey and see more statistics, visit alphamummy.com