Sexual Fidelity or Infidelity?
Anastasios D. Kalantzis, Surgeon Urologist-Andrologist
"For a happy marriage, more than two people are usually necessary" Oscar Wilde
This phrase expresses the majority of modern couples and could be the preface, conclusion and main body of this passage…
Research has shown that 32% of men and 19% of women have or would like to have affairs outside their marriage. Infidelity occurs in approximately 70% of the couples, and when exposed, it is painful for both partners and disrupts the main element of the relationship: mutual trust. Regardless of whether the couple will eventually separate or not, their relationship will have suffered a negative and often irredeemable blow, since sexual infidelity is experienced as rejection and inflicts feelings of frustration, disillusionment, guilt, self-insufficiency, despair, agony and anger.
Infidelity can occur in relation to physical intimacy and/or emotional intimacy. In this context, we could identify two types of infidelity: Sexual infidelity, when someone engages in an extramarital affair purely for sex, and emotional infidelity, when there is emotional involvement with another person. Occasional (sexual) infidelity is conceived and handled differently from emotional infidelity, which is performed steadily and continually, which means that further to the sexual relationship there is also an emotional bond. There is currently debate in the field of evolutionary psychology whether there is an innate, evolutionary difference between the two sexes as regards the way men and women react to infidelity. Those that believe that there is such a sex difference say that men are more likely to be disturbed by an act of sexual infidelity (having their partner engage in sexual relations with another man), whereas women are more likely to be disturbed by an act of emotional infidelity (having their partner fall in love with another woman). Those against this theory sustain that there is no difference between the way men and women respond to an act of infidelity, but it depends entirely on the individual.
But why do (some at least) people tend to be, and eventually become, infidel?
Many scientific fields have attempted to give an explanation, from their own systemic point of view.
In the field of anthropology, scientists tend to believe that humans are neither completely monogamous nor completely polygamous. According to anthropologist Bobbi Low, humans are "slightly polygamous". The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author Deborah Blum characterizes humans as "ambiguously monogamous", sustaining that, as a part of our evolution process, we present a tendency to distance ourselves from the habits of our polygamous ancestors. Reversely, in his article "Infidelity: Is Monogamy Just a Myth?" David Barash, zoologist and co-author of the book "The Myth of Monogamy", and his wife, Dr. Judith Eve Lipton talk about monogamy and evolution, concluding that "When it comes to human beings, there's absolutely no question about monogamy being natural. It's not."
According to anthropologist Helen Fisher, there also is a biological side to adultery. She says that "We have two brain systems: One of them is linked to attachment and romantic love, and then there is the other brain system, which is purely sex drive. Sometimes these two brain systems are not well connected, which enables people to become adulterers and satisfy their sex drive without any regards to their attachment side".
From the psychoanalytic point of view, the German psychoanalyst M. Gambaroff says that both fidelity and infidelity have their roots in the same need for a "harbor", a "nest". This means that we are governed by our need for intimacy and emotional security.
On the other hand, we should not underestimate the human drive for sexual excitement and passion. Esther Perel, author of "Mate in Captivity", says that "sexual passion does not obey the rules of companionship and mutual understanding. Sexual desire follows an orbit of its own. Irrational obsessions, selfishness, desire to dominate, loss of control are the elements of sexual passion.
How many of us, however, are willing to give impetus to our daily life, by strenuously refusing to give in to boredom and routine and bring passion back in their lives as couples? All of the above, of course, provided that there is love, understanding and communication between the sexual partners. In this frame, there shouldn't be (and normally isn't) need for unfaithfulness, no urge to seek physical or emotional involvement with another person, and the partners are less likely to feel the need to channel their emotional and physical resources, such as romantic love, attention or just sexual passion, to someone else.
Esther Perel thinks of infidelity in terms of the 'failed ambitions of love'. In this context, what happens when there is lack of communication, physical and/or emotional intimacy, or when one or both of the partners do not realize or no longer wish to get out of the stagnant deadlock of their common life? After all, as they say "it takes two to tango", which means that it takes both partners' will and efforts in order for a relationship to be restored or saved.
Therefore, infidelity does not occur out of the blue and the blame is not only on one of the partners. Affairs get in through holes in a relationship which is already worn out and weary, allowing the "third person" to sneak in and fill the voids.
So, in the end, can we say that there is a "perpetrator" and a "victim" in a situation of this kind? Is the "trauma" caused by infidelity a trauma to our emotions or to our ego? And if we forgive, do we forgive out of love, insecurity and low self-esteem or for the sake of our own interest? Do couples part because infidelity is the cause or just the trigger, the excuse?
The persons who choose to resort to an extramarital affair implicitly declare that there is lack of communication and understanding in their relationship, as well as emotional distance and lack of sexual attraction and intimacy with their partner. In some cases, the reason lies in their need for self-assurance, especially in the "middle age" of 46-50 years. As someone once said, infidelity is 'a facelift and an anti-depressant in one'.
Furthermore, it is possible that a problem of sexual or erectile dysfunction may lead, most usually the man, to a behavior of this kind, in order to check themselves and their ability, examining whether the problem still occurs with another sexual partner.
Last but not least, it is the fascination of the forbidden and the curiosity for the new and unknown that excites imagination, has a stimulating function and leads the person to infidelity. Therefore, an extramarital affair promises passion, attraction, liveliness, impulsiveness, challenge, intense sex, in other words all those things that do not exist in the relationship between the spouses, covering, at the same time, the loneliness, anxiety or emptiness that exists between the partners in marriage, who have stopped communicating so much in a psychological/emotional as in a sexual level.
In the case of a man who could be described as a Bon Viveur or a Play Boy, a lover of adventure, of the forbidden and of the opposite sex, it would be best that such a man not proceed with entering a serious relationship or marriage, because there is absolutely no reason to hurt someone, since you already know beforehand that you will eventually feel and possibly succumb to the temptation to taste the forbidden fruit.
But what could we possibly do to prevent our partner or ourselves from being unfaithful? There is only one answer: we should care for our relationship, if not at all times, at least on time, and take nothing and no one for granted. Guilt, remorse and self-pity, anger, selfishness and revenge never helped anyone, especially a posteriori. The relationship is a living organism which needs to be fed and cared for in order to stay alive. Besides, as our ancient Greek ancestors said, "without pain, there is no gain". And this is something that, in the era we live, we have completely forgotten.
In his movie "Eyes Wide Shut", Stanley Kubrick describes in a unique and exceptional way how powerful the existence of a "third person" can be, even if it is just a chimera….
All things concerned, betrayal is not a ghost; it is monogamy that is just a taboo of romanticism and should not be treated as a given or obligatory fact, but as it really is: a matter of choice.