Sexual Behavior Essay

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Monogamy and Infidelity

Sexual behavior

Sexual attitudes and behavior: The need for monogamy vs. infidelity

Although it is difficult to quantify, it is estimated that "approximately 50% of married men and almost 40% of married women commit adultery" in the United States (Wasson 2000). Yet, despite these relatively high rates of infidelity, the U.S. is often characterized as a 'Puritan' nation regarding sexual practices. Whenever there is a sexual scandal in the United States, there are often many comments about how prudish Americans are, such as during the Monica Lewinsky scandal when a sexual indiscretion virtually paralyzed Bill Clinton's presidency. "The Associated Press reports that 90% of Americans believe that adultery is wrong, and 35% believe it should be considered a crime. Comparatively speaking, while we may be talking the talk, it seems that we are not doing a very good job of walking the walk" (Formica 2010).

In contrast, "the French usually react to the marital indiscretions and sexual proclivities of their senior politicians with little more than a Gallic shrug. Allegations that France's glamorous First Lady, Valerie Trierweiler, once conducted parallel affairs with socialist Francois Hollande, who is now President, and one of his conservative rivals have barely prompted the raising of elegantly plucked Parisian eyebrows" (Clarke 2012). This is not to say that individual French men and women do not feel pain when there is infidelity, but rather that the practice on a cultural level is not given the same moral weight as it is in America. In fact, the French have lower rates of infidelity than either the Americans or the British, despite the fact that other nations have tended to take a more negative view of infidelity, rather than seeing it as something natural: "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" (Druckerman 2007).

Even the definition of infidelity may vary from culture to culture, according to sociologist Pamela Druckerman, who studied infidelity in a wide variety of national contexts. For example, the standard 'social script' in America of the cheating husband is that his wife doesn't understand him, thus justifying the behavior. "The first rule of infidelity in the U.S. And the UK is that it becomes understandable, borderline-permissible even, if the prospective cheat says they're unhappy in their marriage" in contrast "the Japanese script, in which a cheating man praises his wife to his girlfriend, to demonstrate that he's a good husband" (Vernon 2007). In Japan, prostitution or enjoying the talents of a geisha (not a prostitute, but a female 'entertainer') is often seen as not 'counting' as infidelity (Vernon 2007). Another part of the American script is the notion of 'one strike and you're out.' "An affair, even a one-night stand, means a marriage is over. That's a very American and British idea," in contrast to other nations (Vernon 2007). Druckerman's poll of Russians found that 40 per cent "think affairs are 'not at all wrong' or 'not always wrong', and that upper-class Muscovites think affairs conducted at beach clubs do not compromise wedding vows one iota" (Vernon 2007).

Once again, the cultural 'script' regarding monogamy and infidelity may be at odds with statistical reality. "Only 17% of marriages end because someone is having an affair" in the United States (Formica 2010). But even when they actually 'practice' infidelity, because of the taboo upon illicit sexual activity (and a general distrust about sexual pleasure), infidelity is seen as particularly bad. In contrast, nations without a strong Christian tradition, such as Japan with its Shinto and Buddhist tradition, does not view sexual desire as inherently worse than other types of desires: "In The Mind of Clover: Essays in Zen Buddhist Ethics (1984), Robert Aitken Roshi said (pp. 41-42), 'For all its ecstatic nature, for all its power, sex is just another human drive. If we avoid it just because it is more difficult to integrate than anger or fear, then we are simply saying that when the chips are down we cannot follow our own practice. This is dishonest and unhealthy" (O'Brien 2012). Although excessive sexual desire is considered 'wrong' in Buddhist ethics and unclean in Shintoism, it is not considered sinful as in Christianity. "Falling short is unskillful (akusala) but not sinful -- there is no God…[continue]

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