Frequency of Extramarital Sexual Behavior

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Norms of extramarital sexual behavior are not predictably associated with how many married husbands or wives actually engage in extramarital sex. Thus, whereas a slight majority of societies condone extramarital sex for males, extramarital sex is universal or at least common in 78% of 107 cultures and uncommon or absent in only 22%. The discrepancy between extramarital sex norms and actual behavior is even more striking in the case of women. While societies overwhelmingly condemn affairs for wives, extramarital sex is universal or common for women in 66% of 114 cultures and uncommon or absent in only 34% (Broude, 1981). The fact that men and women engage in extramarital sex despite of cultural condemnation suggests how powerful the impulse is to give into sexual temptation. Women seem to be especially motivated to conduct affairs, given that the punishment for a wife's infidelity in some societies is so extreme. Evolutionary theory suggests a reason for these patterns. For males, sexual relations with more women means a greater chance of producing more offspring. Males may not be consciously thinking about their reproductive success while planning an affair, but the result of engaging in sex outside marriage is nevertheless an increased likelihood of fathering more children. For women, extramarital affairs may mean producing children with genes superior to those of the wife's own husband. Ideally, a woman might even attract a man who can provide a life for her and her children that is superior to the one that her current husband can provide. Research indicates that a woman who has an affair has an easier time breaking up with her current mate and finding a new partner that is, in her opinion, more desirable than her present mate (Buss, 1999).

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