Read an Excerpt
Human Nature and Affairs: A Brief History
History provides perspective. While we readily assume that marriages have always been based on fidelity, historically fidelity is not the norm. In fact, the idea of being sexually faithful to one spouse throughout life is relatively new and accepted by only part of current world cultures. For example, Persian, African, Chinese, Japanese, Roman and Greek cultures all allowed men more than one wife or legitimized extramarital sexual relationships for some period in their history.
Rules or laws governing sexual behavior were based either on legal rights or religious doctrine. Legal marriage was reserved for the upper class whose property and lineage were valued by society. In Egypt common people were first allowed to marry in about 2,000 B.C., and adultery applied primarily to women.
Jewish sexual mores were originally developed to encourage men to take responsibility for the survival of women and children. In the early Jewish culture, beginning around 500 B.C., marriage was not a legal entity but the couple was recognized as married within their community. The purpose of this marriage was reproduction. If a child was not produced, the marriage was dissolved. If an older brother died without producing sons, his younger brother was required to marry the widow. Roman marriage ceremonies were acts of initiation with sexual activity beginning when a girl was twelve and a boy fourteen. Romans viewed sex as a natural force that should be unrestrained. In most ancient cultures, fidelity was not expected of men or women.
Strict Christian sexual codes were not defined until four centuries after the death of Christ. Saint Augustine had a majorinfluence on the sexual attitudes of his followers. He began to advocate chastity in about A.D. 400, after his conversion to Christianity. Prior to his conversion, he had loved his mistress with whom he had a son. His mother forbade their marriage. His writings show that before his Christian conversion, he had prayed to God, saying, "Give me chastity and continency but do not give it yet."
Saint Augustine claimed that celibacy was the greatest good, and intercourse between husband and wife should be exclusively for procreation. Saint Augustine's beliefs mark the origin of sex being considered a sin within Christian doctrine. Christian leaders began to dictate very limited parameters for sexual behavior. The concepts of adultery and the desirability of celibacy did not become part of the Christian code until the eleventh century. It was during this time that marriage became sacred and divorce forbidden.
A few feudal European societies allowed the lord jus primary noctis, or "the right of the first night," portrayed in the movie Braveheart. This ruling gave a lord the right to have sex with the bride of his subject on their wedding night, if he so desired.
During the sixth century A.D., the Arab prophet Mohammed celebrated and encouraged sex with spouses. Mohammed raised the status of women by requiring marriage between couples rather than allowing men to own their women. He rejected the idea of affairs and wanted his followers to channel their sexual drives within marriage. Men were encouraged to have as many as four wives at a time. The husband was to circulate among them on consecutive nights and he was to provide for them equally. Divorce, Talaqus-Sunna, was easy, originating in pre-Islamic times. Announcing "I divorce thee; I divorce thee; I divorce thee," then abstaining from sex for three months ended the marriage.
Traditional Chinese and Japanese men had multiple wives or concubines, while women were expected to remain faithful to their husbands to protect the family lineage.
Eskimo peoples considered sex to be an extension of friendship. Sexual relations with a wife were a gift from one man to another but only if the wife was willing. Reciprocity was expected.
Helen Fisher, Ph.D., surveyed sixty-two cultures to identify their beliefs about love. She provides both a historical and current perspective in her book Anatomy of Love. Dr. Fisher cites examples of infidelity in cultures along the Xingu River in Brazil, where it is openly discussed and celebrated, and in communities along the Adriatic Coast in Italy, where nearly every man has a lover but secrecy is the rule.
Several religious groups in America experimented with dictating the sexual behavior of their members. One of the most sexually restrictive groups was the Shakers, who demanded celibacy of their members. The Oneida Colony, on the other hand, was one of the most permissive, and advocated "free love," or sex for pleasure, by appointment with mutual consent. During the nineteenth century, many Mormon men were allowed more than one wife and were expected to be sexually faithful to their wives.
No religious system in the world has succeeded in harnessing human sexual drives and eliminating infidelity.
"The man or woman who commits adultery should be given 100 strokes of the whip. The whipping must be witnessed by a group of believers or on television."
--Libyan leader Moammar Kaddhafi,
Cairo, Egypt, April 3, 1995
The Puritans of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries are often wrongly accused of sexual oppression. In fact, their sexual restrictions were very relaxed, and their members were not driven out of society because of their sexual behavior. Nathaniel Hawthorne's classic novel The Scarlet Letter is simply a work of fiction.
Recent studies show that women in all cultures chose to have multiple sexual partners when given the opportunity, suggesting that the lineage concerns of men were well-founded.
Every culture and each religion has its own history, values and traditions, and throughout history and without geographical boundaries, married people have had extramarital affairs.
Affair-Proof Your Marriage. Copyright © by Lana Staheli. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.