BreakPoint: Americans and Infidelity

It’s Still not OK

In this age of uber-tolerance on all the other pelvic issues, you’d expect Americans would be getting more tolerant of infidelity, too. But not so. Stay tuned to BreakPoint.

A recent article in the New York Times magazine provocatively asked “Is an Open Marriage a Happier Marriage?” Given the worldview of the New York Times, we shouldn’t be surprised that their answer was “probably.”

And the response to the article was also not surprising. Rod Dreher argued that if open marriages became common and accepted, the result would be “the dissolution of family and eventually of society.” In keeping with his new book, “The Benedict Option,” he told Christian readers that “there is no point in trying to argue with this culture anymore,” and urged them to “shake the dust off your feet.”

But wait a minute. Despite the article, are open marriages becoming more common and more accepted? The Times article just offers a series of anecdotes. And as statisticians will remind you, “anecdote” is not the plural of data.

The term “open marriage” has been around since at least the 1960s, and while people are more willing to talk about it, there’s no evidence that people in actual marriages, as opposed to merely “relationships,” are more willing to dispense with the “forsaking all others” part of their vows.

As a point of fact, according to the General Social Survey, which tracks Americans’ attitudes and practice on a range of subjects, there has been little, if any change in Americans’ attitudes towards infidelity since 1972. They still hate it.

In contrast to the shift in beliefs on almost all the other issues concerning marriage and sexuality, Americans are steadfast in their condemnation of extramarital sexual relations. In fact, they’re slightly more likely today than in 1973 to say that a “married person having sexual relations with someone other than the marriage partner” is “always wrong.”

What’s more, there’s very little, if any, difference between older and younger Americans on this point.

These results align with the findings of the Gallup organization, which found that only six percent of Americans found adultery to be acceptable under any circumstances.

As I said, this steadfastness stands in marked contrast to shifting attitudes concerning sexual ethics on many other issues.

“Many other” but not all. There are other exceptions to this liberalizing trend, most notably abortion. There, according to Gallup, American attitudes have held steady despite strong cultural messages that sought to normalize the taking of unborn life.

Why? Part of the answer is that it’s easier to articulate and see the harm caused to others by both adultery and abortion. Ideas like “consent” and “avoiding harm to others” are practically the only moral criteria Americans can agree on anymore.

It’s no coincidence, then, that practices where a victim can be readily identified—the innocent spouse and the unborn child for example—are most resistant to the siren songs of the Sexual Revolution.

But as we’ve said repeatedly on BreakPoint, the Sexual Revolution has created countless additional victims as well. The most obvious being the children of broken and never-intact families. The data couldn’t be clearer: Kids need both a mom and a dad at home. Anything less puts them, according to all the research, at risk for “adverse outcomes.”

And this is only one example. There are many more. The ‘free love’ freight train has run over a lot of people—exploited women, reluctant divorcees, spouses who were cheated on, and more and more.

Since harm seems to be the argument people are most prepared to consider, it behooves us to learn about this harm so that we can set the record straight, especially since, as Jennifer Roback Morse documents in her book, “The Sexual Revolution and Its Victims,” it’s a reality our culture doesn’t really want to talk about.

But talk about it we must. Because the issue isn’t whether yet another, even more radical departure from Christian teaching about marriage and sexuality will make us happier. It’s about how miserable our previous transgressions have already made us.

 

Further Reading and Information

Americans and Infidelity: It’s Still not OK

As John says,  ideas have consequences, and bad ideas have victims. In the aftermath of the Sexual Revolution, Christians are called to be a part of the restoration of our culture, providing help and healing in the name of Christ.

 

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Resources

How Marital Infidelity Became America's Last Sexual Taboo
  • Hugo Schwyzer | The Atlantic | May 29, 2013
The Sexual Revolution and Its Victims
  • Jennifer Roback Morse | Ruth Institute Books | March 2015
What Americans Think About Open Marriages
  • George Hawley | The American Conservative | May 16, 2017

Comment Policy: Commenters are welcome to argue all points of view, but they are asked to do it civilly and respectfully. Comments that call names, insult other people or groups, use profanity or obscenity, repeat the same points over and over, or make personal remarks about other commenters will be deleted. After multiple infractions, commenters may be banned.

  • Phoenix1977

    Perhaps we should talk about the definition of infidelity, though. Because I can imagine people do not equate “open marrige / relationship” with “infidelity”. So that might be an issue. At the same time it’s a trend we even see in the Netherlands. Even here open relationships or open marriages are still frowned upon. Which means people simply do not talk about it.

    “Rod Dreher told Christian readers that “there is no point in trying to argue with this culture anymore,””

    If only that would be true. That would mean people would finally start allowing others to live their own lives as they see fit. I’m afraid we are far from that moment, though.

    “The data couldn’t be clearer: Kids need both a mom and a dad at home.”
    The only “evidence” supporting that claim comes from research done by or for conservative organisations. More liberal organisations find another conclusion; they repeatedly confirm the most important aspect required by children is a loving and safe environment where the gender of the parent(s) is completely irrelevant. Since both conservative and liberal organisations are likely to be biased at best we can say we simply don’t know. Add the anti-discrimination laws into the mix and we can safely assume the decision will be in favor of the LGBT-couples.

    • Steve

      Phoenix, in a society it can’t always be that people can always just lead their lives the way they see fit. That is why there are laws that constrain certain activity. Of course, in our country, we feel very strongly about having freedom to live our lives without outside interference. There are limits, however, and that is where the debate occurs. For instance, once the several millennia established norm of marriage between one man and one woman is destroyed, where is that limit?
      Should several people be able to get married to each other? Should a person be able to marry a pet or an inanimate object? Should a person be able to marry their brother/sister/cousin? Should a person be allowed to marry a minor? etc.
      I know some of these examples seem outrageous or ridiculous. I will grant you that. However, once there is no definition of marriage, who will set the limits? Shouldn’t some things be done in the best interest of society at large, while at the same time balancing basic freedoms? I would hope so. We follow the laws that we should drive on the right side of the road, even if we wish to drive on the left, because that is better for all involved even though it diminishes some of my right to do as I wish.
      You are quick to dismiss data showing that an intact family with a mother and father is, for the most part, better for a child. This has been shown in many varied studies across the spectrum of ideology. Just look at what the African American community has suffered over the last 50 years as their family structure has largely fallen apart. Almost 75% of all African American children are raised by single mothers. This increases the child’s likelihood of dropping out of school, getting arrested, getting involved in substance abuse and early sexual activity and perpetuating the problem while never getting out of poverty.
      The rest of society does not need to upend centuries of proven practices regarding family in order to conform to the desires of the LGBTQ community which constitutes about 3% of the population.

      • Phoenix1977

        “Should several people be able to get married to each other? Should a person be able to marry a pet or an inanimate object? Should a person be able to marry their brother/sister/cousin? Should a person be allowed to marry a minor? etc.”
        As far as I’m concerned the limit is informed consent. So yes, several people should be allowed to get married, just as siblings should be. Since pets, inanimate objects and minors cannot consent they obviously should not. As far as I’m concerned that is a clear limit and far less arbitrary than “one man, one woman”, especially since same-sex marriage was legal in history before.

        ” Shouldn’t some things be done in the best interest of society at large, while at the same time balancing basic freedoms?”
        And who will decide what is in the best interest of society at large? Because, as is quite clear by now, you and me have very different opinions about that. But, far more importantly, society itself has an opinion about that. With society more and more secular it’s highly doubtful it will ever except restrictions that share even a similarity with religion. So pretty much all conservative views are out because conservatism and religion are, more than once, mentioned in the same sentence.

        “You are quick to dismiss data showing that an intact family with a mother and father is, for the most part, better for a child. This has been shown in many varied studies across the spectrum of ideology”
        Yeah, that’s simply not true. When you review the published articles carefully you see studies claiming children need a traditional family of one mother and one father are performed by conservative organisations, published by conservative organisations or funded by conservative organisations. And similar bias is found when reviewing studies claiming the opposite. So, at best, we are dealing with publication bias here (the bias of only publishing thise studies that fit one’s ideology or hypothesis) and at worst we are looking at study bias or even study fraud.

        “Just look at what the African American community has suffered over the last 50 years as their family structure has largely fallen apart. Almost 75% of all African American children are raised by single mothers. This increases the child’s likelihood of dropping out of school, getting arrested, getting involved in substance abuse and early sexual activity and perpetuating the problem while never getting out of poverty.”
        There are numerous other reasons for that as well. For example, the still very Obvious discrimination of people of color in the US. The reduced chances black children “from the wrong side of the tracks” have to begin with. The poverty they were born in and the need to bring in money from an early age on. Not to mention the prejudice in the American legal system where a black person has an 80% higher change of ending up with a harsher sentence than a white person or to get shot during arrest while not being armed or even attempting to resist arrest.
        I’m not saying a broken family isn’t an issue here but we are talking about pretty extreme situations here sometimes, like having 7 children with 6 different fathers, all not being in the picture, forcing the mother to care for all of them while working several jobs, all of them paying only minimum wage. That’s definitely not the same as a loving same-sex couple in a stable relationship or even divorced parents who are still involved in their children’s lives.

        “The rest of society does not need to upend centuries of proven practices regarding family in order to conform to the desires of the LGBTQ community which constitutes about 3% of the population.”
        And that’s where you are wrong, on several accounts.
        1. Same-seks marriage was legal before in history in Rome and Ancient Greece. The rise of Christianity put an end to it so same-sex marriage becoming legal again is not novel but a reclaiming of ancient rights.
        2. Right is right and wrong is wrong. The number of people affected or how long an injustice existed is of no issue there. If you would follow your own reasoning every non-Native American should leave the US immediately, giving the country back to it’s original inhabitants.
        3. The infamous 3% conservatives keep quoting comes from an inquary by the CDC in the first half of the 1980s when being LGBT was still taboo and, in several states, punishable by law. The CDC itself agrees the numbers are most likely an underestimation of the actual numbers of LGBTs. The WHO claims the percentage LGBTs in the world reside between 10 and 15% and the CDC concurs that estimation is more likely to be accurate.

    • jason taylor

      There is no such thing as allowing others to live their own lives and to try to live one’s own life is to be a parasite because everyone is dependent on everyone else for sustenance and protection. If you can claim the right to commit adultery, why should not a fireman claim a right to let you burn to death in pursuit of “living his own life” which clearly does not include risking it for your benefit? It is foolish talk about living one’s own life, and doubly so to arbitrarily assume that applies only to sex which always affects other people(far more then insensitivity, cultural appropriation and the whole mess with which conspicuously libertine people try to not allow others to live their own lives by the way). Of course if you want you can go and live as a hermit. Which of course includes not having sex at all among it’s austerities. But to take the benefits of society and neglect it’s duties is slacking. One of the duties of society is oathkeeping, kin loyalty, and cooperation in the raising of children. It is a cliche that your right to your fist ends with contact with another’s nose, and any society which intends to function must have limitations as well as privileges.

      • Phoenix1977

        “If you can claim the right to commit adultery, why should not a fireman claim a right to let you burn to death in pursuit of “living his own life” which clearly does not include risking it for your benefit?”
        Because adultery, in the context of this article (which was about open marriages, meaning two consenting adults agree on how to live their lives), doesn’t hurt anyone. Allowing someone to burn to a crisp because you refuse to do your job doesn’t fall in the same criteria, obviously. Interesting you raise this argument, though, since this is exactly what the LGBT community is afraid of should the First Amendment Defense Act pass.

        “One of the duties of society is oathkeeping, kin loyalty, and cooperation in the raising of children.”
        Once again, this depends on your frame of reference. People who are non-religious don’t take oaths and are more likely to have a different view on family and parenting. And more and more people share the opinion they have no duty to society at all.

        • jason taylor

          Adultery does hurt people but ignoring that there is no difference between “open-marriage” as you described and shacking up but a party. As for more and more people sharing the opinion that they have no duty to society at all, yes, we call those slackers. The question is why anyone else has a duty to them?

          • jason taylor

            Or to put it another way, you must needs accept debt to society because at minimum it has given you the right to vote or in other words power over others. To claim power without obligation is to make the claim of the Stuarts. The only difference is in degree.

  • Wesley Vaughn

    Those who want to legitimize immoral activities (not just legalize them, but have them accepted as “right”) try to silence those who have and express the natural feelings God implanted within us. This betrays the weakness of their positions – if you can’t persuade, coerce. It also betrays their rebellion against their own consciences.